Convenience Store Etiquette: How to be a good customer

Writers have day jobs. As revealed last time, one of my current gigs is locking up a liquor store at night a few times a week.

Retail has been both a boon and a bane upon my life.

My mother and father owned and operated (and operated and operated) a White Hen Pantry for 25 years. My parents came upon the store when I was a mere four years old. Therefore, I literally grew up in retail, stocking shelves, ringing the register and smiling while the various characters who ambled in and out at their leisure - customers and employees - rambled their day and life-stories at me.

Unlike a lot of people who get stuck working in convenience stores, I never minded listening to people's stories (is it what turned me into somebody who feels compelled to write or because I was already?). I always felt watching these characters injected my life with a sense of weirdness it lacked without. It's also humbling, watching people make their living by emptying trash, and then doing it yourself. Possibly on Christmas or your birthday.

But there are a few things I find myself losing patience with. I feel them slowly turning me from the good-natured, content with chilling in the store all day Randall to an uptight, frowning-at-everyone Dante (obviously in reference to the fantastic movie Clerks).

What follows is a rough guideline for stepping into my store - it's not a big-box, not a restaurant or a rest-stop or a pawn shop - it's a convenience store. Specific rules apply.

I realize these get a little rant-y -- but it's only because these rants have previously been shouted into the air as you leave the store, or whispered harshly in the ear of another employee the next time you come in.

Any of the following will immediately make you an enemy of the guy behind the counter (it ain't the "milk maids"):


First of all - we're at a convenience store. You can't possibly be too far away from your home. And if you are, why the liquor store? Why don't you use the McDonald's off the highway like everybody else? But this isn't half as bad as the people who ask, are refused and decide to ARGUE about it...

Annoying customer: "The other guy always lets me use it."
Obvious employee response: Why do you always have to pee when you're here? You should arrange your day otherwise, so that you are elsewhere when this happens.

Annoying and mis-informed customer: "All places are required to have a public restroom. IT'S THE LAW."
Factual employee response: No. It's not. Only places that offer public seating are required to provide a restroom - this is why every tiny-ass Subway has a bathroom and 7-11 does not.

Annoying and smug customer: "Where do YOU pee?"
Response from my own history as an employee: Funny. You must be funny to other people (people who love you and therefore would be less apt to strike you about the face with a green banana).

Do you know how many times we cleaned other people's feces off our bathroom wall at the White Hen? Twice. Not once - not ZERO times, which would make the most sense - but TWICE. That's unsanitary. That's why it is a PRIVATE bathroom.

Annoying and smug customer's response: "Do I look like I'm going to smear poop on your walls??"
My response to that response: If the first two people had, it never would have happened.

PLEASE, no more "I just made it!" jokes about $100 dollar bills

You know how many people say, "I just made it!" when I hold their $100 dollar bill up to look for the strip? Everybody. Literally - everybody. Everybody. Every time. Every single day of my life. It's not funny. It never was funny. Yet every single person has to launch into this phrase as giddily as if they've been waiting their whole lives just for the pleasure of uttering it.

Stop. For the love of freaking god just STOP yourself!!

Holding things up from across the store and yelling "HOW MUCH?!" is rude

I'm not a computer. I don't know every price. I can't see what you're holding. And we're not going to barter over it from this distance.

This is especially egregious if I am already engaged with another customer.

Double especially if it is already tagged or has a price right ON the item. In which case I'll inform you that that bag of chips is $14.50 and you'll say "But it says right here $2.99!" and you'll look like an idiot and I will stop talking to you forever.

Walking up to the counter, putting your stuff down and holding cash out at me the entire time I scan it, your other items, work the register, bag it, etc won't make me work faster

Probably the opposite. Put it down on the counter and look away for a moment if you're willing to part with it so quickly.

On the flip side are the people who wait while I scan every item, bag them, tell them the total, etc before even reaching for their wallet, as if paying is an afterthought I am annoying them with. Which leads to...

Expect to be carded

I've been purchasing liquor for nigh-on a decade now - I get carded wherever I go. If you're younger than me and laugh and say you're such an old man when I card you, you just look like an idiot (ok, Mr. 24... Just wait till you're 30 - you won't have to pretend to be so old anymore, you'll feel it, trust me).

And I don't understand the people who's IDs are buried deep inside their wallets underneath mounds of business cards and coupons and whatever those shreds of paper are. Do you really use all of that crap more often than your driver's license?

I'm not going to remember you unless you either come in every single day (sorry, I'm not all yours - I see thousands of people) or wear some sort of colorful hat the few times you happen to be in there.

Never attempt to stuff your items into the provided brown bag yourself

It sounds silly, but I'm the professional here. If I'm putting your six-pack into a bag, and you put your hand in there as well - grabbing it wrong, of course - this entire situation - your hand, my hand, a sideways six-pack of beer - cannot fit into the now half-crumpled bag all at once.

Making this worse for me - if I concede and let go, you will drop the six-pack because you're holding it by one upsidedown can. If, by chance, you do manage to lower it into the bag your way, the bag will break on your way out the door, smashing glass on my floor and I'll have people tracking warm, smelly lite-beer all over my store. Just hold on a second and let me do it for you. This brings up another person...

Please understand the physics of a brown bag

If you grab a full bag by its tippy-top corner between your thumb and forefinger, it's gonna break. Put some effort into it, Samson.

People who require no less than 8 different transactions suck. You suck so bad. Why can't you remember anything other than separately? Why are you torturing me? Is this fun for you? This is not fun for me. Has this gone on long enough yet? Are we understood here? Ye... No? Yes? Are you sure?! JEEZ!

Somebody approaches the counter - they put a 12-pack down, not making eye contact, looking around at the merchandise - I scan the item, push total, wait, ask "is that all?" They nod and hand me a $20, still not making eye contact... I wait some more.... I ask "From $20?" Another slight nod. Slowly I push the button on the register to make change. As soon as I reach into the drawer to begin counting out your $8.92 in change, the person grabs a bag of chips and throws it on the counter.

Hatred. Pure hatred. You suck.

I count the change... very ...... slowly. Because, of course, they grab more chips. A two-liter of soda. And ask for smokes. They need everything, as it turns out. They take the change I've already counted and hand me another $20 (because the singles in my drawer are endless). I count out more change and hand it over... only they don't even take it from my hand this time....

..Because they've now noticed the scratch-off lotto tickets.

 .... ... ... ... ... ... :::RAAAGE!:::

If you're going to bitch about the prices be absolutely sure you're talking to the person in control of them

There is the lone circus barker, who walks to the other end of the store, looks at the tag and talks loudly to anybody who will listen how much more it is here than seemingly everywhere else. There is also the dramatic actor, who will ask the person behind the counter price after price, turning and gasping loudly as he reveals each one. "Where ahhhm from," they say, "Things just don't cost that much!"

First of all, know this: 90% of the time, the person at the register does not own the store, has no control over the stock, the prices or anything else. They just want to go home. They probably shop elsewhere, too.

But most customers don't care. They're just looking for some guy who can't leave to bitch at. In that case, know this: that other 10% of the time you're bitching at the guy who IS in control, and that store is putting him/his kids/his family through college and you're now an unwelcome jackass who doesn't understand the following...

Convenience store side-note: Please don't compare our prices to Wal-Mart or any other big box store. Do you know what a convenience store actually is? Several times I've been annoyed enough to say "Yet you're still here," or "You can go there if you want. I do." They never do.

A side note on Economics: For those who need the explanation, here's why convenience stores cannot and never will have Wal-Mart prices, no matter how much you complain to the person at the counter.

Big box stores order products in BULK - therefore they get price breaks (like how if you buy a case of beer, it ends up being cheaper, per can, than a six-pack). They have more free capitol to spend and more space to store the overstock.

Beyond that, they also sell it faster. If you sell 1000 cans of instant coffee per week, you can mark it 30 cents over what you originally bought it from the distributor for - maybe $3.29. If you sell, say, three, then you'd better mark it up enough to make a decent profit and make it worth keeping on the shelf - say to $4.99. In a convenience store - people expect you to have things like toothbrushes and instant coffee - but you might go two to three weeks between selling one. That one on the shelf took the effort of several people to order, send, price, stock, dust and replace if it goes out of date. And if you happen to need it in the middle of the night, that's exactly what you're paying for - the fact that Wal-Mart sold 3,000 in the time it took us to sell ONE. You're welcome.

Don't ask "Can you check in back" or hint "There's really no more... NOT EVEN IN THE BACK?" to anyone other than possibly a teenager

"The back" isn't some magical place where there's more of everything. Odds are, if we're out of something on the shelf, everybody in the store knows it - we've already looked for it, because we've either already been asked about 100 times that day or we've been out for a while. If we DO finally go into the back to look around for you, we're not looking: we're smoking a cigarette, gathering everybody in the back, pointing to the live monitor and saying "This person is a douchebag."

PLEASE: Study the lottery for a minute before you play it!

This could be an entire new post. I don't know how many times people - and people I see often - come in and say something like "Can I get one Powerball? .......... Wait, no - What game is tonight again? Mega? Can I get a Mega?" No. You can't. It takes me all of half a second to print a lottery ticket. They cannot be cancelled and are non-refundable. If you make a mistake IT'S YOURS!

Visit if you care to play. Study it carefully. If one game manages to reach 300 million again and you go out to play - BE SURE WHAT GAME IT IS BEFORE YOU GO! This is for both your sake and mine (and possibly our future millions together).  

Throwing crumpled money on the counter

Not the worst thing, but not classy.

Stealing that nickel out of the penny jar

I can still see you while I'm making your change. Loser.

A note on Cell phones...

This was one of my dad's biggest pet peeves (he would give people incorrect change. Nobody ever noticed).

I really don't mind if you're talking on a phone as we engage - it's a different age we live in - one in which, if you don't answer your cell, people assume you're either dead or cheating or possibly both - BUT ONLY IF you acknowledge me and the transaction that is occurring. We don't need to talk very loudly, but a smile is nice. When somebody comes up to the counter, talks for 2 minutes before they noticed that I've rang and bagged everything and told them the total, and then glares at me angrily as if they were waiting for ME, they then strike me as somebody who is too rude to bother myself much with in the future.

True story: I actually had three - THREE - completely oblivious cell phone talkers approach the counter all at once one time and stop, each thinking that they were at the back of the line. Meanwhile, I stood at the counter ringing-up nobody, waiting for the first person to notice. This went on for several minutes. You're just wasting your own time. I'm paid to stand there.

Other people who don't really bother me (even though they often act as if they do)...

People who don't speak English (I didn't either, at one point).
People with reasonable questions (we've all got them).
People charging only three or four dollars on a card (we live in a paperless world).
People with large bills (if you ask, it's usually not a problem).
People paying in all change (honestly we can usually use it).
People in general (I swear!).

One final thing. I've worked tip jobs before - they work. If I got two calls at once, I was automatically obligated to leap to the attention of the bachelor party who's attending father gave me $30 and told me to take care of his son for the night first. No matter how I feel about money, it's courtesy on my end to give good service to the guy who gave out his hard-earned money and make sure he has a good time.

You might think that when you enter a store, people are there to serve you no matter what. But, believe it or not, there are tons of people who care very little for their jobs. So much so they'd almost rather be fired.

Simple courtesy works as a tip. If you're nice to me - I'll remember you - I'll look at you first next time - you will get good service and have a place to come back to.

There are plenty of customers out there - if you're not nice, I'd rather not have you in my store.

I take pride in running businesses the way I do. You should appreciate that there are people out there who still give a crap about what they do. Even if the jobs seem mundane. Even if they are service jobs.

Be nice.


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  • So many things that needed to be said. THANK YOU!!!

    The only things that I would like to add is:
    Don't act like I'm interrupting your day when you call/come in to me asking for a service. It's not my fault that you're doing this last minute and you needed the operator to dial out to the judge 10 minutes ago/you're on your way to a funeral and don't have anything black at home.

    Don't talk to me like I'm stupid just because I'm in a "lesser" job to provide a "lesser" service to you. I'm not stupid because I work in retail. I'm not stupid because I work in a call center.

  • In reply to SManning2007:

    Hahah.. I get that one when people hand me change after the fact and then try to do the math for me. Thanks, i can figure it out -- been doing this for a while.

  • In reply to SManning2007:

    Two more:

    Please don't leave cooler doors open and PLEASE - there is no reason to put milk or dairy down on a warm shelf when you decide you don't want it anymore! (What would your grandmother say?!)

    When I swipe a card at my current store I have to ask "Credit or debit?" A lot of people say "Whatever's easier." You know.. They're BOTH pretty freakin "easy"... You know what isn't? Getting an answer out of you.

  • In reply to nixhexison:

    Oh, my gosh, I think I do this--the whatever is easier thing. Sorry. I also say that when at the fruit market and they ask "plastic or box?" I'll be more decisive next time. Thanks! Funny (and informative) stuff!

  • In reply to jtithof:

    There are probably a few cases in which some scenario is easier -- ex. When I was bagging at a grocery store in Peoria nearly a decade ago, plastic bags were obviously easier to put things in, but you had to respect a customer's initiative to GO GREENer with paper (now i use re-usable bags, and have learned to navigate them decently).

    The thing is, whenever somebody says that, I always go right do DEBIT (because who am i to mess with somebody's credit?)... And you'd be amazed how many people don't even remember their pin number.

  • Congratulations on making my next list.

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