3 Things to Always Do with Your Cart in Trader Joe’s — And 3 to Never Do

published Jul 23, 2023
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Photo: Shutterstock; Design: Apartment Therapy

You know that one viral tweet that’s like, “I don’t simply go through airport security. I have a goal. I want everyone in line to be blown away by my efficiency.” Well, shopping at Trader Joe’s is not dissimilar to getting through TSA. The lines for both go fast and furiously. Plus, the workers at both places are just the kinds of people you want to be on your side. Having worked at Trader Joe’s for over two years, I know a few ways to become a Trader Joe’s crew members’ BFF and get through the store speedily.

The simplest way? Brushing up on a few key shopping cart etiquette tips that might not be super obvious, but do a world of good for maintaining everyone’s dignity in the checkout line. Not only will your shopping trip be even more efficient, but you could also even gain a new ally in the process (with all the hot new item intel, to boot). So what are some easy do’s and don’ts to keep in mind on your next Trader Joe’s run? You just might be a bit surprised by a few of them. 

Credit: Courtesy of Melanie

Do just get a cart or basket (and don’t rely on your hands).

If I had a nickel for every time I heard a customer say “I only just came in for one thing,” just before dropping a cascading waterfall of canned beans, a whole gallon of milk, and a precarious bottle of Pinot into my arms, I’d basically be Scrooge McDuck diving into my pool of nickels. There’s no award for Not Using a Cart or Basket, but I have given my own awards out for Most Likely to Drop a Bottle of Wine on Someone’s Foot. Don’t be that person. 

It also might seem small, but carts and baskets ensure a safe bit of personal space in an often crowded space for everyone. Especially having worked during peak COVID, I know firsthand that a cart can gift us all a brief moment of personal space.

Don’t leave trash in your cart.

I wish this was more common sense, but alas. Here we are. This bears no clarification, really. I just wouldn’t be surprised when said trash (used hand wipes, old banana peels, empty coffee cups) might very well end up in your grocery bag for you to dispose of later. 

Do separate your groceries (if you’re sharing a cart with your bestie).

This is the #1 way to make any crew member your best friend — full stop. Personally, my coworkers and I could often hear horror movie music when groups of shoppers approached us with one packed, mixed-up cart, but with multiple shoppers using the same cart. If you think you’re ready to check out, pause for a moment: Are all your groceries in somewhat-organized corners? 

It doesn’t have to look like a still life, obviously, but holding up a line to hand your cashier each item one by one is a quick way to be the cause for a traffic jam. Still want to weave through the store with one cart? Using the baby seat (or even putting separate hand baskets into said cart) will save everyone a whole lot of time and headache. 

Credit: Sarah Crowley

Don’t bury your reusable bags underneath all your goodies. 

Look, we love that you brought your bags. Love it! Don’t get us wrong, we love stacking all your goodies in those suckers like Tetris and separating your frozen into that handy cooler bag, and oooh, where did you get that bag? Reusable bags pretty much always earn a gold star, except for one (extremely common) habit of shoppers: Burying their bags under a monster grocery shop or, worse, asking us to re-bag your groceries into reusable bags when we’ve already packed it into store bags. 

Another notable no-no? Using your bags as a never-ending Matryoshka-style nesting doll. I’d highly suggest only bringing in the bags you know you need, rather than the entire tangled collection; it makes it really hard to maneuver your bags when all the straps resemble a rat king. 

Credit: Tom Werner/Getty Images

Do take any precious cargo (i.e., kids) out of your cart before checking out.

Yes, they’re cute. Yes, they’re probably also an angel and a Certified Good Helper, but kids can absolutely help outside of the cart, too. This is not just for their safety (I’ve seen way too many kids stand at the exact wrong time and tip the carts over), but it can also often put a crew member in an uncomfortable situation. 

We just want to scan your groceries as quickly as possible, which can be doubly hard with an infant, toddler, or even kindergarten-age child in the cart (who is likely sitting on your loaf of sourdough, too). Also, I’ve been coughed on by a child and 12/10 would love to save anyone else from that same fate! 

Credit: Corinna Haselmayer

Don’t get too attached to your cart.

Look, we get it. It’s easy to get attached to your cart. It makes you feel safe knowing just where your bagged salads and Brazil Nut Butter are! But if you’re never more than a few inches away from your cart (and likely blocking others who are trying to browse while you check the sodium content on that Mandarin Orange Chicken during rush hour), it might be worth establishing what I call a “Home Base” for your cart. 

Especially if grocery shops are a family affair (and you have many people body-guarding that cart), consider putting your cart off in a more neutral, less sardine-packed part of the store and having each member of your party go sans cart to grab their wares and then return it to the cart Home Base. On one hand, it saves you from the “Where’d Dad go now?” drama, but it also ensures that you (and others) can weave through the aisles more efficiently. 

Got any other shopping cart dos and don’ts for Trader Joe’s? Leave them in the comments below.

This post originally appeared on The Kitchn. See it there: The Dos and Don’ts of Trader Joe’s Cart Etiquette, According to a Former Employee