Am I supposed to bag my own groceries?
August 28, 2018 3:15 PM   Subscribe

Where I'm from there were no grocery baggers and everyone just did it themselves. This made sense to me. The checkout person has their job, and I have my job, and we are working together to get me out of there as fast as possible. Now where I live (Northern California) there are sometimes baggers there and sometimes not. When there is no bagger, I can't tell if I'm insulting the cashier by doing the bagging myself, or if I'm pissing them off by not doing the bagging myself. When there is a bagger, I similarly can't tell if I'm insulting them by doing some of it to speed up the job, or being a lazy asshole by standing there on my phone. Please help.
posted by bleep to Human Relations (42 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
As someone who plenty of years ago was a cashier at a grocery store that only intermittently employed baggers: Go ahead and bag your own groceries if you want. I like it when you bag your own, because a. I don't have to, and b. I won't mess it up. I wouldn't be insulted either way.
posted by General Malaise at 3:19 PM on August 28, 2018 [14 favorites]

I've wondered this myself, especially now that we have to bring our own bags. I usually say something like, "Don't mind me, I just can't stand still!" and then chuckle nervously as I start bagging.
posted by elsietheeel at 3:24 PM on August 28, 2018 [7 favorites]

Bag if you want to, don't if you don't want to and don't mind waiting for the cashier to do it.

I usually bag my own stuff, even if there is a bagger there. I smile at them and say "I'll get this – I know how to fit things into my reusable bags. Thanks!" I've never gotten a bad response; they're usually glad enough to move on to helping someone else.
posted by Lexica at 3:25 PM on August 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

You're still working together to get you out of the store a.s.a.p.

No bagger = yes, you at least start the bagging. Leave off when it's time to pay, and your checker will fill the final bag if necessary.

Bagger = "May I?/Can I?" you ask. Your bagger nods or shakes their head / says, "Sure!" or "No, I've got it."

(I'm your neighbor in Southern California. Solo checkers are pleased when I bag my groceries. Some baggers have declined my assistance, either because the bagging area was so small we'd be jockeying for items, or because they had their own system (and said so).)
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:26 PM on August 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

its never wrong to bag your own stuff or help the bagger. I've been a supermarket cashier and I am also a person (in NorCal) who always bags my own or helps. generally I am thanked for making the effort.
posted by supermedusa at 3:26 PM on August 28, 2018 [7 favorites]

When I lived in Northern California, the norm was to bag groceries yourself unless there was someone bagging (in which case, saying "I've got this" would send them to another line).

Regardless, I think being on your phone while someone is scanning and/or bagging your groceries is rude. It's perhaps two minutes out of your day and you can acknowledge their presence, even if you/they don't want to make small talk, especially since many people ignore them.
posted by hoyland at 3:37 PM on August 28, 2018 [10 favorites]

I'm also in NorCal. The shops I go to have some baggers, but not one per lane. If a bagger is there, I'll let them bag stuff up while I pay. If I finish paying and I won't get in their way I'll help bag the rest (unless the cashier starts to bag also). Same thing if the cashier starts bagging -- if it's just a few things and it would be more of an inconvenience to them if I reached over and started grabbing stuff I'll just let them do it. If there's no bagger I will usually start bagging, break off when I pay, and help when I'm done if needed.

No one seems to mind this, and it's not like you're expected to tip the baggers so I'm not jilting someone out of their expected earnings. I always assumed that they either didn't care or were glad to have me do it so they could help others who are less able or inclined to bag stuff themselves.
posted by ananci at 3:46 PM on August 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

I am also not from NorCal and I also am used to no baggers ever and I just bag my own groceries if there isn't a bagger there. Just Do It.
posted by GuyZero at 3:51 PM on August 28, 2018

I asked a Trader Joe's bagger this a couple months ago and he said "definitely go right ahead and bag them, saves me from having to do it" which was pretty much what I expected from someone who bags groceries all day.

So yeah, I always bag them myself and I figure most baggers want you to at least help out (as long as you aren't like super slow) and if they say they'll do it themselves it's usually because they've been instructed by management to do it themselves.
posted by joechip at 4:01 PM on August 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've found that the only time that a cashier might be bothered by my bagging my own groceries is if they perceive it as happening out of frustration or impatience with the cashier or possible bagger/lack of bagger. As a former cashier, I have fond memories of cranky customers ripping plastic bags from the stand to show their GREAT and POWERFUL time was being wasted because I wasn't able to both ring their stuff and bag their stuff simultaneously. I usually just start bagging my own stuff and make sure to smile and thank everyone before leaving with sincerity for their time and effort and I've never had an issue.
posted by Merinda at 4:06 PM on August 28, 2018 [4 favorites]

You have purchased groceries. If you, with your adult common sense and judgement, feel it would be useful, efficient, and/or preferable to bag them yourself, do that. It isn't rude.
posted by theora55 at 4:21 PM on August 28, 2018

posted by bunderful at 4:23 PM on August 28, 2018 [5 favorites]

Having been out of the grocery business a few decades, I think most of the things people have said so far are generally true, but there is one general exception:

Please do not be that customer who bags groceries at a snail's pace, or has to pack the perfectly packed bag, or is rude or negative about it. Holding up the line so that you can bag your own groceries is rude to customers behind you in line, and may also ding the score for checkers who are scored by the number of items scanned per hour. I don't know if they do that anymore, today's checkers seem substantially slower and don't seem to do two-handed scanning.

I was an assistant manager at a smaller supermarket that eventually got driven out of business. We were often under a lot of pressure because the dollars weren't there to justify staff sufficient to handle peaks, and anyone able to bag their groceries at a reasonable pace was a big help, because throwing items across the scanner and down the belt is extremely fast compared to the checker bagging the groceries. So a bagger, whether an employee or a customer, can be a great thing. However, this can be messed up when you have a single checker with several large orders, and a bagger becomes available, and you have a customer who desperately wants to bag their own groceries "so the bread isn't crushed" etc. Or a customer leaves the bagging stand a mess of ripped-off plastic bags, or other trash.

Checkers typically appreciate you very much if you cheerfully and quickly bag your own groceries. However, it is definitely part of the checker's job to bag the groceries if you do not wish to. It is absolutely part of the service a grocery store offers.
posted by jgreco at 4:25 PM on August 28, 2018 [6 favorites]

I really appreciate all the answers so far! I guess I missed that previously because it's using "bagginggroceries" and I used "grocerybagging".
posted by bleep at 4:29 PM on August 28, 2018 [4 favorites]

I buy groceries at Walmart frequently and they generally don't have a space for me to bag my own stuff. The cashier just does it as they scan.

To help out, I make sure to put my items on the conveyor belt in a way that makes sense for bagging - i.e. cans together, chips together, frozen food together, etc. I hope that it makes their day easier in some small way.
posted by tacodave at 4:53 PM on August 28, 2018 [8 favorites]

Bag if you feel like it. We're all hippie commune types out here anyway.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:01 PM on August 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

I bag my own until I have to do the pay thing with my card. The only exception I make is at one store I do not frequent that employs baggers with Downs Syndrome. I think it would send a message to those baggers that I do not think they are capable.

Also, I generally put things on the belt as I would want them bagged bc I am going to unload in my kitchen. I put the refrigerated stuff together, the frozen stuff together, the dry goods, etc.
posted by AugustWest at 5:04 PM on August 28, 2018 [9 favorites]

If there’s no bagger, I bag myself until it’s time to pay, then I move back to the credit card thing and pay while the cashier bags whatever’s left over.

I hate bagging, so I generally choose checkout lines with baggers, but sometimes they leave before it’s my turn. I find that baggers show up and relieve me more often when I’m wearing my kid in a carrier — maybe I look extra helpless?
posted by liet at 5:13 PM on August 28, 2018

If there’s someone there bagging, let them. If there isn’t, do it yourself.

If a bagger arrives midway through either team up or let them finish solo, depending on how much room there is etc.

This was my practice in NorCal (how I miss you Berkeley Bowl!) and everywhere else and I haven’t been scolded yet.
posted by notyou at 5:22 PM on August 28, 2018

"Do you mind if I bag my groceries?"

I'm generally, if not chatty (some cashiers may not want to chat), fairly open and friendly with the cashiers. It makes sense to just ask if it's okay. There's also one grocery store we go to where the cashiers and the baggers do a really awful job with bagging the groceries (apples on top of bread, etc) so I prefer to do it myself, and I know for a fact they don't care.

We live in Canada, though.
posted by JamesBay at 5:46 PM on August 28, 2018

1/2 of the time the checker bags while I'm doing the payment dance, 1/3 of the time there's a bagger, 1/6 of the time I do it myself.
posted by rhizome at 6:09 PM on August 28, 2018

I used to bag my own (I bring my own bags and I'm fast). At the store I go to now, though, the cashiers scan things directly into plastic bags, and never send them down to the end of the bagging area. I found it too awkward to specifically request they extend the conveyor belt so I can bag my own items, so I just handy over my bags now. I do make a point of unloading my cart in a reasonable pattern for easy bagging (e.g. all the cold stuff goes on the belt together).
posted by pemberkins at 6:17 PM on August 28, 2018

With a cashier only, I think they prefer you to do the bagging... why wouldn't they?? The problem is that everywhere I lived the only time there were baggers was if it was high school kids volunteering for a donation, or people paid less than minimum wage with the expectation of a tip for bagging. So as someone who prefers to bag my own groceries (call me crazy but I don't want a watermelon on top of delicate expensive tomatoes on the vine) I felt like a cheap bastard bagging my own groceries. But the alternative is paying someone to not do a job because they suck at the job. It's always been an awkward experience for me when there is a bagging person present.
posted by at 8:21 PM on August 28, 2018

In Jersey growing up there were no baggers and the expectation was that you'd bad your own. I actually liked this better. Now, I always make a judgement call. If there's a bagger waiting, I let them do their thing.
posted by xammerboy at 8:28 PM on August 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you put your bags before your groceries on the belt I'm happy to bag things for you. I'm fast, so it doesn't take me any longer than it would to put them in plastic, and I find it much more interesting than standing there awkwardly while you attempt nobly to both bag and pay simultaneously. But nobody's going to get hurt feelings by you bagging on your own unless you're mean in some other way, and if you're a control freak it can actually avoid hurting my feelings. If you think I'm not intelligent enough to put bread and cold stuff where they should go, for example, definitely bag your own stuff. Please.
posted by the liquid oxygen at 8:37 PM on August 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

I've been in this situation a lot, and the only time in my life I felt I really messed up the social protocol was when I tried to help the bagger by going to the end of the check stand, near where the bagger was, and bagging items at the same time as the bagger was bagging items. The bagger stepped back and said, in a firm boundary-setting way, "I can bag or you can bag but we can't do both", and it was awkward and embarrassing. Based on that experience, I would caution against "helping" a bagger who is actively bagging, at least not without asking first to make sure you're not getting in the way or upsetting their system. Otherwise I think anything goes.
posted by Syllepsis at 10:03 PM on August 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

You could sincerely ask them, hey can I help you bag the groceries? And see what they say. Seems like there may be people who feel both ways.
posted by namesarehard at 11:07 PM on August 28, 2018

I bag if there’s no bagger and yield to the bagger if there is one. I appreciate when the cashier and I can tag team the bagging after I’ve paid. I do try to group things somewhat when I’m checking it which helps. Mostly I’m just trying to make things as painless as possible for everyone.
posted by notheotherone at 11:24 PM on August 28, 2018

NorCal native. If the bagger seems eager and is moving quickly, they may prefer that you stay out of their way, because they have a system. In all other cases, everyone involved is happy for you to do as much of the bagging as possible, as long as it doesn't slow down the "answer questions and pay for things" part.

When I was younger, most supermarkets had a bagger at each aisle. As stores decided that they needed more profits, that role was one of the first to go, first dropping to fewer baggers, and eventually many stores phased them out entirely.

Aaaand around that time, we got plastic bags, and all of a sudden, the baggers' incredibly efficient systems stopped working. They used to be able to stack a few heavy things on the bottom, some medium-weight-but-not-squishable things in the middle, and lightweight/easily-damaged things on top, and they'd work to make sure the weights were fairly balanced. Then everyone switched to plastic as much as possible, and you couldn't put a six-pack, two cans of soup, a pound of cheese, two containers of lunchmeat, and a loaf of bread, all in one bag - it might fit, but it'd rip on the way to the car. Oh, and every store had a slightly different size and shape of bags. So the art of "pack groceries well" got lost, and you are no longer likely to be notably slower than the assigned bagger.

For the most part: they want you out of the way ASAP. If that can be done with you bagging, great. If you'd just slow down the bagger and/or cashier, they'd rather you didn't bag.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:53 PM on August 28, 2018

I live in New Jersey and there is seldom a bagger and I'm sort of judgy of people who don't bag their own groceries. I find it painful to be behind people standing around waiting for the cashier to bag, like I always wonder why they want to spend moments of their life waiting for someone to put their groceries in bag without trying to help and get out of the store faster. If there is a bagger, I always tell them I can do it and they go to a different register to help.
posted by katinka-katinka at 12:36 AM on August 29, 2018

Bagging is pretty helpful, I do it whenever I have a free moment. If I have a ton of groceries and I know it'll be a little while til I pay, I start bagging. Generally whatever gets both of us out faster is really great and cashiers have a lot of repetitive stress so I don't mind doing a bit.

Sometimes though, my bag is confusing to bag so I ask for assistance haha. They are professionals and I am just a layman.
posted by yueliang at 1:18 AM on August 29, 2018

Another data point from the bagger's POV: if they're not bagging they may well have to go get carts, face shelves, or clean something. Now depending on the person, time of day, point in their shift, weather outside...they may prefer to bag, or prefer not to. Baaack in the day when I was a bagger I usually preferred to bag, but was never offended if a customer wanted to do it themselves (as long as they weren't rude).
posted by attercoppe at 1:35 AM on August 29, 2018

Do what you like. Personally I feel like my main job as the shooper is to get through the process of paying on the PIN pad as quickly as possible, and then after that I'll bag depending on whether or not the cashier has already done most of it. But I'm a single guy who rarely has more than a handful of groceries; if I were coming in with a family-sized cart worth, there would probably be an appreciable wait between starting the PIN transaction and giving final approval on the price, and I'd be more likely to get in there and bag up my stuff during that time while the cashier is ringing things up.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:25 AM on August 29, 2018

I guess all I would say in addition to the above is that if you bag your own, be quick about it. Don't make the cashier and the people behind you wait a long time while you play Tetris with your groceries, just jump in there and make it happen.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:32 AM on August 29, 2018

I am in the South, have always lived in the south and the answer for me is, "It depends."
International Markets, Like Great Wall, Assi, Mercado El Tapatio, Let them bag it unless they indicate otherwise or they get cranky.
Local Kroger, bag my own
Publix, Let them bag it AND take it to my car if more than one bag.
Whole Foods, Let them bag it
Trader Jo, depends. If a bagger is there, let them, otherwise I can bag.

I bring my own bags, except to the International Markets because they will look at you like you grew a second head. I just recycle/reuse those bags.
posted by ReiFlinx at 4:04 AM on August 29, 2018

The conclusion I’m drawing is that no one actually knows what they’re supposed to be doing during this time huh.
posted by bleep at 8:42 AM on August 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

Another NorCal: 90% of the time now (ESPECIALLY since the bag law came into effect) there are no baggers to be had. If I don't bag my own, it won't get done, so I have no choice. I assume that grocery stores, like literally everywhere else, are too short staffed to have baggers. The only time the cashier ever does it is if we get to the point where I have to stop bagging in order to run my card through the machine, THEN they may start doing the bagging because I can't.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:17 PM on August 29, 2018

"Regardless, I think being on your phone while someone is scanning and/or bagging your groceries is rude. It's perhaps two minutes out of your day and you can acknowledge their presence, even if you/they don't want to make small talk, especially since many people ignore them."

This is something that requires a little scouting and awareness. I know personally most cashier type jobs I've had, I'd rather limit the amount of "friendly" interaction I have to do. For starters, I am here doing menial labor for unhealthy pay, I am a part of a machine to take your money and send you home with things. The last thing I want to be aware of during the job is my own humanity. As a human, I definitely don't want to be standing there doing an antiquated job of scanning items with a hilarious system reliant on printed lines. I will be friendly and amicable, as it is a function of my job, but it performative, I am not actually experiencing pleasure from the job, I don't actually care about whatever pleasantries we're exchanging. In that way, being "rude" to me by not making me exercise the customer service affect is actually a small kindness. "I" am not the cashier, I am a person performing the role of a cashier and I am reluctant to merge those things.

Other people are different, however, and rudeness to them as cashier will be taken as rudeness to them, as a being. So you kind of just have to feel it out and make some body language assessments. With regards to bagging, seems like just asking is the best bet across various personalities and circumstance.
posted by GoblinHoney at 1:43 PM on August 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm trying to remember the last time I saw a store employee who did bagging of groceries and wasn't also the cashier anywhere other than Costco.

Cashiering at Costco is a team sport, and you would be well advised to stay out of the way. Usually they default to boxes, but they will use any bags you've brought as well. If you really want to bag your own things you can just have them put back in the cart after they are rung up, and bag them up while sitting in the food court or something.

Publix, Let them bag it AND take it to my car if more than one bag

I've never had groceries brought out to my car for me except once when I was recovering from surgery and specifically requested help. The only stores I've seen where things are taken to your car as a matter of course are stores that sell things like major appliances and furniture. The idea of a store carrying out your groceries as a matter of course is mind boggling. What if you don't have a car and live a block away, will they take them to your house???
posted by yohko at 3:13 PM on August 29, 2018

That person would have to ask "can you help me to my house?" rather than "can you help me to my car?"
posted by rhizome at 4:48 PM on August 29, 2018

Lifelong supermarket worker here (though I haven't been on the front end in decades). First: if you have reusable bags, please put them first on the belt. Second: our chain has a new thing where the cashiers are supposed to bag as they scan, to allegedly shorten the time. Some of them still don't fill the bags, and occasionally no matter how I group my items, I'll still end up with cold stuff mixed with non cold stuff. And I work there! So I like to bag items myself. Third: if you have a very large order, it is faster if you help bag while the clerk scans. Please don't stand there until the table is so loaded that the cashier has to stop scanning just to bag items to make room. Fourth: If you are on your cell phone, please be nice and at least acknowledge the cashiers existence. I can't tell you how many rude people are out there (I'm looking at you, central NJ).
posted by annieb at 5:54 PM on August 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Used to bag groceries and was a cashier. Now, if there is no bagger and I feel like it, I do the bagging and get thanked by the cashier. If there is a bagger I let them do it so I don't get in the way. If I'm bagging and the bagger comes up, I assume they wouldn't have come up if they weren't going to bag, so I step aside. Easy peasy.
posted by davejay at 6:08 PM on August 29, 2018

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