Even in the best circumstances, grocery shopping is a pain in the ass. Add in a global pandemic and it’s a straight-up nightmare.
I would know, too. In addition to my job infotaining you at The Bozho, I also work at a Madison-area grocery store. I’ve been there every day since last week, paying witness to people losing their damn minds in the face of unprecedented uncertainty. Normally these folks prefer to speak to me like I’m either A) not there, or B) so stupid I don’t know what broccoli is. But in our new status quo, the script’s been flipped.
Now I am spoken to with the solemn reverence of a decorated combat veteran, or at the very least someone who deserves even the slightest amount of respect. I get it: in a world where almost everything has shut down, grocery stores are a bastion of stability and normalcy. Well, sort of. People are still over- and under-buying, unaware of what or how much of it to get.
So riding high on my newfound sense of human dignity, I’d like to offer some expertise.
DO have a plan
Preparation is key. Don’t come in without an idea of what you’re going to do. It seems like common sense, but make a list. It will provide a little organization in a disorganized environment, and also help keep you from going overboard. Speaking of…
DON’T go overboard
Even in states that are on lockdown, grocery stores are staying open. You’ll be able to get the essentials. And while I can’t speak for any store other than my own, the amount of products we can order is capped to prevent shortages. So over-buying would be crippling an already limited supply. Basically, you’d be the hand sanitizer guy.
DO make concessions
Unfortunately, you’re not always going to get your favorite flavor. And if it’s not on the shelf in front of you, it’s probably not in stock. So save yourself some time by not asking the grocery clerk to check in the back for you. For one thing, it’s not there. And for another, doing this just wastes time that could be spent stocking what the store does have.
DON’T bring your own bags
Big ups to local market magnate Tim Metcalfe for pointing this one out: leave the green bags at home. While environmental consciousness is incredibly important, reusable bags are major germ carriers. They expose employees and other customers to unnecessary risk — and they also take longer to bag with, which holds up already huge lines. Just stick with paper for the time being.
DO be courteous
Despite having low-wage, thankless jobs that often don’t even offer them sick days, grocery store workers are putting themselves at risk every day. They deal with tons of people, some of whom are carrying COVID-19 without even knowing it. Plus, even as a customer you already know how stressful being in a grocery store is right now. Try doing that for eight hours while being asked every 10 minutes where the rubbing alcohol is.
DON’T argue about restrictions
At my store, we’re up to a page-long list of items with quantity restrictions. Toilet paper, rice, pasta and all sorts of other basic necessities each have a one-item limit. And guess what? Arguing about it will get you nowhere! Our cash registers are programmed to deny sales of two cases of toilet paper. It’s a literal, mechanical impossibility. Congratulations, you’re just like the rest of us — at the mercy of a broken system overburdened by a catastrophic pandemic.
If you take anything away from this piece, make it this: “Preparation is key.” Have a plan and be reasonable, and all of a sudden the daunting task of buying groceries becomes a bit less draining. Now, how’s that for a slice of fried gold?