Monday, November 25, 2013

Grocery Store Holiday Survival Tips

So most of you who follow me know I manage a grocery store and have worked in one for more than half my life. I am used to working holidays, for me it just comes with the territory I have no bitterness. I actually enjoy the energy and excitement of the holidays at work, just not how exhausting it is! Last year each day leading up to Thanksgiving I posted some tips on my Facebook page and got lots of likes and comments- this year I am just going to pop them into a post for you. These are just my personal tips and can vary among regions but as a rule I think they are pretty universal.

When to shop- early in the morning, like when your store opens. Most things are fresh and full, all of the most experienced employees and department managers work mornings, if you have any questions they are there to help. Also the morning help has other people they can call to check if the lines back up. After 7-8 at night all of the "closers" are by themselves. Sometimes they are newer less experienced help and again are alone trying to get everything cleaned and ready for the next day. The store and assistant manager have gone home and the supervisor or night manager is busy closing registers- end result departments low on product and lines can back up. So you would think why not schedule your help when it's busiest? Well. Because you can't get any thing done with people pushing carts all around and asking you a bunch of questions!! It's a double edged sword.

What day to shop- the week before people! Get everything except your fresh vegetables way ahead of time. You will get the best selection and have less craziness. If your buying a fresh turkey- people tend to think that they need to get it a day before so it's the freshest. Fresh turkeys have a 6 to 10 day shelf life- most likely the turkeys on the shelf today will have the same code date as the ones we put out for the next 10 days, so just look at the code date and if it's before Thanksgiving just buy it. You need at least 3 days to fully defrost a turkey with out going to a lot of extra trouble-but many of you will be buying one Wed and asking us how to defrost it!

Too late for the week before? The week of Thanksgiving gets progressively busier, Monday- crazy busy especially around the 4-8pm hours, Tuesday-all the people who want everything fresh, but don't want to wait until last minute will be there. Wednesday- procrastinators will be there and all the Tuesday shoppers who forgot stuff they need - so more crazy. Wednesday is insanity all day long and we start to run out of things. Wednesday at a grocery store is hands down the busiest sales day of the entire year- but don't let that stop you, everyone else will be there too.

Take a list and go to the seasonal area first! That is the big barge like displays at the front entrances-usually. Okay people- the shelf only holds 8 cans of fried onion topping, everyone buys one, so only 8 customers get to buy off the shelf and bam it's out of stock! That's why we build gigantic seasonal displays- yet people still insist on going down each aisle to shop. Yes, those same aisles that have all of the cardboard displays getting in your way! Go to the huge displays on the perimeter of the store you will find most things you need, then you only have to go down the aisles for a few things- so much easier.

Speaking of aisles- now you know why we put all those annoying cardboard displays (shippers we call them) down the aisles- because the shelf will not hold all of the product we need for the holidays. So why drag your entire cart down the aisle??? Leave your cart at the end- keep your purse on you- and walk comfortable down the aisle to get your chocolate chips ( which by the way were probably on the seasonal display!)

Speaking of purses- I have worked in the richest and poorest of neighborhoods- I can tell you that wallet thieves love nice neighborhoods during the holidays- please people keep your purses on you and keep them shut!

Bakery/ Service Deli tips- if you are making a special order, do it 3 to 4 days in advance. No more than 6. Why? Well they have a clip system for orders that is one weeks worth. So if you are order over a week in advance there is a better chance it could accidentally get made early- then your order gets tossed away when you don't come for it. Or it could fall off the clip. Then you come for it and no order! It seems like it would be totally obvious but sometimes there are multiple people involved and not everyone is sharp enough during this busy season to notice-so don't order too far in advance or trouble could await you.

Spice advice- spices are usually divided by brand/sweet or savory/then alphabetical order. So find the brand you want, look for the savory or sweet, then look by name- super easy.

Can you check in the back? NO, I can not! We have a little saying in the grocery store, it doesn't sell from the back room. Almost all holiday grocery items will be out on the sales floor- so don't even ask to check the back, check the seasonal area or those annoying shippers! Or look above on the cap shelves sometimes extras are up there.
Here are some exceptions:
Soda and beer- holding power is small on some of these and vendors usually do have more stocked up in back
Spirits- we don't put a lot out because thieves love to steal them when it's busy- so we usually have extra locked up in back or at the service desk.
Wines- but only the popular ones- like Kendall Jackson Chardonnay if there is only one row of them on the self- they are usually not popular enough to have extra in the back so pick something else.

So what's in the back? It's our backstock which is usually half cases and loose items that didn't fit in shelf plus extra paper goods, 24 pack waters, soda and beer- looking for that one packet of obscure gravy is like looking for a needle in a haystack!

Staff- most grocery stores are closed shop unions. We can not just hire a bunch of seasonal help to take all of the hours of our union employees for the holidays. However that puts us in a tough situation. Even if I scheduled all of my help 40 hours a week- I still would not have enough help to cover all of the sales I do. Why don't they have more people in the deli? Well I do, but they are working around the clock right now, so this is all I have! Why don't they have enough baggers? Well they are all working, trying to keep up with double the carts, double the go backs, triple the questions (can you look in back for me?) and on top of that some of them know how to check- so they may even be in the check stand. A lot of the clerks are students or this is there second job or they are under 18 which legally limits their work schedule. That's where all the baggers are!

Calling the store- as noted above we are all pretty busy- can't get anyone in the deli on the phone? That's because they are helping customers at the counter. I wish I had someone to just answer the phone all day- but I don't. I try my best, but the number of calls jumps tenfold. If you have a special order make it when you are in the store in person. If you want to call and check if we are in stock try early in the morning- again all the managers, office clerks, department managers all work in the morning lots more help

Having mercy- as a rule most of you already know it's going to be crazy. So coming in with a lot of time and patience will help. Expect lines, expect busy aisles and expect grumpy employees (although we try to keep our spirits up! It can be hard after the 70th person asks you if you have any 20lb frozen butterballs left, when you have been out for three days and want to slit your wrists every time this is asked- are you sure, can you look in back? Lol!

I know a grocery store is not a perfect place, I know my employees and policies aggravate all of you. I got a taste of that when I was off work with my broken ankle. WHAT? I am out of milk? I HAVE to go to the STORE???? Arghhh, so I get it, it's a chore... I wish I could make it better and I do try- but hopefully this post gives you a little peek behind the curtain of a grocery store and makes it no so aggravating for you! In a nutshell-shop early, shop the seasonal display, don't drag your cart down the aisle, and relax and take your time!


  1. Denise you are bringing back so many memories for me : ) great info!

  2. My husband does all our grocery shopping and follows your advise. He primarily shops one neighborhood store, knows the lay of the store, and employees. He shops early with a list planned by aisle and is in and out of the store in 20 minutes or less.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

  3. This post is so timely. I'll be hitting the grocery for THE annual holidays shopping of our family.