#501 Picking the fastest moving line at the grocery store checkout

You can do it.

Motor around filling your basket with food before spying the checkouts and picking your poison. Here’s five tips for living life in the fast lane:

5. Skip your greens. Keep away from shopping carts full of strange produce. Anyone with little bags of cilantro or parsley is a guaranteed slowdown because they’ll force cashiers to look up produce codes.

4. Saving spaces, angry faces. Watch out for the single guy holding a box of aluminum foil. Sure, he may look like a quick checkout but he might be a spot-saver for a big-wheeling partner who’s about to cruise around the corner with a fat cart stuffed with frozen food. If he’s glancing around nervously, avoid the line.

3. Bag the bagger. I hate to break it to you but you’re terrible at bagging. Sorry, but look at you — wedging frozen peas beside fresh bread, setting potatoes on eggs, making one bag really heavy and one bag really light. No, you’ve got to leave bagging to the pros. Since some lines have baggers and some don’t make sure you pick one with a helper to get the job done right.

2. Take a flyer on the flyer. Customers holding dog-eared flyers are probably going to ask questions, try to get a rain check, or slowly tear out all the coupons. Just remember this handy phrase: Flyer in tow? That line is slow. Amen, sing it your mama.

1. Mo’ cashiers, mo’ problems. While scoping baggers make sure you scope cashiers, too. Keep your eyes peeled for quick hands, firm credit card swiping, and purposeful change drawer slamming. Avoid any lane with two cashiers because one of them is in Training Wheel Mode. Support their development silently and catch them next month when they’ve learned how to double bag.

Yes, picking the fastest moving line at the grocery store is such a great high. When you get it right you’re like the undercover cop of the store — spying customers, eyeballing cashiers, and then swooping in smartly to get the job done in style.

You’re all class all the time, baby.


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110 thoughts on “#501 Picking the fastest moving line at the grocery store checkout

    1. The stores I go to use to have a self check-out but they took them out. I don’t know why. I loved that thing. Now, there’s only one store left that has them, but I don’t go to that one very often. =(

    2. Hells yes!

      But sometimes there are those people that take FOREVER in the Self Checkout. They have like a million things when you only have one thing. That’s the crappy part.

      1. Try being the ‘Self-Serve Assistant’ working to ‘assist’ those troubled customers -__-

        My job is to stand in the middle of the chaos of ‘self-serve’ and to help the struggling mother, yelling at her child saying they can’t get an ice-cream today, by telling her that the oranges are under ‘O for Orange’ in the computer.

        Just another day at the office…

    3. My grocery store has a 20 item limit at self checkout and they have 8 lanes. I think two of them should have a limit, but otherwise I’d rather pack my own stuff. That way I can make sure I make it inside without making more than one trip. Self checkout is awesome.

      1. There is a balance to be had, for sure.

        I am efficient at both scanning and bagging my own items, therefore, I feel like I, too, would be qualified for a more-than-recommended-items self-check lane.

        But I have seen the ugly side of the non-efficient person with a cartful of goodies … they struggle to retrieve items, scan them, bag them in the TWO bag stands available … and then perplexity strikes as they realize they don’t know what to do with their bagged items. It’s rough.

        1. *raises hand*

          I’m that guy. I once tried to use the self-checkout lanes at my grocery store, and it was a total debacle. You know how after you scan the item, they ask you to put it in your bag, and there is some scale to indicate that you’ve done so? I had some very light items (think Greeting Cards), and the machine wouldn’t register that I’d put the item in my bag after I’d scanned it.

          The whole fiasco took me about 15 minutes. It wasn’t pretty.

          1. Ok, no no, that DOES suck, I’m with you on that and I do not feel you’re to blame.

            Even when you tap the “Skip Bagging” button on the screen, it sometimes still harasses you and will let you go no further. You’re forced to wait for the never-to-be-found attendant.

            Not awesome, self-checkout. Not awesome.

            1. Laura – great use of “not awesome” recently.. well done! :)

              Yeah – I’ve decided I’m not going to use self-checkout anymore until each booth is fully staffed with a Rosie-from-the-Jetsons style robot to help me with any potential bagging issues.

              1. What can I say, I’m channeling my inner-Freddo-when-discovering-it-will-take-longer-than-originally-thought-to-get-through-1000-things.


                1. Be careful.

                  Doing such things can make you the target of successful-but-not-appreciative-of-good-nerdy-thinking-CEOs-of-large-Canadian-Bookstore-chains thinking that you should “get a life”… ;)

                  1. She doesn’t know you. You have a life. You go on exotic trips during really stressful contests in which amazing books are at stake. You have to hose down your Snuggie-clad wife after she eats too much Nutella. You get caught buying condoms at the self-check. You eat fiber-filled children’s cereals.

                    You, my friend, have a very full life. She is mistaken. :)

                    1. LOL! I can’t wait to get home tonight and let my wife know that her claim to fame on this blog is that she can’t keep the nutella off her Snuggie!

                      Well played, Laura.

            2. By “Greeting Cards”, you mean “condoms”, right?

              *Frantically waving off the Customer Service Rep.*

              I’m good here! It’s OK, I’ve got it covered!

              1. This reminds me of some online contest I once saw where you had to come up with the three worst items to buy together at the grocery store or something to that effect. I remember most of the entries were along the lines of:

                -A Cucumber

                I bet there were some more original ones, but that was the gist of it.

          2. Ok, so i thought i was alone on here as the only one who had had annoyingly frustrating experiences (just three, actually) with self check outs. I assume you mean the computers that do it ‘efficiently’. They never work for me. They have recently put ones in Big W and we just go to the people now. I really dont like self check outs.
            But, on the Awesome Thing posted: Even better is with canteen lines at school. Especially when you have to buy recess or get your lunch and you have to go somewhere right at the start of the break. And then you’re waiting in line for about 10 minutes :|

  1. I appreciate the encouragement and even these professional tips. But for some reason I CANNOT pick the fastest lane. At the store, at the bank, at stoplights, anywhere. I must have really angered some line gods somewhere and they’re punishing me.

    Hahah :)

    But it’s true, when I even come close to being in a fast-ish lane, I celebrate … :D

    1. You’re not the only one….I cannot pick the right lane either.
      Should I pick this lane that has four people in it, but they only have like ten items each or this one lane that has one person with a cart full?? I almost always pick the wrong one.

        1. Actually, while I hate to be “that guy”, I’d probably wager that you guys are about average at picking the right line at the grocery store.

          There is something we talked a lot about in behavioral economics classes called the “availability heuristic”. Basically, it says that you more heavily weight events that you can easily remember. For example, every time you go to the grocery store and get stuck behind the Coupon King or the lady who wants to read the whole National Enquirer before checking out, you remember that vividly. But you don’t remember all the times that you are in the quickest line (or even the average line). So, when you decide to think back on your track record at the grocery store, all you seem to remember is the bad events, artificially distorting your track record.

          [Ugh.. for those who watch HIMYM, I sort of feel like Ted Mosby.. crap..]

          /puts on know-it-all cap, and waltzes off to continue to be unpopular

          1. Your smarty-pants knowledge sounds pretty legit, Freddo. I guess we can forgive your “that guy”ness. Hehe.

            I know, I know — I have been the lucky one to leap the gum and candy bar divider to be that first person at the new lane. I’ll admit this.

            It’s like with the potato chips on the sandwich thing: everyone thinks they invented it. At the store, everyone thinks they never get a fast lane.

            … but seriously, I NEVER get a fast lane.


          2. Freddo, I think you actually *love* being “that guy”, and that’s OK, because your geeky statistical analysis is something we’ve all come to rely on.

            Don’t go changin’.

              1. You’re right.

                But I guess I try to make being “that guy” as un-douchey as possible, by at least paying faint lip-service to trying to avoid being “that guy”.

                But you’re right – I should be more unabashed in being that guy. You know, flaunt it. :)

  2. This is a talent of mine. The moment I notice slowness, I’m off to another. Gotta be quick. Because I used to cashier at the mall, I can always spot a cashier running up to open a lane to help.

    1. I won’t switch lanes unless I’m sure I will be the first one at the register. The lane I come out of will end up moving faster than the lane I switched to…that just my luck.

  3. There may be a typo.

    “Since some lines have baggers and some don’t make sure you pick one with a helper to get the job done right.”

    I don’t mean to nitpick; I’m just very OCD about these things. Also, I think people underestimate the power of self-checkout for minimal items. It’s very quick and almost never taken.

  4. While this may seem a bit mean or biased, but always avoid lines with old people. As an experienced cashier, they’re the ones that take the most time. They’re mostly the Flyer people, and they’re pretty starved for attention.

    We just want to ring you up and have you go on your merry way. We don’t want to hear what you did from 8 years ago up until this one moment, thank you very much.

    1. Oh my gosh, so true.

      “Starved for attention.”

      On the one hand, I do feel sad for them, because most of the ones I’ve seen are OLD. I can’t imagine what kind of lonely life they have when the cashier at the grocery store is their week’s main event. On the other hand, after 10 minutes of irrelevant small-talk, I’m ready to kick granny in the rear and call her grandkids to tell them to come hang out with her more often.

  5. Don’t, don’t ever try to switch lanes.. because the minute you do, your ex-lane starts to move with a vengeance..

    Murphy’s law you see.. :)

    P.S. Love this site!!

  6. Also avoid the cashiers who are carrying on a conversation with each other. Apart from slowing the line down it’s plain rude!
    BTW – also love self check out!

  7. I now know the cashier in my local grocery store who will comment on every item that you, the person in front of you, and probably the person behind you is buying.

    Cracks me up every time. But discussing why it is nice to have peas for dinner tonight or what a good shampoo that brand is DEFINITELY makes the cashing up take twice as long!

    Thanks for a great smiling blog!

    1. That is always kinda funny until you’re buying something like tampons. You’re like, “Oh jeez, are they gonna comment on those, too?” Haha :)

      1. Actually – I sort of like chatting up the cashiers. And sometimes all their comments yield really good suggestions.

        I get these really delicious Cinnamon-sugar covered Pita Chips. And the cashier at Trader Joe’s suggested I use them as little spoons to eat ice cream.. Mmmm… Thanks Trader Joe’s lady!

        The one time I didn’t enjoy this, was when the cashier at the local “big chain” grocery store sees all the stuff coming down the conveyor belt, including Lucky Charms, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Froot Loops and a full-gallon jug of chocolate milk, and gave me a little smile and said: “So, your kids really like sugary cereals, huh?”.. and I totally played it cool and was like: “Yeah – sure.. it’s for my ‘kids’.. that’s the ticket.. definitely for my children. God knows I’m an adult now and I wouldn’t eat all that junk!”

        Oops! Maybe its time to grow up a little.. :)

        1. Umm yeah, if memory serves, here in a few days you officially have to trade in the Froot Loops for some Fiber Twigs.


          JOKING! Keep on keeping on with the awesome breakfast choices, seriously. I think if I was a cashier, I would be like, “Please tell me these are for you and NOT for kids…”

          1. “Fiber Twigs”! I love it!

            Yep, that’s what us old folks have to eat every morning. Sorry, Freddo.

            1. LOL.. You guys… :)

              Thankfully, I won’t need to make a compromise between my inner kid and my increasingly old exterior.

              Recently, Froot Loops and Apple Jacks have made a big promotional push to highlight that each cereal now includes up to 3 grams of fiber per serving!


              According to Kellogg’s, they “make fiber fun”! Nothing like introducing the ideal of “being regular” into your kids’ idea of a good time! :)

  8. As a cashier, i love being labeled as the fast lane… especially in our busy periods…

    The only problem i have is when people are on their mobile phones whilst you are serving them it is extremely rude and inconsiderate, yet they still do it…

    and whats even worse and when you get people who leave their items on the register to go grab more items which they had forgot to get…. so annoying…

    love you blog and its a highlight of my day reading about the awesome things that are awesome….

        1. That note is awesome…

          i wish i could put a sign like that up, but i don’t think the owner would be impressed with me if i did…

          Theres a sign at a bakery here that says something similar to that…

  9. At most of the places I frequently shop, I have at least one favorite cashier. They are fast, friendly, know how to bag…they are awesome. If they are working while I’m there, I will always go through their line. Betsy at Walmart is my favorite of all time!
    There are also cashiers that I will avoid. They are slow, no eye contact, and they always squish my bread.
    If I have a friend that’s a cashier, I will go through their line. It doesn’t matter how long it is or how bad/slow they are, I just want to say HI or give them a hard time.
    I was a cashier at a gas/convenience store. I had customers that would only go through my line. I miss that job. I grew to love my customers and became really close with some of them.

    1. Hahaha I loved this list. That’s funny.

      In my hometown, I can spot great/terrible cashiers because we just have the one Walmart. Where I live now, there are like eight Walmarts so even after living here for six years, I haven’t been able to establish a favorite/least favorite cashier roster yet.

      And I totally agree with you on going through a friend’s line. If me standing in line for an extra five or ten minutes means seeing my friend and being a model customer for them, then I’m here to report for duty. Same goes for waiting extra time to sit in a waiter-friend’s section of a restaurant.

      1. I’ve only got one friend that is a waitress and everytime I go to that restaurant I will request to be put in her section. Yeah, its usually during a really busy time and I won’t really see her much, but she brings me free drinks and I always tip her very well…so its a win/win!

  10. Thanks for this! I love reading this blog for the guaranteed morning smile. But I never thought I’d LEARN something — especially after all these years of experience in the shopping world. I am ALWAYS in the slowest line! But now I have some great tips in my arsenal to (maybe) bypass said hazard.

    Thanks one and all! B

  11. 90% of the time, I am totally with all of this.

    But do you know what? Sometimes I like to not be in such a hurry. Sometimes I like to just go with the flow, take the time to exchange a pleasantry or two. Help an older person unload their basket. Play peek-a-boo with someone’s baby. Even (gasp!) get in a line without doing analysis.

    So when I’m in this sort of a mood, it’s best for the rest of you all not to get in line behind me. heh.

    1. When you’re in that sort of mood, check behind you in line, sister, and I’ll surely turn up there sometime. ;D

      I agree, though. Sometimes it’s good to just slow down. It’s like you’re less irritable when you actually PLAN on not getting anywhere in a hurry.

      1. Besides, it gives me time to read “O” magazine without having to pay for it.

        No! Wait! Oprah! I don’t do that! I always purchase the magazine before reading it!

        1. My favorite Oprah related fact? That her name was actually Orpah (after a biblical character in the Book of Ruth), but her family was unable to pronounce this made it change to Oprah everywhere else.

          Check it out, even Wiki confirms it, so it must be true!

          So, her production company should ACTUALLY be called Hapro..

          1. See, if her family had been less original, she would have been named “Ruth”. How dull would THAT have been?

            “Hey, Tom Cruise totally jumped on the couch on “Ruth” today, did you see it?”

            [shakes head]
            Doesn’t really work, does it?

            1. Yeah – that just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

              Then again, if that was the case, she could’ve gotten a PhD, gone exclusively by her first name, picked up a heavy German accent, and shrunk to 4’7″.

              I guarantee her show would’ve been a bit more racy then, eh?

              (ok, ok, that whole little bit worked better in my head..)

    1. Hahaha .. there will be stores full of people toting printed off or mobile versions of 1000AwesomeThings’ recommendations for choosing the quickest checkout lane. Lovin’ that mental image!

  12. I totally did this yesterday, and it was just as awesome as I thought it could be! I had the best checker ever, I’ll have to be sure to keep a lookout for her next time.

  13. I bagged groceries/cashiered from when I was 14 years old ’til college, and couldn’t have said it better myself, well done!! Another tip — scope out the line farthest from the main door, usually, customers totally neglect that register, and the cashier stands there trying to flag over business while lines steadily grow everywhere else, be extra nice to this eager-but-neglected checker :)

    1. Oooh! Everyone else’s laziness can be the diligent person’s victory! Going a little further for less of a line? … I’ll take it.


  14. I would like to add that it is awesome when the person in front of you puts that little bar down between their groceries and yours so you can pile your stuff up as close to theirs as possible and check out in record time!

    1. SO awesome, right?!

      Oh wait, except for the cast of the show kind of took over and barely let him get a word in edgewise. Hmph.

          1. Well, judging by the lack of sympathy you guys had for my Survivor spoilers of a few days ago, I’m tempted to go and watch the full Early Show taping on my DVR right now, and post the full transcript here!

            Btw: I was pretty disappointed by the Survivor results. Let’s hope this Sunday’s LOST provides a better ending.

            1. Ooooh, sorry for all you fancy people with DVR. My options are either: 1) Watch something when it comes on TV, 2) catch it online, or the most technologically advanced of all … 3) tape it onto a VHS. I’m not kidding, the TV in my bedroom has a VCR. Hahaha. Poor man’s DVR.

              Anyway, unless you guys wanna watch a torturous 1.5+ hours of commercials, breaks for local news, weather, and a man talking about getting attacked by a rabid fox, I vote you skip to about 1 hour 45 minutes in. But that’s just me.

              I hope that didn’t reveal too much. ;)

              1. As soon as I got home yesterday, I turned on the Early show. I fast forwarded, and fast forwarded, and fast forwarded…and then finally…there it was…….
                And yes, you were so right, the cast was very talky (talkie??). It wasn’t fair.
                Hey…I saw Neil on tv!!

  15. Self check out is the best for my OCD. I can check and double check prices so I know that I’m paying the advertised price. And I can pack my bags the “right” way so they are easier to unload at home.

    And that couple’s story is so cute :-)

  16. The bagger in the third photo works at my local grocery store, and he’s really seen it all. Eche speaks 5 different
    languages, and has taught school all over the world. He’s the
    nicest guy, and although he could retire, Eche keeps his job at Publix
    just so that he can talk to people and make their days a little more awesome. Our local newspaper, the Orlando
    Sentinel, even ran an article about him a few years ago.

    Great post, Neil!

  17. I have given up the quest for the grail of shortest/fastest line. Instead I pick the longest line deliberately and use the time to read my twitter feed or scan the headlines and learn who is having an affair, getting married, getting divorced or off to re-hab. It is like a bubble of time that is all mine.

  18. Holy snap, you nailed it on the produce one. Even the more experienced cashiers often need look up produce codes if it’s not bananas, apples, potatos, or onions.

  19. you forgot to make sure you don’t get behind anyone over the age of 60….now lest you think I am being senior prejudice…i am not….it is just that the majority of these elders don’t believe in using a debit card. And they still think that their 4th grade teacher is going to be correcting their handwriting on their check. so yea, I’m just saying. We’ve all been there right?

  20. As a retail assistant, I always try to make the line go as quick as possible. But some customers make it difficult.

  21. How about when you’re in a slow line and a cashier shows up out of nowhere, opens the next register, and chooses you to go first. Not only are you the chosen one but you’re outa there before those slowpokes that used to be ahead of you. Awesome!

  22. Ahahahahah :D I always choose the worst line… Now I’m gonna try and look out for yer hints, but even so I can’t guarantee I’ll make it…

    However I once chose a line during a promotion period and the cashier insisted I took my coupon and see if I won and I did win my shopping basket. And it was a really good value. ;)

    So that was like the Universe apologizing for all the silly cashiers and the worst thing: People payin’ with lunch tickets… We have lunch tickets on which you can buy all sorts of stuff here… And once there actually was a guy who jotted down all he was supposed to write on the tickets right at the cashiers… I mean… Seriously.

    And I’m a nice shopper… I’ve learnt my lesson… We don’t really have baggers here, but I take my products straight out of the tray, put them in my trolley whatever it’s calle and bag them outside so the line moves faster.

    Oh, I’m such a sweetheart. Meheheheh :P

  23. You’ve just given me the best tips for getting through the checkout lines at Fairway without grinding my teeth knowing that I’m holding up the waiting shuttle bus. AWESOME!

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