I am a grocery store stereotypist. When I am heading for the line, I look for a few clues that get me though the line quicker. Sometimes I make assumptions. Usually I am right and in the parking lot while you are still counting your change at the self checkout line.
1. The longest line isn’t always the longest
Just because a line is further back than the rest does not essentially mean it will take the longest to get through. Check for families that are going through together. If there are four people and only one cart, chances are it will take them less time to get through than two carts taking up the same about of space.
2. Look out for split orders
When you saunter up to the line, be on the lookout for one person (usually a young woman) separating her purchases into two piles. This usually means she will be paying for part of the order with WIC or food stamps. This takes a good bit of time and a manager and explaining to the customer as to why Jell-o is not one of the approved foods.
3. Look at the nametag
If the cashier has a nametag that has a whole lot of stickers and ribbons and flair, hit their line. They have been at the store for years and know all the fruit/vegetables codes by heart including tomatillos and plantains.
4. Avoid the tobacco line
Many stores have a dedicated tobacco line. This is the only line with cigarettes. Unless the cashier is on the ball, it will take them five minutes to find the Lucky Strike Filter Soft Pack Buy Two Get One Free. You also have to worry about other cashiers coming over to pick up smokes for the people in their line that were trying to avoid standing in the Smoking Line in the first place. Smokers are also too damn chatty with the cashier. Shut up all ready.
5. Coupon people save money, not time
If you see coupons… avoid. The coupon people usually have an 85% fail rate at which one of their coupons is wrong or expired. They’ll whip out their coupon sorting system and try to find the right one. Coupon people also usually pay by check, just to piss me off.
There is no way to tell if someone is going to pay by check. I have done studies. I have read books. I have watched endless hours of security camera tapes only to come up empty handed. I once was 100% sure that the kid in front of me was going to pay with cash/credit card because he showed the sure signs of not being a checkbooker:
a) he was a dude
b) he was buying beer
c) he had no apparent checkbook
What he did have was a single, folded up check in his pocket. Luckily he was buying beer so he had his ID available. If you know of some way to tell, please let me know.
7. Self Checkout isn’t always quicker
Just because you have two items doesn’t mean you should definitely use the self checkout. If there is even one person waiting to use the self checkout, scan the cashier lines. The self checkout always seems to have hiccups when they are full. Just last week I bypassed the self checkout with two people waiting on the four people checking out. As I left the store, one of the two people were still standing in line to use the self checkout.
8. Avoid old people
Sadly, old people suck at going though lines. They like to chit chat. They ask questions. They want dented boxes replaced. They like to pay with check. They don’t know how to use the card scanner. They like paper instead of plastic. They forgot an item and need the bagger to be a good boy and run and get some graham crackers no the ones in the blue box that’s a dearie.
9. Dodge vegans
Vegans are complicated in lines. They tend to buy the organic vegetables which causes a mix up when no one knows the product code. They buy weird packaged which causes a fuss when no one knows when the hell the tempeh expiration date is. They bring their own bags, which is great for the environment, but screws up the bagger. They usually pay in cash, which would normally be fine except that most cashiers have never seen the stuff before. I assume the line at Whole Foods never moves.
10. You can't avoid receipt checkers
Just like with the Checkbookers, it’s hard to know you are in line with a Receipt Checker until they start checking the receipt. You can notice them watching the screen as their groceries are being scanned. When the final price is stated by the cashier, you can almost feel the air being sucked into their lungs so that they can exclaim, “Oh my!” They’ll pay the total, but damnit if they don’t stand there, blocking your advance, going line by line through the receipt, looking for an error. And they’ll question the cashier as if they keep a database of prices in their head. The manager is called in and will hopefully pull the miser off to the side to examine the receipt in detail so that you can continue with your purchases and wait until the very end to pull out your coupons and checkbook and ask for smokes.