You mean well, but what you’re doing to help staff and your fellow shoppers might just be making things worse.

By Stacey Ballis
Updated February 25, 2020
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A trip to the grocery store can (and should) be a pleasant one. Here’s the dream: You stroll the aisles pondering tonight’s dinner, the weekend’s plans, and even succumb to some impulse snack purchases. Around you, a platoon of staffers makes sure you find everything you were looking for. And the store is filled with fellow shoppers who pass each other with ease and grace. You head toward the parking lot with a cart full of delights and a smile on your face.

Okay, this might be a fantasy, but the bottom line is this: We all want our grocery experience to be as easy and even fun as possible, and if you’re a good person (we know you are), you likely try to do your share to help your fellow shoppers and the hard-working staff.

Sergei Gnatiuk / Getty Images

But do you? Here are five things you may be doing at Trader Joe’s, Publix, or your local grocery store that feel like they’re helping but they’re actually making it harder for everyone.

You offer cooking suggestions.

You are a great cook! And that woman over there is eyeing the kohlrabi like it is a creature from another planet. It is your pleasure to wander over and tout the vegetable’s nutritional value and culinary delights, with a few personal recommendations of how you prefer it to be prepared.

Tap the brakes: That look you interpreted as confusion might actually be real thinking: I was once in the produce aisle holding an artichoke, wondering if I should only get the four I needed for dinner or if I should get a couple extra to have for snacking later in the week. A well-meaning random shopper got in my space and delivered a 10-minute chokesplain that assumed I knew nothing about the vegetable. Let’s just say it wasn’t appreciated. Neither will your culinary invasions. Bottom line: Keep it to yourself; Google was practically invented for produce aisle confusion.

You share your brand knowledge (and maybe even some ethical advice).

You know your products! You might think that the shopper pausing near you deserves to know that the bag of Starbucks beans in their cart is more expensive than the one you’ve discovered, or that there’s a new brand they might really love. Or wouldn’t it be better if we all paid a little more for local? The answer is, no one except your dog wants to hear all your opinions, and you’re likely slowing down your fellow shopper from getting their marketing done on time. Bottom line: Save those brand insights for the review sections on Amazon. Turn that opinion into a friendly smile, and leave it at that.

You help out with the check-out separator.

You think ahead! Those little wooden or plastic sticks that separate your groceries from the next customer are there to assist the cashier. But if you are the next person in line, while it might seem like you are being helpful to reach forward to grab one, the subtle message to the customer in front of you is either that they are not unloading their cart fast enough for your taste. Bottom line: Just slow your roll and give them a chance to ensure their cart is fully empty and they are ready to drop the separator behind their products on the belt. That said, if the cashier is within five items of finishing their order, and still they have not put the separator out, then you can add it yourself.

You tidy up the checkout station.

You want to help that overworked cashier! While they ring up your purchase, you straighten the piles of fliers or info cards that are sitting out at their register. (And if you have any OCD impulses, it might seem like a moral imperative to get those suckers in order.)  But the unintended implication is that you find their space not neat enough for your tastes, and it can actually come off as an insult. Bottom line: No matter how scattered or haphazard those items seem to be, if they don’t belong to you, let it go.

You hand off your shopping cart to the person collecting them in the parking lot.

You are the Mother Teresa of the grocery store parking lot! When you spot the staffer shoving a long line of shopping carts headed back to the store, it is natural to assume that by giving yours to them you are saving them a trip back outside. Aren’t you helpful? Except now that person has to figure out how to add your cart to an already unwieldy wagon train that's not equipped with brakes to stop the forward momentum to accommodate your helpfulness. Bottom line: The single nicest thing any shopper can do is to put carts in their cart in the corral, preventing accidental damage of cars and allowing the workers who are responsible for their return to find them where they are meant to be.

This story originally appeared on MyRecipes.