6 Ways You're Being An Ass At The Deli Without Realizing It

Here’s how to order at your local deli without being a jerk.

Here's a statement that will shock no one who's worked behind a deli counter: Customers are the absolute worst. For every civil, straightforward patron, there's a line of soulless, half-conscious nincompoops with barely enough wherewithal to locate the deli, let alone decide between "picnic" and "classic" potato salad. They show up at the worst moments and can be spotted from across the sales floor, a force of nature hell-bent on pissing you off.

Maybe that's a little dramatic. But when you've spent a few years on the serving end of the equation, you start to notice the patterns that grind the transaction to a halt. Ordering meat and cheese should be easy, right? But vague requests, ignorance of common courtesies, and other pitfalls can take a huge toll on the exchange.

Fortunately, such pitfalls are easy to avoid. We asked several deli workers to share their most egregious pet peeves, and we threw in some of our own, too. Read on to see how you can smooth out the experience not just for you, but for the people scooping your salads and the people in line behind you.

Brace yourselves, fellow grocery vets. The traumas of spoon and slicer are real.

Get off your damn phone

Let's get this out of the way immediately: If you stride up to the deli counter, gesture vaguely at the coleslaw, and make angsty eyes at the attendant whilst neck-deep in a phone conversation then you—yes, you—are an ass.


Moreover, you're wasting everyone's time. Put down the device, place your order, and stop penalizing those around you because you insist on splitting your attention. And if your selection requires you to consult with someone on the other end of the line, that's okay! Just stand back and let the folks who already know what they want make their purchases in peace.

Be specific about product type and quantity

"Uh," said the man beneath the greasy trucker hat, finger planted firmly up his nose, "Gimme some potato salad."

Okay. Let's take a deep breath and banish the flashbacks. There are a few things wrong with this request. First is the imperative: "Gimme." What are you, six? There are many ways to start an order, and that one is pretty much the worst.


Second, how much do you mean by "some"? Are you asking for a pound, perhaps two, or is the employee supposed to guess? This necessitates a follow-up question: "How much would you like?"

Lastly, think about what you're asking for. This is a modern grocery store, and there are probably multiple types of potato salad. Another question must be asked: "Which kind would you like?" That's two added steps in what should be a simple transaction.

If you need help determining type and amount, deli workers can help you with that—but you need to lead with those questions so employees don't have to draw the order out of you one clarification at a time.

Don’t slow-roll your order

If you plan to order several items, let the attendant know as soon as you begin. We can hear it in your voice—that upward inflection as you order the first item tells us another request is coming. It hangs there, lacing the air with dread as we wait for the other shoe to drop. It's best to put it all out there at once, clearly, and usually the task can be split between coworkers, getting you all your items quicker.


But what if you need to make a large order, with several pounds of various meats or salads? Your best bet will always be to call ahead. Clerks don't mind putting together these orders, given sufficient notice and time. Assembling them on the fly, while a line builds up at the deli case, can take the transaction south.

Keep your hands to yourself

Picture the deli case in your mind, with its salads, meats, and cheeses. Good. Now draw an imaginary line through the whole thing lengthwise, and keep yourself on your side.

Don't lean on the counter. Don't reach up and take a slice of meat from the stack. Don't poke at the half, full, and two-pound display containers to indicate how much salad you want. And don't grab for the product while it's still on the scale. Your fingers are interfering with the smooth completion of the transaction—not to mention that eating the product before it's weighed and priced is, you know, theft.


A free sample is fine; five free samples are not 

While we're on the subject of trying before you buy, let me clarify something: There's nothing wrong with asking for a small sample! We get it. There are a lot of choices, and the best way to figure out what you'll enjoy is to give it a taste.


But please, stop after two or three. The process of giving out samples is awkward, as the deli attendant is stuck watching and waiting as you chew. It becomes uncomfortable, a little gross, and self-indulgent once the sample cups start piling up.

And please, don't use the deli counter as a source of free snacks to quiet your insufferable child. We're food service workers, not daycare attendants.

Show your deli workers respect

Name tags are a curse to service workers because, like it or not, they encourage total strangers to address the worker on an intimate basis. As a customer, you might think you're being friendly and polite, but you can go ahead and refrain from calling your server by their first name.


The deli counter isn't a restaurant, where the waitstaff often introduce themselves to the guests. So a simple "Hi, Becky" can feel almost intrusive. The employee is forced to consider whether they know and recognize you, and the process is always jarring. At worst, this overly familiar greeting can project an air of authority over a service worker just trying to get through their shift. Skip it.

In essence, that's what a lot of these points boil down to: consideration for the people preparing your food. Respect their time and sanity by knowing what you're after, or at least how to politely make up your mind.