What to Expect When You Buy Groceries During the Coronavirus Outage

I went grocery shopping this weekend. Not just a quick stop to pick up a few things, but a ride full of carts to restock both my apartment and my boyfriend’s.

I expected grocery shopping to be part of a productive Sunday. But my plans for the day went awry when the trip put me on the brink of a panic attack. I’m naturally worried, but woof … it was a tough day.

If it’s been a long time since you made your “typical” grocery trip, you may find a different shopping experience than you might expect. Here are my recommendations on how to prepare for your coronavirus travel.

Spend extra time organizing your list

If you’re heading to a store where you usually shop, take a few extra minutes to organize your list by department or aisle.

Your goal during this period of physical distancing should be to get in and out of the store as quickly as possible. This is not the time you want to shop because you walked right past the item that was stuck at the end of the list.

Designate one customer

If you usually go shopping with your partner or kids, it’s time to fly alone. The fewer people in the store at the same time, the easier it will be to stay at least six feet apart.

If you can shop for more than one family at a time, now is the time to team up to do so. As I mentioned, I did some shopping for my house and my boyfriend’s house (and let me tell you, I make him leave next time). Maybe you can pick up items for your next-door neighbor or a friend who lives nearby, to reduce to a minimum their trip .

You may have to wait to enter the store

You can walk around many grocery stores right now. But you might be surprised to find a queue outside your store if the staff is limiting the number of people who can shop at the same time. Waiting times may vary, but it is best to expect you to have to wait. Think you can squeeze into the grocery store until your next Zoom call? Wait until after this meeting.

If the thought of small talk in the grocery line makes you sweaty, grab a pair of headphones on your way to the door.

Pay attention to the rehabilitation processes of the cart

Some stores have employees disinfecting carts between shoppers. Some still let you wash your own. And in some stores there are no napkins at all.

If you’re not sure what the deal is about at your store, ask a member of staff – you’ll definitely find a few at the entrance.

Don’t expect people to stand far enough apart.

The grocery aisles do not have a reputation for being spacious. It’s hard enough to keep a physical distance from others wherever you go, but it’s even more difficult when someone stands in front of a chicken display case for what seems like an eternity.

Try to be patient and stay away from anyone. But also be condescending if someone invades your personal space – swearing will only increase the tension. They probably got distracted by their own grocery list and forgot that things are not all right now.

If you can, just step aside gracefully.

Expect not many items in the store

My grocery store ran out of eggs, toilet paper, and most types of bread.

I expected these items to be out of stock. But every kind of pasta? Mustard ?

Go grocery shopping expecting many shelves to be empty. Many of them will be refilled within a few hours , but chances are good that you will leave the store without getting every single one on your list.

Schedule backups

Aside from mustard, there is a good chance of getting what you need, even if it’s not your first choice. If you’re just shopping for yourself, it’s easy to adjust when your favorite brand or product scent isn’t in the grocery store. But if you are shopping for someone else, such as a partner, child or neighbor, ask them this important question: “If they are not like that, is there another option that you prefer?”

You might argue that now is not the time to be picky. But if you’re the one who usually stops at the grocery aisle and sends a message to ask, “They’ve run out of cocoa pebbles, what do you want?” Preparing alternatives before heading to the store can help you shorten your shopping time. It can also help set expectations for people who stay at home.

Expect new packaging rules

If you usually bring your own reusable bags, you may find that your store is not using them right now. If you usually put groceries in the basket, this is unlikely to affect you. The virus is not known to survive very long on soft items such as bags, but some stores that usually have packers offer paper or plastic just to reduce the number of items employees have to touch.


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