Refusal To Serve Until You Get That Cell Phone Conversation Over

by admin on July 10, 2013

Using a mobile phone at the dinner table or in any other social situation is often frowned on as bad manners.  But when a Sainsbury’s employee decided the embargo extended to the checkout one of her customers quickly took offence.   Jo Clarke complained to store bosses that the unidentified worker had refused to serve her unless she put down her phone.

She said: ‘I was standing at the foot of the till waiting to bag my shopping up, yet the lady on the checkout was just staring at me.   ‘When I stopped my conversation and said “Is everything okay?” she said: “I will not check your shopping out until you get off your mobile phone”.

There is some added complexity in this story in that Sainsbury has no actual store policy about using cell phones during check out and that the employee was rude.   But it does bring up the issue of whether it is impolite to have a cell phone conversation while attempting to engage in a business transaction.   My thoughts are that any face-to-face interaction should have each person’s undivided attention and if the roles were reversed, as in the employee was talking to another co-worker or on a cell phone, that the customer would have a verifiable right to be offended at the employee’s distractions.   Customers on cellphones during financial transactions can slow down the check out for those behind them, the risk of misunderstanding (“Did you give me back a $10 or a$20?”) is greater and it’s just generally rude to dismiss those serving you as not worthy of a moment or two of your uninterrupted attention.

{ 116 comments… read them below or add one }

delislice July 10, 2013 at 3:28 pm

Wait a minute. Hold the phone, if I may.

The customer didn’t answer her phone when it rang — she placed the call?

Oh, no. No no no no no. Aw h*ll no!

That said, the clerk was impolite about it. Even so: N-O.

I was once checking out when the shop’s phone rang and the owner answered it. While he gave the customer a lengthy price quote, he rang up my $25 cost.

I paid by debit card and went on my merry way.

And got burned by several overdraft charges because the owner accidentally charged my debit card the $250 price quote he was telling the customer on the phone.

He refunded my money and the overdraft charges, and then negotiated with the bank for the difference.

But since then, if the person checking me out answers the store phone, I’ll wait until he or she is finished before paying.

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Library Diva July 10, 2013 at 3:56 pm

@Lauren #21, I too hate overhearing phone calls. I have this weird thing about being on the phone — I don’t like anyone hearing my calls, and I don’t like to overhear anyone else’s. If I’m ordering pizza for myself and my husband, I take the phone into a different room and make the call. If I come home and my husband is talking to his mom on the phone, I go to a different part of the house and give them their privacy. Last night, I was chatting on the phone with my best friend and the woman who lives upstairs pulled into the driveway with a friend and sat there with their car windows down — I went inside. So public cell phone use really irritates me.

I’ve been tempted to butt in the conversation when someone’s being especially loud — answer all their questions, tell stories about things they’re discussing that happened to people I know, and when they protest, to reply “Oh, I’m sorry, I thought this was a public conversation.” I’ve never done it, and don’t worry, e-hellions, I never will. It’s just how I mentally cope with the irritation I feel — I imagine the looks on their faces after I’ve just butted into their conversation, and then I’m no longer annoyed, but very, very satisfied.

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NostalgicGal July 10, 2013 at 4:56 pm

I have my nag surgically attached at the hip (smartphone). However, I try not to be on it where I have to be in front of someone. Such as asking for help at the service desk (unless I have already engaged the clerk and need to call my DH to get more information that that person needs that I don’t have, etc). On a checkout line or at the post office or bank window… they are dealing with my money, they are going to get my attention. If I’m driving it can wait. I am one of the few people I know that will LEAVE the area and go find my own corner to do my business, even step outside despite the weather; and deal with it. I am eating out, it can wait. My toddler-in-my-hand does not rule my life… and people in person are more important.

The ones that get me are the unfortunately true reports of someone pulled over by the police, deputy or highway patrol, on their phone, and think it’s rude that the officer wants to interrupt them. The icing was driver was weaving, got pulled over, officer asked her three times to get off phone, they told officer to stop interrupting them; and the officer took the phone said into it ‘this is the highway patrol, (driver) will call you back’ and hung it up. Driver sued… and lost. Dashcam had the erratic driving on record as well as the entire discussion. Cellphone DOES NOT equal ‘the whole universe revolves around me’.

General rule: If it is a live person, they come first. You want someone to help you, or it involves your money, or both, you need to turn the nag off. If it’s more than a few sentences for something important (i.e., dentist confirming appointment or more serious) you should be stepping out of the way and deal with it. That poor clerk, is a live person. Hang up.

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MichelleP July 10, 2013 at 5:14 pm

I can’t believe the posters here reprimanding the clerk. I’ve worked retail and customer service for years and I have gotten so sick of people constantly on their phones. I’ve heard details about sex lives, medical problems, and so on that I have NO desire to hear.

I worked as a bank teller for some time, and I once had a customer come up to my window. He piled bundles of cash in front of me to deposit, then turned and walked AWAY to have a conversation on his phone! I spoke up and said, “Sir, I need you to stay in front of my window; I’m not responsible for this cash if you leave it unattended!” The bank was full; anyone could have walked by and taken the money. He grumbled coming back and talked on the phone the whole time. My teller manager, thank goodness, wasn’t the type to put up with crap and stood up for us. She told him he needed to get off the phone and stay with his money.

Thank you admin for posting this, and the posters who have said they agree with the cashier.

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MichelleP July 10, 2013 at 5:19 pm

@momofeveryone, why on earth should the cashier have “tried to figure out what the call was about”, and try to have a “conversation about “hektac sheduals”? (Please correct your poor grammar and spelling by the way.) How can the cashier have a conversation with someone who’s on the phone? That’s the point of the post; you can’t have a conversation with anyone who’s talking to someone else. Why should she? No offense, but that’s ridiculous.

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Peep July 10, 2013 at 5:43 pm

I can’t stand people who spend their lives with their cell phone glued to their ear. I refuse to be one of those people. I use the cell phone for car emergencies, quick business calls home(“At the store, do you need anything?”), and other types of urgent business. If someone wants to call and chat, they can do it when I’m at home. I don’t need to subject the rest of the world to my business, and it’s hard for me to hear the person on the other end of the line anyway if I’m in public. In person interactions always trump phone calls/text for me.

Sadly my in-laws don’t feel the same, and I have had to deal with some of the most shocking and rude behavior from them. It’s not just the cell phones, but most of the worst cell phone offenses I’ve ever seen have been committed by one or both of them, including my top most unbelievable story:

My FIL used to travel for business a lot, and would often stop by and stay with his son for a little while on his way to or from a business appointment. These visits were usually less than 24 hours, and little more than a stop over. He rarely got to see his son outside of these visits, he only had a few hours of “quality time” to spend, and there could be a year or more in between visits, so you’d think he’d be focused on spending time with his son. Not so much as it turned out.

We had just picked the FIL up from the airport, and decided to get something to eat on the way home. We get into the restaurant, the hostess seats us, and before the server can even come by, my FIL picks up the phone and makes a call. He called his wife back home, and we thought it was a quick check in/arrived fine call.

It wasn’t. He proceeds to have a full on conversation with his wife back home, in Chinese. I didn’t understand it, and my husband isn’t quite fluent in anymore, even so we could tell by his tone and body language that this was just a chat kind of conversation, not an important one.

The worst part of it was the poor waitress. He was already on the phone when she came by – two waitresses in fact. An experienced waitress introduced herself to us, and introduced the waitress she was training. We’d be taken care of by the trainee waitress while the experienced one supervised. We were the trainee waitress’ *very* first table ever. The FIL missed this entire conversation because he was on the phone. He also missed her repeated attempts to get his drink order. We gave our drink orders, tried unsuccessfully multiple times to get the FIL’s attention, and told her to try back again in a few minutes hoping that he’d be off the phone by then. She came back, and still couldn’t get a drink order out of the FIL. In fact, it took her 4 separate tries and about 20 minutes of the waitress, my husband, and I attempting to get my FIL’s attention to get him to even see the menu. Just when I was about to snap and smack him in the face with the menu, he paused long enough to bark out a food and drink order, and then he went back to talking.

He talked through the *entire* meal. Loudly, and often with food in his mouth. The trainee waitress did an incredible job, particularly under such circumstances. We spent most of the meal quietly apologizing to her for the FIL’s behavior whenever she came around. The FIL was so loud we couldn’t hear each other over him, so my husband and I ate in silence, just staring at each other in disbelief. I wanted to crawl under the table and die, I was so embarrassed by his behavior. He managed to get off the phone at the very end of the meal, just in time to stiff that poor waitress on the tip. When we left, my husband “forgot” something at the table on the way out. He tracked down the supervising waitress and told he how well the trainee did, and slipped the trainee a $20 tip.

We used to frequent that restaurant, but I don’t recall seeing the trainee waitress ever again. I never knew if it was due to scheduling, or was her very first table so bad, she just quit on the spot.

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kingsrings July 10, 2013 at 6:51 pm

It is wrong for so many reasons to be on the cell phone while doing a business transaction. There is no acceptable excuse for it! It’s one of my biggest pet peeves of our digital age. First, everyone deserves your undivided attention, and that includes store clerks who are checking you out. They are human beings, too, and deserve to be treated as such. Secondly, it slows down the transaction (as already noted), thus making it a longer wait for everyone else who comes after, so it’s also being very inconsiderate to your fellow customers. It’s not all about you! In my town, there are a couple of businesses who have notices up saying that customers be off of their cell phones at the time of the transaction. Good for them! Anyone who can’t even get off their cell phone for a quick business transaction has a serious dependency and addiction to their phone!

Not only that, but I hate it when people have personal conversations on their cell phones in the checkout line anyway. I don’t want to hear your personal convo, and I’m sure nobody else does, either. Can you really not wait until you’re out of the store to have it? You’re bored? Look at a magazine or something.

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Jen G July 10, 2013 at 7:39 pm

I agree that Jo Clarke is indeed milking this for all she’s worth, and that the poor cashier had probably just reached her limit with being treated like an automaton day in and day out. I know I shouldn’t wish rudeness on anyone, but wouldn’t it be wickedly delicious if, just for a few days or weeks, every single person Ms. Clarke tried to interact with while working her OWN job was otherwise engaged on a phone call?

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twinkletoes July 10, 2013 at 7:50 pm

Ok…this Won’t be a very popular response but I will admit I do this A LOT! I talk on my cell phone while at the grocery store, starbucks or the like. I understand that mistakes could happen as a result of me being on my phone, engaged in conversation and if they do it’s my fault. I work 80-90 a week, I am very busy so if the only time I have to catch up with my BF or check my email is to do it while grocery shopping so be it. I don’t really feel the need to have a conversation with the checker. I am not meaning for it to be rude or offensive but I really don’t care about their day and they really don’t care about mine, so I don’t care for the idle chatter. I wait for them to check my groceries out, swipe my credit card and be on my way. I am also on the flip side a lot too and I don’t care one bit that they are on their cell. I don’t feel that I need someone’s full attention to check them into a hotel (which is what I do). If they missed something during the check in procedure they can call down, which is what they do. Just because someone is checking out my groceries or pouring my coffee doesn’t mean I have to give them my undivided attention. I will smile and be pleasant but they don’t know my situation as to why I am on the phone and frankly it’s none of their business. I personally feel many people who are offended by this, such as the cashier are being passive aggressive.

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Allie July 10, 2013 at 8:36 pm

The last time I talked on the phone during a transaction, I was running terribly late, was on my way to a baby shower, was buying a card and wrapping paper for said shower and was on the phone getting directions to the venue. I was as polite as possible and easily paid for my transaction without causing any undue delay or confusion. Do I think cashiers are peons unworthy of my attention? Of course not. But the reality is she was being paid to be there and to take my money. I can take my business anywhere and I chose to take it there. It’s inappropriate for a cashier of a big-box retailer to go on some kind of etiquette crusade at the expense of her employer when she is supposed to be doing her job. Unless I’m committing a felony while I’m trying to pay it is her job simply to take my money.

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Jenn50 July 10, 2013 at 9:15 pm

While I agree that it’s rude to stay on the phone while someone is serving you, in some cases, it may be a defense mechanism. If you’re painfully shy, the checkout line can look like a gauntlet to run, full of strangers who seem to feel the need to strike up a conversation with you, and cashiers badgering you about the store’s rewards program and asking you how your day’s going. If you’re on the phone, people tend not to engage you. I’m really sorry that your company requires you to ask certain rote questions, but as a customer, I HATE that. I understand the urge to throw up the barrier. And yes, I have worked as a cashier. I don’t condone the rudeness of chatting on the phone while someone’s serving you, but I DO love the self-checkout so I can avoid the inane “conversation” at the checkout counter.

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anonymouse July 10, 2013 at 9:42 pm

This is the worst part about working in customer service! Nothing makes me feel less human than that. Even worse when they are in a drive thru.

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Bee July 10, 2013 at 9:45 pm

I used to work for a business that insisted that we greet customers within 30 seconds of them entering the store. Even if you were helping someone, if you were near the door you were expected to at least give them a “welcome to store” spiel before going back to the person you were helping. (Which, personally, I thought was rude to the customer I was helping, and I avoided doing it unless I was literally standing in the doorway.)

But when people walked into the store on a phone or a bluetooth, I would watch them (from a distance) but I never once greeted them. If they got off the phone, I would go over and ask if they needed help, but if they didn’t, I wouldn’t say a word to them. Management was forever telling me off for it, but I insisted that I wasn’t about to deal with potential fallout for interrupting them. They couldn’t want help that badly if they couldn’t be bothered to put down the phone. I never got into serious trouble for it, but management continued to be annoyed with me for not interrupting people to thank them for walking into the store and yapping on their phone. (And most of the time people who were on their phone never bought anything, either.)

I side with the cashier; I’ve seen enough people lash out for having their precious phone conversations ruined that I wouldn’t dream of putting myself in that sort of a situation. The cashier’s rash response in a moment of stress is, while rude, a forgivable rudeness — the woman sobbing about having her precious casual conversation ruined should be treated like a child, because she’s certainly acting like one.

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NostalgicGal July 10, 2013 at 10:30 pm

@twinkletoes I used to have 90-100 hr weeks before there were even brick cellphones and I sure managed to live my life and stay hooked up with friends and my DH without the cellphone glued to me. Your ‘multitasking’ is okay to you as you are in the middle of it; to the rest of us living breathing PEOPLE out here outside of it, go hang up and drive (whether it’s cart or car or) … and treat another person as a PERSON not a bunch of pixels or a disembodied voice… join life, that’s what it’s about.

If you can’t pause enough in your job to put your 100% on what I need, I’m afraid I will pick up my little electronic leash and let management higher up know. Desk is a people job, I expect a people there to do a people job… That’s what the feathers are ruffled about on this one. People should come first.

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Whocares July 10, 2013 at 10:31 pm

I loathe cell phones, but I’m actually torn with this one. Shopping can be boring, so why not liven it up with a phone call? Especially if you are at the end waiting to sack? If I do encounter this, I keep talking to them over their conversation! Drives them batty! While I understand the policies about waiting til the customer hangs up, I don’t agree . My time is money, and there may be others in the line waiting– so I keep right on with the transaction whether the cell user cared or not.

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Amy July 11, 2013 at 12:35 am

The clerk was a little terse, but to me, it’s about respect. If someone is serving you, you give them your attention. It’s just respectful. To stand their on your phone, not even giving the person the time of day like they’re some pee-on (because that’s how it feels! I know!) is incredibly self entitled and rude. I would never dream of being on my phone while having someone ring up groceries or whatever. It’s just rude. Period. I don’t know if I’d have the balls to tell someone to get off the phone, but lord knows I’d sure be thinking it! I think this is sort of like those people who walk across a cross walk after pushing the button without even looking to see if there’s a car and just expecting everyone to slam on the breaks no matter how close they are – these people probably aren’t drivers :P People who chat on phones while someone is serving them have probably never worked retail or hospitality :P

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Kate July 11, 2013 at 1:10 am

For those who said it’s not a big deal to talk on their phone mid-transaction – I have another story from my retail days. Once, a customer asked me for cash out during a transaction and continued her phone conversation. I gave her the $50 cash out and said “So, that’s your receipt, and $50 cash” but she wasn’t listening. She came in a day later and abused me for “stealing” from her because she didn’t remember taking the money and said I didn’t give it to her. I’m talking half an hour straight of yelling and swearing. My boss checked the security camera and, sure enough, I’d given her the money. Turns out she’d just stuffed it in a different section of her purse and forgotten about it. I can’t help but think that if she hadn’t been occupied on the phone, she would have remembered it.

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Miss-E July 11, 2013 at 1:45 am

@ twinkletoes – Wow. You honestly can’t pause your conversation for 30 seconds to meet the eye of the barista at Starbucks? I used to work there, I know how fast those transactions are. All you have to do is stash the phone in your pocket and you can be back on the phone almost immediately while you wait for your drink. And you know what might ease your very busy schedule? Bagging your groceries while at the store instead of chattering away on the phone. I work in a grocery store, it rarely takes more than five minutes to ring someone out. You honestly can’t spare five minutes to meet my eyes so I don’t feel like your maidservant?

@ Lauren – I hate overhearing conversations too. Mostly all anyone has to say is “I’m at the store, I’ll be home soon.” You’d think they could just go home and say “I was just at the store!”

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Miss-E July 11, 2013 at 1:47 am

@ twinkletoes – also, the cashier was not being passive aggressive. She was being aggressive aggressive…hence the article and most likely her termination.

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Stacey Frith-Smith July 11, 2013 at 2:54 am

Wow! Hot topic! I guess this boils down to “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” (Matt 7:12). So cashiers shouldn’t lecture, clients shouldn’t ignore and whinge, and nobody should think more highly of themselves than of others generally.

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Ergala July 11, 2013 at 6:45 am

I used to work retail and every single person I worked with had this same issue. People on their cells during check out. It’s not a massive deal if you are on the phone while waiting your turn, but the moment you are up either put the call on hold or say you’ll call them back. I finally started dishing it right back. I wouldn’t acknowledge the customer at all during the transaction. One person noticed and asked me if I had offered the service plan on his new TV. I said no. He asked me why not and he wanted it. Well the transaction was done, he could now go to customer service to have that rang out and the transaction pulled up. The issue was that he was on his phone with his back to me the ENTIRE time. I had to tell him his total no less than 3 or 4 times to get his attention. Not my problem. I wasn’t going to keep going “Excuse me Sir” over and over and over.

My mom who lives across the country tends to call me when I am in a store a lot. I keep my voice down but when I get to the line I tell her I’m waiting and that once it’s my turn I’ll call her back. I just find it incredibly rude. It’s as rude as someone coming to your home to visit with you and they spend the whole time texting someone else barely interacting with you.

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PHW July 11, 2013 at 7:55 am

I can see both sides of this. Although I think that the cashier may have overreacted, there is no reason that a person on a cell phone can’t put their conversation on hold just long to exchange pleasantries with the cashier and pay for their purchases, whatever they may be. A 2 – 5 minute or less disruption in your conversation isn’t going to hurt anyone. I’ve often put people on hold when I am checking out or ask if I can call them right back. I admit it is hard to talk to a person on a cell phone and also be aware of conversations or the goings on around you. This is likely why using a cell phone while driving is a ticketable offence where I live in Canada.
I have to agree with other posters about overhearing private conversations. As a commuter, I take the train daily to and from work and overhear all sorts of cell phone conversations that likely could and should have waited until the person was home. Once the entire train car heard a woman tearfully breaking up with her boyfriend on the train! The best is when people are ordering pizza from their cell phones and providing their credit card information within earshot of roughly 50 people.

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Mae July 11, 2013 at 7:57 am

I agree with everyone else, talking on cell while conducting business is so rude. I see it all the time in local stores. I like to speak to my cashiers and pay attention to the items in case of a wrong price or if I have a coupon or something.

The only thing I think the cashier was rude about was the line “You learn something new everyday”. There might have been a better way to put that. But bravo to the cashier- everyone deserves common courtesy.

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Susan July 11, 2013 at 8:34 am

Although I think it’s rude to be talking on the phone while being checked out, unless it affected her ability to check the person out, she should have just stayed silent and did her job. But it pains me to say that.

When I was in the grocery store a few days ago, I was thinking about my grandmother who passed away last year. She knew every cashier by name as well as little details about their lives. They all knew her as well. I think the advent of the cell phone in the last 20 years or so has closed us off to opportunities to really get to know each other. My boss (who emigrated from Russia) likes to say we are a continent of lonely people. I think she is right.

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Huh July 11, 2013 at 9:00 am

I used to work in retail, though before cell phone use became prevalent. But a poster above mentioned hating it when cashiers are on the store phone, so I had to comment about that.

I worked at a store where many times I was the only cashier. Not only was I the cashier, I was also the returns desk worker. Not only was I the cashier and returns desk worker, I was also to answer the store phone and answer questions or direct them to the right department – within a ring or two. I cannot tell you how many times I was checking someone out, answering someone on the phone’s question, and had someone standing right behind me, demanding that I process their return RIGHT NOW. And all of the above were angry that I wasn’t giving them my full attention.

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siamesecat 2965 July 11, 2013 at 9:20 am

“I’ve been tempted to butt in the conversation when someone’s being especially loud — answer all their questions, tell stories about things they’re discussing that happened to people I know, and when they protest, to reply “Oh, I’m sorry, I thought this was a public conversation.” I’ve never done it, and don’t worry, e-hellions, I never will. It’s just how I mentally cope with the irritation I feel — I imagine the looks on their faces after I’ve just butted into their conversation, and then I’m no longer annoyed, but very, very satisfied.”

Something along these lines happened to me and my cousin recently. We were (well she was) shopping for bathing suits, and I was sitting in the fitting room, waiting for her and giving my opinion. There was another customer in there, also trying on, having a long, loud conversation about some restaurant she either owns, manages or works at. This went on for a good 10 minutes. My cousin and I then were giving her our opinion on the suits she was trying on (at her request) So a bit later, as my cousin was paying, the other customer was just finishing up and leaving, and thanked us for our input. My cousin then said “good luck with the restaurant” and she looked at us funny for a second, like HOW did you know about that, then I think realized we had heard every word of her conversation!

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Mary Sue July 11, 2013 at 9:51 am

This morning on the bus there was a woman yammering away into her phone, on and on and on. The second she finally hung up another woman got on the bus and was yammering away into her phone, complaining about being overcharged on a bill. Because the morning commute is the perfect time to get your finances straightened out!

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E July 11, 2013 at 9:59 am

I sometimes talk on the phone while I’m doing my shopping at the grocery store, but I always hang up before I check out. It’s the only decent thing to do – plus, it’s a proven fact that “multitasking” really just means you’re giving everything a fraction of the attention it needs/deserves, and I prefer not to lose my credit card, keys, or sunglasses AND I prefer not to be rude to the person I’m on the phone with by constantly interrupting them with the conversation that does usually go on at the checkout.

@Jenn50 – if the mundane interactions of everyday life stress you out that much, some therapy might do you good. It sounds debilitating, and you don’t have to go through life that way.

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Mae July 11, 2013 at 10:33 am

I agree with everyone else, talking on cell while conducting business is so rude. I see it all the time in local stores. I like to speak to my cashiers and pay attention to the items in case of a wrong price or if I have a coupon or something.

The only thing I think the cashier was rude about was the line “You learn something new everyday”. There might have been a better way to put that. But bravo to the cashier- everyone deserves common courtesy.

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Nancy July 11, 2013 at 11:07 am

Lots of places now have a policy about cell phones. At Toy Joy in Austin, TX, if you are on your cell phone when you get to the counter, they will finish the call for you. As it’s Toy Joy, I’m tempted to do it with certain people.

I kind of think the employee was a little wrong, but honestly, it should be expected that when you get to the counter, you at least put the person on hold or end the call. I have a friend I talk to quite a bit, and it’s NOT uncommon for us to call each other back or stop the conversation while the other person is checking out. If that person was standing right in front of you, and all three of you were at the checkout counter, would you carry on a full conversation in front of the cashier? No, you wouldn’t, for a variety of reasons. One, someone is trying to help you, and may need to ask you questions. Two, that person who is trying to help you is also handling money transactions, and needs to think while they are doing their job, or they might make a mistake. Three, your conversations are none of their business.

All the cashier needs to say is that she was afraid she couldn’t avoid making a mistake with money so long as this woman was yammering away on her phone.

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Nancy July 11, 2013 at 11:18 am

That lady has a lot of nerve going to the media with her story. She isn’t exactly coming off smelling like a rose here, and most people are siding with the cashier. Heaven forbid she try and change jobs and someone googles her name and finds out that she’s that bratty woman who won’t stop talking for 2 minutes while a cashier helps her. I wouldn’t hire her.

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Joyous July 11, 2013 at 11:57 am

I’m siding with the cashier here…partially. She probably should have been gentler about it but the lady was rude to her. Why couldn’t she have given the cashier the respect she deserves and waited to make her call after checkout? What if there was a question about the price? The cashier would have been forced to interrupt. It’s rude to do this to a cashier and I wonder if people who do feel like cashiers don’t need/deserve as much of their attention as friends or family. Cashiers and other hourly workers are PEOPLE too and do not deserve to be dismissed or treated disrespectfully. I’ve seen perfectly nice people be dismissive to wait staff and busboys and it’s hard to watch. What about this:

When you go to the checkout line, say hello and ask how they’re doing.
When your waitress approaches, ask how s/he is as well. So many times I’ve done this and was told, “thanks for asking” or “thanks for taking a interest”
When a busboy clears a table, say “thank you”

I have one more thing, don’t throw your money/card on the counter! Hand it to them…like you’re showing them some respect.

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Michelle July 11, 2013 at 1:39 pm

This may be due to the fact that I’m a die-hard introvert and many of us introverts do not like (or even resent!) the phone, but I just don’t get this whole cell phone thing. People are constantly on their cell phones. They’re on them on elevators. They’re on them on escalators. They’re on them in their cars. They’re on them in the park. They’re on them at soccer games. They’re on them in restaurants. I mean, seriously, don’t these people ever just run out of things to say?? Are their lives so full of drama that they can’t be phone-less for five minutes? Are they all heart surgeons, with people calling them from the operating room asking what to do next? I just don’t get it.

Never, never, never would I be on a cell phone chatting merrily away while a clerk is there ready to assist me. Rude, rude, rude!

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shaw July 11, 2013 at 2:42 pm

I’m a nurse, and was once cleaning up a patient who was unable to wipe herself after using the commode. Her cell phone started ringing and she asked me to get it while I was mid- wipe. I said, “It can wait.”

You don’t need to be on your cell phone all the time. If that’s how you catch up due to your busy week, it is even less meaningful than if you took two minutes to give a phone conversation your undivided attention. The worst is being the person at the other end– the person you are talking to is completely distracted, talking about things they are seeing/doing, and you as the other person are bored to tears and really don’t care.

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Thistlebird July 11, 2013 at 3:25 pm

Cellphones drive me nuts. I guess I am old-fashioned (at the age of thirty!) but I have no desire to own one and be at everyone’s beck and call constantly, and some of the things they cause people to do are simply insane. Did you all ever hear the story about the plane that couldn’t take off because one woman wouldn’t get off her cellphone when they instructed everyone to turn off electronic devices? I forget how long this went on but it was an unbelievable length of time–I couldn’t believe they took so long to force the issue with so many people waiting on her (and its being unsafe to take off with a cellphone on)–and when they did get security staff to come & take her phone away & turn it off, she was angry at the “rudeness” of being forced to end her conversation. In what other context would anyone ever behave that way? I can actually understand why she behaved that way, in a way–as you may have heard explained re: why it’s unsafe to drive while talking on a cellphone, a phone conversation puts you in a sort of “bubble.” You are present with the person on the other end of the line, they are more real to you than what’s around you (thus it’s unsafe to drive at that level of distraction)–and when you don’t stop to pull yourself together and think, you can end up more worried about being rude to the person on the other end than to the people physically present around you.

I still remember visiting a friend at an unfamiliar college. Her dorm was locked and she told me her R.A. would let me in. I stood at the door feeling shy, nervous, etc in an unfamiliar place, hoping the R.A. would come soon… and the R.A. showed up, talking on a cellphone, and let me in while talking on the cellphone, not looking at me. It was my first experience with this sort of thing and while it’s perfectly normal behavior nowadays, I have trouble finding words for how weird it made me feel. It was like I couldn’t tell if I’d just had a human interaction or not. It really was like she wasn’t “there” and I had never encountered that before. I couldn’t even say “thank you” without interrupting her. I can’t complain, I was able to go into the dorm… and yet I felt like the whole thing made both of a little less human while we did it.

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Marozia July 11, 2013 at 3:41 pm

Jo should hang her head in shame. It is extremely bad etiquette as far as I’m concerned. Too many people are doing this and it’s really not good enough. My sister rang me while I was shopping and said “I’m at the shops at the moment, when I get home, I’ll call you back and we can chat then.” My sister was not in the least offended. I did my shopping (not hurrying through), paid, went home and called her back. Didn’t hurt me in the least.
The same sister was once a ‘checkout chick’ at a grocery store and she herself has seen excrutiatingly bad manners in regards to mobile phone users.
Bravo to the Sainsburys ‘checkout chick’.

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Catbell July 11, 2013 at 4:43 pm

@twinkletoes–are you kidding me? Of all the scenarios mentioned, checking in at a hotel is probably the number one instance that warrants getting off the phone. I have worked in all types of customer service including four years in hotel front desk and reservations. When someone checks in, you need to verify room type, room rate and length of stay, and confirm any special requests made on the reservation. Anything that isn’t taken care of up front can result in more work for another employee or inconvenience for the guest. If you don’t verify room type, they get up to their room, find out it’s wrong, the room has to be reassigned, they either have to come back to the front desk for new keys or an employee has to go up and escort them to the new room. Then housekeeping has to check the room to make sure nothing was disturbed–even a quick trip to the bathroom or sitting on the bed makes the room look “undone” and it has to be reset. If you don’t verify room rate that results in an accounting error that someone has to fix–either the night auditor, the employee that checks the guest out, or the unfortunate front desk manager that gets yelled at by the guest a week or a month after they did express check out when they finally look at their records. If you don’t verify length of stay–well, that can be the hardest one to fix. Best case scenario, inconvenience for the guest when their key times out or when housekeeping tries to turn the room and the guest is still there. Worst case scenario, the hotel is sold out for the weekend, you thought the guest was leaving Friday but they’re not going anywhere until Sunday… *shudder*. I’m having flashbacks just thinking about it! And don’t even get me started on late night calls for a rollaway bed or humidifier or hypoallergenic pillows that would be no big deal at 3:00 but not so much at midnight. You might be all easygoing and accepting of the fact that it’s your fault for not paying attention to the employees waiting on you, but most people aren’t. Let’s all put the phone down for five dang minutes and show a little courtesy.

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cathy July 11, 2013 at 5:24 pm

I’m on the clerk’s side.

I see so many people at my local grocery store who are on their phones when they walk in the store, the entire time they’re in the store, while in the checkout line, and all the way back out to the parking lot. What the $#@ is so important that they can’t wait until they’re home?! I recently saw one woman yakking loudly in the store to another woman who was evidently having some emotional crisis and needed to be talked down – for pete’s sake, stay in your car and have that conversation there! I don’t want to hear it. I also get tired of people endlessly checking their texts/messages while I’m talking to them. I sometimes wish cell phones had never been invented.

On a side note, it’s interesting to watch movies made before 1998, with no cell phones constantly ringing in them – refreshing! I miss those days.

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twinkletoes July 11, 2013 at 6:44 pm

To all the people who get irritated with people on their cell phone in restaurants, stores or whatever If I am talking at normal voice, the same volume I would talk if I was talking with a friend who was next to me, does it really make a difference if I am on the phone and not talking to a person in person? Often times I go into restaurants and while I’m waiting for my food I call my BFF and chat, I don’t think its rude. I am talking at a normal voice and not yelling because I am capable of talking on my cell phone at a normal volume (don’t know what wrong with the people who feel the need to yell). I see no difference in me on a cell phone or two people talking at a restaurant or in the bus. So why do some people get so bent out of shape about it?

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Angel July 11, 2013 at 7:17 pm

I work as a cashier part time and I think it’s rude for customers to be talking on their phones while checking out, but really what can we do about it? If you say anything to them, they will think you are rude and either complain to your boss or just quietly go somewhere else. The reality is if you work in a customer service job, you deal with rude customers pretty much all day long. They are not going to miraculously change their ways just because you call them out. If they are talking on their cell phones I just engage them at the same level they do me–which usually means I don’t say hello, how are you, or goodbye. I just ring them up, hand them their change and silently think don’t let the door hit you in the a## on the way out. I am not intentionally rude I just basically treat them how they treat me, like a piece of furniture. And if they think I am being rude, they can go take a long walk off a short pier.

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Barbarian July 11, 2013 at 8:31 pm

Using cell phones in cashier lines is also rude to fellow customers. The cell phone user may not realize how loud he or she is speaking. This can keep the cashier and the person checking out in front of them from hearing each other well enough to conduct their transaction. I was in front of the pharmacist window at the drugstore. The woman behind me was talking on her cell so loudly the pharmacist could not get my medical information. I certainly was no willing to shout confidential things just because she was on her phone. She was bemoaning how she had to pick her sick kid up from school, life was a disaster, etc, etc… I turned around, faced her directly and said Maam, I can’t drop my Rx off because you’re right behind me and you’re too loud. I’m sorry your life is so difficult, but you need to step back and let me do what I came here to do.

The store may have to put up with your poor phone etiquette, but the customers can do whatever they want to you. And that could range from the Look of Death to an irate person grabbing your phone and knocking you upside the head with it. Then you’d be passed out on the floor and what good would your phone do you then?

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Angel July 11, 2013 at 8:41 pm

I have something I want to add too, this is a topic that I have put a lot of thought into (probably too much lol) but this is in response to the poster who said she has a right to talk on her cell phone during a transaction without the cashier going on a big etiquette crusade. If you (general you) are the sort of person who routinely does this, talks on the phone and does not engage the clerk, continues to talk on the phone as you are being served, does not engage in any social niceties with employees who are there (paid to be there, yes, but are still human beings) then do not expect any of them to go out of their way for you when you need them to go the extra mile. And believe me, one day you may need one of them to do you a favor beyond just checking you out and handing you your change. Just some food for thought.

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NostalgicGal July 11, 2013 at 9:29 pm

@ twinkletoes… timing! WHEN you are on it. WHAT the circumstances are when you’re on it.

I go out of town to shop and leave the DH home, you bet I often end up calling him at least once because despite going over the list now that I’m there, I either can’t find what he wants or they’re out… or he calls me because he remembers something he needs and/or wants. I may do those calls in the store, yes. IN the store, and if I have to, find a corner where I’m not disrupting the normal activities of the business!

If I’m driving it can ring. I can look at it after I stop and see what I missed.

When I walk into the store or out of the store, I’m not on the phone. If I need to talk to a store clerk I’m not on it unless they request information I don’t have and my DH can supply… or at that point I can call up some online info to show the clerk. We consult the phone jointly to get what I need.

I sit down to eat with someone, that living person is more important than the cellphone. So is my waitress/waiter. Anything involving my money, whether I am at the bank or checkout, rates higher than that phone.

That’s the drift. No one has the right to be glued to it every waking moment. It is not a right, it’s an intrusion. Just like (now don’t jump me, I do respect the rights of even though the smoke gives me a migraine) smokers; one has to be considerate of the area around themselves. One sided conversation, if you are making noise, you are impinging on the environment around you, and anyone else around you.

If you are working a desk position, as said, a hotel desk clerk, that is a people position, not a phone position. If I walk up to that desk I expect you’re not plugged in and you are there to do people things (check me in or tend to my other needs as a guest of the establishment). You are the front row and the face of where you work. If you have your own cellphone in your ear and can’t bother to put it to the side or click off when someone needs your attention… yes, as I said, I’ll take my phone and I’ll call higher up. And report you for lack of professionalism. And take my business and recommendations elsewhere… all because of the impression you have given me of this business I was trying to patronize.

I’ve had front desk work, receptionist, phone-line work, done food service, store clerk, cashier, bagger, etc. Lots of ‘people jobs’. The ones involving phones were not my personal, but my company one. Used for business.

Okay if you’re caught up and nobody’s around and it’s NOT against policy, I guess go ahead and use your phone. Customer shows up, you’re done with personal time….so hang up.

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The Elf July 12, 2013 at 7:18 am

Twinkletoes, I think a happy compromise might be to put the phone down when you reach the clerk/barista/server/etc. Others recommended putting it against their chest, rather than hanging up completely, to conduct the business transaction and give that salesperson the attention they deserve. Feel free to talk to your heart’s content in the stores and check out lines – people like me may get a little irritated, but at least you’re not being directly rude to someone. But once you get to the head of that line, switch your focus to that clerk and the business at hand.

Just please don’t use the phone while driving! Rude is one thing, unsafe is another.

I’m not one for idle chit-chat with strangers either. I’m not rude, but I usually just say “hello”, answer questions, and “thank you” rather than do the whole small talk song and dance. That’s one reason why I like automated checkouts. You may want to use more of them too. If you’re not at an automated checkout, you don’t have to learn the clerk’s life story, just make eye contact and give them attention to complete the order.

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Krista July 12, 2013 at 8:35 am

I agree that as a general rule it’s polite to give your attention to the person that is assisting you. It looks like most of us agree that the customer was rude in this specific situation even if there’s some dissension on whether the cashier handled it properly. However, I cannot agree that there are never exceptions to this rule.

Case in point – when my husband is calling me from Afghanistan, I will be taking his call, even if I’m in line at the grocery store. I will ask him if he can hold on a minute if I can wrap up my transaction quickly or if he can call me back if I’m just starting to load my groceries onto the belt. But I will take the call because he may not have an opportunity to call back any time soon. Clearly this wasn’t the case in the original story but I think we can all afford to give people a little bit of grace if we don’t know the specifics of the situation.

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BagelLover July 12, 2013 at 8:43 am

@Joyous – I HATE HATE HATE with the power of a thousand blazing suns people who throw their payment on the counter.

I used to work at a hardware store and generally spent at least three hours a shift on register (I was a manager but was better on register than most cashiers) and this happened a few times. Generally the people would pull out their money and set it on the counter, and then leave it there. I would tell them the total and they would just look at the money. Sometimes I would say, in a tone implying they weren’t quite with it mentally “Is the money on the counter what you would like to pay for your purchase with?” A few times i would just blithely ignore it. Once, when the customer chucked their credit card on the counter, I silently stuck it in my vest pocket and finished ringing up their items. When they finally cottoned on I was all “oh you threw that at me so I thought it was mine to keep” *pointed look*

The worst bit, though, is when cashiers set my change on the register instead of handing it to me. Hello, I’m standing here with my hand out.

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Miss-E July 12, 2013 at 8:49 am

@twinkletoes – the difference between being on the phone and talking to someone you are with is that you are both in the situation and therefore both aware of the surroundings. If you are shopping with a friend then you are both aware when the cashier is trying to ask you a question. When you’re on the phone the person on the other end doesn’t know what is going on so they will keep chattering away while the cashier is trying to ask you to pay or something. Also you can both interact with the cashier.

I check out a lot of people every day and there is a big difference between checking out pairs or groups and a person on the phone. With groups everyone will talk to me, a person on a phone is entirely distracted by things that aren’t in the room.

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Tracy July 12, 2013 at 10:40 am

Twinkletoes said: “To all the people who get irritated with people on their cell phone in restaurants, stores or whatever If I am talking at normal voice, the same volume I would talk if I was talking with a friend who was next to me, does it really make a difference if I am on the phone and not talking to a person in person?”

No, but that’s not how it generally works. Very few people speak on their cell phone at the same volume they would use when speaking in person.

Also, look at it from the other side. If it’s okay to talk on your phone during a transaction, would it also be appropriate to talk to another person standing there next to you during a transaction? When you’re at Starbucks or whatever with a friend, do you keep talking to that friend during the entire transaction, even when the cashier is trying to speak to you? If so, I’m afraid you’re being rude.

I’ve used my cell phone ONCE during a transaction – I was expecting a phone call from my doctor’s office and I knew they refused to leave messages (believe it or not), so I had to answer when it rang. I said “I’m really very sorry, but I HAVE to take this,” and finished paying while attempting to listen to what the nurse was saying. It was uncomfortable. I can’t imagine why anyone does this intentionally.

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Jenn50 July 12, 2013 at 10:48 am

E, I didn’t say it made me stressed, I said I hated it and could understand why people might put up a barrier to avoid it. The every day “Did you find everything?” Or “How are you today?” is tolerable enough, but the problem, as previous columns on this site have explored, is that some people feel the need to go far beyond that, and beyond what I feel is polite. For example, the other day, my husband, 3 kids and I were headed out for a long drive. We decided to pick up treats for the trip at our small town’s grocery store. My youngest son and I went into the store, and bought (for 5 of us to share) four chocolate bars and three small bottles of pop. The young male clerk who served us greeted us and said loudly and sarcastically, “Wow, that’s a healthy lunch!” I replied that, as it was 3:30 in the afternoon, it was unlikely to be lunch. He then continued to loudly rave about how he hoped there were a bunch of other people in the car, because, boy was that a lot of junk food. By the time he was done, everyone in both checkout lines was craning to see what I could possibly be buying to elicit such a response. When he got around to asking if I wanted a bag, I said, “Only if you’re all through trying to embarrass me by calling everyone in the store over to see how much junk food I’m buying.” Yes, I found the encounter irritating and if that store had self-checkout, you bet I’d use it to avoid these interactions. And other shoppers in line? I have a young daughter with autism. Grocery stores are tough for her. The lights, the sounds, the smells are all pretty overwhelming. I try to avoid taking her, but sometimes, I just have to. She will bury her face in my side, trying to hide from the sensory overload. People ALWAYS try to engage her, and frankly, I’m tired of explaining the situation to strangers. Why anyone would try to talk to someone who is visibly trying to retreat is a complete mystery to me. But if I’m on my phone, nobody bothers us. So, while I fully acknowledge that using a cell phone while conducting a transaction is rude, I FULLY understand people who find themselves using it as a barrier.

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Beth July 12, 2013 at 12:54 pm

I work for this company, but not this particular store, and we’ve been talking about it non-stop.
As a cashier I get people on their mobiles all the time, and I normally resort to just not speaking to them. Yes I get paid to stand there and do my job, but I deserve some respect and unless the call is an emergency (and really, how much of an emergency can it be if you’re still doing your shopping?) then I think it’s best to just say ‘sorry I’m at the till, I’ll call you back in a minute.’

Talking to the customers is my favourite part of the job, and I do genuinely care about how they are. If they don’t want to talk then that’s fine, and if they do want to chat then great!

Being on your phone when I serve you isn’t just rude, it’s inconvenient and delays the transaction. I have been complained about because I’ve been talking to colleagues (something I’ve worked on to improve…but I’ve also been complimented for being so friendly and helpful, so I’m not all bad!) but some customers really do feel that it’s acceptable to ignore you, not make eye contact, not thank you for packing their bags and serving them, and then throw money on the till and leave before you get a chance to count it.

Honestly, everyone should work serving the public in a sense once in their life, it might teach some people some manners!!

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