Monday, May 20, 2013

Manners Monday: Food Sampling Etiquette

Happy Monday! I hope you all had a fabulous weekend. It's been too long since I've posted a Manners Monday post, my apologies. I'm back with a new post, and while it may not be as common as how to properly set a table, cell phone etiquette or the importance of mailing wedding thank you cards, it's a topic that has become quite personal lately. Apart from just my own experiences, trying out new food and beverages is something that we all experience now and then. I mean, who doesn't enjoy sampling new food or drink items while shopping? Those bite-sized treats kind of draw you in like a moth to a flame, especially when you're hungry. ;)

I mentioned briefly both here and via Facebook that alongside of my design business, I picked up a part time job to supplement my income while I'm pregnant to build a little nest egg as I will be staying at home with our little one once she is born. While I'll continue to blog, offer e-design services and do some freelance writing jobs, these are all things I can do from home for the most part. I'm working as a Sales Rep for a specialty foods company whereby I'm responsible for building relationships with a particular chain of grocery stores here in Florida. Part of my job is to offer samples of our product for a few hours, 4 times per week in an attempt to build a loyal, repeat customer base. During the past 3 months that I've been in this position, I've seen some pretty interesting things occur at the sample table-some to my horror. Today's topic is all about Food Sampling Etiquette because I find that when it comes to complimentary food, some people's manners seem to go out the window.

10 Etiquette Tips for Sampling Food

1. Be Mindful of the Setup Process- I can't tell you how many times I'm in the midst of setting up my table and don't even have the product out yet, let alone the serving tools gathered and people rush up as if I'm going to give them a sample on command. Some stand off to the side and stare in my direction waiting for me to finish. I know from speaking to others who do demos that I'm not alone in my feelings that this is quite annoying, particularly if it's a day you happen to be running a bit behind schedule and do not need any distractions to slow you down. If one is feeling snack-ish or has questions about the product, they should wait. Instead the time can be used to work on a grocery list for a few minutes and circle back around, the samples aren't going anywhere.

2. Hello, Please & Thank You Go a Long Way- Whomever is offering the samples at a table or on a tray, goes to the trouble of setting everything up and preparing the food, the least one can do is greet them and treat them as a human being vs. a servant, asking politely for a sample and thanking the person for the food or drink sample. It's free food, anytime someone gives us anything or does something for us in life it's always proper to say thank you and this is no exception.

3. Ask Before Grabbing- Before reaching your hand out for a sample, always ask what it is or read the signage on the table. Many people take without asking only to realize it has an ingredient that they are allergic to or it does not fit their diet. Some aren't even entirely sure what it is or how spicy it is. If you take a sample and realize after grabbing it that you aren't going to be able to eat it, it then becomes wasteful as it ends up in the trash. With the product I sample, one is the original flavor and the other is a spicy version, even though it's extremely well marked, people don't bother to take a second to read and countless samples end up going into the garbage as a result which is completely avoidable.

4. If You Touch it, You Take it- As with anywhere else food is served, once an item of food (or the napkin/plate it is served on) is touched, it cannot be put back. This is common courtesy and an essential food safety rule when serving food. If you happen to change your mind or grab the wrong sample, apologize and toss that sample away. Don't leave it on the table for someone else to grab. Even if you only touched a corner of the napkin or the edge of a plate, it is food someone else will handle and it cannot be served.

5. Don't Leave a Mess Behind- If your sample is served in a cup, on on a plate or napkin, be sure to pick up the serving material from the table and toss it into the trash not leaving it for the demo server to do or tossed into a shopping cart, basket or on the floor. This is something that I experience daily and I don't understand why a napkin that comes with it would be left on a table. If you happen to drop or spill a sample on the floor, it becomes your responsibility to clean up the mess and leave the area the way you found it. Ask for some napkins and clean up the floor- the server will be happy to offer you another sample afterwards, accidents happen.

6. Keep it Positive- We're not all going to love everything we taste test, but we don't need to be rude, negative or disrespectful to the person serving it. After all, it's free food and the purpose it to test it out. If you're not a fan of the product, keep it to yourself. Never use the words ick, yuck, ew or make a disgusted face (as a young toddler would do). If it's not for you, you do not have to eat it. Instead, toss it out, thank the server and be on your way. If there is an area of critique, put a positive spin on it with a comment like, "This would be even better if it had more berries, jalapenos, etc."

7. Avoid Being a Sample Glutton- We've all seen these folks who take a sample but one is not enough and they go back to take several more as if the samples were a replacement for their lunch. They're also generally the same people who will tell you the reason why they cannot buy the product such as it's too high in fat but they'll come back around and eat 4-5 samples. Always assume that it's one sample per person unless otherwise stated. Sometimes, when multiple versions or flavors are offered, the server will encourage you to try a couple or one of each flavor. At my table, we offer 2-3 flavors and I always encourage customers to try one of each so they can be compared. If you're really in love with a new product, there is no harm in smiling and politely asking if you may have another because you enjoyed it so much. After this point, purchasing the item would be the greatest compliment, leave some samples for the next person.

8. Taking Coupons- Many times with a sampling table, coupons will be offered along side. Again, it's one coupon per person. Printing coupons costs companies money, unless you really see yourself buying the product that day or before the expiration date, it's best to leave it for someone else. If you grab one and change your mind upon seeing it on the shelf, leave the coupon beside the product for someone else. Never grab a stash of coupons, however if you are buying more than one item or multiple flavors, it's completely okay to ask if you are able to have 2 coupons for your 2 items and it shouldn't be a problem if you are going to be a new or repeat customer.

9. The Best Location to Eat Your Food Sample- Once you grab your sample, always take a few steps back and allow other passersby the opportunity to come up and grab something for themselves. This is also a good idea so you're not eating too close to the table where some have food fall from their mouths. Daily, I see someone who feels the need to eat their food sample and try to carry on a conversation with me. As always, chewing with one's mouth closed and not talking while eating is always appreciated by everyone nearby.

10. Responding to Being Offered a Sample- Sometimes as you pass by a sample table, if you don't come up to it directly you may be asked if you'd like to try the product. If it's processed, appears fatty, doesn't look appealing or you're just not hungry, a simple "No, thank you" or "Not today, thanks" will suffice. There's no need to go on a rant about how you don't eat processed food, junk food, anything that's not organic, how you think fish is gross, etc. It's impolite to say anything that may deter other customers from sampling and that may be offensive to the person serving the food.

Have you ever encountered any unusual behavior while at a sampling table? Maybe you work in the food service industry and have an example of your own? On the contrary, have you sampled something yummy recently that you just have to share? I'd love to hear what you have to say in the comments below!

As always, thanks for reading!


*photo credits: (1) , (2) , (3)


  1. Karla good tips because a lot of the specialty store, like Trader Joes and other are offering samples of their delightful foods from drinks to entrees!

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the tips, Karena! We're finally getting a Trader Joe's in a few months to our area but Whole Foods does a lot of sampling as well as one of the larger chains of grocery stores here in the south. :) Looking forward to visiting your page.

  2. I love your Manners Monday posts... your blog is one of the first I really got into when I first started following blogs. It makes me feel justified for thinking about manners the way that I do. I often ask myself if I'm a snob for feeling stabs of annoyance at seeing many of the things that you touch on, and your posts help me to keep my chin up and confirm that it's good to have good manners, no matter how others may view things!

    I must make an effort to comment more often. Love this post. I frequent Costco, which is samples heaven, and see many of the above happen all too often!

    1. Thanks so much, Bethany! :) Good manners are all about being respectful of others and I think many forget this. Manners and Etiquette are definitely my passion, I tend to get annoyed by others lack of them but always remember that sometimes some people haven't learned the proper way to be. It's also a reminder that reminders on manners are much needed.

      I appreciate you stopping by and commenting!

  3. Oh, Karla, what a great article. I did sampling at a women's show, and was surprised at the amount of moms who sent their little ones over unaccompanied. I would never give a child food without an adult present, as I didn't know their allergy situation. One "lady" chewed me out publicly, claiming I didn't think children were people. I was very embarrased until I realized people were looking at her, not me.

    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed the post, Wendy! :) Yes, children wandering over for samples on their own happens all the time! I have an allergy alert sign on my table and do not hand out food to children without an adult present either. I'm so amazed that a woman gave you grief over protecting her child's health. Some people will find any reason to become upset. You definitely had nothing to be embarrassed about, she drew that attention towards herself for sure since you were just doing your job.


Thanks for stopping by, your comments make my day! I read every single one and will answer any questions you have. I hope you'll visit again soon! :)


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