The food sample code of conduct

If you live in the US and have a warehouse shopper’s card, you understand the power of the free sample. Samples can also be snagged at most large grocery stores and even smaller establishments are getting in on the game. Some of us even go so far as to schedule our Costco trips around peak sample times so we can have a taste of the latest food and wine offerings. I mean, so I’ve heard.

empty plate

This trend of sampling is not limited to warehouse stores and supermarkets in the US: Jay Rayner recently wrote about samples offered by the bakery chain Ole & Steen, which is rolling out new stores around London. He asks the age-old question: “how many free samples is it OK to snaffle?” As you might expect, Rayner is not shy about partaking in these handouts. He admits that if no one is watching closely, he can “scarf the equivalent of a whole Danish in the gap between saying ‘A white Americano, please’ and ‘Thank you'”.

I have observed that the sample purveyors at various grocery stores and warehouse clubs don’t seem to recognize you if you happen to wander by multiple times (in my case, desperately trying to find the one item remaining on my list because I can’t remember in which aisle it is located). Even if they do know I’ve already taken a sample, they offer me a second without hesitation. As Rayner says about the bakery, “it’s not their cake, so what the hell.” 

In Rayner’s estimation, the real trouble comes not when you are in a chain bakery or supermarket, where it really doesn’t matter if you have seconds, but rather at small vendors or farmers’ markets. There it becomes a bit more of a moral dilemma to take a piece (or two) if you have no intention of buying the product. How many samples do you think is too many to grab? 

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