A free lunch at Costco?
The guy who got arrested for taking too many deli samples is an extreme case. But he's not the only one who makes full meals from free bites.
Found in his pockets were more than a dozen packets of soy sauce and two plastic produce bags containing 1.46 pounds of summer sausage and beef stick samples. Ultimately he pleaded not guilty to a trio of misdemeanors and underwent a year of unsupervised probation, after which the charges were dismissed.
But now Lingitz is back in court, suing the Supervalu grocery chain for violating his civil rights. Since the samples were free, he claims, the store had no right to eject him by force.
The Supervalu grocery chain says Lingitz broke "societal norms and common customer understanding regarding free sample practices." The chain's reply to the lawsuit also noted that Lingitz was caught filling produce bags with up to 20 cookies from the "kids' cookie club tray."
Certainly he's not the first guy to (over)work the freebies system. Some frugality bloggers have written about making entire meals out of the free samples at warehouse clubs, supermarkets and even Whole Foods.
A reader of the Free Money Finance blog says she and her boyfriend eat free-sample meals up to five times a week at a Costco near their workplace and at neighborhood supermarkets on the weekends.
Her estimated savings: $140 to $220 per month. "It is not the most healthful meal but our financial situation is not very healthy, either," the reader writes. "You do what you got to do."
Surely that kind of behavior is rare? Not according to two other FMF readers who identified themselves as professional food "demo" servers.
"At my warehouse we get people that come in every day and eat a sample lunch," reports a woman named Sally.
Others will "fake buy" -- put the product in their carts and later drop it somewhere else in the store -- then demand another free sample.
"This happens every day to every single demo person's product," Sally says.
A demo server named Betty says some folks come in five times a week -- "Believe me, we notice" -- and indulge in some pretty unpleasant behavior.
"People will fight over food, they will literally take it out of another person's hand, they will cut in line. And some will take five samples at once. People will go around and around, taking 15 to 20 samples from each demo."
Freebies are offered to get shoppers to try and then buy something new. When the free-lunch crowd hoovers up the trays of cocktail weenies or cheesecake bites, fewer potential paying customers get a chance to taste those wares, according to Betty -- and she has sales goals to meet.
"When we don't meet our goals, that means less hours or possibly losing our jobs," she says. "So the next time you are eating away, think about the people's jobs at risk."
Tips from the pros
Put free food out and even rational people can act a little squirrelly. Here's what PF bloggers suggest:
- Eat strategically. Don't grab samples by the fistful. Instead, use them to take the edge off any hunger you're feeling. "With a full stomach and a frugal head, you can get what you came for and not make unplanned purchases," suggests John at Frugal Rules.
- Be assertive. Free stuff goes fast. Don't knock people down, but don't be shy, either. "Remember, sample grazing is a contact sport," quips Gary Weinberg in "A definitive guide to food grazing (for free) at Costco" on the Good Greasy Eats blog.
- Shop with a buddy. If you don't like a food that's being offered, give it to your pal in exchange for the samples he doesn't like, suggests FMF from Free Money Finance.
- Don't linger. Dozens of other people who can apparently afford to shop at Costco are also lining up, impatient for that precious bite of chevre spread. More to the point, other shoppers just want to get their carts past the swelling crowd. Sally the food-sample person notes that "some members get super angry at the traffic jam . . . they hate the demos."
Ruining it for everybody
Full disclosure: I like free samples. But I don't expect to be given more than one.
Perhaps Lingitz has a sense of entitlement. Or perhaps as a retiree, he has extreme anxiety about making ends meet.
If that's the case, then retailers need to take notice, since plenty of older people have money issues. Maybe managers should require shoppers to scan store loyalty cards to prove they haven't already scored 1.4 pounds of summer sausage.
The Erwin Lingitzes of the world stand to ruin it for everybody who's ever wanted to sample black bean tortilla chips before forking over $4.59 for a bag. So do your part: Take one sample, don't get back in line repeatedly, and for heaven's sake leave the kids' cookie tray alone.
Readers: Was Lingitz justified in his behavior? Why or why not?
More from MSN Money:
This guy has no logical excuse to sue anyone. He is again working the system by using the civil system to get yet another freebie. What a shameful person. If I were Costco I would counter sue him until he was so broke he could not pay attention.
Although I must confess my guys like to graze at Costco while I'm shopping on a weekend day, I really don't like the food demos and freebies because they cause problems simply getting a cart through the store without LA freeway style back ups in frozen foods, meats, and bakery departments. I usually start shopping while they get a hot dog or polish sausage and soda for $1.50 each outside. It fills them up enough that they're happy to take only one sample of the various offerings in store. It seems a shame that anyone would actually feel compelled to make a weekend meal of food samples at Costco... or anywhere, for that matter... and sadder yet if one feels he/she has to fill pockets or a purse with samples in order to eat during the week.
Yes, plenty of seniors have difficulty making ends meet with fixed incomes as food prices continue to rise. Our little town has a senior food program providing fresh produce, bread and occasionally some meats once per week, food bank style; volunteers even deliver food to those who aren't able to drive. What I've found at Costco isn't seniors hoarding the samples, but whole families with kids lining up at each of the sample tables. The thing is, for many non-perishable food products like soups, sauces, pastas, chips, crackers, boxed mixes, etc. it's often cheaper overall to buy from Dollar Tree or an ethnic store, in some cases saving money on gasoline to and from Costco as well. Maybe families just aren't as aware as we'd assume they'd now be about whittling grocery bills to fit lean budgets?
Or it could be that hoarding "free" snacks is a lot more appealing than taking the time and effort to buy marked down (today only specials) meat and dairy at one store, coupon items at another, staples at Dollar Tree, and bulk items like rice and beans at ethnic stores? For those who say they'd spend to much in gasoline for all those stops, not if you plan the trip as a circle. For naysayers who insist it takes too much time, only if your browse at each store instead of going directly to the items (and only the items) on your grocery list. A free sample is fine. Stockpiling and hoarding free samples is at the least, lazy.
Any city big enough to have a Costco is sure to have a food bank, And our local Costco is about three dollars worth of gas away, so it'd be cheaper to grab something from the dollar menu.
Wow...and I feel squeemish over going back for seconds hoping they don't recognize that I was there 4 minutes earlier.
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