Leave Your Wallet at Home — Dinner’s on Trader Joe

Swiping that first Tootsie Pop from the local corner store before puberty taught How-to Guru an important lesson: Free food tastes better.

And UCSD certainly doesn’t have a shortage. The temptation of a free slice of pepperoni seldom fails to rally the troops to the most forlorn corners of Sixth College — even when it first requires enduring a half-hour presentation on marching for Jesus. But the endless string of campus freebies does occasionally dry up. When they do, supermarket samples are available to exploit year-round.

From Costco to Trader Joe’s to Whole Foods to our very own Sunshine Market, a whole world of free samples is yours for the grazing — if you know where to stick your nose.

The first step to scoring a free-sample dinner: Scout the area. Awareness of your surroundings is instrumental in your exploitation of any squeaky-clean, tile-floored environs. Note all employees watching and judge their level of interest in their minimum-wage work. Some celebrate their Ralphs-embroidered polo-shirt uniform, and will jump on any opportunity to scold you. Others wouldn’t bat an eye if you shoved a watermelon up your shirt and booked it to Starbucks.

Keeping up appearances for the former will help you pass as a genuine customer, so make sure to push a shopping cart sprinkled with a few choice items for distraction. A single free-range chicken or chunk of imported French cheese should serve well to prevent any suspiscion of foul play.

Second: Seek out the finger food. Any snack sold in bulk with a convenient self-serve shovel (nuts, dried fruit, granola, jelly beans) is rightfully yours for the tasting. Do not, however, extend your grimy paw into a food bin; not only is such behavior unsanitary, it will call immediate, red-handed attention to your transgression.

Use the tongs at the olive bar to pluck a single morsel, then grab it with your fingers and stuff it in your salivating maw. The object of the game, after all, is to look as inconspicuous as possible to achieve maximum sample-meal volume.

Third: Never make eye contact. Aim to be invisible — this way you’ll attract minimum attention. It’s also critical to always keep moving. Lurking in the same snack aisle for a minute too long makes you a prime target for neurotic employees and undercover theft preventers.

It should be noted that tasting fruit is easiest. If there aren’t any employees around (or even if there are), grabbing a handful of grapes here or an apple there to brazenly munch on while shopping has never been denounced in How-to Guru’s experience. Besides, what other purpose could there possibly be for the produce-section trash bins than as a place to toss your apple core?

But if you’re going for quantity over quality, nothing compares to Costco for scoring a full three-course meal of samples.

The beefed-up grocery store litters its aisles with little old ladies doling out macaroni and cheese or pumpkin pie bits. They think it will help them sell more products — but who are they kidding? How-to Guru just goes to score a free meal. With such sample variety, you probably won’t pass the same booth twice. Even if you do, that old bag handing out samples has most likely been a Costco employee since 1932 and probably won’t remember you.

Though arguably more delicious than Costco, Trader Joe’s is a little trickier to sample from. First of all, there’s only one lone sample station in the whole store, typically manned by a dutiful employee there to prepare the goods. Repeat trips require skill. Hide yourself behind another sampler on the first grab, allowing your hot little hands to dart into sample zone and snag a serving without ever being associated with your face — that way the booth lackey won’t recognize you on the second visit.

For that tricky third helping, flattery is key. Fawn over the spring rolls that are ‘microwaved to perfection.’ Heartfelt exclamations such as ‘Oh, my God, this reminds me of the meatballs my mother used to make me — before she passed,’ will unfailingly endear you to the embittered sample-doler. When you request ‘just one more little bite,’ she’ll gladly heap it into your extended palm, blissfully ignorant of the fact that you’re really just in it for the free nosh.

Remember, sample hunting is a low-risk activity. The sampling strategies enumerated here do not endanger you, the not-quite culprit, to any kind of real punishment, apart from the occasional dirty look or nasty scolding in passing. Embrace your inner mooch and enjoy the free sample game while it lasts — you can’t play after you graduate.

Special how-to requests? Contact the guru at [email protected].

Donate to The UCSD Guardian
$2320
$500
Contributed
Our Goal

Your donation will support the student journalists at University of California, San Diego. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment, keep printing our papers, and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The UCSD Guardian
$2320
$500
Contributed
Our Goal