Everyone loves free stuff; that shouldn’t surprise anybody. But what may surprise you is how many things you can get for free at the grocery store. This goes for both goods and services because free samples are not the only freebies you’ll find. Specialists within the store, such as butchers, fishmongers, and florists, are all equipped to help you with essential tasks, and they’ll do a lot of it for free. Of course, free food is probably the number one priority for most of us, so we won’t go any further until we talk about samples.
Lots of stores give out free samples, most notably large warehouse stores like Costco and Sam’s Club. Reader’s Digest notes that Costco actually has an official company policy that makes free samples unlimited. Employees are not allowed to stop you from eating their fare, although you probably want to limit yourself out of politeness. At Sam’s Club, you’re likely to find more free samples if you go at a busy time, like on a weekend, and in the past, they have offered holiday specials for double free samples. These member-based stores are far from the only place to find samples though, as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods usually have some available. Now that we’ve covered your snacking needs, let’s dive deeper into the free services at grocery stores.
Not every grocery has a full butchery (looking at you Trader Joe’s), but those that do will often prepare meat to your specifications at no extra charge. Trimming meat can be a huge pain in the pork butt, and you can end up wasting food. For example, removing the silver skin on beef and pork is essential before cooking because, as Cuisine at Home explains, it is composed of tough connective tissue. You must be precise when removing the silver skin or else you could end up taking off a lot of valuable meat. A butcher is better prepared to handle the task, so consider asking them next time. USA Today also mentions that butchers can break down large cuts of meat, like dividing a chuck roast into stew-sized pieces.
You can also get help with poultry. Let’s say you want to make fried chicken. You don’t want to go dumping a whole bird in hot oil, as MasterClass explains that each part of the chicken cooks at a different rate. Therefore, you need to separate the thighs, drumsticks, breasts, and wings. The University of Minnesota guide on butchering poultry notes that you must carefully cut between the joints at just the right spot. If you miss the mark, you could cut into the bone itself, potentially damaging your knife or leaving fragments in the meat. USA Today recommends having your butcher take care of this task. Just ask them to "quarter" your chicken.
Butchering meat is a challenge to be sure, but prepping a fish for the kitchen can present an even bigger challenge because it calls for special tools. BBC Good Food notes that, in addition to a large knife and kitchen shears, you need a fish fileting knife and a pair of tweezers or pliers to remove the tiny bones. Descaling the fish is another pain in the neck, and it’s extremely messy to boot. Fish scales fly all over the place and stick things, like shiny, oceanic confetti. It generates such a huge mess that the Los Angeles Times actually recommends cleaning fish inside a garbage bag if you want to do it at home.
You can bypass the aforementioned trouble by asking your grocer’s fishmonger to filet the fish for you. USA Today recommends doing this for two reasons. Firstly, you can save yourself a great deal of effort and cleanup by handing the task off to a professional. Furthermore, freshly-cut filets of fish are preferable compared to those that have been sitting in a cold case for who knows how long. The fishmonger also has your back when it comes to storing seafood. Serious Eats explains that the best way to keep fish fresh is to place it in the fridge atop ice blocks. If you don’t have ice blocks, ask the fishmonger for a bag of crushed ice. They always have some on hand and are usually happy to give it out for free.
Some of the free services available at grocery stores do not directly involve food. For instance, The Takeout notes that many butchers offer knife-sharpening services if you ask. Working with dull blades is both ineffective and dangerous, but sharpening knives on your own requires special equipment that you may not have access to. If you want to bring your knives to the butcher for sharpening, LifeHacker recommends going early in the morning before they get too busy. Alternatively, The Takeout says you can leave your knives with the butcher one day and pick them up the next.
Some grocers can even help you with your love life. Yes, you read that right; many groceries have a flower section overseen by a professional florist. USA Today explains that a florist can arrange a bouquet for you, typically at no extra charge. If you need some "I’m sorry, can we please make up" flowers, it’s best to have an expert handle the presentation instead of grabbing random flowers willy-nilly. Before we go, one last service to mention is free pickup. The Penny Hoarder notes that major grocery chains, including Walmart, Albertsons, Kroger, and Whole Foods, let you order your groceries ahead of time and pick them up for no additional charge.