Every Sunday hubby and I peruse the aisles of the commissary. We cross items off our list, but inevitably end up in the checkout lane with way more than we had planned on buying. Somehow the 3 teenagers who call our house home never fail in depleting our pantry.
We toss our canvas bags up onto the conveyor belt and try to put like items up to be bagged together: first the refrigerated stuff, then the boxes and cans, followed by produce, and then all of the fragile items like bread and eggs.
In an off-base grocery store, one of us would be quick to take up a fighting position down at the bagging area, carefully arranging our groceries to facilitate the quickest dispersal into our cabinets and refrigerator.
At the commissary bagging our groceries has never been an option…until now.
The Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) began a test run of checkout lanes with no baggers in January after receiving customer feedback requesting it. At 121 commissaries shoppers have the option to choose a lane where they bag their own groceries. Differing from the self-checkout lanes, which have long since been available, these lanes will still have a dedicated cashier to ring your groceries up for you.
I haven’t seen this option at our commissary, but even so, I’m a little torn about the idea.
While my husband and I like bagging our own groceries at off-base grocery stores, tipping a bagger at the commissary is a military community tradition.
Baggers have been a part of the commissary “experience” for as long as I can remember. Even growing up overseas as an Air Force brat, I remember the nice ladies and teenagers who walked with us out to the car and helped to load the bulk of our weekly foraging.
What I didn’t know as a kid is that all commissary baggers, most of whom are retirees, military spouses and military dependents, are independent contractors.
As such, they do not add to the cost of running the commissary in any way, but that doesn’t mean, of course, that they offer their services for free.
Admittedly, there was a time, back when we were a younger military family, that even a few extra dollars each week had an impact. I can’t tell you how many times I had to to scrounge for quarters or crumpled up dollar bills to tip the nice kid who loaded up the back of my car while I tried to wrangle my kids into their car seats. I am sure there was more than one occasion when I was angry and frustrated at having to offer some kind of payment, even though, technically, it’s not required. And it would have been a commissary etiquette faux pas to ask them not to bag my haul.
But now, thanks to many years of hard work and progression in our chosen careers, hubby and I can certainly afford to pass a five-spot to the retiree or high school student trying to make a few extra bucks during the weekend shopping rush.
When you consider that the average check out experience probably runs about 10 to 12 minutes, I’d wager baggers are making about $10 to 15 per hour, a reasonable wage considering most of their work is done over just a couple of days a week.
I like the idea of being able to pack my groceries the way I want them packed.
Even just the few minutes it saves after we arrive home is welcomed. But the thought of not having the baggers available, of potentially ending that tradition, makes me a little sad.
I am all for progress, but the idea of potentially eliminating a job opportunity for folks within our military community to continue to serve in our community just feels wrong.