How did everyone else have this same great idea tonight? On a balmy summer evening, everyone in town seems to have decided to head over to the local ice cream parlor, and the line is — whoa, that line is long.
If you plan to stick around, you need a quick game plan to make sure this is a nice experience for everyone. You do not want to be that person everyone else is talking about on the sticky walk home.
Here’s some smart advice on what not to do for you to read while you’re waiting in line, straight from the patient, hardworking ranks of local scoop shop owners.
1) Cutting In Line
It gets crowded at the front of the line, where everyone wants to elbow in and check out all the flavors. And possibly, as you were doing that, you lost track of who was standing in front of you. Cutting in line was the number one issue mentioned by the shop owners we talked to.
Here’s why it’s especially hard for them: Most of the time, their head is lowered and looking at the ice cream, not policing the line to make sure you goobers behave yourselves.
“We operate on an honor system for keeping the line going,” said Sebastián Koziura, co-owner of Chicago-based Frio Gelato. “We’re so busy serving customers that we’re often not aware that cutting in line has happened.”
Koziura’s advice is to be a little more mindful of your place in line, and don’t feel tempted to push forward. If someone else cuts in front, that’s your call. But you may want to let them elbow in as your random act of kindness for the day — or possibly put a silent curse on their cone so it will topple as soon as they get outside.
2) Being In A Tremendous Hurry — For Ice Cream
“Going to a scoop shop is like a 15-minute vacation,” said Steve Christensen, executive director of the North American Ice Cream Association. “It’s a place for celebration, commiseration and a pick-me-up.”
Like any other food service operation, your local mom-and-pop ice cream store is facing some unique staffing and hospitality pressures these days, Christensen pointed out. So, letting everyone know that your time is more valuable than theirs? Not the time or the place, buddy.
Of course this sort of ice cream emergency mentality can happen anywhere, but we did hear about it from a shop located where everyone is always in a life-or-death rush — New York City.
Nicholas Larsen is co-owner of Sugar Hill Creamery, Harlem’s first family-owned ice cream shop since 1982.
“The prospect of eating ice cream tends to bring out the joy in most people who walk into our stores,” Larsen said. “But when someone’s in a rush because their car is parked in the bus lane or they’re double-parked outside one of our shops, there’s a higher potential they may be short in their tone with our customer service representatives.”
What does he do? “We sell both ice cream and hospitality, so our frontline team knows how to brace for customers who may be agitated more easily, and we greet and serve them with kindness anyway,” he said. Often, Larsen said, that kindness can take a situation from “boiling point” to “simmer.”
It might help to remember that there’s a person behind the counter, often a young and relatively inexperienced one, so cutting them a break might be in order, even if you’ve been waiting a long, long time for your cup of Rocky Road.
“Like many other shops, I hire seasonal staff, and for many of them, it’s their first-ever job,” said Max Hoover, owner of Cockeye BBQ and Creamery in Warren, Ohio. “When adults interact with minors so rudely, it’s a challenge, but that’s the world we live in. I’m proud of my staff that they don’t let these encounters get to them.”
3) Abusing The Samples
Insisting on trying everything in the case before you order a single vanilla cone? The staff sees you, and so does everyone else standing behind you. When the line is long, it might be a good day to order your perennial favorite and skip the possibility of a new taste adventure. Looking for a rule of, um, teeny-tiny spoon?
“Generally, asking for up to three samples per person is considered polite,” Christensen said.
Even with that guideline, the issue of sampling has come under greater scrutiny in recent years. Many shops eliminated samples during the pandemic. And some, like Frio Gelato, made the decision to charge 50 cents per sample.
But other store owners, including Hoover, are still holding onto the old-timey sample tradition. After being put on hold during the pandemic, he reported that samples are now again allowed by the health department in his area. For him, that’s a good thing.
“Our menu of flavors is pretty robust and diverse, and it fluctuates all the time, so it’s not an unreasonable request to ask for a sample,” Hoover said. “I think it can drive sales, especially for unique flavors people may not have tried, like our honey lavender.”
4) Smoking Right Outside The Shop
Sitting outside to eat a cone is the ultimate nice day thing to do, but secondhand smoke turns that blue sky to gray, literally. In the patio area that adjoins the walk-up windows at Cockeye Creamery, some customers light up and smoke while waiting in line or after picking up scoops.
“We care about the health of the kids and seniors at the shop, as well as the health of our staff,” Hoover said. “We’ve tried to put up plenty of placards and signs that ask people to refrain from lighting up. As much as I say the customer can do no wrong, ice cream is even more a kids’ business than many others, so we hope that customers will comply.”