I recently made a mess at the grocery store and found out what businesses expect you to do when you break something.

I'm still not sure how it happened, but as soon as I reached for that jar of pasta sauce everything started playing in slow motion. I saw the jar at the end of the shelf slide forward, hang in the air for what seemed like minutes, and then plunge to the ground landing in a huge crash. There was pasta sauce everywhere; on my shoes, the shopping cart, my other groceries. All I could do was stand there in shock.

After pulling myself together I flagged down a worker who rolled their eyes and got on the intercom to request a "CLEAN UP ON AISLE SIX!" I apologized and continued on my way, leaving a trail of pasta sauce down the aisle as I finished up my shopping.

After relating the story to some friends, they asked me why I didn't have to pay for the broken sauce. Honestly, I never even thought about it. The grocery store staff  seemed way more concerned with whether I was OK or not and never brought up having to pay for the broken item. They even apologized to me, even though I was the one who knocked over the jar.

After some reflection, I wondered what the standard operating procedure was for making a mess in a store. So, I consulted some people I know who work in retail and they told me this kind of thing happens all the time. Here's what they suggest customers do if they break something.

Let someone know
This is the most important thing you can do if you drop something in a store. Managers want to know if there's a mess in the store, and they want to make sure no one injures themselves slipping or tripping over something. So always flag down an employee and let them know.

Don't help clean it up
As noted before, these mishaps are more common than people realize. Workers are used to having to clean up spills and messes. It's best to just stay out of their way and let them do it. Also, management doesn't want you getting injured while mopping up their floor and cause even more problems.

Don't worry about paying
Of course, we've all heard the phrase "you broke it, you bought it." And that's probably the case if you're in an expensive art gallery and purposely push over a million dollar statue. But if you wreck a ten dollar item, don't stress. Stores plan for a certain amount of damaged goods, whether they're broken by employees or customers. It's all part of the cost of doing business and you shouldn't feel compelled to have to pay. Of course, if you feel really guilty it doesn't hurt to offer, but don't expect the store to add the broken item onto your bill.

Be thankful
Most stores want customers to return and to feel good about their shopping experience. That's why they're not going to give you a hard time for being so clumsy. It's only fair to thank them for being so understanding and remind them that they've made you a very happy customer.

Don't be embarrassed
Seriously, this happens all the time. There's no need to go running out of the store in shame. As long as you're apologetic and don't cause a scene, the workers will most likely forget all about the incident by the time you get to the checkout.

So, the next time your butter fingers drops something at the store, don't stress, be polite and be very thankful that you're not in the Museum of Modern Art.

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