What’s The Best Way To Handle The “Hold On, I’m On The Phone” Customer?

There is a special type of bad consumer that is the bane of both retail employees and other customers waiting in line — the person who not only blabs away on their phone while waiting in line but also holds things up by refusing to pause their call when they get to the head of the line. So what is the best way to deal with this problem in a way that just won’t slow things down even more?

The Unicorn Cafe in Evanston, IL, trains its employees to handle customers with attitude through some role-playing exercises that place them on both sides of the counter. And over at StarbucksGossip.com, barista readers have shared their advice and experience on the matter.

“We used to have a single rule for these kind of people at my old store,” writes one commenter. “Back of the line, please.”

Another barista is less certain:

I am afraid of being written up if I dare to say anything about this problem to the customer. I do not know what is allowed by Mgmt. And if the customer, no matter how wdong he is, calls the Office, which they all do, the Company will fault the Barista because the customer is always right! It does offend me when I cannot get their attention because they are on their cell, and when I simply take the next customer, the person gets all huffy! I worked 3 years with a Mgr. wgo always sided with the customer and never with the Barista, and the result is a write up for “unacceptable” service toward a customer who is rufe in the first place. How do I win here?

Adds another, admittedly former barista, “I would show her one of my fingers too, it just wouldn’t be the same one she is showing.”

While others say they simply ask the finger-wagging phone-talker to step aside until they are done with their call.

“The customer is a very tricky species,” Unicorn Cafe’s Tracie Dahlke tells Consumerist. “Our goal with the Customer Service Refresher Course (CSRC) was to take our employees on a spiritual journey to both sides of the counter, to examine in depth all of the many scenarios that could occur during a common daily transaction. This two-pronged Employee/Customer role playing ensures that our staff understands inner operation of the minds working on BOTH sides of the counter, ensuring that any possible scenario that may arise leaves at least one side of the equation a pacified mannequin.”

We want to know from the Consumerist hive mind how you handle these bad consumers, not just at coffee shops, but in all situations where their phone use puts a damper on everyone’s day.

Do you politely ask them to step aside? Do you just step ahead of them? Or do you grab their phone and see if there is a Blendtec behind the counter?

Share your thoughts in the comments, but please keep the line moving.


Edit Your Comment

  1. Coffee says:

    See previous article.

  2. crispyduck13 says:

    I’m just here for the “do your damn minimum wage job and quit bitching!” comments.

    • Coffee says:

      “What I do on my time is none of your damned business. Now butt out of my conversation.”

      Of course, we know how well commenters respond to that particular line of thinking.

    • Fineous K. Douchenstein says:

      “Do your damn shopping and quit bitching on the phone!”

  3. McRib wants to know if you've been saved by the Holy Clown says:


  4. twritersf says:

    “Next in line please!”

    Management that doesn’t support good customer service for all their customers, not just the self-important ones who can’t be bothered to hang up the phone long enough to do their business are spineless weasels.

    • IphtashuFitz says:

      This, precisely. How is the barista/cashier/whoever supposed to win if BOTH the person on the phone AND the person behind him/her is a customer from hell? You skip the one on the phone and help the next one in line and the one on the phone complains to the manager. You wait for the one on the phone to finish and the one behind complains to the manager. It’s lose-lose for the employee unless management has an established policy that the manager is willing to stand behind.

  5. klobbersaurus685 says:

    I ran into this yesterday at the meat counter. this woman was relaying questions from the phone to the butcher. This went on for 5 minutes before I lost it.
    I pretended to make a call on my phone right behind the woman and said ‘Sorry this is taking forever, some woman with pants three sizes too small doesn’t know what a bacon wrapped fillet is. I’ll be there as soon as I can.’
    Oddly enough, she knew I was talking about her and just walked away.

    • crispyduck13 says:

      I love this.

    • Gambrinus says:

      You know, that’s funny, but I would say there’s a difference between them having a completely unrelated phone conversation and them trying to relay information relevant to their transaction.

      • klobbersaurus685 says:

        I agree to a point, but if you send someone to buy you something and you have to play 20 questions, you should have just gone to the store yourself.

        • dru_zod says:

          Sometimes the person on the phone who is asking the questions can’t go to the store him or herself (due to illness, disability, etc.) so I could forgive this sort of thing to a point. I have been in a similar situation before when doing business for a disabled relative, however if someone is behind me waiting I usually tell them to go ahead of me.

      • crispyduck13 says:

        I am constantly reminded of people’s general idiocy when they display their inability to complete the simplest of tasks. Like, say, ordering meat from a freaking deli counter.

        • redskull says:

          Oh man, this is the bane of my existence. EVERY time I go to a store there’s someone in every aisle reciting all the products on the shelves.

          “They’ve got Regular… Unscented, um… Sport… Fresh Scent… ”

          Drives me up the ever lovin’ wall.

      • eyesack is the boss of the DEFAMATION ZONE says:

        Every phone I’ve ever owned (including plenty of freebies from US Cellular) had a speakerphone function.

      • longfeltwant says:

        Yes. And that person isn’t ready to order, obviously, so that person should simply step aside, talk on the phone, get their order ready with the person on the phone, then hang up and step up to the counter to receive help. Or, that person can wait until there are no other customers, then have a three-person conversation with the butcher and the person on the phone. But none of that could ever possibly be an excuse for talking on the phone and holding up the line.

  6. axhandler1 says:

    Um, obviously you just wait till the customer is done with the call. How dare you presume to judge the use of THEIR phone that THEY paid for. They have the right to use it WHEREVER and WHENEVER they want! If you try and make them be respectful of other peoples’ time or even put it down for two seconds, you are doing your job incorrectly! Now do your damn minimum wage job and quit bitchin’.


  7. Miss Dev (The Beer Sherpa) says:

    I like the “please move aside” method as it is a little less inflammatory than “back of the line.”

    When I worked at a brewery, I would tell folks that they couldn’t use their phones during the tour as it was rude. Most of the time people complied. One time one guy answered his phone, spoke so loudly on it that I couldn’t be heard, and put his finger in my face when I asked him to please step outside. So I asked him to leave, calling on one of my coworkers to escort him out. One of my best tip days ever from the rest of the patrons…

    • cSam says:

      Agreed – and I like the idea even better of politely explaining to the customer that you’re going to help the person next in line while they finish their call.
      When I worked in a mall job, I used to politely ask customers talking on their phones if they wanted me to hold their items at the counter so they could go finish their calls – not quite a “go to the back of the line” but close – and most of the time, the answer was “huh? Hold on a second” at which point they’d put down the phone for a second or tell the person on the other line they’d call them back.
      The main point is to bring it to the customer’s attention that you need to speak with them to complete the transaction in a nonconfrontational way. It doesn’t always work, granted, but it does the job enough of the time to take some of the aggravation out of the equation.

  8. inogeni says:

    Yeah, at the grocery store where i work, if i can someone on the phone who obviously isn’t talking to the person about what they want to purchase, i ignore them until they hang up.

    If they get miffed at me/ask why i ignored them i simply answer with:
    “I’m sorry, I was always told it is quite rude to interrupt someone’s phone call, now that you are ready, how can i help you?”

    Keeps me out of “customer service trouble” every time.

  9. Cranky Owl says:

    They take their employees “on a spiritual journey to both sides of the counter”?? WTH. So glad I don’t work there.

  10. StatusfriedCrustomer says:

    I would just motion to the next customer to come forward, and not say anything at all to the cellphone talker.

    • cSam says:

      Sorry, but no. First of all, why would you answer rudeness with more rudeness? As satisfying as that might feel, you’re just asking for an angry confrontation. You should always explain what you’re doing – and if they can’t hear your explanation because they’re yacking, they might just hang up. Mission accomplished.

      • StatusfriedCrustomer says:

        It’s not rude; in fact, I as a customer have received this treatment and view it as polite.

      • crispyduck13 says:

        So what exactly are you supposed to do when the person you are being paid to serve is otherwise occupied and ignoring you? Give them a cookie? Ask them how their day is going?

        Please, do tell us what would be the polite response to this asshattery.

      • redskull says:

        Because these asshats aren’t ever going to learn how to act in society unless their unacceptable behavior is called out.

        • StarKillerX says:

          Actually I think most of them know it’s rude, they just don’t give a shit because they feel that they, and their life, is far more important then anyone else around them.

          • frankrizzo:You're locked up in here with me. says:

            That is so correct. It wasn’t until the advent of cell phones that people had to have their dandelions killed RIGHT NOW.

          • jasonq says:

            Precisely why they should be left to wallow in their asshattery. With some luck it’ll eventually sink in that they’re not Special at all.

      • longfeltwant says:

        It’s not rude to allow a person on the phone to have privacy. That is common courtesy. If a person is standing on the street talking on the phone, and I go right up to them and start talking to them, that is rude. It’s the same thing if the person is standing anywhere else. If you are on the phone, that is your activity, not any other activity. Social people ignore you until you are done and ready for your next activity.

        Anything else would be rude.

  11. Fineous K. Douchenstein says:

    I was in a Walmart once (I know, I know, but this one isn’t dirty!) when the lady in line ahead of me was gabbing away on the phone while trying to put items onto the conveyor belt and hunt in her purse for her wallet all at once. A member of management happened to be walking by, stopped the cashier, told the lady in a very stern voice. “You won’t be checked out until you get off the phone.” and completely caught the lady off guard, who meekly ended the call.

  12. sagodjur1 says:

    You can’t make all customer’s happy. If you have to triage customer happiness, start with the happiness of the ones who make other customers unhappy as well. You may well make other customers happy as a result of getting Sir Chats-A-Lot out of line.

  13. RandomHookup says:

    I’m thinking a series of signs ready for the occasion…




  14. Martha Gail says:

    My favorite are the ones who can’t be bothered to hear the total or any relevant questions the cashier might have, swipe their cards and pay, and then halfway out the door see the receipt and throw a hissy fit if something is wrong and come right back to the front of the line.

    • redskull says:

      Which used to happen to me on a daily basis when I was a cashier. Then of course they’d go to the customer service desk and complain about me.

  15. CrazyEyed says:

    “I would show her one of my fingers too, it just wouldn’t be the same one she is showing.”

    …quote of the day

  16. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    The store should handle it, ignore the cell phone user, and go to the next customer in line. Don’t make it awkward and leave up to each customer on how to react. Have a store policy on the wall – “we will happy to serve you once you are done with your conversation”.

    • RandomHookup says:

      Some places, like a grocery store, it doesn’t work well. You have to deal with the person to get things moving again, unfortunately.

      • eyesack is the boss of the DEFAMATION ZONE says:

        Yeah, but at the grocery store, I don’t need to talk to the customer to make the transaction go.

        At the coffeeshop, nothing’s happening unless there’s a conversation.

    • Coffee says:

      I like your sentiment, but do you really think that someone self-entitled to shush you when you try to ask them to end their phone conversation is going to meekly be ignored when you signal the person behind them forward? They’re going to get irate, yell at you, and then yell at the customer behind them who is trying to come forward. Sooner or later, someone would be getting his or her ass kicked.

  17. CrazyEyed says:

    I think its pretty sad you have to be trained to deal with people like this. People who are inconsiderate by telling the person who’s supposed to be serving them to wait while they finish a call are a different breed. I worked for Starbucks at one point and when this happened to me, I pretended like they weren’t there. I assumed they were too “busy” with their conversation to be ready for a drink order so I gladly took the next person. Classical conditioning. You don’t reward bad behavior.

  18. infinityspiral says:

    Hmm you lost me at “Spiritual Journey”

  19. pitawg says:

    if wears wedding ring, and opposite sex, “put your clothes back on!!” loud enough for phone pickup.


    Take a picture of the phone-head, post on the wall with a heading “Slow lines? Tell these individuals.”

    • Kaleey says:

      I like the “put your clothes back on” comment – though I expect that could get someone in major trouble.

      I suggest a 2 sided sign. Side 1: “I would like to help you. Can you please finish your conversation another time?”
      Side 2: “MY time is worth more than YOUR conversation. You may return to the line when you are finished.”

      Make sure that the people in line behind can see the sign as well – embarrasment factor scales up a little that way.

  20. Lucky225 says:

    I work call center customer service, they are also the bane of call center employees, you are calling us for assistance with a service/product, and then proceed to put us on hold for your more important call with a friend/family member. Look, we understand it’s frustrating to hold in a queue until one of us gets off the phone w/ another customer, but must you pro-long what you are trying to accomplish by putting us on hold once we actually answer?

    • JJFIII says:

      This is VERY different. There are many times I call a call center and end up on hold for a long period of time. If I am doing thi son my time, sorry, but it is not my fault you were not available when I was. I will tell you to hold on, i have another call coming in, then tell the other person I will call them back when i am done with you. In a brick and mortar situation, I can tell if I am next or 10th in line and about how long it will take. On the phone, you may answer in 1 minute or 1 hour. It is one of the reasons I applaud companies who say, you are 4th in line and will answered in approximately 5 minutes. That respects MY time.

      • Lucky225 says:

        It’s not different at all, I agree with you if it’s just endless hold music that doesn’t give you your number in queue or eta, at the places I work the hold music tells you ETA and the number or slot in queue you are currently on. Meanwhile while we’re waiting for you to get off the phone with chatty gabby, we could be assisting other customers in queue while you’re taking up our time and messing up our call stats. You called us, not the other way around. We want to assist you as quickly possible, get the issue resolved in one call so that you don’t have to call back yet again. So should a 911 operator have to hold for 5 minutes when someone else calls you and they just need the address to dispatch some units? Are you going to tell that operator that they’re on your time? I mean it just doesn’t make sense to call somewhere when you’re not ready to actually talk about what you were calling in to to begin with. Another thing that pisses me off is like some of the places I work for have been cellphone related products and services, we specifically inform the caller before they even go into queue, if you need assistance with your cellphone, and you’re calling from the same, hang up and call back from a different phone. Of course, everyone ignores THAT warning too because it’s ‘their time’, and we end up spending MORE o your time arguing about how that’s your only phone(we have a toll-free number, believe it or not there are still payphones out there) or that ‘oh I can do that while I’m on the phone with you’. A lot of the times we need you to actually dial something or access a part of the phone you can’t access while you’re talking on the same phone. We have these warnings for a reason, it’s not to frustrate you or take up more of your time, it’s to ensure things are done correctly, and we waste as little of YOUR time as possible. :)

  21. Klay says:

    Download and Print These:



    • Smiling says:

      Those are awesome. My husband and I got into a nasty encounter with a woman who thought

      • Smiling says:

        I didn’t hit submit!! Anyway, this woman thought the whole book store should hear her conversation. Let’s just say she was extremely offended to hear that we didn’t. It got a little ugly. These cards would have helped.

        I am have been contemplating putting signs on the bathroom doors b/c I am sick of hearing people’s convos while I am being held captive on the toilet. I wish I had a machine that made a really loud farting and or barfing sound to embarrass the callers.

        • RandomLetters says:

          There are quite a few of those out there. Heck, there’s even an app for that.

        • Crusso says:

          Just keep flushing! That’s what I do. The person on the other end of thier call can hear it really well and usually tells them to call them back when they are off the crapper!

  22. Cat says:

    What’s The Best Way To Handle The “Hold On, I’m On The Phone” CASHIER???

    • Coffee says:

      Shoplifting. Or pantsdropping.

    • crispyduck13 says:

      “Go get your manager for me.”

    • RandomHookup says:

      Take a picture. And then send it to Consumerist. Then bitch about how petty the posts are.

    • VintageLydia says:

      Well, if the cashier is on the phone with a customer, there isn’t much the cashier can do when that customer won’t let the cashier put them on hold or transfer them to someone else (happened often enough to me and I was mortified every time. Obviously, I’d rather spend my time with the customer physically with me who spent gas money to be there.)

      But I’d still get a manager, just change your complaint. If they were on a personal call, that’s self-explanatory. Customer call? Complain about the store processes that forces the cashier to be the only one available to take and deal with phone calls, leaving customers like yourself with less than optimal customer service.

      • orion70 says:

        I don’t really care about stuff like that if they apologize about it. They’re doing their job. And they could just as well be tied up in store with a difficult customer who will not let something go / being an ass for no good reason. I’ve seen situations in stores that were nearly to the point of police involvement because someone was unable to get a return. Then I really feel sorry for them (and if it’s a restaurant situation, I’ve pity-padded my own tip at times – I’ve been there, and it sucks).

        But it’s usually pretty obvious when someone is taking a personal call and not on with a customer.

    • orion70 says:

      How about the “hold on i’m on the phone” cashier / immediately leaves counter and customer and goes elsewhere cashier? AKA the invisible customer. Had that one not long ago and I
      waited patiently for the cashier to end the call, at which point she promptly turned around to answer the questions of someone who had a question about belts or something after they got out of the change room, leaving me at the counter wondering if I had donned an invisibility cloak instead of a cute sweater.

      There’s also the socializing cashier, often seen at the supermarket with their head permanently swiveled towards the cashier behind them chattering away until you have to cash out. Although I will admit that one seems to be on the decline.

    • eyesack is the boss of the DEFAMATION ZONE says:

      Honestly? If it’s longer than a minute and it’s not a very expensive transaction, I’d be tempted to just walk out. I gave it a shot!

      • eyesack is the boss of the DEFAMATION ZONE says:

        It ate my fake-XML “internet tough guy” tag. Oh well.

    • longfeltwant says:

      When I worked at Sears in the 90s there was a policy on this: in-person customers always took precedence over phone customers. If a person called in for help, we would help them, but if a present person asked for help, we told the phone person to please hold.

  23. LEDZEPPELIN24 says:

    Ridiculous… And everybody knows it! The customer isn’t always right when the customer is the rude one. Next time I see this happen anywhere, it’s going to take the US Army to keep me from throttling Sir Chats-a-Lot! (Thanks sagodjur1!) WORD OF THE DAY!

  24. Eyeheartpie says:

    If someone is too busy to do what they got in line for, I’d make them get out of line, and not until they’re done. They get to go back to the end of the line, or they can stay by the counter and pretend I’m going to serve them after they’re done.

  25. giax says:

    You know, then there’s the other annoying angle to the customers on the phone. When you are doing your job with them on the phone, and they happen to be somewhere and ignoring you or not concentrating on the call, and not giving you the information that you need to help them. Like when you are doing some customer or tech service with them while they are paying for their shopping, or while they have a screaming infant within 110 dB distance of the phone.

    • jumbojeepman says:

      If they are preoccupied I give them a few minutes on hold to straighten things out. If they have a loud distracting noise in the background, I tell them I can’t help them until the noise stops.

  26. Alex d'Indiana says:

    Back of the line or step aside or maybe a fee like in that other article, it doesn’t matter.

    The important thing is that management comes up with a plan, posts it for everyone to see, and stands behind their employees when they enforce it. If managers don’t get that they’re pissing off 9 customers just to make 1 happy, then they don’t deserve their jobs.

  27. VintageLydia says:

    I used to cheerily and loudly continue with the transaction as the cashier. I had questions I had to ask every customer due to mystery shoppers and for cell phone talkers and I wouldn’t skip a single one.


    WHAT TYPE OF PET DO YOU HAVE? (it was a pet supply store and yes, we had to ask after the pets they were buying products for.)









    For normal transactions, I can speed through all this before I’ve even finished ringing everything out so it took no time at all. Cell phone customers? Took freaking forever and I always just smiled while they rolled their eyes at my incessant questioning I was required by my job to ask. If they hung up the phone half way through, my annoying levels would drop immediately (must reward that good behavior!) and things would happen at my normal, lightening pace. Only one time did I have to tell a customer outright to get off the phone, and I described it here on the last article. The Reader’s Digest version is it was a high dollar cash return (over $300) and I wanted her and I BOTH to know she got the proper money back.

    I did make exceptions for folks who were obviously on emergency calls but that was maybe only one or two times in the 5 years I worked retail. I’d just get them out ASAP. Most phone calls were just bullshitting about their day, though.

    • VintageLydia says:

      Okay that first paragraph was a clusterfuck. I meant I had questions I had to ask in case we got mystery shopped. Obviously, mystery shoppers aren’t likely to be cell phone talkers, but I’d still make sure I asked every single question, anyway.

  28. Applekid says:

    I’m tempted to go the EMP route, but that would knock out all the electronics in the vicinity.

    So I’m going to have to take “pillowcase stuffed with canned goods swung repeatedly and with gusto” for $200, Alex.

    • nugatory says:

      I guess no one showed you how to make a directional EMP gun….. without one, I’d have gone for the “pillowcase stuffed with door knobs”.

  29. Smiling says:

    Have any of these Barristas thought about asking for an official position in writing on how to handle customers on the phone? Instead of guessing, the could ask and press it until they got an official policy, in the handbook.

    • Smiling says:

      BTW, I am not suggesting that it is somehow the fault of the employees, I just know that when something like that bothers me, as an employee I push to get a rule defined in writing. If it isn’t satisfactory, like employees have to wait on customers who are on the phone, you can let displeased customers know it was policy and that if management hears enough about it, it might get changed.

  30. haggis for the soul says:

    It doesn’t matter what you do if management isn’t willing to stand behind its employees and enforce the rules. People continue to do this kind of crap because businesses continue to kiss the unworthy asses of rude customers.

  31. Flyersfan says:

    I had something happen to me that was this, only backwards.

    I went to a store to buy a case for my phone. The only two employees were the Ass’t Manager and someone she was training. They were both helping the only other people in the place. The Ass’t Manager recognized me and said she’d be with me in just a minute. No problem, I can wait.

    My phone rings. I answer it because it’s my wife and it’s important (long story but it WAS important). Since no one was helping me, I walk to the far corner of the store to be a little polite about it.

    Then the Ass’t Manager follows me and stands there staring at me waiting to help me. I didn’t know what to do. I finally realized she wasn’t going anywhere and I pointed to some cases on the wall and my phone. She went to get the ones that would fit and came back! By that time, I had my wits about me and just finished the call. The worst part was, once I was done on the phone, I had to wait for them again to pay. I’m not sure why she chased me down when she was just going to make me wait again but whatever. And no, it wasn’t closing time.

    • RvLeshrac says:

      You had to wait because you made them wait.

      No problem has ever been so important that you needed to answer your phone RIGHT AWAY for it while still being able to finish your shopping.

      • jiubreyn says:

        We don’t know the details of why it was so important he answer the phone right away but that doesn’t mean the Assistant Manager had to hover over him until he was done. On the other hand, since he was on the phone with his wife and not a business call, Flyersfan could have told his wife the manager was there to assist him and ask her to wait 20 seconds while he tells the manager what he needs.

        Having to wait in line to pay is just common practice – first come first serve if the person who’s assisting you isn’t assigned to work the register.

        • kpsi355 says:

          He effectively removed himself from ‘the line’ by going to a secluded corner and being on the phone. Granted he WAS the line since he and the only other customer were the ones to be helped, but that manager should have come over, waved to let him know “Hey when you’re ready I can help you” and left him alone.

    • Can't we all just get along? says:

      That’s no excuse, that is incredibly rude. Pick one thing to focus you attention on – pointing to what you wanted before you decided to take that call RIGHT THEN and THERE is no excuse for politely telling the person who is working that you’ll go get help once you are finished with your personal call. Store clerks should not have to deal with your refusal to take note of the situation and to respond properly from it.

      I’m glad she made you wait to check out; you are not the only customer who needs to pay and leave. I would have done the same if I could in the same situation, because you are one of THOSE customers that occasionally other customers put into their place.

      • darcmosch says:

        He walked away. So you’re saying that if a customer decides to walk away to take a phone call, the associate should be rude? What the employee did was rude. You shouldn’t hover over someone like that. They had effectively removed themselves from the equation. Since he wasn’t busy being in line, they had nothing to gripe about. Customer, 1; employee, 0

  32. We Have a Piper Down says:

    I grew up in Orlando and I hate the 528 more than one person should even consider hating a stretch of asphalt. But, back in the day, I ran those damned tolls there and on the Osceola Parkway three times a month at most and never ever got in trouble.

    • We Have a Piper Down says:

      And I just commented on the wrong article. My bad.

      • doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

        I thought maybe you were talking on your cell phone at the toll booth and they made you go to the back of the line…?

  33. eccsame says:

    A fist to the fucking mouth

  34. NorthAlabama says:

    it’s called a lack of manners or a lack of respect for those around you, and if it isn’t addressed soon, it will only get worse. i, for one, am getting sick and tired of waiting for people in line in front of me to finish their phone conversations before they begin their transaction.

    my solution…speak up, and ask the attendant “may i go ahead and order while this customer finishes up their call?” i have primarily witnessed two results. first, the call ends pretty quick, and the waiting stops. second, i’m allowed to cut in front.

    so far, never a bad experience when speaking up, and sometimes an alert clerk will simply open another window to begin helping the “non phone involved” customers.

  35. dcwaterboy says:

    I like to ask the person on the phone “Are you ready?” If they hold up a finger, they just told me they aren’t ready so I say “Okay — let me know” and go to the next customer.

  36. dush says:

    I would just wait the idiot out with a smile and let the other customers in line start getting upset with the idiot.
    Either way you’re getting paid.

    • Difdi says:

      Hourly wage FTW!

    • Can't we all just get along? says:

      I don’t have any other choice… Maybe I’ll just start leaning forward on the counter and being overly attentive to the talker from now on, when they refuse to get on with their business.

  37. daemonaquila says:

    Easy. “Ma’am, until you’re off the phone I will serve the next people in line. Please stand aside, and I will help you as soon as you are done.”

    • bben says:

      And – you just get ignored until they are off the phone then they get irate because YOU were impolite.

  38. MarkFL says:

    Maybe we should start aggressively taking on this problem from the opposite direction.

    We already know that the cashier is in a lose-lose situation, but how about when we are shopping ourselves? We could start a movement to handle this as customers. Whenever the cellulouse in front of us holds up a line, we should just say, “Excuse me, do you mind if I check out while you take that call?”

    If this fails, more aggressive tactics need to be taken. I call on the hive for suggestions. It might be a bit unnerving at first, but if one person steps up, it’s a good bet others in line will follow suit. And once you get a line of people clapping hands and chanting “HANG UP, HANG UP,” someone will get the idea pretty quickly. (Sadly, there will still be some holdouts, but the will be the exception.) And the best part is that the customer isn’t likely to call the store’s CS line to complain. Even if they do, if we adopt a standard response, the CS reps will eventually realize from the description of the complaint just what is going on — and the cashier is (or should be) off the hook.

    Also, someone suggested saying loudly, “Put your clothes on.” Alternately, for the ladies — if you’ve got a lot chutzpah — how about just doing this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eFpnPZpFTEk

  39. vivalakellye says:

    This happens quite often at my local Post Office. The workers there don’t take crap from anyone. As one can expect, rude customers get yelled at frequently.

    • MarkFL says:

      Yeah, well, you can get away with that if you’re a civil servant.

    • incident_man says:

      The Post Office workers in my town are rude anyway, cell phone-toting customer or not. Nothing to see here, move along.

      That’s why I do all my shipping with FedEx whenever possible. Too bad we can’t get FedEx or UPS to deliver the mail too.

  40. semidazed says:

    I had good luck with, “Excuse me, if you’ll step to the side I’d be happy to help you once you’re done.”

    One of my coworkers went with a much less subtle, “Next!” But she was in her fifties and people didn’t talk back to her.

  41. DuckNCover says:

    My local post office has signs saying that customers who approach the counter talking on a phone will be denied service until they end their call. Still slow as heck there most of the time, though.

    • dru_zod says:

      A locally-owned pharmacy near me has a similar sign at their drive-up window. It says something like “Absolutely no cell phone use while conducting business with us”. I don’t know if they actually enforce it though.

      • MarkFL says:

        Consider that the pharmacy is dispensing potentially dangerous medications. If the customer isn’t paying attention when being given instructions on when, how, and how often to take the medicine, there could be a lawsuit.

        Also, it helps that the pharmacy is locally owned. No calls to home office to deal with.

      • InsomniacZombie says:

        My girlfriend is a pharmacy tech and the reason for the sign is to protect against a potential HIPAA violation. If a tech or the pharmacist is speaking to them, they can’t guarantee that the person on the other end of the phone will not hear the conversation and violate the patient’s privacy when discussing medical information. Even if the person on the other end of the phone hears the name of whatever is being picked up, it’s a HIPAA violation. It’s done to protect the employees against inadvertently violating privacy laws..

        That said, it doesn’t prevent people from trying to continue their conversations or yelling at the employees.

        • wahearts says:

          I was behind a lady who had been asked to step back because her rx wasn’t ready. She was talking on not one, but two cell phones, and would not move. The tech was looking at me apologetically so I just barged on up there and said I didn’t care about privacy.

          She actually told one of her calls that ‘she decided to help this other woman’ like we were being rude.

        • blueman says:

          As opposed to all the people waiting in line who could easily overhear the conversation?

  42. beanycecil1 says:

    In the hospital, if they want to make the doctor or nurse wait while they chat on the phone we generally leave and come back later-on. I only hang out if they actively trying to politely end their call.

    • HogwartsProfessor says:

      My doctor’s office has a sign that you can’t use your cell phone while you are back there. I have texted until they come in, however, but once they do I put the phone up immediately. It is so hard to get an appointment that I don’t want to waste it.

      • bben says:

        Out of respect and politeness. I leave my cell in the car when I go into a doctors office. Most of the doctors I visit have a sign at the door asking people to please turn off their cell phones. Few do this as it would interfere with their need to be constantly in touch.

        • Jasephoto says:

          Given the lack of respect engendered by the often 2 hour wait when I go to the Doctor, there’s nothing that would compel me to leave my phone in the car. I just turn off the ringer and don’t talk on it.

        • KommonCentz says:

          I recently flew into Newark. Captain said “you can use your phones now, but turn them off once you disembark into passport control.” I then passed umpteen signs saying do not use cell phones, cameras, electronic devices in passport control or baggage claim, both on the way to passport control, in passport control, then on the way to baggage claim, in baggage claim. Plus voice announcements.
          While waiting for my bags, I counted 36 people either talking, texting, or taking photos….

  43. triana says:

    I’ve never understood why it’s too much to ask for most people to take a 30 second break from their conversation while I finish their transaction. Worse yet, sometimes they actually expect me to WHISPER because they can’t miss a second of their precious conversation.


  44. djdanska says:

    Working in retail in the river north area of chicago, i solved this rather easy. When they come up to my register and they are on the phone, help them anyway, don’t stop. Give them awesome customer service, a little louder.

    “HEY! WELCOME! HOW MAY I HELP YOU!” (Customer looks at me rudely while 8 people are behind her) Me: “CAN I HELP YOU WITH ANYTHING ELSE?”

    They get annoyed, and most of all, get embarrassed and don’t do it next time. Works fairly well.

  45. Difdi says:

    I’ve seen signs that say “If you’re on the phone, you’re not in line.” Seems to be the ideal solution.

  46. orion70 says:

    I think it’s sad that anyone is this oblivious as to how this could mess up a quickly moving line in a busy coffee shop. And I think it speaks volumes about how the caller views people in the service profession.

    I admit I have taken an important call (doctor’s office, or family) while in a line that suddenly moves me to the front. I try to quickly end the call and I am very apologetic about it. That’s a person serving you, not a vending machine.

    • BorkBorkBork says:

      That happened to me twice today. I was expecting a longer wait at the barber and then at Target and was answering emails. When they called me up (or called me to a new checkout line) I quickly sent my emails then apologized to them both.

      Just be a human about it.

  47. human_shield says:

    When I worked retail, back when cellphones weren’t very common actually, I would ignore the customer until they hung up. Sometimes I would get on the phone and ring another register and have a lame conversation with another employee until the customer got impatient and wondered why I wasn’t helping them. I could care less if I was written up, but I was in college at the time so YMMV.

  48. beachmouse says:

    The local hipster gourmet burger place clearly states on their menu that its employees do NOT interact with anyone talking on a cell phone. The policy doesn’t seem to hurt their business one bit.

  49. Earl42 says:

    I think the cashier should stop, stand bolt upright and begin singing “I’m Henery the Eighth, I Am” as loudly as possible until the person gets off the phone and then ring them up normally.

  50. spacedaktoa says:

    At the liquor store where I work we rely on the other customers to shame the person on the phone. We don’t talk to people on the phone and if they gesture for us to check them out we our response is a polite,

    “Its no problem I can wait until your done.”

    When a line builds (its a small store) they either get the message or the other customers tell them to put the phone down.

  51. Crusso says:

    The bathrooms where I work have signs that say “no cellphone use including cameras”. Evidently there was an issue with some moron taking photos in the Bathrooms. People often go into the stall and just use it as a phone booth because outside it can be very busy and noisy. Nothing like waiting to go when someone is sitting in there yapping. I usually just go to the urinal next to the stall and keep flushing it repeatedly a it’s very loud. Eventually you hear them say “yes, I’m in a bathroom. Fine. I’ll call you back”.

  52. loueloui says:

    Just say very loudly ‘Next!’. If they don’t immediately hang up serve the next customer and then tell them they have to wait in line again.

  53. Crusso says:

    Unfortunately businesses are fostering this attitude that anything is acceptable since they are in such financial trouble. Any employee that doesn’t ” talk nice ” to a csr is liable to be fired and replaced by some other disposable employee.

    I don’t know how many of you remember when movie theatres used to say on the screen ” Please silence all pagers” . Then it changed to “Please turn off all cell phones”. Now they actually say “Please silence ringers”! Not even turn them off! Just silence them! Do you know how many people I see texting during movies? With thier stupid screen which is so bright that it distracts everyone around them. And technically, they followed directions by silencing the ringer! Amazing! I usually call them out by very loudly saying “Hey! That’s really distracting, could you put it away?” That gets everyone looking at them or me but usually gets the point across.

    However, where I work we need to process people through security lines as quickly as possible. I simply ask people politely twice to hang up the phone. They usually ignore me. The third time I tell them “I’ve asked you twice to hang up the phone. Now either hang up or step off the line and get back on the end when you are ready.” Sometimes they say “its important” like that makes it ok. I answer with “If its that important step off the line so you wont be distracted. Come back when you are ready. They usually glare at me but hang up. Sometimes they ask where it says that. I tell them right here and point to my mouth. They ask to talk to my manager. I am the manager. They ask for my name to write a complaint. I hold up my ID and tell them to be sure they spell it correctly when they complain that they were holding up the line by talking on thier phone. I haven’t had a written complaint yet. I’m sure I will but until I’m told otherwise I’ll continue.

  54. YouDidWhatNow? says:

    Easy – hold out your phone and video them while you inform them that they’ll need to step aside until they’re done with their call. When the customer goes apesh1t on you, you have video proof that they’re the a$$hole, not you.

    • MarkFL says:

      Problem #1: Customer service/home office won’t care.

      Problem #2: The cashier would also be disciplined for using his/her cellphone. Many stores don’t even allow them on the salesfloor. Not that this is actually enforced, but providing your own video to CSR is like telling the cop who pulled you over for speeding that you were in a hurry to meet your crack dealer.

  55. bugpwn says:

    Ask your manager what his/her policy is, or check the employee manual or company policy list. Policies are the best thing to cover your ass with. The customer is always right, but if the policy disagrees with the customer, then it’s the policy that would be reconsidered, and not your employment.

    If your manager won’t commit to anything better than “use your best judgment”, and corporate has no opinion, you might be out of luck. Stick with the default policy of “stay patient and don’t turn any customer away”. Assume their situation or back story is so compelling, the other customers would agree and willingly wait.

    You can try making a business case to your manager to set some sort of policy, or at least prove that it’s not just an imaginary problem. Try [discreetly] writing down how many other customers leave out of frustration being stuck behind Mr. Phone, or how much time Mr. Phone held up the line. Bring that to your manager, and point out how much revenue the company is missing out on.

    • RvLeshrac says:

      Except in the majority of US states, which are At-Will Employment, where you’d be fired before the policy was reconsidered.

  56. Weekilter says:

    If you want to be served putcherdam phone down.

  57. shufflemoomin says:

    I love it when it happens. I make my order from right behind them but in the loudest, most obnoxious way. I pray every day for the first fool brave enough to turn to me and say “do you mind? I’m on the phone”. The torrent of abuse that follows will be talked about in hushed tones for generations. If you’re on the phone and ignoring the person waiting to provide SERVICE that you ASKED for, then you’re a douchebag and deserve whatever comes to you.

  58. rlmiller007 says:

    How about the other way around when the employee is using some damn headset and talking on the phone and ignoring the PAYING customer.

    • mkinetic says:

      When I’m on the phone at work, it’s with another paying customer, or a potential paying customer. There’s a reason we have a phone number.

  59. donovanr says:

    This is only matched by clerks/waitstaff who yack on the phone, yack with their friends, or the worst: serve their buddy further back in line.

  60. Evil_Otto would rather pay taxes than make someone else rich says:

    (The following only works if it’s an independently owned business, at Starbucks, basically, the employee and manager would have to eat the shit they were given.)

    Cell phone asshole approaching checkout: *Blah blah blah cell phone nonsense blah blah*
    Employee: *stony silence*
    Customer behind cell phone asshole: “Hey, what’s the holdup here?”
    Employee: “I’m sorry sir, but I don’t want to interrupt her phone call.”
    Cell phone asshole: *continues to blather on cell phone*
    Employee: *stony silence*
    Cell phone asshole (noticing that the employee isn’t doing anything) “Hey, what the hell is your problem?”
    Employee: “Sorry ma’am, I didn’t want to interrupt your call. That’ll be $x, please.”
    Cell phone asshole: *tosses money in employee’s direction*
    Employee: *rings up cell phone asshole’s order, makes change, then stony silence*
    Cell phone asshole: *blathers further on cell phone*
    Customer behind cell phone asshole (to said asshole): “Hey, she’s waiting for you.”
    Cell phone asshole: “Well give me my damn change!”
    Employee: “Sorry, ma’am, I didn’t want to interrupt your phone call. Here’s your change, have a nice day.”
    Cell phone asshole: “What the hell is your problem, anyway? Get me your manager.”
    Employee: “Right away, please wait a moment.”
    Manager: “What seems to be the problem here?”
    Cell phone asshole: *blathers on cell phone about how rude employee is*
    Manager: *stony silence*
    Cell phone asshole: “Well? What are you going to do about this?”
    Manager: “I’m sorry, ma’am, to what are you referring?”
    Cell phone asshole: “Your employee was very rude to me! I want her fired!”
    Manager: “I’m sorry that you’re not happy with the service you’ve received. Please tell me what happened, so I may address your concern.”
    Cell phone asshole: *blathers away on cell phone*
    Manager: *stony silence*
    Cell phone asshole: “Well?”
    Manager: “I’m sorry, ma’am, I didn’t want to interrupt your phone call.”
    Cell phone asshole: *loses her shit*
    Manager: “Please calm down, ma’am, or I will have to ask you to leave. (to employee) So what do you have to say about this?”
    Employee: “Just like you, I didn’t want to interrupt her phone call. I thought it might be rude for me to do so. So I waited while she was on the phone.”
    Manager: “I see. (to customer) I’m sorry for any inconvenience, ma’am. Your order will be on the house. (to employee) Please refund her money.”
    Employee: *processes refund*
    Cell phone asshole: *blathers away on cell phone*
    Customer behind cell phone asshole: “Hey, what the hell is the problem here?”
    Manager: “I’m sorry for the inconvenience, sir. I will be happy to discount your order for your trouble. (to cell phone asshole) Ma’am, you are holding up my other customers. We’ve given you a refund; please step out of the way so that I can help the other customers.”
    Cell phone asshole: *blathers away on cell phone*
    Manager (to other customers): “Ladies and gentlemen, I apologize for the delay in service. (to cell phone asshole, loud enough to interrupt her) Ma’am, I have other customers to help. Everyone here is waiting on you. I am losing business because of you at this point. If there is nothing else I can help you with, I’m afraid that I am going to have to ask you to leave.”
    Cell phone asshole: “How dare you speak to me that way! I’m going to call the owner!”
    Manager: “You are speaking to him now. Now, please leave.”
    Angry mob: *expression of approval*
    Cell phone asshole: *stomps off, still blathering away on cell phone*

    Basically, kill them with kindness and use mob mentality to be your enforcer.

  61. RedSeven says:

    I would always want to try to help out customers, but sometimes the customers would be difficult. In my job, it was always best to let them talk out the problem, because what I did was a little complicated to the layperson, and from there figure out a resolution or an answer. Some customers, no matter how much you’re trying to help, it was never enough. To get out of phone conversations, I would hang up during my part of the conversation. People are so enamored with their voice that every word that spills from their face was a heavenly statement. To get around that, when given a chance to answer or reply, I would do it seconds while answering. That way, if they were still angry/seeking answers, they would call back (as opposed to actively wasting time). Some would call back, asking why I hung up on them, but I would deny it, since I was the one talking. For example …

    Cust: What do you mean you can’t find the package? It shows on the FedEx tracker that it was signed by Mr OK 15 minutes ago.
    Me: I understand it was signed for 15 ago, but you have to realize that your one package is one of 300 on the delivery. From the 300, I have my people separating it by high priority packages to low priority packages. Yours wasn’t ordered as high priority, and I won’t have my folks stop work looking for a package that …
    Cust: Look, if your people need to stop taking breaks or be trained better to get my part, you should seriously consider that.
    Me: Sir, I would gladly do what you’re asking, if your requirement was greater, but by the regulations, you calling me to look for … >click<

    Sometimes my boss would be there, and although he didn't condone it, he would "be out of the office" when it would happen. He would later tell me when customers called back and complained about me. Oh, boo-hoos!

  62. Rick Sphinx says:

    If I’m in line, I say something to the person on the phone, so the employee does not have to take a chance and deal with it. When I worked at a store, Our system allowed me put an order “On Hold”, and recall later. So I would just ring up the next person(s) until the phone person gets off, and if they said anything, I would just say “I get in trouble if my line gets too long, so I was just helping a few others until you were done, anything else I can do for you?”