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The etiquette and rules of taking free samples (Poll)

by Michelle Lanz and Lauren Osen | Take Two®

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4-year-old Gavin Rivera watches an ice cream shop clerk in Belmar N.J., hand his mother a free sample. Business owners along the Jersey shore say the unseasonably warm spring has boosted their business levels by as much as 30 percent over what they normally would be at this time of year. Wayne Parry/AP

On April 24, 2010, 68-year-old former laboratory machinist Erwin Lingitz walked into a Cub Foods in White Bear Township, MN and got into a bit of trouble for taking free samples.

According to Lingitz, store employees invited him to take more samples home to his wife, but store employees say that that's not quite the truth. 

"They say he was warned in the past about taking too many samples, and in the 'straw that broke the camel's back' incident, he was found leaving the store with 14-16 packets of soy sauce, more than a half-pound of summer sausage in a plastic produce bag, and nearly a pound of beef stick," said Dan Pashman of The Sporkful blog and podcast. "They went ahead and had him arrested for shoplifting."

Lingitz is now suing Supervalu, claiming that his civil rights were violated when he was arrested. A spokesman for Supervalu said Lingitz "violated societal norms and common customer understanding regarding free sample practices" by taking more than customers are expected to.  

But what does that mean? Is there a rule dictating how many samples is too many?

"The lawyer in me — and I'm not a lawyer — says that if the samples are free, and there's no stated limit, the store shouldn't stop you from taking as many as you like. If people get greedy, the store can put up a sign that says don't take too many," said Pashman. "That being said, from the standpoint of a food lover and relatively upstanding member of society, I think the limit is almost always two."

Pashman explains that you need one sample to taste it, a second to confirm your findings and a third, only if the sample is extremely delicious or you 're really hungry.

Those rules might work for supermarket samples, but what about ice cream? What if you're torn between five or six flavors that you want to try before you buy? 

"I think there's a little more leeway, because each taste is a different flavor; it's essentially a different food that you're tasting. I think that you can stretch the bounds here," said Pashman. "If there's a massive line outside the door, then standing there and having 10 different samples is especially rude. Plus, each one of those samples can't cost the store more than a few cents. I mean, you're talking about one spoon's worth; it's more just putting the employee and the other customers through that inconvenience."

What do you think? Answer our poll!

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