In the olden days (pre-2005), moms (and a karaoke song) would tell their single, adult children to brush their hair, wear deodorant, and put on a decent outfit to go to the number one pickup spot: the grocery store. If a mom was really itching for grandchildren, she’d strongly suggest getting dinner at the salad bar or hot food buffet because that’s (allegedly) full of busy singles. The reasoning is fairly simple: You’re likely to meet someone who also lives nearby, you can scope out their dietary preferences, and you can discern someone’s relationship status by how much food they’re buying.
As much as dating apps can help you meet a single someone in close proximity, there’s no accounting for that zsa zsa zsu you feel locking eyes with an attractive stranger. But in this age of digital everything, is the grocery store still a prime pickup joint? I traveled around Los Angeles using the surveillance skills I learned from Charlie’s Angels reruns to find out.
Lassens, Echo Park
Vibe: Chill, almost like everyone has CBD running through their veins. Customers are friendly, but employees feel like they’ve been plucked from My So-Called Life (aka kind of miserable.) It’s dark like a bar that’s been designed to mimic a library what with all the shelves.
Music: 1970s funk (the Commodores)
Shoppers: Hipsters, cool Gen Xers who are/were in bands, health-conscious Baby Boomers who were at Woodstock; anyone who voted for Bernie Sanders or Jill Stein, people with facial piercings, skateboarders, vintage clothing wearers, dudes who wear sweat headbands for fashion.
Hot aisles: Hot food, deli, drink sample station, and cashier line.
Best times to go: Evenings. This is not an early-in-the-day kind of store—unless you want to feel like it’s yours, all yours!
What’s in their carts: Any and every vitamin supplement ever made, organic grilled chicken breast, oven-roasted salmon, veggies, toilet paper made from bamboo, yerba mate, coconut water, raw mango collard green wrap, raw tacos, vegan carrot cake slice, and made-to-order shakes.
Potential love match rating: 5. I didn’t see any live matches, but I saw smiles exchanged at the hot/salad bar and in the deli line. Cashiers move in slow motion and the shakes are a nightmare to ring up, meaning you’ll have enough time to chat up someone in line with a icebreaker about your mutual aggravation.
Whole Foods, Venice
Vibe: Like Barneys New York or the Thompson hotel of grocery stores. It’s beautifully designed and is full of literally every pretty packaged healthy product you could ever want and a million times more. They have more than enough beverages to try a new one everyday until May 2020. They also have a Mochi bar, including red velvet, pistachio, and chocolate vanilla (together!) flavors.
Music: ’80s new wave
Shoppers: Hipsters, hippies, fire fighters, Google employees, skateboarders, surfers, cool moms with even cooler toddlers, white dudes with dreads and yogis.
Hot aisles: The prepared food section is unreal and this is where it goes down: sushi, roasted chicken, a cookie bar, pizza on steroids, cake bar, vegan bar, Amazon meal kits, taqueria, charcuterie bar, smoked meats bar, coffee bar, juice bar, and açaí bowls. Produce is the second most packed, then the outdoor cafe. The lines move very efficiently, so unless you’re an Usain Bolt-fast pickup artist, you’ll never get a chance.
Best times to go: Anytime, but lunch and after work are busier.
What’s in their carts: Everything. There are 50 types of probiotics to choose from. They also have greeting cards. But most likely fresh produce, hot prepared food, rosé, Urban Remedy Superfood Chaga & Supergreens bar, Los Angeles Ale Works beer, vegan everything, fresh seafood, kale, radishes, and spinach.
Potential love match rating: 8. If you can get past being distracted by the beautiful packaging to look at your fellow shoppers, you’ll see there is someone for everyone. The hot food area is the best bet for some flirting (I had a little flirty exchange with a fireman).
Trader Joe’s, West Hollywood
Vibe: It’s like the Southwest Airlines of grocery stores: fun, spunky, friendly, and loose.
Music: ’80s (a lot of Heart, specifically)
Shoppers: People in gym clothes (have you ever noticed Trader Joe’s are always near gyms?), young professionals, young non-professionals, and a good mix of straight and gay. TJ’s skews on the younger side.
Hot aisles: Cashier Line. Distant seconds are produce, packaged prepared foods, alcohol and new products. No hot food area.
Best times to go: Weekends and early evening, but God help you in the parking lot because people drive like they are competing for the last food on Earth.
What’s in their carts: Coconut water, protein bars, salsa, chips, bananas, almonds, and rosé.
Potential love match rating: 4. Trader Joe’s is appealing for it’s simplicity and pre-assembled meals, which is why it’s good for singles. But they’ve designed their store to keep it moving. There is no hot food area, meaning there is no place to linger. In line is your best bet because you’re kind of naturally stuck together. I flirted with 2 guys talking about the elevator album covers (Doobie Brothers for the win!) but that was post-purchase.
Bristol Farms, Santa Monica
Vibe: Old school, upscale super market with a mix of specialty (Sugarfina gummy section, a big selection of craft beers and cake pops!) and mass (AIM toothpaste and Honey Bunches of Oats). This is like the American Airlines Business class of grocery stores.
Music: ’80s elevator music (‘Til Tuesday’s “Voices Carry.”)
Shoppers: People in the 40-plus age bracket, moms, AARP members who yell things at the cashiers like, “Where’s my bag?!” and, “I forgot to give you my coupon even though my purchase was three people ago!” and skater dudes.
Hot aisles: Deli and wok bowl station, prepared hot food and cashier line.
Best times to go: Evenings and weekends.
What’s in their carts: Packaged pasta, tomato sauce, chips, leafy greens, red meat from the butcher station.
Potential love match rating: 3. As beautifully designed as this store is, there weren’t that many people shopping. The prepared food section was the least robust of all the stores I visited (even if it is the only store with wok bowls). It tends to have an older crowd so if you are a senior looking for love, this would be a 9 for you.
Vibe: Healthy but scene-y, like the hottest club in town or high-end boutique hotel that only serves juice and vegan wraps.
Music: ’90s college rock (Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You”)
Shoppers: Pretty people, influencers, actors, wannabe actors, a senior rocking magenta hair, personal trainers, yogis, yoga instructors, and people who wear “althleisure” clothes for fashion.
Hot aisles: Organic cafe (hot and cold food), juice bar, and cashier line.
Best times to go: Anytime. This place is always jammed. But in the evening, be prepared to throw elbows. It’s as cutthroat to get a cafe employee’s attention as it is to get a drink at 1 Oak on a Saturday night.
What’s in their carts: Teriyaki green beans, Turmeric coconut chicken tenders, Almond quinoa salad, vegan pad thai kelp noodles, Kale white bean & avocado salad, Wild salmon bahn mi wrap, Keto anything, every green juice permutation ever imagined, bone broth, Kefir margarita, collagen sparkling tea, many vitamins and supplements (not as many as Lassens), 15 brands of non-dairy yogurt, and items from a bulk bar of oats, grains, millet, herbs, and flowers.
Potential love match rating: 6. It’s busy and you will be interacting with people while waiting and or pushing your way through. Everyone is “cool” though, so it feels more pose-y than friendly. I had mutual double-takes with two men, but none of us got closer than glancing.
Ralphs, Hollywood (aka the Rock & Roll Ralphs)
Vibe: Dank lighting with the design of a Super 8 motel. There are piles of wood logs and a turnstile with a theft warning to greet you at the entrance.
Music: Light rock music (Santana and Rob Thomas’ “Smooth”)
Shoppers: Most diverse crowd of any of the markets, including musicians, reality stars, women who wear dresses that barely cover their torsos, Instacart employees, teenagers, Baby Boomer men, people of all colors, young girls in sweatpants with “Pink” across the behind, people who put produce in plastic bags, and guys in basketball shorts.
Hot aisles: Coffee Bean Tea & Leaf, alcohol, chips, non-alcoholic beverages, and cashier line.
Best times to go: Afternoon, evening, and late night.
What’s in their carts: Toilet paper, bottled water, Advil, Lay’s Limon chips, ground turkey, Boar’s Head deli meats, Coca-Cola, Campbell’s soup, bread, orange chicken, carnitas, mac ‘n’ cheese, Tums, fake flowers, and pistachios.
Potential love match rating: 6. I didn’t see any love connections happening, nor did I experience one. But this store had the most diverse crowd and the most men shopping by themselves. It’s not intimidating (other than the theft warnings and inexplicably, the wood pile) but the prepared food aisle was the least populated of all of the stores. Still, people seemed as into looking around them as in shopping making potential “meet cutes” possible.
Gelson’s, Silver Lake
Vibe: Bright and clean, kind of like a Marriott lobby.
Music: ’80s (the Romantics’ “Talking in Your Sleep”)
Shoppers: A mix of hipster parents, seniors, students, hipstery hipsters, and moms.
Hot aisles: Snack Nibble Bar, which serves wine and craft beer on tap. They have music on Tuesday and Friday nights, plus Jeopardy! Monday through Friday at 7 p.m. The produce and wine aisle face each other so that’s a hot spot. The prepared food is also busy.
Best times to go: Evenings or weekends.
What’s in their carts: Self-serve bulk popcorn kernels and granola, leafy greens, soup, rice chips, chicken salad wrap, rotisserie chicken, coconut milk yogurt, and grain-free tortilla chips.
Potential love match rating: 7. With a built in social/happy hour, this Gelsons gives customers an opportunity to have a bar experience with brighter lights and less noise (so they can hear Jeopardy and shout out the answers.) This tends to be more popular with a senior crowd. The hot food area gets a lot of action and I had a brief flirt with a man at the soup bar.
So…is the grocery store a good pickup spot?
As with anything love related, it’s how much effort you put in and how open you are to meeting someone. While grocery stores may not be a surefire path to a phone number exchange, everybody’s got to eat and the stakes don’t feel as high or intimidating as they do at a bar/club/gym/work.
The prepared food aisle and cashier line are the best places to break the ice. Within packaged food aisles, people are laser focused on knocking items off their grocery list and are less open to interruption (or even eye contact). But once they are in line to pay, it’s easier to spark a conversation.
With so many options to meet other singles these days, the grocery store isn’t a better option than an app or a bar, but it is another option. You have the benefit of meeting someone without beverages clouding your judgment and you’ll know if you have chemistry immediately. You never know until you try, so get to the hot bar for some hot connections. Your mom will be happy.
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