Jason Rutledge is not one to avoid conversation. But that’s a quality you expect from a man wearing a green squid hat.
And that’s why the grocery store cashier with his big smile and contagious laugh is often behind the checkout counter of an Edmonton Sobeys’ new “slow social lane” – a payment lane where customers can take as long as they wish.
“I look at the time I have with these people…our conversations, in particular, are very sacred to me,” Rutledge said.
For years customers like Karen Just have sought out Rutledge to scan and verify their groceries.
“He’s just a fun guy. He’s so personable and friendly,” Just said.
“It’s always nice to walk into a place where someone has a smile on their face.”
Officially designate the slow lane
Last week, the grocery store officially designated the slow lane, which is occupied by Rutledge and other like-minded cashiers.
“I can turn any lane into a slow lane,” exclaimed customer Carolyn Krausher of her experience with the new checkout.
Store owner Jerry MacLachlan said the pandemic has created the need for more social interaction for some people.
“COVID [has] isolated us a bit. It kind of split us,” he said, noting that some customers were there to get “a little love from Jason, I guess.”
Our conversations, in particular, are very sacred to me.– Jason Rutledge, Sobeys Slow Lane Teller
Sobeys is far from the first grocery chain to take things slow.
In 2017, the BBC reported that the supermarket chain Tesco would introduce a ‘relaxed lane’ at certain times of the day to make life less stressful for some clients who needed more time. The pilot project was developed in partnership with Alzheimer’s Scotland.
In September 2021, the Dutch grocery chain Jumbo announced its goal of open 200 Kletskassa or “chat checkouts” across the Netherlands within one year. According to the chain, the concept first introduced in 2019 aimed to reduce and prevent loneliness and is aimed at those “who have time to chat during the checkout process”.
From quick chats to in-depth chats
Conversations in Sobeys Edmonton’s slow social lane can last from a few seconds to sometimes up to 15 minutes, according to Rutledge, and the topics of discussion can vary.
“I’ve had days where you’ve walked through and you’re talking to somebody about hockey,” Rutledge said. “The next person comes in, he’s a priest. So, I wonder, what does it look like? ‘How long have you been doing this?’ “
But in the past, he says, there have also been deeply personal conversations where he says he would start by asking, “’How are you?’ They would say, ‘Oh, I’m fine.’ “Why are you okay? They start dropping stuff on you. They say things like “I just lost my dad yesterday”. ”
“Makes you feel better”
Els Thenu is a regular customer at the grocery store, and that day she sought out the slow lane specifically to say hello to Rutledge.
“He’s always very friendly and his hats are amazing,” she said.
Thenu admits she uses self-checkout when she’s in a hurry, but says she appreciates the personal contact when she has the time.
“Even if you’re in a bad mood, when you go to his alley, you come out the other end, you feel it’s more fun.”
In a world that seems to pride itself on speed and rewards those who move quickly, the slow lane offers customers the opportunity to breathe and enjoy a conversation.
“Before I got here it was like ‘bleh,'” customer Della Davey said. “And now he makes you laugh. It makes you feel better.”
The store plans to keep the slow lane to a single checkout counter for now, though MacLachlan says it’s unclear how the lane will work when things get busy over the holidays.
For Rutledge, every conservation is good for the soul. He says he doesn’t know why customers come to him.
“But I know, for me, I come here for them.”