What Does It Mean When the Bell Rings at Trader Joe's?

The number of times the bell rings holds a message for store employees.

Inside a Trader Joe's filled with grocery shoppers.

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You’re at Trader Joe’s browsing the bananas or with your nose deep in the freezer section when you hear clanging coming from the registers. You might hear one bell, two bells, or three. And sometimes you might just hear a mini recital.

The large brass bells at the checkout are kind of a Morse code for employees, according to FAQs on the Trader Joe’s website. The company didn’t like the idea of an impersonal “blustery” intercom system, so they chose to go with bells instead.

They said that the bells were inspired by how maritime traders used to communicate. The number of rings holds a message for store employees.

One bell signals that it’s busy and it’s time to open another register. Two bells mean there are questions at the checkout. When three bells ring, they’re summoning a manager, reports the company.

Four bells means "all-hands-on-deck," according to a former employee on Quora who said she worked at the store for nearly five years. “Anyone available on the sales floor that is not at a register needs to go and assist a register,” she explains. “It's great when no one has to hear their name over the intercom. We are taught to always be vigilant of being needed.”

Another employee on Reddit said they worked at a very busy store where four bells rarely rang, but when they did, it meant everyone should get up front. “Every crew member goes to the bagging area until every cashier has a bagger to help speed up the lines.”

More Reasons the Bell Rings at Trader Joe's

On some message boards, customers have shared stories of other ways the bells were used. The bells have summoned assistance to replace broken eggs or opened packaging, for example.

One person posted on Reddit that she and a friend were in a fender bender before stopping by a Trader Joe’s. They mentioned it to the cashier as they were checking out. “A few bell rings later, a crew member appeared with a free bouquet of flowers for her!” she wrote. “Such a sweet, simple kindness. So I suppose there are rings for that.”

In most Trader Joe’s stores, employees will also hide a stuffed animal for kids to find. When the child brings it to the register, they get a treat—often a piece of candy. The cashier might also ring the bell to celebrate the discovery.

Occasionally, you might hear a veritable percussion symphony. Maybe three short bells, two long rings, and then three short clangs. What does that mean?

According to Trader Joe’s: “Now we’re just playing.”