Ode to toothpick sample guy

Stuck killing time in a mall food court, I have become obsessed with the Chinese restaurant toothpick sample guy. As his plate empties, he dejectedly goes back to the counter for more chicken samples. He hates his job, hates his life. But he must refill that plate of poultry and continue dispensing. His colleagues are counting on him.

With careful observation, I quickly learn his handout strategy: 1 piece of chicken for kids and the obviously homeless; 2 pieces for real potential customers. Some people return for a second sample – a major faux pas in the food court world, but he politely offers another piece of bourbon chicken anyway.

chinese toothpick sample guy

Waiting hopelessly and helplessly for the next potential customer.


A defeated smile comes across his face as he hands out samples to people he knows have no intention of actually purchasing an entree. Many unappreciative passersby can’t be bothered to pretend like they’re considering buying the chicken. Instead, they hurriedly grab a sample and keep right on walking.

Despite the chicken nabbers’ complete inability to feign interest, he perseveres. It’s been 30 minutes now, and the chicken continues flying off his plate, though there’s no evidence the samples have persuaded even a single person to make a purchase. Toothpick Sample Guy carries on. Though the whole scene is fairly depressing, I can’t look away.

Mercifully, his shift ends, and Toothpick Sample Guy can leave the food court floor and try to regain his pride and sanity. But don’t fear, shopping mall handout-seekers. Toothpick Sample Girl has arrived to take his place…


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About the Author

Scott Shetler is a Seattle-based journalist and blogger who seeks out offbeat attractions and awesome destinations around the world. He has been featured in Travel + Leisure, Connect Magazine, Matador Travel, and the Washington Post.

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    1. Sometimes I feel that way too, Jess! But after observing others, now I believe I can happily accept a free sample without guilt. (But I don’t visit shopping malls often so it may take a while to confirm this…)

  1. That must be a thankless job. I worked with a woman who did some part time work in a food court while she was at uni studying really advanced maths, she said she found it very frustrating work.

    1. It does sound fairly thankless, James, but I suppose it could be interesting. You’re making people happy by giving them free things, so it’s probably a better job than working in the kitchen of this same restaurant.

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