Registering A Cash Flow

Although I haven’t noticed it in the fast-food places in my neighborhood—because they’re invariably packed—several establishments have some variation of the sign, “Your meal is free if you don’t get a receipt,” affixed to a wall around the order counters.

Understandably, it puzzles a lot of folks.

Famished customers can’t wait to grab their paper bag and sit down and eat. Waiting for a sales receipt to crawl out of the till isn’t in their best interest at that moment. It is, however, in that of the restaurants.

When a customer doesn’t take a receipt, the cash register sees it as a non-event and that, in turn, doesn’t go down in the company’s ledgers as a completed transaction. This happens even though a payment has been made.

So, where does the money go? It could’ve swirled to the floor, got swept up by a pant bottom, and out of the eatery. But more often than not, the clerk on duty is faulted for its disappearance.

Cash registers were first invented for a reason—to prevent embezzlement by employees. Keeping a tab on every movement of every cashier is nearly impossible.

So, managements—unbeknownst to customers—delegate a bit of bookkeeping functions to them as well as reward them for doing their job for them; to see to it that their sales are “registered.” That might explain why “cash registers” are so named.

Another clever little practice that we don’t stop to ponder about is why price tags end in $1.49, $2.99, or $3.99, instead of $1, $2, or $3.

Historically, odd pricing was a device to make sure that no one swiped a bill when the manager was looking the other way. An amount like $10.49 forced the cashier to draw a penny change.

The need to access it forced the clerk to ring up the sale such that the tray would slide open, with the all-too-familiar “ringing” sound. Most drawers are programmed to not open until a sale is recorded.


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