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GENERATIONS: Sue Bruns: Even change is changing

A pretty common thing happened the other day at a local establishment: I used a $20 to pay for something that amounted to about seven bucks. The young clerk put the bill into the cash drawer and read the register's amount as to how much change to...

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A pretty common thing happened the other day at a local establishment: I used a $20 to pay for something that amounted to about seven bucks. The young clerk put the bill into the cash drawer and read the register's amount as to how much change to give me. She struggled to get the change and bills to add up. Then she told me the amount the machine had told her and handed me a wad of bills and coins.

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Sue Bruns

That's not the way I learned to do it, I thought as I separated the coins and bills and counted them to verify the amount before putting everything into my wallet. I had learned to count back change to the customer-a pretty basic skill that seems to be fading into a lost art.

I learned to count back change from Forest "Frosty" Chapman, my first boss, who owned the Dairy Queen in St. Peter, Minn. I was 14 when I started working there the summer of 1967 for 60 cents an hour. A tall, gentle man in his 60s, Frosty was the best boss I ever had. He carefully explained his expectations and always set the example:

The customer is not always right, but we always treat him as if he is. Remain pleasant and professional, but if the customer is difficult, call upon Frosty or his wife, Winnifred.

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Stay busy. If there are no customers, there are still counters to wipe down, floors to sweep, containers to refill, cups and spoons to re-stock, and occasionally flies to swat-carefully, and away from the food.

Be fair. A small sundae should weigh 4 ounces, medium is 6, large is 8. Make the perfectly sculpted mound of soft-serve in the sundae cup, put the iconic curl on top, and weigh the cup each time until you can consistently make just the right weight.

Memorize the options: Chocolate, strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, blackberry, cherry, pineapple, banana, creme de mint, butterscotch, hot fudge, marshmallow, peanut butter-for shakes or sundaes. Chocolate, banana, cherry, lime, coconut, and butterscotch for dipped cones or dillies. And so on.

Know the prices and the sales taxes. (We had a cash drawer, no cash register, no calculator. We added up the order in our heads or on a small piece of scratch paper and then added the appropriate sales tax.)

And always count back the change. If the total comes to $2.46 and the customer hands you a $10, set the bill off to the side until you have given him his change. That way you can verify how much you were given and the customer can't pull a fast one on you ("Hey, I gave you a $20.") To make change, start with the total amount owed, then add your way up to the amount paid: Four pennies brings you up to $2.50; two quarters takes you to $3, two more make $5 and $5 makes $10. Count it back to the customer, starting with the amount due: "$2.46, $2.50, $3, $4, $5, and $10." You do this to verify that you've made the change correctly and as a courtesy to the customer.

It didn't take long to learn how to count back change to the customer or to master the other tasks Frosty spelled out because he was an excellent mentor and a great boss who took the time to explain and demonstrate exactly what he expected. I've thanked Frosty silently many times for being the perfect boss. He passed away several years ago, but I'll never forget the lessons he taught me.

When the young clerk handed me a wad of money for change the other day, I thought about the times when my role as boss or teacher was to set expectations and make sure the worker or student knew how to do the job. Too often, we assume people know things they don't know, that they'll catch on by themselves, or another worker will model the right way to do something and the newby will simply "get it."

We forget that things we do automatically are anything but automatic to someone new to a job. We are busy and don't take the time. Today's clerks deal more often with debit or credit cards than they do with cash, so we teach them how to process the card and get the customer to sign on the line, but for those of us who still use cash, sometimes it's tough to accept change.

Related Topics: GENERATIONS
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