My local food truck trusts me with their money. Why?

A while back I wrote a post called “This nation is built on trust and self-service fountain beverages”, which was about how casual dining chains often trust you not to steal their drinks. It has always been amazing to me that these places trust me with an empty cup that they’ve given to me for free to actually fill it up with water rather than Orange Fanta.

A taco truck near my office had me thinking about this concept lately. It’s cash only, and I ordered three tacos for $9. After I collected my food and was about to hand the guy at the window a $20 bill, he quickly pointed to an open cash register and asked me to take the change myself. I’d never seen that before, and I thought it was awesome.

Why would a business do this? Aren’t they afraid of someone not paying the right amount, or worse yet, taking money out of the register rather than putting money in? The clear calculation that a business like this makes is that whatever they lose in customers cheating them, it’s worth it not to have to slow down the whole assembly line by taking off the latex gloves, handling the cash transaction, and putting them back on.

The reason I love this sort of thing so much is because it can’t exist without some measure of honesty and trust. The local business might assume that cheating can and will occur, but also assumes that most people are fundamentally honest (and that if someone tries to blatantly rob them in plain sight, the other customers standing in line will call them out). This whole thing just falls apart if people are dishonest cheats. Then, the business has to handle the cash to prevent people from cheating, slowing the whole thing down and making them a lot less money during the weekday lunch rush.

The remarkable thing is that people are, for the most part, honest in the first place. If you think that statement is naive, consider that there’s plenty of evidence that supports it. One recent study placed “lost” wallets in random locations in 40 different countries to gauge the behavior of the people who found them. About half of the wallets were returned. Even more amazingly, people were more likely to return wallets with cash in them than when they were empty, despite the temptation to keep the contents. I had my own direct experience with this a few years ago.

The challenge for most of us is to dare to imagine a world where honesty, uprightness, and trust are multiplied tenfold. What does society look like in that case? How much more efficiently might our economy run? How much less stressful might life be? That’s the world we should all be working towards and hoping to see in our lifetimes.

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