I increasingly find myself paying absolutely nothing at cafes, food courts, multiplexes and fast food outlets. Coffee, soft drinks, popcorn, frozen yogurt—it's all free! Not only food... even the chap who recently shrink-wrapped my luggage at the airport didn't charge a penny for his efforts. You see, I may come across as just another unassuming harried citizen but in reality, I am a superhero. I am Receiptman, the bane of dishonest cashiers everywhere.
Receiptman is a grassroots kind of vigilante... the caped crusader and protector of cash registers.
My mission is to pull up errant employees who take orders, serve customers, collect money, return exact change, but simply "neglect" to give a receipt. Consequently, there is no record of the sale in the system and instead, the cash goes directly into their pockets. I appreciate that there are bigger fish to fry, what with all the corrupt politicians and businesspeople out there, but I suppose Receiptman is a grassroots kind of vigilante.
I first identify potential scoundrels by scouting the premises for what I call the "Free if No Receipt" (FINOR) poster. This sign, usually placed prominently near the cash register, proclaims that the order is free if you don't get a receipt and call the number listed. If the FINOR is not clearly visible, pasted on the counter or monitor, it's very likely that a devious cashier has strategically obstructed the view with a menu, newspaper or tent card. His service will be unusually polite, generous and you will almost feel obliged—who keeps accounts between friends, right? Or he will be extremely distracted by an urgent call or conversation with his colleague—he was simply too preoccupied to print the receipt. Some con cashiers test waters with the halfway hoop—billing some items but "forgetting" to charge for say, the bottled water; you impatiently hand over the additional amount and leave without the second receipt. The objective is the same—some extra cash on the side.
But two can play this game and I lull him into the same false sense of security by being equally polite, thanking him for his effort and even clapping gleefully when my latte arrives. Or sometimes I pretend to be an upset investor, muttering cuss words as I navigate my stocks app, or a distracted lovebird, sending heart emojis and kisses to myself. I ensure that I'm not caught perusing the FINOR sign—that's an immediate red flag for him to abort. The charade continues until I get my order and seeing no receipt forthcoming, I enquire, "Hi, is there anything left?" As soon as he confirms that the transaction is complete the show begins.
I lull him into [a] false sense of security by being equally polite, thanking him for his effort and even clapping gleefully when my latte arrives.
I spin clockwise and transform into Receiptman, the caped crusader and protector of cash registers. Staring with a hardened face, I dramatically uncover the FINOR sign, hold out my hand and demand a refund—"You didn't give a receipt. Now give my money back." He stares, a deer in headlights, and nine times out of ten nothing more needs to be said. He quietly reaches into the register and returns my money. `
But Receiptman isn't done. I announce that I've been sent by corporate headquarters to investigate numerous complaints of pilferage at this outlet. I note his name as beads of sweat form on his forehead. "You are in deep trouble", I growl as I dial some random digits and talk urgently to the silence at the other end, "It's me - the information was correct. Rogue employee... name is Manoj... a tall guy, thin moustache—let's get him in." His mouth opens and shuts rapidly, in synch with the trembling coffee sieve in his hand. I disconnect and raising my left hand, speak into my watch, "Code Red. Come in Team 1. Team 2, stand by." Palpitating Manoj looks around desperately, expecting gunfire to break out any second.
I'm still not done. I start collecting evidence for a hypothetical inquisition and photograph the cash register, FINOR sign and even attempt a selfie with him, at which point he dives under the counter. He eventually emerges, clutching an empty receipt roll and tries to blame this miss on a lack of stationery. But Receiptman isn't moved by obvious hogwash. "We are watching you closely," I warn on behalf of his management team, which is probably at an international offsite puzzling over their inventory shrinkage trends. And I grab my coffee and leave but not before requesting all in the queue, who have been patiently watching this drama unfold, to please take their receipts.
Walking away, I make my first real phone call—to that number listed on the FINOR sign. Someone takes the details, promises to investigate and mission accomplished, I spin anti-clockwise and transform back into myself. I take a sip of the coffee but all that sugar notwithstanding, it still tastes bitter. How I really wish that I could have paid for it.