Photo by Poland Studios / Courtesy Memphis and Shelby County Room, Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library
I’ve written before about Toddle House, the chain of cozy diners that originally began in Houston and then moved to Memphis, where Fred Smith (father of the Frederick W. Smith who founded FedEx) turned the venture into an incredible success story. I can’t even remember how many Toddle Houses were finally erected in Memphis, but in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, it seems they were on every street corner.
You can read the whole story here. I don’t feel like telling (or typing) it again.
Now one thing I mentioned in my original story was the little diner’s interesting way that customers paid for their meals. There was no cash register, and the waiters and counter help never touched your money (well, except to pocket your tip.)
Wait — I take that back. I forgot that another oddity of Toddle Houses was this: signs declaring “No Tipping Allowed.” What a strange way to run a restaurant!
And strangest of all: Toddle Houses entirely worked on the honor system. The waiter or waitress gave you a receipt, and as you walked out the door, you just dropped your cash into a free-standing steel-and-glass “Auto Cashier” like the one you see here. If you didn’t have the exact amount, I presume you dropped what you could into the box.
And no, I don’t know how many people just walked out without paying. Since the sides of the box were glass, and your money would have clattered onto steel shelves below, I think your fellow customers might have noticed if they didn’t hear your payment.
I confess that I really don’t know how the box worked. As you can see, there’s not just one slot for your money, like you’d find on the cash box on the Main Street trolleys (remember the trolleys?). It looks like the “Auto Cashier” had several different slots and chutes and levels. Gosh, I’m glad I never ate there, because — being a Lauderdale and all, not used to dealing with petty cash — I don’t think I could figure it out. And look, there’s even a cord, so the gadget plugged in for some reason. Did it light up? I just don’t know.
By the 1950s, Toddle House had more than 200 of their cute little blue-and-white diners in almost 90 cities. But in 1961, Dobbs House bought the company. Some of the older places were shut down; others were converted into Dobbs House diners or Steak & Egg Kitchens.
I wonder what happened to all the sturdy “Auto Cashier” boxes? I wouldn’t mind having one at the front door of the Mansion, to charge admission on those few times (February 29th) when I throw the doors open to visitors.