Have you ever been a few cents short when paying for something in cash? If so, you may have turned to a ‘leave a penny, take a penny’ dish for help. These communal penny dishes can be found on many retail counters and act as a type of petty cash fund.

But what are the proper etiquette rules around using these dishes? In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the history and purpose of ‘leave a penny’ dishes, provide tips on using them responsibly, and outline the debates around their continued relevance in the age of non-cash payments.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The basic etiquette around ‘leave a penny, take a penny’ dishes is to only take a penny if you’re a few cents short on a cash payment, and leave a penny whenever possible if you receive unexpected change.

Though common, not everyone agrees they should remain on counters in the digital payment era.

The Origins of ‘Leave a Penny’ Dishes

Have you ever wondered about the small dishes you often see near cash registers with signs that say “Leave a Penny, Take a Penny”? These dishes have an interesting history, dating back to the early 1900s. Let’s take a closer look at the origins of these ‘Leave a Penny’ dishes.

Early 1900s charity cups

The concept of ‘Leave a Penny, Take a Penny’ can be traced back to the early 1900s when charity cups were introduced in some establishments. These cups were placed near the cash register and customers were encouraged to drop in a small donation if they had spare change.

The idea behind these charity cups was to collect funds for various charitable causes and help those in need.

Over time, the concept of charity cups evolved into ‘Leave a Penny, Take a Penny’ dishes, where the focus shifted from charity to convenience.

Rise of cash transactions and convenience

With the rise of cash transactions and the need for convenience, ‘Leave a Penny, Take a Penny’ dishes became more common in businesses. Cashiers often found themselves dealing with customers who needed to pay with exact change or were short a few cents.

These dishes provided a simple solution – customers who were short on change could take a penny from the dish to complete their payment, while those with extra change could leave it behind for others to use.

This system helped to speed up transactions and reduce the frustration of customers who didn’t have the correct change. It also provided a way for businesses to maintain a positive customer experience by avoiding lengthy delays at the cash register.

Reducing change frustration for customers and staff

‘Leave a Penny, Take a Penny’ dishes not only benefit customers but also help to alleviate frustration for staff. Cashiers no longer need to spend time searching for exact change or dealing with disgruntled customers who are short on cash.

The dishes create a sense of community and mutual assistance among customers, making the payment process smoother and more efficient.

It’s worth noting that the practice of ‘Leave a Penny, Take a Penny’ is not universal and may vary from region to region. Some places may have different variations, such as ‘Leave a Nickel, Take a Dime’ or ‘Leave a Coin, Take a Coin’.

Regardless of the specific wording or currency involved, the underlying concept remains the same – to provide a solution for those who need a little extra change and promote a positive shopping experience.

Proper ‘Leave a Penny’ Dish Etiquette

Only take pennies if you’re short on cash payment

When it comes to using the “Leave a Penny, Take a Penny” dish, it is important to remember the intended purpose. The dish is meant to help individuals who find themselves a few cents short when making a cash payment.

If you are in a situation where you truly need a penny or two to complete your transaction, feel free to take advantage of the coins in the dish. This practice is especially helpful for those who rely on cash transactions and may not have exact change readily available.

Leave a penny when you can

While it is acceptable to take pennies from the dish when needed, it is equally important to give back when you can. If you find yourself with extra coins or loose change, consider leaving a penny or two in the dish.

This act of kindness ensures that the dish remains stocked for others who may need it in the future. Remember, every penny counts, and your small contribution can make a big difference for someone else.

Be reasonable – no coin fishing allowed

Although the “Leave a Penny, Take a Penny” dish is a convenient way to handle small transactions, it is essential to exercise proper etiquette. One important rule to remember is to be reasonable and avoid “coin fishing.”

Coin fishing refers to the act of rummaging through the dish to collect more than just a penny or two. This behavior is considered impolite and defeats the purpose of the dish. It is best to take only what you need and leave the rest for others.

Remember, the “Leave a Penny, Take a Penny” dish is a community resource meant to foster goodwill and help those in need. By following these simple guidelines, you can ensure that everyone benefits from this small act of kindness.

So, the next time you find yourself short on change, feel free to take a penny, but also remember to leave one when you can.

Do We Still Need ‘Leave a Penny’ Dishes in the Digital Age?

In today’s increasingly digital world, where cards and mobile payment apps have become the norm, the traditional ‘Leave a Penny, Take a Penny’ dish may seem outdated. However, these small dishes found near cash registers in many businesses still serve a purpose, despite the decline in cash transactions.

Growing use of cards and phones over cash

With the rise of credit and debit cards, as well as mobile payment apps like Apple Pay and Google Pay, it’s no surprise that fewer people carry cash these days. According to a survey conducted by Pew Research Center, 29% of Americans reported making no purchases with cash during a typical week in 2020.

This growing trend has led to a decrease in the need for physical currency in our daily lives.

Dishes require maintenance and carry theft risks

While ‘Leave a Penny’ dishes may seem like a simple solution for those who still prefer to pay with cash, they come with their own set of challenges. These dishes need regular maintenance to ensure they are always stocked with enough change, adding an extra task for business owners or employees.

Additionally, the open nature of the dish makes it susceptible to theft. Unfortunately, there are individuals who take advantage of these dishes, either by taking more than their fair share or even stealing the entire contents.

Many still rely on cash for small transactions

Despite the growing popularity of digital payments, there are still many instances where cash is preferred or even necessary. Small transactions, such as buying a cup of coffee or a snack, are often more convenient to handle with cash.

It eliminates the need for a card machine or a mobile payment app, allowing for a quick and easy exchange. Furthermore, cash can be a lifeline for those who may not have access to banking services or are in situations where electronic payments are not feasible.

Ultimately, while the use of ‘Leave a Penny’ dishes may have declined with the rise of digital payments, they still serve a purpose in our society. They offer a small act of kindness and convenience for those who rely on cash and provide an opportunity for others to give back to their community.

So next time you see a ‘Leave a Penny, Take a Penny’ dish, consider leaving a small contribution – it could make someone’s day a little brighter.

Modern Solutions Beyond Communal Dishes

While the traditional “Leave a Penny, Take a Penny” dish has been a convenient way for customers to exchange small amounts of change, modern advancements have introduced alternative solutions that make transactions even more streamlined and efficient.

Retailer rewards programs and apps

Many retailers now offer rewards programs and mobile apps that allow customers to easily accumulate and redeem points or discounts. These programs eliminate the need for physical coins altogether, as transactions can be completed digitally.

Customers can simply scan their app at the checkout, and the appropriate amount is deducted from their account. This not only simplifies the payment process but also provides additional benefits such as personalized offers and exclusive promotions.

Digital payment options like Apple Pay

The rise of digital payment options like Apple Pay has revolutionized the way we make purchases. With just a tap of a smartphone or smartwatch, customers can securely make payments without the need for physical cash or coins.

This not only eliminates the need for communal dishes but also provides a faster and more convenient way to complete transactions. Additionally, digital payment options offer enhanced security measures, protecting customers from potential theft or fraudulent activities.

Round-up donation programs

Another innovative solution that goes beyond communal dishes is the introduction of round-up donation programs. These programs allow customers to round up their purchase to the nearest dollar and donate the difference to a charity or non-profit organization of their choice.

By opting for this feature, customers can contribute to meaningful causes without the need for physical change. This not only helps eliminate the clutter of communal dishes but also encourages generosity and philanthropy.


While debated, ‘leave a penny, take a penny’ dishes look to remain a retail fixture for the foreseeable future. Their communal penny pools rely on responsible use driven by courtesy, not greed. By only taking when in need and leaving when you can, you’ll be doing your part to keep the spirit of these penny dishes alive.

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