In today’s stores and marketplaces, people can pay with nearly anything: cash, credit, mobile phones and even smart watches. With all of this technology available to track finances, it’s easy to forget about the basics: how to work the cash register.

Reasons for Opening a Cash Drawer

There are a number of reasons an employee might want to open the cash register drawer outside of a sale: some customers may want to change bills, and others may have asked for cash back from their bank card. You may also need it if someone has made a mistake counting change or if you’ve grabbed the wrong bill. Most of these reasons are absolutely valid reasons to be able to spring the cash drawer without transacting a sale.

Theft Prevention and Cash Drawers

There’s a reason that this isn’t an easy, automatic thing to do, and that’s because employers like to limit access to the cash drawer to prevent theft. The cash drawer is set up to only open for transactions because this allows the register to keep track of the value of cash that should be in the drawer. Opening the drawer without an actual transaction to perform presents an opportunity for dishonest employees to pocket some of the cash.

How to Open a Cash Drawer

The methods you can use to unlock the till drawer will depend entirely on the model of cash register used in the store. There are some common ways to open a variety of different types of cash registers without recording a sale.

  • Most cash drawers have a key, which is usually kept with a supervisor or manager. In cases where this is the only independent way to open the drawer, call for the individual who has the key and explain the situation.

  • Some registers have a "cash open" code that trusted employees are given so that they can open the drawer between transactions. If this is the case, enter the code as directed to access the drawer.

  • Some registers might have a "cash pick-up" or "cash deposit" function that is used when the store comes to pick up or deposit cash in the register. If this function is available, you can use the command to open the drawer and access the cash.

  • Some registers have a "no sale" button specifically for cases where the cash drawer needs to be accessed. This provides a record of the transaction while also giving the employee access to the cash drawer.

  • New models of cash registers may have other commands programmed electronically. Check with your manager or with the manual for the register to see where there is a preprogrammed command.

Troubleshooting a Stuck Cash Drawer

If the drawer will not open, there may be something stuck that’s preventing it from opening. Given permission from your supervisor or manager, you can try to open the drawer with a ruler or a screwdriver.

A screwdriver can be used to attempt to pry the drawer open; the ruler can be inserted along the top of the drawer and moved around to try to dislodge whatever is blocking the drawer. Some cash register models have a manual release beneath or on the side of the register that can be tried if the drawer is not opening automatically.

Safety With Cash Drawers

If you’re opening the cash drawer for any reason other than taking cash or giving change, it’s important to stay aware of your surroundings. Don’t leave the open drawer unattended because dishonest customers may decide to make a grab for the cash. Make sure you’re recording any change in the actual value of the cash in the drawer and close the drawer as quickly as possible.