(Submitted by reader Daniel Moyer)
In my youth I waited tables at a local diner. I worked the weekend early shifts, and referred to breakfast as the “meal of beverages.” There was always a huge variety of fluids (coffee, tea, milk, juice, water, etc…) at each table beyond the myriad assortment of breakfast foods. It happened one fateful day that I had two unrelated tables, both of them four tops.
As one could expect, each table had entirely different meals from the drinks down to the side orders. Eventually, table number one decided they were finished and ready to head out for their day, so digging through my pocketful of register checks, I handed them their bill, and they left, paying up at the register on their way out.
The second table remained active and decided they wanted additional food. When I went to add onto their check I realized to my dismay I had handed table number one the check for table number two, which was now closed out and paid for! I rushed up to the register to get the correct check to see how bad the situation was about to get for me. The hostess dug down through the cancelled checks to find the proper one and to our utter amazement, both bills were identical right down to the penny! Neither one of us could believe what we were seeing. With a great deal of relief and amazement, I explained the circumstance to table number two and showed them the proof, again, shock and awe.
I was able to add their additional food to table number one’s original check which they could now safely pay as easily as if the error had never occurred in the first place. The diner Gods were certainly smiling on me that day, and even though it’s hard to swallow, it’s the absolute truth and I enjoy recounting the story to this day. Is there any way to deduce these seriously crazy odds???
Below are the extended notes provided by Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 205. Take a look and leave your comments below.
Without knowing the possible combinations, it is extremely difficult to determine the odds of this happening. It might very well be high, especially if a number of items on the menu have the same price. Most restaurant pricing is a whole dollar amount with zero, $.50, or $.99 tacked on, but nothing in between. Furthermore, a diner’s breakfast menu is not likely to have items which vary a great deal in price and the per person total probably falls within a tight range most of the time. So, while I am sure that it felt shocking to the author, my guess is that the odds are not all that crazy.