Is The Local Store Or Restaurant Tab Still A Thing In The South? 

You know you’re a regular when…

Couch’s BBQ
Photo: Southern Living

The best thing about being from a small town in the South is the comradery and connection between those who live there. It's not a grocery store trip without running into a friend or family member, and walking around the neighborhood means plenty of waves and smiles exchanged. Hospitality has always gone a long way in the South, and some might even think we tend to go overboard. Rather, we intend to.

The Southern Honor System

There are old-fashioned traditions and customs that you'll find in Southern hometowns that would surprise skeptical city folk, such as bringing a casserole over to a neighbor or holding the door open for the next person. Another such habit is having customer tabs operated on a Southern honor system. Being a regular at a beloved local restaurant or store is practically a prerequisite to being a small-town Southerner, and it's not uncommon to find that certain establishments once allowed its most loyal customers to have a running tab. And some still do!

It could be the country-style breakfast joint where your family went every weekend or the gift shop where much of your mother's Christmas shopping happened each year. It could even be the teeny-tiny market that made the best coffee in town or the family-owned pharmacy where you got your penny candy and cough drops as a kid. In the South, we joke that everyone's family, and in a small town, it really can feel that way. You're likely to get familiar with the people who operate the stores and restaurants on a deeper level than just passing strangers.

What Is A Local Tab?

The honor system requires knowing the proper etiquette for utilizing and respecting a tab. After all, not everyone might be extended the invite, so it's only right to act appropriately! A local tab is typically at a small business, which means it's very important to respect the privilege of being able to charge a meal or item by always being kind to the staff and other patrons, as well as responding promptly when the time comes to eventually settle the bill. Nowadays, you might not find as many open tabs for regulars as there once was, but it's still a familiar practice in many small towns.

While non-Southerners or big city dwellers might find it perplexing to put trust in relative strangers, it's just how things have always been. Plus, we have backup. When everybody knows each other, at least once or twice removed, it's pretty hard to get away with any funny business, and someone's bound to know where you live.

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