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Who's Watching the Store?

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This trope applies to shows which showcase a type of workplace that is typically open most of every day, yet some or all of the employees seem to be able to leave work at any time and do something else.

For example if all of the characters work at a restaurant, and they all decide to go to dinner together, then who's watching the store during one of the most profitable times of day for an eatery?

Often it is necessary to get the characters out of their normal environment so it does not seem boring. This is not a problem, but if the show has not set up a suitable number of background employees whom the audience can believe are capable of operating the business when the principal character employees are out, it can stretch the viewer's Willing Suspension of Disbelief.

Often merely Handwaved or ignored. Sometimes lampshaded for a little humor. Often comes to mind during Fridge Logic. Supposedly being able to abandon a workplace in part or entirely is some sort of higher level of Ultimate Job Security. If a worker is seen around but never doing their job, then see The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything.

Not to be confused with the Jerry Lewis movie Who's Minding the Store?.


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    Anime And Manga 

  • Early on in Death Note, none of the remaining members of the Task Force are at the headquarters when they all go to meet L. L actually brings this up at the end of their meeting.


  • Coming to America: McDowells hires two people in one day, obviously needing the employees. Then, during the rest of the movie, most of the known employees of the restaurant are shown to be away from work.
  • Parodied in Airplane! when Ted Striker leaves his cab (which he is driving) at the airport just as a new fare gets in. Ted says he'll be right back and starts the meter running, but he instead gets on a plane. At the end of the movie, hours later, the man is still in the cab with the meter still running.
  • Clerks: Dante and Randall close their respective stores to play hockey on the roof and go to a funeral, among other things. However, they're fully aware of this trope—in fact, the game happens on the roof in case someone turns up, and the fact that no one will be watching the store is Dante's main argument for why Randal shouldn't attend the wake (though naturally that doesn't stop him.) It also happens in Clerks II, when Dante and Randall leave work at Mooby's and go go-karting in the middle of the day.
  • In the Heights: Lampshaded. Sonny and Usnavi are the only two employees of their family bodega. When they both come outside to greet Nina, Usnavi suddenly asks Sonny, "Who's watching the store?" Cue Pete dashing out the door behind them and down the street, arms full of stuff he shoplifted, while Sonny gives chase.
    Usnavi: That's going on your tab!


  • In the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Dumbledore spends the day traveling through parties on his way to Privet Drive while McGonagall spends the day sitting on the Dursleys' front yard in cat form. This canonically happens on the first of November. So the Headmaster and Deputy Headmistress, the latter of whom actually teaches a class and is therefore actually important, are absent for an entire day in the middle of the school year. Then again, it's implied that not a whole lot of work was getting done anywhere else in Wizarding Britain on account of a really horrible war coming to an abrupt end. Certainly unintentional Fridge Brilliance, but that chapter takes place on November 1, 1981, a Sunday. There wouldn't have been any classes at Hogwarts that day or the day before. This does bring up the question of why Vernon Dursley was at work in his office on Sunday (This is not the last time that JKR fails to consider the implications of a given calendar date).

  • There's a joke about a man on his deathbed, asking for all of his relatives one at a time. After it is confirmed that every one of his immediate kin is with him during his final hours, he demands to know why nobody is manning the desk at the family business.

    Live-Action TV 

  • In 2 Broke Girls Max and Caroline seem to be the only two waitresses at the Diner. Made even funnier when they bump into Han, their boss, at the movie theaters. Made even more funny when Han, the cashier Earl, and the cook Oleg, show up at Max and Caroline's cupcake shop at the same time.
  • On True Blood, one of the waitresses at Merlotte's is murdered, and a replacement is not found for several episodes. They also tend to all run out into the front lot from time to time, leaving a full house of customers inside. In seasons 5 and 6, Sam Merlotte barely even sets foot in his namesake restaurant even though other characters are actively working there, making you wonder which character is handling purchasing and payroll.
  • Whenever the bartenders on Cheers went somewhere during business hours they often had to point out who was watching the bar. (Or someone would say the bar was closed, as happened in "From Beer to Eternity" when all four employees (Sam, Carla, Diane, and Woody) went to a bowling match.)
  • On an episode of Chicago Hope, a man who owned a dry-cleaning business was injured and treated at the title hospital. All of his employees came to visit him one day and the first thing he asked was, "Who's running the store?" It's shown over the course of the episode that the man considered his employees a second family, but after he got hurt (he was impaled through the head by a piece of metal) the injury changed his personality and he now only cares about productivity and profits.
  • Alice had the entire cast leaving Mel's Diner a few times during business hours with no explanation given.
  • The Haunting of Hill House (2018): The Dudleys both work at Hill House from sunrise to sundown. But Mrs Dudley mentions that she homeschools their daughter, Abigail, who has lived off the grid her whole life. With what time or when is never made clear.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine sometimes has a problem with this. They send the entire main cast on away missions occasionally, and it seems like that's everyone of any authority on the station.
    • Other Star Trek installments have also appeared to do this. It wasn't a problem on the original series because they left Scotty and some competent secondary characters behind. On NextGen, it was Captain Picard left behind — but that show has sometimes come close to this. And Voyager and Enterprise have sometimes had the entire known command staff leave the ship.
    • The most extreme case is the Original Series episode "Catspaw," in which Kirk, Spock, Scotty, McCoy, and Sulu all beam down, leaving Lt. DeSalle in command — a character so minor that he only appeared in three episodes and was never given a first name. If you're wondering why Uhura was not placed in command, you are not alone; she is also a lieutenant and, unlike DeSalle, is a bridge officer. (She was also black, and this was The '60s, so the Doylist explanation needs little thought to arrive at.)
  • On the Britcom Are You Being Served? the staff of the mens' and ladies' departments are frequently shown having their lunch and coffee breaks together. While the store does close for lunch, it's highly unlikely that it does for every other break.
  • A few seasons of Power Rangers:
    • Power Rangers Ninja Storm had the Yellow Ranger and later the Thunder Rangers work at a sporting goods store. This was basically ignored, as many episodes didn't include scenes at the store at all, and even the ones that did rarely had the jobs interrupted by the Rangers' superhero duties.
    • All the main rangers of Power Rangers Mystic Force work at the Rockporium, a music store. Several members of the supporting cast use it as their Local Hangout. This was played relatively realistically, as Toby (the boss) often got annoyed at his employees running off and eventually brought someone else on to pick up the slack, and a music store doesn't need a large staff in the first place. Of course, he became a lot more understanding after learning that they were all Power Rangers.
    • Power Rangers Jungle Fury had the Rangers work in a pizzeria. They didn't have a problem with the boss RJ as he was The Mentor, but there seemed to be no background employees; he seemed to run the place by himself before hiring the Rangers and Fran in the pilot, and once he became a Ranger himself it apparently fell on Fran to keep things running while the Rangers saved the world. This trope eventually came back to bite them in the behind, however, as it became impossible to keep Fran from finding out their secret after leaving her to handle the pizzeria alone so many times.
    • Power Rangers Dino Charge averts this - not only are several other cooks and waiters shown to be working at the museum's Dino Bite Cafe, but most episodes have only one or two Rangers investigating the Monster of the Week initially - the others often wait until they're called for backup. And like with Jungle Fury, the Rangers' boss Kendall understands the situation since she's also in on their secret as The Mentor - in fact, she specifically gave the Rangers jobs in the museum so they could use museum business as a cover for Ranger business. Though after the team temporarily goes their separate ways after the first season, it's shown that Koda and Ivan (the only rangers who don't have homes to return to) are overwhelmed after losing a good chunk of the staff, so Kendall hires another waiter - who just happens to be the human-appearing villain Heckyl trying to spy on the rangers.
  • The creators of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia made the main characters bar owners so that they could believably get into hijinks during the day. Even still, the trope is lampshaded in one episode where a newspaper reviewer writes that patrons of Paddy's Pub must often serve themselves because the owners are too busy arguing with each other to actually tend bar.
  • On Wings, Joe and Brian are the only two pilots for Sandpiper Air, but half the time they're either just hanging around the airport or flying the plane for their own personal use without any passengers. It's no wonder that Joe could only ever afford one plane.
  • In the Parks and Recreation episode "Hunting Trip", most of the cast goes on said trip, leaving only April (an intern at this point in the series) in the Parks Department. While they're gone, April is tasked with calling the State Parks Department and reading off a number so their budget will come in. However, the State Parks Department puts her on hold for hours and April has a Potty Emergency with no one to take over in case they answer. She's rescued by Andy, leading to the two of them goofing around in the office for the rest of the episode. This is the first time April and Andy had significant interaction and thus the episode is credited with starting their Will They or Won't They? relationship.
  • On Newhart, there were a number of times when everybody who worked at the Stratford Inn were away from the inn, and many times when Minuteman Cafe owners Kirk or Larry, Darryl, and Darryl were away from the cafe, with no additional staff. Subverted a bit in that before Larry, Darryl, and Darryl bought the cafe Kirk had them look after the cafe on two occasions.
  • The M*A*S*H episodes "The Bus" and "The Novocaine Mutiny" have all four of the 4077th's regular surgeons (Hawkeye, BJ, Frank, and Col. Potter) away from camp for an extended period. It's never explained who's operating on the wounded in their absence.
    • In "The Trial of Henry Blake", all of the main cast wind up at Henry's trial (Hawkeye, Trapper and Radar go AWOL to help him, while Frank and Margaret chase after them to stop them), which means that all of the doctors and the head nurse are away from camp.
    • The series finale, "Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen", has flashback scenes of the entire 4077th staff away on a Fourth of July beach outing.
  • On the later seasons of The Facts of Life, it's rare that any of the characters are actually seen in the store. (And they live right above it!)
  • This is a plot point occasionally in Kim's Convenience, in which the titular family-run convenience store is open every day. In one episode, Janet misses her award ceremony to keep the store open when Appa has surgery. In another, Janet is upset that Appa and Umma are willing to close the store to celebrate Jung finishing high school, when they wouldn't close the store for her.
  • An episode of The Big Bang Theory had Penny, Bernadette and Amy do an impromptu visit to Disneyland. Amy and Bernadette talk about the lies they had to share to get out of work, but when they ask Penny she said "I work at the Cheesecake Factory, I said bye."
  • Scrubs would use this from time to time, but it had a big enough supporting cast that it wasn't a huge question regarding who is taking care of things. But one episode had the characters get into their usual shenanigans, only for a patient to die during their shift. Looking back on what happened during the day it was apparent just about every main character was off on some separate story, and their absence left the patient to die with only interns to assist. They only got out of serious reprimands because of a technicality, they were working with faulty test results which placed the blame of the patients death on a nameless, one shot character. But the end moral of the episode is they got lucky, and they should take that failure to heart.
  • Young Sheldon: In "Ruthless, Toothless, and a Week of Bed Rest", when Georgie arrives to Mandy's doctor, Connie asks him who is running their businesses (the laundromat, the video store and the secret casino, which the doctor knows about).

    Visual Novels 

  • Averted with the diner in Daughter for Dessert. Although the diner has an unscheduled closing from time to time to accommodate some special happening or event concerning the whole staff, the diner is never just left unattended without being officially closed.


  • Questionable Content has seen Coffee of Doom abandoned at moments of high drama. It really is abandoned during these moments, too, since there are no background extras. Owner Dora's sudden realization that her business IS, in fact, abandoned is often the panic cherry on the drama sundae in these scenarios. Fortunately, it doesn't happen often, since roughly half the cast works there, and there's almost always somebody not involved in the hijinks of the moment to watch the store. Not to mention, Coffee of Doom cultivates a clientele who find their favorite coffee shop randomly lacking baristas just part of its hipster charm.
  • In The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob! Bob earns a living from a small newsstand. It is frequently lampshaded (mostly by the ever-furious Mr. Bystander) that he gets called away from it constantly.
  • In The Whiteboard, early on, the issue wasn't mentioned. The small cast played paintball together, and the paintball store was closed. Presumably, the town is too small for any competition (besides Walmart's crappy markers). As the cast grows, it's easier to find someone to stay (often Jinx)... but often they all leave together, anyway. Three cases stand out:
    • Doc did build a "Backup Airsmith Hologram", but it didn't work as intended. It expected an average dumb client, infinitely frustrating the nice guy, who knew what he needed, for a change.
    • After the 32-month "Longest Day" storyline a series of strips shows Sandy and Pirta cleaning up the store after the day of disuse. Which looks more like decades — with cobwebs, overgrowth, backlog of deliveries and presidential campaign ads from 1960s.
    • 10-year-old Jinx manning the front counter and answering the phone is often used as a filler.

    Western Animation 

  • On SpongeBob SquarePants the Krusty Krab is a profitable fast food restaurant, run by a manager who freely admits that he is in it for the money. However, often all three employees are shown to be away from work during daylight hours.
    • In the episode where SpongeBob gets a splinter, he and Squidward spend a huge amount of time in the kitchen, begging the question of who is manning the front register.
    • Lampshaded in one episode, where SpongeBob convinces himself and Squidward that Mr. Krabs is a robot. Before they tie him up, he nervously asks them what they're doing, and his last, frenzied question is "Who's watching the cash register?!"
    • In the episode "Home Sweet Rubble:"
      Mr. Krabs: SpongeBob, what are you doing here? You were supposed to be at work two hours ago!
      Customer #1: Hello? Anybody here? Hello?! Do you guys know how to make a Krabby Patty?
      Customer #2: No, but I do know how to open a cash register.
  • Mr. Meaty: Often the main two employees take long breaks and go around the mall.
  • In one episode of Curious George, George picks up takeout from a new family-owned Asian market/take out place across the street. The entire family that runs the market help him carry the food home and then are invited to stay for dinner by the man in the yellow hat - they accept.
  • The Simpsons uses this one with the Kwik-e-Mart numerous times. It's almost always answered as well. Either it's Apu's brother, or his infant nephew (he had a gun) or James Woods or... The one time Apu hasn't thought about it, Snake steals the store.
    (shot of Kwik-e-Mart pans out to reveal that it's on the back of a flat bed truck)
    • Another instance has Apu and Sanjay at a talent competition for Sanjay's daughter. When Marge asks who's watching the store, they gasp in horror. Cut to the three bullies wheeling the squishie machine out the front door.
  • The titular restaurant of Bob's Burgers has only two adult employees, both of whom are responsible for three children. As a result, it tends to be a hassle to get Bob to go anywhere, especially during the day, but he always relents and closes up shop if sufficiently pestered by Linda and the kids—which might explain why the restaurant seems to have a cash flow problem.

    Real Life 
  • Constantly on the back of the mind of any owner/operator of a 24-hour establishment. Did the next shift come in?