Methods to Curb Restaurant Theft

copWe surveyed a number of restaurants to get ideas on how to reduce theft in the restaurant industry. Should you be worried about theft in your restaurant? We tried to break down the solutions into 13 categories for you. Happy hunting!

Hiring. A driver’s license check may reveal reckless violations. Persons under financial stress with a history of not following rules are often under more pressure to steal. Let’s face it, this takes time so maybe focus on management since they often have the ability to steal proportionally larger amounts. Consider running a credit check and a background check for criminal and civil history.  Not everyone has a good criminal or financial record, but knowing someone’s past can open an honest discussion. A quick check for your part-time employees is to verify past employment and references. A good indicator of trouble is there lengthy gaps in employment that cannot be explained.

Most restaurants say that the best to reduce theft is to be clear with employees that your company has a zero tolerance for employee theft, falsifying time cards, not showing up for work, coming in late, leaving early, or taking long breaks. By documenting these policies, getting all employees to sign off, and create an environment of random audits every so often it will not be perceived that you do not trust the employee.

Managing. Statistically, happier employees are far less likely to steal from their company. The better you employees feel treated, the less likely they are to feel the restaurant owes them compensation. Here are some suggestions from surveyed restaurants on how management can increase employee satisfaction: 1. Treat employees with respect, 2. Appreciate and reward your employees for the pride and extra contributions they make to the team. 3. Offer opportunities for employee growth and give them the training and assistance they need to do their jobs. 4. Provide more flexibility for your employees, restaurant scheduling solutions are a great way to offer flexibility and stay in control at the same time.

Management bonuses. My father always told me “Don’t penny pinch when it will most likely cost you dollars at the end of the day.” Sounds obvious, but we’ve heard a number of lessons learned on not financially rewarding employees, coming through with raises, or not paying for training just to have that employee leave. Food for thought: Finding good staff is always difficult, and on average it takes $5500 in training/ramping-up to replace a $10/hour employee. There are going to be slower months where sales volume will not be as high, but it might be worth rewarding more than profit by basing bonuses partly on store cleanliness, employee competence, and return on equity (ROE), managers can receive bonuses without the temptation of leaning on their employees.

Auditing containers. Count your delivered containers and number every box. Make sure all of the boxes from the truck make it into your locked storage areas. Let employees know you inventory your larger items like steaks, beer, spirits every day. This will curb BOH employees placing food items in a garbage bag inside another garbage bag and having the “garbage” retrieved later from the dumpster. You may consider periodically checking the garbage or assigning different persons to take the garbage out. Each time the back door opens, there is potential for containers of food to exit the restaurant.

Auditing wait staff. Randomly pull up checks on your POS and validate that everything you see on the table is on the check. This audit will curb wait staff to ring up every item ordered (i.e., sodas) in hopes of receiving a higher tip. If you don’t have a “ring it before you bring it” policy, surveyed restaurants recommend create one.

Auditing bar. The bar seems to be vulnerable to theft because of the fast pace and room for discretion (i.e., build the business). In an effort to receive a larger tip, bartenders may over pour or give away free drinks to friends. By auditing tips, you may see a trend that possibly liquor is being given away. Extra services (i.e., garnishes, mixers) should be agreed on and is often good for business. The balance between give/get should be understood so that employees are not giving away your profit but truly building business. Some questions to ask: Are all of your drinks being rung up? Is it possible to charge the customer and put cash into the tip jar? Could wait staff be collecting cash, getting free drinks, and splitting the cash with the bartender?  Could the bartender be swapping free drinks for free dinners with the cooks? If you have a happy hour, is there run up to pay for drinks right before happy hour ends, allowing patrons to pay happy hour prices long into the evening?

The restaurant may not be the only victim from bartender theft. Customers are often cheated. By using shot glasses that are one ounce instead of an ounce and a quarter or using less liquor in blended drinks, bartenders can pour less than a shot (short-pouring) to cover up drinks given away or sold on the side. Even with computerized dispensers, one shot can be poured into two glasses. Bartenders may also charge the customer regular prices for spirits and appetizers, but ring up the happy hour price. The bartender can also pour a lower quality liquor and charge for the premium liquor. Not much advice here except to balance your bartender’s cash drawer in the middle of the shift, inventorying your bar items, keeping consecutively order tickets, and watching your regular customers, you will curb theft.

Wait Staff. Wait staff can charge the customer full price but ring up the sale at a discounted child or senior citizen price or even ring the sale on the training key. They can void sales and keep the cash or short ring the meal to pocket the difference. Have order pads with sequential numbers on every ticket and require workers to turn in all tickets at the end of each shift. A common suggestion is to have a policy of wait staff not closing out their own cash registers at a shift’s end. If this is not possible, you can try auditing closing cash registers at regular intervals.

BOH/kitchen. Inventory your food closely (There are a number of POS tools that can help automate this). Kitchen managers need to document food waste (dropped, remakes, old food). The FOH and BOH often make it possible to have a dish made with the FOH pocketing the money. One suggestion is to have a ticket for every item. If there is no ticket, food cannot be made.

Tips. Keep tips separate from the register so that money is not confused. By auditing server tips, you can have a good idea what normal is on a given shift. If employees’ tips are excessive, this may signal there is theft. High tips hopefully are a sign of excellent service, but clarify with regular audits.

Cash register. Friends have been known to ring up each other’s purchases at significantly reduced prices. Friendships are a wonderful thing and part of a restaurant’s culture, but you may want to watch friendships to be sure you aren’t helping to produce them. One suggestion to curb this is to require that management ring meals or other items up. I have also seen cashiers ring up coupons when no one is looking. Watch to be sure that coupons are not run all at once. Accumulated guest checks can also be rung up when no one is watching so retain and check all of your guest checks.

Customer complaints. Look into customer complaints when they have not received credit for payments, amounts on credit card slips have been changed, or a credit card has been run through twice.

Surveillance cameras. You may want to consider installing surveillance cameras by the cash registers, office safe, POS, dumpsters, and other areas. Having surveillance cameras installed may reveal additional theft and/or solve employee harassment claims. Some restaurants have said it helps even if they don’t actually take video – obviously you wouldn’t want you staff to know it wasn’t being recorded.

Secret shoppers. If employees know secret shoppers will be rating their work, they are less likely to steal. Talk about secret shoppers and what they have found at your restaurant.

Let us know what you do to reduce theft at your restaurant by leaving a comment with your suggestion.


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3 Responses to Methods to Curb Restaurant Theft

  1. Pingback: Should You Be Worried About Theft In Your Restaurant? | Improving Restaurant Management

  2. Pingback: Tips for Restaurant Theft Prevention « Being the Chef

  3. Pingback: Tips for Restaurant Theft Prevention | Being The Chef

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