5 Ways You're Letting Your Staff Steal

If there are any axioms in the restaurant industry, chief among is that you are exposed to staff theft. There is no worse feeling than being the victim of theft. It leaves you angry and vulnerable, and those aren’t great places for a leader to spend time.

Did you read about the military veteran that visited the same restaurant three times and had his credit card slip altered after signing to increase the gratuity? It’s an old story in our industry, but the instruction is really valuable and should be a wake-up call to all operators.

In this last incident, the server allegedly added $8 to the check after the guest had totaled and signed the merchant copy. The veteran learned of the fraud by checking his statement against his receipt. This simple action caused him to realize he had been taken advantage of by the server. And this happened three times at the same establishment.

The lesson isn’t just that the operator may have a rogue employee that is stealing from guests, but also that the employee is permanently damaging the reputation of your business. The sad part is the operator could have seen this for the scam it was by simply checking the server’s receipts periodically. By demonstrating that you are reviewing that data, you will discourage a server from hurting your business by this method.

Unfortunately, too few of you take this small step to add accountability and follow up to the server check-out process.

This led us to identify some other ways you are facilitating your staff in stealing from you. Each of these circumstances are avoidable by simply implementing small changes in your process. Thus, you are protecting your business from bad staff behavior and protecting your staff from their worst urges to do bad.

1.     You aren’t reviewing the receipts at checkout from servers and bartenders.

As the previous example shows, this is an area of exposure that can’t be underestimated. Given that 80% or your transactions are done via credit card, it’s a worthy enterprise to verify the math and payment on each transaction. You will be ahead of possible chargeback situations and can prove to your team that this is a serious issue which you are focusing on daily. You don’t need to check every time, but you need to prove to your team that you ARE checking.

Severs altering tip totals on receipts is nothing new.

Another potential fix is implementing mobile wallet payments and/or EMV devices for tableside payment. This will ensure the guest controls their card and the final check total. Certainly, it will eliminate a point of exposure with a simple adoption of technology.

2.     You aren’t locking your valuable inventory

The old adage, “locks were made to keep honest people honest” applies so well to our industry. If you are serving expensive wines or high cost cuts of meat and fish, then you are exposed to theft. Lobster tails don’t take up a lot of space and an uncut cryovaced filet can fit in the average backpack. By putting these items, along with your liquor and high end wine, behind a locked door, you simultaneously protect your inventory and your staff from the temptation to steal it.

3.     You aren’t spot checking inventory items daily

Not all inventory can be locked up, it’s just impractical. For unsecured product you will need to implement a quick inventory counting regiment. For example, if you are using portion controlled steaks, once they are deployed on the line, you can’t lock them up. Consequently, a daily or shift by shift inventory check can ensure that you aren’t losing any product. The whole count process shouldn’t take more than a few minutes, but if you don’t eliminate theft of these products you are paying for it multiple times over. The same is true for bottled beer and high volume spirits. A spot check reminds your bar staff you are paying attention. Since they are responsible for the results, they will also have an interest in precluding others from theft as well.

No threats needed, just follow up and follow through.

4.     You aren’t checking labor reports to verify that people clocked out or in on time

This is a little regarded expense that builds to a serious number over the course of the year. If your staff doesn’t clock out immediately after they finish their work or clocks in on arrival and then prepares for work, then that is theft.

For example, a server that arrives five minutes prior to their shift, clocks in and then heads to the restroom to get ready. They’re likely been paid for 10-15 minutes in which they aren’t entitled. This is stealing that time. Multiply 10 minutes by the number of shifts worked per year and you can get to as much as 40 hours a year per employee. Factor that by your entire staff and you can quickly see how much labor is paid to staff who aren’t engaged in work. By implementing a defined clock in/out policy you can eliminate this and save yourself significant labor cost annually.

5.     You aren’t spot counting a bartender’s register during the shift or you are allowing bartenders to cash their own tips into the drawer

Among the preferred methods of bartender theft is to under-ring their sales and either put that money in the drawer or in their tip pool. This is also easily eliminated by spot checking the register during the shift and never allowing bar staff to exchange their small bills for large into the drawer. These two simple steps convey to your bar staff that you will be present and aware of the typical scams and are taking steps to manage them. Certainly, regular full inventory is the most powerful way to eliminate theft in the long term. However, these spot checks are a perfect complement to regular inventory counts and demonstrate you are paying attention to all facets of inventory security.

At the core of our relationships with our staff must be trust. By implementing simple follow up and systems of protection, you reduce your own exposure, prove to your staff that it’s important to you, and give them the best chance to succeed. That’s good process and will reduce your exposure and ensure your staff is always going down the best path for your business.

How do you prevent staff theft? Let us know in the comments below!