Theft among employees is a topic no restaurant owner wants to think about.
You want to take pride in the staff you’ve hired. The idea that they could be hurting the business behind your back to benefit themselves is an unpleasant one. And for every dishonest person out there in the job market, there are assuredly thousands who would never dream of stealing from their workplace. But if the worst does occur, remaining unaware of theft (or actively turning a blind eye when it comes to your attention) could be disaster for your bottom line.
These are a few different known ways that front and back-of-house employees can steal from their employers, and it’s important to keep an eye out for all of them.
Reusing the Same Check
This can involve multiple people in a shift and is made even easier in cash-only establishments. In this scheme, a server will wait for a common order combination and save it. This is especially easy when there’s a buffet option with set pricing or combo deals at quick-service establishments.
The next time that same combination is ordered, the server just tells the kitchen instead of logging it into the POS system. When it’s a buffet, the server doesn’t even need to worry about the kitchen asking questions. The customer eats, pays, and then your server pockets the money. This kind of theft can be uncovered easily, but only if your POS system is used properly and inventory is consistently counted by management.
This is another trick that can be a big loss for your business. The scam is this: after a customer has paid in cash and left the table, the server pulls out their own coupon to input into the POS system and pockets the leftover cash. This more easily occurs when your restaurant displays coupons at the front counter for customers to take at will, so avoid leaving coupons out for any staff member to grab.
Requiring a manager code to put coupons into your POS system can help limit your exposure to theft. For added assurance, train your managers to go over to the specific table to hand customers the discounted check themselves, just to make sure the coupon really did come from them and not their server (although this could slow down the table turn, depending on the establishment).
In this instance, a server adds onto a customer’s drink order (either alcoholic, juice, or soda) in the middle of a meal without the customer having actually ordered it. Not only does this raise the customer’s bill (which could boost the server’s tip), but the server enjoys a free drink in the middle of their shift.
This doesn’t directly steal from your bottom line, but if a customer notices the discrepancy, it could mean bad things for your restaurant’s good name. The guest will either think that your staff is absentminded or they will realize your server is scamming customers. Talk about a reputation killer.
Keeping an eye out for customers complaining about check mistakes (like, for instance, though Reward Network’s verified online reviews) can help with this problem, but also consider implementing a rule about staff only drinking water from clear cups during their shift to avoid sneaky behavior like this.
Eating or Taking Food
There are absolutely appropriate times for your employees to eat food from your restaurant. Your line cooks need to taste the food they make throughout the service to ensure it’s improperly seasoned. It’s also common for head chefs to offer a complimentary meal to employees at the end of their shifts or to offer leftover perishable food for staff to take home if they deem it appropriate.
However, if employees are sneaking food out to eat on the fly as they work (or worse, hoarding food in their bags to take home), that is just as much theft as if they took cash right out of the register. And don’t forget the bar! Whether it’s sneaking a shot of whiskey during the shift or giving their friends free drinks, bartenders stealing your alcohol can turn into a serious problem for your inventory and profits.
What Should I Do About It?
Setting up processes to avoid employee theft altogether is crucial. Counting inventory and keeping a strict POS system create barriers for easy theft opportunities.
It’s also important to train your staff from the get-go on what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior in regards to handling food and customers’ bills. Be specific about the rules. Maybe the staff member got away with sneaking food at their old job, but it won’t be tolerated here.
If you do come across clear evidence of theft, confronting a thief among your staff should be done discreetly. Accusations of theft are serious, so it’s important that you have sufficient evidence before pursuing any action whatsoever.
The type of disciplinary action you decide to take depends on the severity of the infraction. But use your discretion, too. Getting caught snagging one make-shift sandwich during their break probably shouldn’t have the same weight of consequences as actively pocketing restaurant cash for months on end.
No matter what choice you make, it needs to be consistent across the board for all employees – if you give one employee a verbal warning and another employee two weeks’ suspension without pay for the same violation, your staff will find out. And treating employees differently from each other, particularly in disciplinary action is not only a morale-killer, but can also lead to legal complications.
On top of that, train your managers to be on the same page as you when it comes to disciplinary actions for theft. Every person who runs a shift should be able to know what to look for and how to handle a situation quickly and tactfully if theft occurs. Be firm, be fair, and follow through with any procedure changes needed to avoid this from happening again.
Want to dig a little deeper? We look at how to prevent theft from customers and vendors, too: