To Catch a Thief: A Bartender’s Advice

Employee theft is far too common, and often difficult to detect. In fact, with employee theft racking up $15.5 billion per year in losses annually for owners, loss prevention should be a top priority. SpeedLine installation and training specialist Chris Clark’s hands-on experience as a bartender gave him an insider view of some of the tricks restaurant staff use to steal.

Restaurant staff can be clever—as Chris has seen firsthand. As lead bartender at a Mexican restaurant, Chris saw a lot of employees using creative methods to skim a little off the top. And without a point of sale system in place, catching them was difficult.

Chris notes these signs to look for:


1. The till is consistently over or under.

This one seems like a given, but you have no doubt experienced how clever employees can be with excuses. Review your POS reports daily. A pattern of shortages may mean an employee is stealing directly from the drawer. Keep in mind that a cash overage could actually be an oversight by a thief: money put into the till without ringing up a sale and then subsequently forgotten or miscalculated when skimming.


2. Food costs have gone up.

If your costs suddenly go up, your POS reporting tools—particularly inventory usage reports—can provide detailed records that may point to a specific event such as a new hire or an employee arriving on shift. Restaurant employees may be providing free food or drinks with the expectations of a bigger tip, in turn significantly affecting your bottom line. Do random till and tip checks to keep them honest, and raise a mental red flag if an employee’s tips are regularly over average.


3. Bartenders are keeping a tally.

Ever notice paperclips, toothpicks or straws lying on the bar? Your bartender may be keeping tally of how many drinks he’s served a specific customer, rather than punching them into the POS. From there, staff may charge for the full amount served, but only ring up a percentage of the drinks. Pocketing the difference is an easy way to earn a little extra without anything showing up in your sales reports. The difference, of course, will show up in your inventory usage tracking—but watching for signs like this can help you pinpoint where the over-pouring/under-charging is happening.

As a seasoned vet, Chris has seen it all. And as a SpeedLine trainer, he’s well-equipped to demonstrate exactly how the point of sale system makes identifying and proving theft much easier.

Speedy-Tip-car  Speedy Tip: Watch the Security Auditing With Reports video series to see how to spot fraudulent activity.


What should you do when you find you have a thief on staff?

Do you pursue criminal action in the hope of getting your money back, or is it easier simply to dismiss the employee you suspect of fraud with no further action?

No matter which course you take, be diligent in documenting your actions, and carefully document the evidence. If you choose to go to court, you will be called upon to prove your allegations. And many restaurant operators have been saddled with costly lawsuits or unemployment claims after firing an employee for theft. A clear train of evidence can make the difference—so keep statements from witnesses, security camera recordings, written messages to your employees, POS reports, and disciplinary warnings.

Modern point of sale systems can help you track and pinpoint theft early—and help you avoid losses. Are you keeping watch?


POS Locks & Cameras


Posted on Sun, Sep 22, 2013 @ 14:09 PM.
Updated on August 24, 2020 @ 6:24 PM PST.

Tags: Loss Prevention, Restaurant Management, Restaurant Payment Security

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