Preventing Bar Staff Theft

Theft means stealing, pure and simple. If a dishwasher pockets silverware from the restaurant, that's theft. If a bartender gives a drink away to a customer without ringing it up, that's theft. If a prep cook loads a couple of steaks into a cooler in his car while he's stocking the cooler, that's theft. You can't possibly be everywhere at once, so it's good to have systems in place to help deter the problem.

The most important step you can take to prevent theft is to hire smart. ("Hire smart, fire seldom" is a good hiring policy.) Check out potential employees' references. You asked for them, now call them.

Here are other suggestions to keep your staff from stealing from you:

  • Use a ticket system. For every food item and drink, the server must give a ticket (a piece of paper with the order and the table/check number on it, also called a dupe in bar lingo) to the employee preparing the order. Nothing leaves the kitchen or the bar without a dupe or order slip — nothing!
  • Make sure that every customer gets a check, including you. Everyone sitting at the bar should have a check in front of them. Don't place the check behind the bar. Write the customer's name on the back of the check. And if you buy someone a drink, ring it up. Everything has to be rung on the register, even if you comp it later.
  • All employees should leave and enter by the same door, and all coats and bags should be left in an employee area with a closed door with a camera installed outside or near the door.The employees must have a place to keep their purses, valuables, and coats. A dishonest person will steal from anyone, even her co-workers. If people question your motives, tell them that you're stopping people from stealing from you and them.
  • Never let a bartender work with an open register (a register that you simply push a button to open). The register should open only to close out a sale. Everything has to be rung on the register. If you use an open register for some reason, watch out for too many "No Sales" on the register tape. A "No Sale" is a sign that the bartender opened the register drawer without ringing something in. The register should only be opened to settle a bill. Install a change maker to keep the bartender from having to make change from the register.
  • Don't let a bartender count the money at night. Instead, have him bring it to the office with a time of closing, the dupes, and any slips documenting any money taken out and with the specific reason it was done. (For example, if the bartender has ten $100 bills in the drawer in the middle of a shift, you may decide to pull that money out and move it to the safe in the back for safe keeping. If you do that, you need to replace the money with a note saying who's taking the money and why. Only a select few people should ever have reason or authorization to do this.)
  • Keep a daily diary behind the bar. It should list the time your bar opened, the time it closed, and any other facts that are important for each shift. Managers and supervisors complete the log, and should keep log entries factual and professional. This tool will be extremely valuable when you have to reconstruct events for any reason. These documents can be subpoenaed and read in court, so make sure they accurately represent your business.
  • Watch or have your manager watch employees leaving at night. You don't have to pat them down or make them declare their 3 ounces of liquids, but make sure they are not leaving with the store.
  • Do not place tip cups next to the register. Have a big tip cup, placed behind the bar, at least 6 feet from the register.
  • Put locks on doors. This suggestion sounds simple, but if you want to keep people out of something, lock it up. You can lock up coolers, storerooms, offices, bar wells, liquor cabinets, and just about anything else. If people want to steal, they'll figure out a way, but locks are your first line of defense.
  • Give keys to as few people as possible. The fewer people with keys, the easier it will be to find out what's going wrong. And in this case, keys are a deterrent to the few people who do have keys — they know that it's usually not hard to figure out what happened.
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