Who’s Stealing in Your Restaurant?

Stealing is a common problem that occurs in every restaurant. According to the National Restaurant Association, employee theft averages close to $220 per person each year. On a larger scale, if your restaurant employs 40 employees, then that is a total lost of $8800 per year.

Coupons and promotions

About eight months ago, we had introduced a customer promotion whereby customers could randomly win a complimentary food item (i.e. muffin, coffee, bread loaf) or receive a “buy one get the second one free” deal. The coupon was generated at the Point-of-Sale (POS) in which the customer’s receipt would print the winning prize. In order to redeem the coupon, customers were asked to keep the receipt for their next purchase. The goal of the promotion was to generate more traffic to the restaurant as well as to increase repeat customers. Sounded like a good idea at first until we noticed a period in which coupons were not being redeemed. There were only one of three possibilities; 1) customers were not returning or 2) a malfunction in the programming within the POS software or 3) employees were stealing.

Our management team had guessed it right. We knew the majority of our customers were regulars and most of them redeemed the coupons prior to the expiry date. We also had our tech people at head office to verify the system was running. We soon realized, what we failed to do was enforcing proper procedures and policies to prevent our staff from collecting the coupons for themselves and for friends. We monitored the cashiers over a week and noticed some of our cashiers were retaining receipts in instances where the customer did not wish to keep it. We also suspected that some of the customers were not informed of our promotion. We continued to monitor the situation and noticed one cashier in particular was regularly distributing winning receipts to friends who took food and drinks without purchasing any additional item. We quickly placed a stop to this.

What did we do? We enforced rules whereby a customer’s coupon could only be redeemed with a purchase of a product. The coupon’s code had to be inputted into the system which would note the item given away. All redeemed coupons were to be written “void” on the coupon itself. Finally, the number of coupons used had to match with the number of coupons that appeared on the cashier’s end of shift report. Anyone staff that was caught collecting receipts and distributing coupons to their friends would face harsh consequences.

Where’s the Beef?

We never thought much about food theft only because it has never occurred over the last 14 years of operation. If there was food stolen, then we never caught it or it was in such small quantities that it never really made an impact. If there was any theft at all, it was often associated with cash. We trusted our staff and at times perhaps a bit too much. In general, our employees were trustworthy and hard working individuals. However, there was always a few that broke the rules. Over the last year, we noticed food missing from our inventory. Station supervisors would start the day only to notice blocks of cheese and deli meat were nowhere to be found. Unlike other restaurants where the kitchen is separate from the dining area, our restaurant was fully open concept design. So it was difficult to imagine how food was ever taken from the restaurant especially the items being stolen. We seemed like the lucky ones compared to our other locations. Shocking to hear the news, our downtown location reported two full cases of Striploin steaks missing, a total of 72 pieces. Truly hard to believe anyone would be that desperate to steal food. Something had to be done immediately.

What did we do? As much as we trusted our staff, we installed security cameras above various stations around the restaurant including all storage areas. The corporate office concluded that placing pad locks on fridge and freezer units containing high priced items such as seafood and steak was necessary. We also ensured that only managers had access at all times to the storage areas. In addition, we turned a problem into an incentive for our staff. Anyone wishing to purchase a full block of cheese, deli meat or any other expensive item could receive it at cost directly from the supplier. Fortunately, the stealing stopped.

Stopping Theft

There are few or virtually zero restaurants that have not experienced some sort of employee theft. In a business that carries high valued products such as food, alcohol and cash, opportunities and temptations will lead employees to steal. Preventing employee theft means implementing controls to protect your assets and your business.

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3 Responses to “Who’s Stealing in Your Restaurant?”

  1. Sherxr Says:

    My restaurants suffered the same fate too. So what the restaurant manager did is to conduct humiliating bag checks on all the kitchen porters. All right.. I think he went overboard! Seriously..

  2. Shari Thomas Says:

    Many years ago, I instituted a “rewards” program in a lounge that served bottled beer. There had been considerable theft, so I simply required that bottle caps be saved and the total number needed to match up with the register tally.

    Additionally, to encourage more sales, I created a graduated scale that would let the servers earn more on greater quantities RETRO to the first beer served that week.

    Everyone benefited. Service improved, theft went to nearly zero, and we made more money.

  3. Isadora Says:

    Employees tips are missing…while the management is there in Denny’s Valencia. Hummmmm

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