The restaurant business is a wonderful industry. It’s full of opportunities, new techniques that need to be learned, close-quarter contact with fascinating members of the public and often results in the best friendships one could hope for.

Unfortunately, and like any sector, the restaurant trade also has its fair share of problems. Most notably, the rather unpalatable thought of staff stealing from the business for which they work can be found buried at the back of even the most trusting of restaurateur’s minds.

This is a horrible subject to get into, but we’re going to do just that. Understanding how to spot the telltale signs of stealing from within is a key skill every restaurateur needs to obtain, no matter how bad they feel about doing so.

It’s therefore time to drop your guard on one of the most contentious hospitality topics and consider four ways your staff might be stealing from the restaurant.

1. Suspicious voids

Anyone who possesses the ability to void cash transactions on a poorly-configured POS system (see ‘final thoughts’) has the ability to game the system.

By ensuring the books still balance while simultaneously voiding cash transactions that occurred earlier in the shift, staff can relatively easily pocket the money for themselves. Often known as ‘skimming’, this is one of the oldest tricks in the book.

However, suspicious voids should be easy to spot, therefore if you’re ever confused about a large number administered by a particular member of staff, it’s time to have a chat with the person in question.

2. ‘Complimentary’ grub and drinks

A bottle of beer post-shift here, a few frozen filet mignons there… who’s to know if someone is helping themselves to the stock on an irregular basis?

If you’re conducting proper stock takes and leaning on modern software to do so, variances in the reporting may well point to this kind of behaviour. Tracking it down isn’t easy, but, again, with the right systems and controls in place, you should be able to narrow down the shifts during which stock appears to be going walkies.

3. Poor reports

If your bar manager is forever bemoaning the POS system and hands you each month a spreadsheet of sales that is deemed ‘inaccurate, but the best that can be obtained’, don’t take it as read that there isn’t anything else at play.

Modern POS systems should absolutely be able to give you the reports you desire, and if you’re not getting them, dig deeper into the root cause to see if it is either A) a lack of system knowledge, or B) something more concerning.

4. Fake walk-outs

Perhaps one of the most alarming methods of stealing from one’s restaurant employer is to stage phoney walk-outs on behalf of diners.

The process is relatively simple; the guests pay their bill and toddle off happy with the service, but the server claims they instead did a runner, thus enabling them to pocket the takings themselves.

In modern society, it’s fair to assume that this practice is becoming less commonplace due to the fact that diners are increasingly turning to digital forms of payment, but if a walk-out is reported, it always pays to investigate a little further to see if there is any evidence on the POS system that it was genuine. For example, was part of the bill settled via card? Did the diner subsequently leave a nice review on TripAdvisor?

Final thoughts

Having the above knowledge in your back pocket will almost certainly come in useful one day, but to ensure such instances are only encountered once in a blue moon, make sure you have the right controls and – most importantly – POS system in place to cut off any potential loop holes for malicious behaviour at source.

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