How to Prevent Employee Theft


Without substantial evidence, there is no reason to believe that your employees are thieves. However, it is an unfortunate truth that some restaurant employees do steal from their places of work. The National Restaurant Association estimates that employee theft accounts for about 75 percent of a restaurant’s inventory losses, equal to a loss of over three percent of annual sales. Everyone has the capacity to steal, and some restaurant employees may make a poor decision.

Restaurant employees have been known to steal the following:

  • Cash
  • Food
  • Alcohol
  • Supplies
  • Equipment
  • Retail items

How to Prevent Thievery

Make sure you are hiring honest people. Do your best to bring ethical and truthful people onboard your restaurant staff, and be aware of cash stores, inventory, staff behaviors and restaurant security at all times.

Monitor employee access. Managers should always know which employees have keys to the restaurant, codes to the safe or access to cash drawers. Keys or codes are important responsibilities. These people should be held accountable for these responsibilities should an incident occur.

Define procedures for cash handling. Cash handling practices apply to any employee who accepts cash from a customer, works a cash register, deposits or retrieves money from the safe or counts money to make a bank deposit. Be sure that there are cash-handling procedures for all areas of the restaurant. It also helps to have a manager or shift manager witness employees depositing money in the safe, or making change for a cash drawer.

Learn More About Balancing a Cash Register

Be present with the team. The more the manager or owner is present in the restaurant and involved in the operating procedures, the less likely it is that an internal incident of theft will occur.

Keep tabs on product inventory. Managers should be in control of monitoring and tracking inventory information every day. Keeping a consistent and accurate record of food, beverages and other supplies increases the chances that any incidents will be identified immediately.

Offer employee meals. Although the restaurant may incur slight costs for giving food to employees, having a benefit like this in place allows them to eat at the restaurant for free, or for a discounted price. When managers are more generous and liberal with benefits like this, employees are less likely to steal.

Learn More About Managing Employee Meals

Install proper security systems. Many restaurants have security systems in place both for internal and external causes of theft or vandalism. For instance, managers might create several codes to the safe to make it more difficult for anyone without a code to access the cash. A manager may also install security cameras inside the restaurant as an extra measure to monitor any inappropriate behavior.

Learn More About Restaurant Security

Identify Potential Theft Issues

Identifying signs of internal theft is the first step to an environment if safety and trust. Although theft may still occur, learning to identify potential problems may help stop the theft before it happens. Look out for the following behavior in your restaurant employees:

Strange personal behaviors while at work. If employees begin acting secretively or start acting defensive, it may be worthwhile to monitor their behavior a little more closely.

Giving discounts or giving food away. Restaurant employees will sometimes opt to give hefty discounts and free food to friends. When this happens consistently and irresponsibly, it negates the profit and devalues the products restaurants are selling, essentially taking money from the company.

Looking for better tips. Some employees, bartenders specifically, might give free food or drinks to guests in order to make a higher tip for themselves. This may seem like good service technique, but it reduces restaurant inventory without making up for it in sales.

Making personal employee meals. Some restaurants allow employees to ring up and make their own employee meals during a break or after a shift. This can get out of hand easily. To safeguard your restaurant from losing too much inventory to hungry employees, make it a policy that employees should always have someone else make their meals and ring in their orders. Limit this benefit to once per shift

Disappearing inventory. Managers who keep an eye on their inventory will notice if an item or several items go missing. Usually this means that the items are being stolen, eaten or given away, all of which lose money for the business.

Cash tills consistently over or under. At the end of a shift when cash register tills are counted and money is deposited into the safe, the transaction receipts or Point of Sale (POS) recording system will read the amount of cash that was made in sales. If the amount in the drawer does not match precisely, there may be a problem with the cashier’s cash-handling procedures, which may point to theft.

Restaurant Burglary

Criminal activity is another cause of theft in the restaurant. Burglars can attack just about anyone at any time. This should be another concern for restaurant owners and operators. Precautions against burglary and policies for circumstances of outside theft should be in place at every restaurant.

Install more lighting. Installing extra lighting in parking lots and around the restaurant will help safeguard the area, increasing visibility and making it less susceptible to crime. Motion sensor lights will help save energy.

Install surveillance cameras. Installing cameras outside as well as inside your building can help ward off potential criminals as well as record the scene if an incident does occur.

Involve and empower employees. When you offer your employees a chance to help and take responsibility for the restaurant, chances are they will feel empowered to do so. Employees can help keep your restaurant safe by keeping an eye out for strange behavior or mysterious characters hanging around the restaurant.


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