Fighting Food Felonies: How to Catch and Avoid Employee Theft in Restaurants

‘Waiter found guilty of stealing from the cash registers.’

‘Restaurant server arrested for misusing customers’ credit card information.’

‘Deli employee charged for voiding the sales receipts and pocketing the cash instead.’

And so on.

Stealing is a common dilemma in the food industry. Therefore, if you are a restaurant owner or are planning to open an eatery soon, it is essential to learn how to catch and avoid employee theft in restaurants.

According to the United States Chamber of Commerce, 75% of employees steal from their employer at least once. A study conducted by the University of Florida reveals that 43% of any company’s annual loss is solely due to employee theft – and this includes restaurants as well.

So, how can you avoid employee theft? And who can steal from your restaurant in the first place? Is there a way to identify and catch the thief if you notice that there’s food or cash missing from the restaurant?

Let’s take an in-depth look at the subject to help you find all the answers you need.


Employee Theft in Restaurants – Who Can Steal?

In restaurants, theft can (and does) occur at all levels of the business. The people who can steal from these workplaces include the servers, wait staff, bartenders, receptionists, and of course, the cashiers themselves. In addition to these, back-office employees such as chefs, cleaning staff, and even the manager for that matter are known to steal from restaurants too.

While vendors don’t come under the category of employees, they may try to defraud you as well. You have been warned!

What Do They Steal?

Employee theft in the restaurant industry has many different ‘FACES.’ This includes:

  • Food – raw meat, fruits, and vegetables, spices, canned or packaged food items, as well as meals prepared for customers
  • Alcohol – serving drinks to customers free of cost or taking a few shots themselves
  • Cash – stolen directly from the register, through receipt manipulation, or via customers’ credit card misuse
  • Equipment – a knife, frying pan, or the likes can easily go missing and not be noticed for days
  • Supplies – linens and table napkins are available for a dime a dozen, yet it still doesn’t stop employees from sneaking away a few for their personal use

Why Do Employees Steal From Their Employers?

When it comes to restaurant theft, most employees steal because they ‘know’ they can. They are safe in the knowledge that they can easily sneak stuff into their pockets and get away with it without the slightest chance of being caught.

Some employees tend to believe that what they are doing does not really pass as an act of stealing in the first place. After all, giving away free food or drinks to customers is only going to benefit the business in the long run, isn’t it? And grabbing a glass of wine or a light snack for themselves at the end of a busy working day is no big deal, right?

Plus, aren’t they allowed to munch on a few food items as they go about preparing and serving the meals to customers one after the other?

However, sometimes there might be more grave reasons why employees steal from their employers. For instance, if your staff member feels that they have been wronged in any way during their term of service so far, or believes that they are underpaid, they might be motivated to steal from the restaurant as a means of compensating for their loss.

In some cases, employees steal because the employer is insured against certain losses.

Whatever the main intent behind the theft might be, the underlying factor that encourages employees to follow through on their plan is usually the absence of counteractive measures. When the chances of getting caught are slim, and there are no consequences set in place by the employer, any employee can be tempted to steal from the restaurant.

How Do You Catch Employee Theft?

Now that you know the basic aspects of how and why your restaurant staff might steal from you let’s discuss the preventative measures to tackle the issue and save your business from any significant losses.

Here are the top tips on how to catch and avoid employee theft in restaurants.

Install Security Cameras

This should be a no-brainer.

Installing an indoor as well as an outdoor security camera system is a foolproof way to avoid theft in any place. It lets your employees know upfront that they are being watched at all times, and therefore significantly reduces the theft rate (i.e., if not completely eliminate it altogether).

Just make sure that you carefully study the customer and employee privacy laws in your state so that you don’t end up violating them inadvertently by installing a business security camera.

Do Frequent Inventory Checks

If you suspect that your employees are stealing food supplies from the restaurant, increase the number of times you check your inventory during a given time period.

Compare stock to sales. If the sales volume is lower than the number of supplies that have been used up from the inventory, you can be sure that the surplus went where it shouldn’t have.

There’s a chance that the difference in figures might be a result of food wastage and poor serving techniques. But that’s harming your business nonetheless. Talk to the staff to identify the person responsible for the loss.

Watch Out for Grazers

Grazing is a common problem among employees at a restaurant. As we mentioned earlier, most of them think it’s of no significant value. But habitual grazing by multiple employees can pile up the costs for the business.

Look out for staff members who are constantly munching on something or the other and don’t think twice before devouring any food that is sent back to the kitchen.

How Do You Stop Employees From Stealing Money?

The best way to stop employees from stealing money from your restaurant is to make it hard to access. Limit the number of people who have access to the cash drawer. Ideally, only the manager or head server of the restaurant should be able to access the cash register.

We are living in the age of digitalization, so make sure to leverage modern-day technology for your business’s success. If you still follow old-school techniques for collecting and managing payments, it’s high time that you switch over.

Install a reliable POS system and know how to utilize its features to your advantage. An advanced POS system will enable you to steer clear of employees stealing cash and prevent them from exploiting customer credit card information and sales receipts.

However, keep in mind that a POS system processes credit card information over the internet. So, if you suspect there might be any computer geeks in your staff who can hack into the system, you need to take extra measures. Regularly update your computer firewalls and get in touch with your service provider if you notice any unusual activity like incorrect or missing entries.

End Note

Given the fact that over 90% of all restaurant owners fall victim to employee theft at some point or another, it’s important to keep a vigilant eye and take the required actions to prevent internal fraud. Hopefully, these tips on how to catch and avoid employee theft in the restaurants will help you stay one step ahead and prevent workers from stealing food and money from the place.


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