If you’re a restaurant or bar owner, then you are probably familiar with the qualities you need to look for in a good bartender. More times than not, great bartenders tend to be extremely intelligent. Unfortunately, many owners have bad experiences with their bartenders stealing from them.
On one hand, it’s great to have such bright people on your staff earning you lots of money, but it’s also a risk in this business. The fact is, there’s a lot of potential for thievery in bartending. And if your bartender is one of the good ones – the bright ones – but is inclined to steal from you, catching them or stopping them from stealing could prove to be incredibly difficult.
That’s one of the biggest give-and-takes when it comes to hiring good bartenders. Realistically, a great bartender could be stealing from you and still be making you a greater profit than an honest but average bartender who isn’t trying to pocket extra cash on the low every night.
So, what’s the right course of action in such a scenario? The right things to do would be to value honesty over profit, simply because you need to set standards for your entire organization. If you are tolerating theft from your top bartenders, what reason would your servers or hosts have not to do the same?
If you are committed to running an honest business despite the short-term profits that might come from turning a blind eye to the theft of an excellent but dishonest bartender, here are some examples of steps you can take to make it difficult for your bartenders to steal from you.
Own Your Inventory Process
The more relaxed your inventory process is, the easier it is to abuse it. First of all, taking inventory should be a process in which the bartenders are not involved – it should be left up to the management to record this data and keep accurate records of how much liquor is being served compared to how much money is being made.
By cutting the bartenders out of this process entirely, you are quickly putting an end to the possibility of cheating bartenders altering the numbers to cover the money they’ve taken.
Basically, the best way to prevent bartenders from messing with the inventory data is to make it impossible for them to do so. If you are trusting them to take care of this aspect of the job for you, you’re practically setting yourself up to be ripped off. Take responsibility and either manage the inventory counts yourself or let a trusted colleague that isn’t a bartender do it.
Monitor End-of-Shift Cashouts
Once again, the name of the game here is simply not providing bartenders with the opportunity to steal, or at least making it much harder for them to do so. Most bars run the same way when it comes to closing down for the night. Cash from the register is used to create an opening bank for the next shift and the rest goes to a deposit slip. The exact process might vary from one establishment to the other, but it’s basically the same principle wherever you go.
The sneakiest of bartenders will stash away the money they have been skimming throughout the night in one area of the cash register and then take that money out and pocket it when closing down the shift.
Of course, the best way to stop this from happening is to have someone else do this. It might be a hassle to have someone who is not a bartender close down the shift, especially if it’s a late night one, but if you want to gain full control of the process, it’s best to do it yourself.
Technically, bartenders will still be able to steal if they intend to do so. The difference is that they would have to try and remove the stolen funds during the shift, which while not impossible, is a much more risky proposition than simply being able to pull the money out with no one around at the end of the night.
If you can’t make it impossible for them steal, at least try and make it extremely difficult for them to do so successfully.
Create Strict Tip Jar Rules
Here’s another rule of thumb to follow – keep the tip jar as far away from the register as possible. The closer it is to the register, the easier it is to take funds from the register and divert them into the tip jar. The tip jar should be in plain sight and it should be easy for customers to put money into it and very difficult for bartenders to put money into it without being seen.
You need to set strict rules regarding the tip jar. In a best-case scenario, you should be able to lock it and make sure that no one can open the jar besides managers, who would then distribute the tips evenly at the end of the shift.
Many bartenders use the tip jar for change and to break bigger bills. Put an end to that practice as well. Keep a box or drawer with smaller bills and change next to the register and keep the tip jar shut until the end of the shift.
Modify Procedures for Giving Change
One of the oldest tricks in the book when it comes to theft behind the bar is the old “no sale” trick. The “no sale” feature is used to open the register without registering a sale, usually to make a change. However, it is also one of the easiest ways that a bartender can steal from you.
Unless you have someone watching the register’s screen all day, you can’t really be sure how many times a night the bartender is using the “no sale” feature. The bartender can charge a customer for a drink, press the “no sale” button – which means the sale isn’t being rung into the register – and then just stash away the money.
Obviously, the best thing that you can do is disable the “no sale” button. In that case, you’re going to have to provide an alternative method for your bartenders to make a change, just like in the case of locking up your tip jar and making it off limits for that purpose.
If you are restricting some aspects of the job, you are going to have to make the effort to make sure that it does not affect their work in any way and that they have no qualms with the restrictions. If you’re providing bartenders with a container or drawer where they have enough money at all times to make change, then they really have no legitimate reason to use the tip jar or “no sale” option to do so.
Enforce “One Strike” Policy
Don’t give second chances. If you catch someone stealing, that’s it – they’re fired. It’s important that you are setting an example for the rest of your employees and sending a very clear and loud message that stealing of any kind will not be tolerated.
Stealing is a serious offense and technically, you could even press criminal charges against an employee who has been caught in the act. That might be a bit too much though. The best thing to do is to react swiftly and show them the door immediately.
Many managers at bars and restaurants might be prone to give their bartenders a warning before firing them, especially if the bartender is really good and makes them a lot of money. Letting go of a rockstar bartender might be incredibly hard to do, but if they are stealing, it’s the right thing to do.
No matter what you do, there’s probably no way to stop bartenders from stealing entirely. It’s simply part of the job. Bartending is a very tumultuous job, it takes a quick wit and tireless body and mind. It’s also a type of position that managers simply can’t monitor around the clock. Like it or not, there’s going to be a lot of moments when bartenders are working without direct supervision.
And remember, bartenders are not just stealing from you, they are probably stealing from customers as well. Why? Are they bad people?
No. Because they can, and because it’s just a part of the profession, and it has been forever. Stealing money is fairly easy to do. It’s also hard to detect by managers and almost just as hard to prevent. But that doesn’t mean that you should just surrender and throw up the white flag. Putting some of these above-mentioned concepts into effect can definitely decrease the chances of your bartending staff robbing you blind night in and night out.