How to Keep a Bartender Honest

Even after twenty years in the business, it sometimes still shocks me how blatant employee theft can be.

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Bars are the biggest culprit. When things get busy on a Saturday night, it doesn’t take long for destructive habits to appear.  Drinks don’t get rung up right away, or they are given away.

While some managers may dismiss this behavior as simply sloppy (and gifted drinks are chalked up to an attempt at customer satisfaction), it can add up to tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars per property… dollars that just disappear from your bottom line.

One of our agents just told me about a recent bar survey where he observed the most popular bartender just putting all the money in a pile on the back bar. We showed a picture of this behavior to the CEO of the company, who was shocked. The bartender in question had been with the company for twenty years. How long had this been happening?

Equally important is this question: What was the general manager doing about it?

It can be difficult to look in the mirror and see who is to blame, but we must recognize the truth. If your employees are stealing, it’s because you created an atmosphere that will let them steal. If employee theft is as blatant as the example I mentioned, it is because you let them get away with it.

Is Your GM Choosing to Ignore What Is Right Under Their Nose?

The general manager of your bar is your eyes on the ground. They must be held accountable for the performance of their employees, which includes the implementation of ways to reduce employee theft.

Some GMs hesitate to act on employee theft issues. Maybe they don’t want to believe it. Perhaps they are more focused on the performance of the restaurant and neglect the bar. Sometimes they just aren’t paying attention. Many GMs were trained on the restaurant side of the business. They simply lack the direct bar industry experience that allows them to realize all of what takes place at the bar.

Regardless of their reasons, the success of your business depends on how successfully your general managers are able to implement the processes which matter to your business.

5 Steps Your Bar’s GM Should Take to Reduce Employee Theft

To successfully keep employee theft at bay, the GM must be alert to the behavior of team members behind the bar. These techniques can help to keep your bartenders honest without breaking the bank.

#1. Every night, make sure your bartenders consistently place updated receipts in front of customers.  These receipts should be placed in a glass with the receipt sticking up, making it easy for a manager to quickly scan the bar and see that each customer has a glass with a receipt in front of them.

This should be done immediately after placing the drink in front of the customer – otherwise, the bartender is likely to get distracted. When drinks go unrecorded, you lose money.

#2. Periodically conduct register drawer checks and run audits on tips. Are the employee’s tips proportional to the amount of money they are ringing up? Disproportionately large tips can be a sign of gifted drinks or cash drawer skimming.

#3. When possible, install a camera system. Even when you do not monitor a camera system consistently, it can be a helpful ally when you need to fact-check an employee claim. Some bars have even found a camera to be a useful deterrent to employee theft when they don’t set it up – just the threat of being recorded is enough to encourage better behaviors. 

However, be aware that this only last for a short while. Employees will quickly realize that either the camera is not working or that no one is watching it.  If you do have cameras installed, it is a good procedure to schedule time once a month for a manager to look at an hour’s worth of video and have him share what he saw, good and bad. Use this as an opportunity to pat the employees on the back for a job well done. Showing them the video will let them know that these cameras are being monitored. Half of theft deterrent is creating a sense that security systems are being closely monitored.

#4. Every week, check your POS reports and data from the bar. If a guest check is held open over a very long period of time, does the amount of sales seem too low? Some drinks may be going unrecorded.

#5. Every month, arrange for random visits by mystery shoppers. Your GM should be checking on the bar regularly to ensure employee integrity, but they cannot be everywhere at once. A monthly mystery shopping program can be a cost-effective way to monitor your team members’ behavior when they think no one is watching.

#6. Keep an eye on gift cards and coupons. One of the biggest areas of employee theft is the use of gift cards and coupons as a replacement for cash-paying customers who are pay the full price as employees pocket the difference. If you are seeing an unusual amount of gift cards and coupons being rung up by one employee, it could be a giveaway that they have come across a method that is costing you revenue.

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Dealing with employee theft is a part of business. It usually can’t be eliminated entirely. However, the bars and restaurants that succeed are the ones which fight back against employee theft. When you make the effort to draw a line in the sand, your bottom line will reap the benefits.

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