How to Prevent Food Theft at a Restaurant

Restaurant manager trains employee on POS to reduce employee theft.

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Employee theft is something that most restaurant owners encounter at one time or another. No matter how well you think you know your employees there is always a possibility of theft. Employee theft in restaurants takes many forms, including giving away free food and drinks to customers without authorization, stealing customer’s credit card information, and stealing food or alcohol for themselves.

Many employees only steal because they know they can and their chances of getting caught are slim. If employees know you have a system in place to trace theft, then most will respect that and not try to steal.

Track All Sales and Inventory 

As the restaurant owner, it is hard to be everywhere at once, therefore it is important to have a good tracking system for food and beverage sales. Tracking food and drink orders through a POS system, you can cut down on the amount of “freebies” that staff might give out without your knowledge. Once an order is placed and sent to the kitchen or bar, the ticket cannot be changed without the manager or owner's password. Of course, a POS system used for security purposes only works if the kitchen staff and bartender know not to give out orders without a ticket.

Stealing food can be as simple as eating a forbidden piece of dessert while on break or it can be more serious, such as taking cases of food right off the delivery truck. Prevent food theft by closely monitoring orders, usage, and waste. Set up a system where at the end of each shift, inventory is taken and waste should always be written down. If the kitchen staff knows they are accountable for the food inventory, they will be careful to keep track of it. Also, it helps bring accountability that they are cooking the food properly to avoid waste.

Keep All Alcohol Under Lock and Key

Alcohol will vanish like magic if left unattended. So, the best way to keep employees from stealing alcohol is to keep it locked up. Only the restaurant owner, manager, and perhaps bartender should have access to the supply.

Like food, you should keep a running inventory of alcohol, and check your POS system if a certain type of alcohol is consistently running low. If there are no sales to account for the alcohol use, you can assume that employees are helping themselves to it.

Update Your PCI for Handling Customer Credit and Debit Cards

Your payment card industry (PCI) data security standards are the rules that any business, including restaurants, agree to follow if they accept credit cards. PCI standards are administered through banks that handle credit card transactions.

A major liability of using a POS system as a credit card processor is that transactions are via the Internet and could be hacked and your customer's credit card information stolen. It is important to make sure all your computer firewalls and other safety precautions are periodically updated.

Install Security Cameras in Your Restaurant

Security cameras are a clear way of letting the staff know that they are being monitored, even if you aren't there. While this may not be the best way to boost staff morale, if theft is an ongoing problem, cameras may be the quickest and easiest solution. Be sure that any video surveillance is in line with the law in your state and respects employees and customer privacy

Limit Access to Cash Drawers and the Safe

Only the restaurant owner, manager, or head server during their shift should have access to the cash drawer, register, or safe. In some instances, only the owner knows the combination to the safe. The fewer hands that touch the cash, the less chance of it being stolen. 

No one wants to think about employees stealing from them. After all, as the restaurant owner, you hired these people and put your trust in them. Taking proactive steps like monitoring inventory, installing video surveillance, and updating credit card information can help deter any potential theft by employees. And it will help you have peace of mind about your business.