8 Ways Your Staff is Stealing From Your Restaurant Right Now

By: Kendal Austin

7 Minute Read

Jun 14, 2018

employee theft in restaurants

Is your restaurant staff stealing from you right under your nose?

It's tough to deal with the reality of employee theft, but it is a reality. As shocking as it sounds, 75% of employees have admitted to stealing at least once from their employer.

In the restaurant industry alone, employee theft totals between $3 and $6 billion dollars annually.

We talk a lot about digital security, the importance of keeping our data safe, and how to protect systems from ever-elusive hackers and viruses. The sad truth, however, is that cyber attacks are not the only malicious force capable of sabotaging your business. Employee theft is rampant in the workplace. Even if you put all your efforts into hiring reputable and responsible people, you’re bound to encounter a few folks who think they’re entitled to a five-finger discount.

Opportunities for theft will depend on the operations and setup of your restaurant, but if you think like a thief, you're more likely to recognize and prevent possible loopholes.

Here are a few sneaky ways that your staff could be stealing from you right now.

1) Self-Imposed Breaks

Everyone's on their phones these days, but this shouldn't be the case in your restaurant. If you have a lax cell phone policy, it shouldn't be unexpected when your chefs or servers take a quick peek at their phone during their shift. These impromptu breaks interrupt the flow of your restaurant, which can damage efficiency. Less efficiency = less profit.

In FSRs, staff who take mini breaks without permission make the table turn times last longer, which limits efficiency and how much you'll make that night. In QSRs, there's always something to do. Pizza boxes need to be folded, kitchen ingredients have to be refilled, counters need to be cleaned, etc. When these tasks get overlooked for a break or a cell phone check, your staff will quickly be overwhelmed during a busy shift with all the work they didn't get to when they were supposed to. This too hinders efficiency, and a lack of organization can be a big turnoff for customers when their wait time is minutes longer than they're used to at a competing restaurant.


Prevention for this issue is twofold.

First, set a cell phone policy and make sure it is enforced. Have a cell phone desk/box in the back where employees need to deposit theirs at the beginning of the shift and can only check it during set breaks. Dole out warnings to those who violate the rule and appropriately reprimand repeat offenders.

Second, make sure you have a set break policy and that employees know what it is. Breaks are crucial in this industry - your servers and chefs are under a lot of pressure to get everything done perfectly! Be generous but clear with your break policy and they will in turn deliver their best work.

2) The Short Ring

restaurant employee theft

Here’s the scenario: On a busy night at the bar, a customer orders an $11 Grey Goose martini and pays for it in cash. The bartender takes the money for the top-shelf cocktail and puts it in the cash register, but rings it into the point of sale as a $6 well vodka drink. The customer was charged the appropriate amount, so she doesn’t know the difference.

At the end of the night, the bartender pockets the difference between the cash drawer total and what the POS expects it to be. As the business owner, you’ll notice when Grey Goose is flying off the shelves and the sales don’t reflect the inventory, but by then it’s probably too late.

This is a common occurrence in bars and nightclubs, but it's also possible in a quick-serve environment where cash transactions are being rung into the system near a cash drawer.


The best preventative measure for short ringing is to implement a blind closeout process. Blind closeout requires employees to reconcile cash at the end of their shift without notifying them of the exact amount they are expected to return. They have to count the cash and report the total to the POS solution without knowing what it’s “supposed” to be.

If the bartender has been short ringing all night, it’d be nearly impossible for her to keep a running total in her head of what the computer thinks the sales should be at the end of the night. If she's able to remember the difference between the actual and the short rung total after hundreds of transactions, hire her as your accountant instead.

3) "Free" Food & Drink

For some people, a freezer full of filet mignon and decadent pre-made desserts is too much to resist. Even the “complimentary” bread at the server station can add up if your staff is snacking on it every day.

Of course, alcohol is also a huge factor in inventory theft. In addition to drinking it or taking bottles for themselves, bartenders can throw in a drink (or four) on the house for their friends and favorite customers in an effort to increase tips. But it can get much worse than this.

Former President of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association Peter Christie once told me one of his employees hid in the back of his restaurant until closing so he could invite his friends in for secret parties enlivened by liquor that Christie's restaurant unwillingly donated.


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8) Unreported Mistakes

Hey, nobody's perfect. It's a fact that most if not all of your restaurant staff will make a mistake at some point. Your servers and cashiers will press the wrong button on the POS, meaning your guest gets fries when they specifically asked for onion rings. Your chef may put mayo on a sandwich out of habit despite the slip clearly saying "No Mayo," and when she realizes this, she has to throw the bread out and start all over. If you don't know it already, these situations are going to happen in your restaurant. The good thing, however, is that this is rarely intentional employee theft, which makes it easier to remedy.


Tired of losing restaurant profit from mistakes? Well, it's tough to totally prevent mistakes in your restaurant - but you can work to prevent problems or misunderstandings after mistakes occur.

Most of the time, staff won't record spillage or mistakes either because they're embarassed or don't want to make a big deal out of it. Reassure your staff that accidents do happen, and while they aren't the best case scenario, you'd rather hear about it from them so you can rectify inventory reports and make proper arrangements with your suppliers if more food is needed. If these mistakes are becomming too common, try putting new systems in place to prevent them.

Stopping Restaurant Employee Theft

No matter what you do to arm your business against theft, there will always be ways that your staff can steal from the restaurant. So it's also important to recognize the roots of your staff’s impulse to steal.

If you can create a fulfilling work environment where employees feel a sense of ownership in their work, you’ll decrease their desire to “stick it to the man.” They’ll be far less likely to behave recklessly if they are happy and feel fulfilled at work. Look closely at your restaurant's payroll to ensure that wages match the duties expected.

Consider treating your staff to a gourmet meal or offering a desirable discount for their friends and family (with limits, of course). Understanding the ways your employees can steal from you while also working to make your staff feel valued creates a strong wall of defense.

And if you really want the best restaurant staff ever...

Download Toast's Restaurant Staffing and Hiring Guide below and start hiring, managing, and leading the perfect restaurant team!

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