How to spot and combat the dishonest bartender

How to spot and combat the dishonest bartender

by Herman E. Zaddareli

Most bartenders are basically honest. Unfortunately, some are not. Of all the workers in the hospitality industry, the bartender has the best opportunities for stealing.

Consider that the bartender alone is generally responsible for taking a drink order, preparing it, serving it, collecting income, recording it on the register or data machine, and making change. In some operations, especially small ones, he or she is also responsible for ordering products, conducting inventories, and reconciling cash when the shift ends.

A basic principle of sales income control is to reduce the opportunities for theft available to one employee working alone. However, it is very difficult to do so in the case of a bartender, because his or her duties cannot conveniently be divided with another worker. If that could be done, it would make it more difficult for the bartender to steal because collusion between two or more employees is usually required.

Control of bartender theft begins during the job interview. While it’s easy to say “hire honest people,” in practice, it’s hard to do so objectively.

Checking applicant references, utilizing the services of a bonding company, and placing a bartender in a tightly controlled operation are several techniques that are at the beginning of the bartender control strategy.

It is not easy to determine the honesty of a bartender or any other employee in an objective way. Still, many managers pride themselves on being able to select an honest staff. The realization that it is difficult to do so is a good justification for a detailed study of ways to control bartender theft.

A number of standard operating procedures can be utilized for controlling theft of this kind. First, you can use a system to anticipate the amount of income that should be collected. The use of guest checks, electronic data machines, pre-check registers, and so on are examples of ways to provide a “double-check” on the amount of sales income rung on the register. Second, you can closely supervise the bartender when he or she is working. Third, you can use a shopping service, which will help assess the extent to which bartenders comply with required operating procedures. Finally, you can develop detailed procedures for the use of registers and data machines. Bartenders should know that they are not allowed to bunch sales, work out of an open cash drawer, and leave the tip jar close to the register.

One tactic many operators use for controlling bartender theft involves replacing the cash drawer during the work shift itself. The manager rings the machine to assess the amount of sales generated since the beginning of the bartender’s shift. The cash drawer is pulled and replaced with another cash drawer. The money in the cash drawer should be counted.

The sum of all sales rung up plus the beginning cash bank should, of course, equal the amount of cash in the drawer. If there is more cash in the drawer than is expected, the manager has a clue that the bartender has been “no-ringing,” that is he or she has been giving away drinks, depositing money without registering the sale on the machine, or keeping track of the amount of cash that can be withdrawn at the end of the shift or some other convenient time.

The wise manager knows the standard beverage cost and routinely compares the expected costs with the actual costs. If the difference exceeds a pre-established variance, that is an objective indication that “something is wrong.” The theft of sales income — which increase the beverage cost percent — is a common reason for excessive variances.

The beverage manager will do well to ask himself this question: “If I were a dishonest bartender, how would I steal from the operation?”

To the extent that answers to that question can be developed, the manager is aware of potential problems that must be corrected. Unfortunately, though, the street-wise bartender is often aware of many more ways to steal than the manager has any inkling of. At the least, however, the manager must accept the responsibility of making the sales income control system as tight as possible without losing sensitivity to the need for efficiency at the time of guest service.

Some managers use a wide variety of procedures to reduce opportunities for theft. For example, they might mark house bottles to make it more difficult for dishonest bartenders to bring in their own beverage stocks, or they could rotate the shifts of bartenders and beverage servers.

Hiring inexperienced bartenders, who presumably do not know a wide range of theft methods, is a third example. At least one property has fired a dishonest bartender and then rehired him as a special consultant to demonstrate common theft methods that he and his colleagues have used to beat the house. A common denominator in all of these management strategies is the need to make routine comparisons between the potential and actual costs and take corrective action as necessary.

Close supervision has already been noted as a major deterrent to bartender theft. Managers should recognize that there is no automatic correlation between length of employment and the honesty of the staff member. Frequently, long-tenured bartenders are given more freedom than those newly hired and are not required to follow all operating procedures.

It is that kind of situation that enables the dishonest bartender — regardless of length of employment — to steal. Therefore, it is important that tight procedures be developed and implemented and that all employees, regardless of length of service, be required to comply with them.

If you understand that it is extremely difficult to prevent bartender theft, you will recognize the importance of implementing basic, common-sense strategies to reduce the impact of the problem on your bottom line. Likewise, you will take another step in your progress toward reducing bartender theft if you are aware that your employees as well as the people down the street are likely to steal. Once the manager recognizes that he is susceptible to theft and that control procedures must be developed and implemented to combat the problem, he has taken the first step.

A commitment to reducing the chances of bartender theft can be converted into action plans to revise operating procedures as necessary to “tighten” sales income control practices.

In contrast, those who are unaware of the significance of the problem will probably not take any steps to fight it. As a result, the facility’s economic objectives can never be maximized.

by Herman E. Zaddareli 

Michael Zenner – CEO  

hospitality checkpoints Inc.  (blog)
Hospitality Checkpoint PLLC
Lic. 1597616

PO BOX 995 Gilbert AZ 85299
Office: 480-777-7056
Mobile: 602-622-0875
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