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Should restaurants charge staff for mistakes?

bartender bar

Question:

If you have a policy that requires staff to get a credit card from the customer to run a tab, but the employee fails to do so and runs a tab without a credit card, can the manager hold that employee liable to pay the loss if the customer leaves without paying their tab?

– Charlotte, Manager, Bar/Restaurant, Smithville, Mo.

Answer:

I think there are two key aspects to your question here:

  1. Is the policy clear, are employees informed, and is it uniformly applied?
  2. If so, and if an employee does not observe the policy, is it legal to charge them for the mistake?

 

On the first point, if you are going down the road of charging employees for mistakes, which is legal in some states (more on that later), you need to make sure that what happened was truly an employee not observing a policy and not simply a case of a forgetful or thieving guest. Is your policy clearly stated, taught during training, reinforced by management, and included in the employee handbook? Or is it a case of: “You really should have known better.” Is the policy applied to all guests, or only at busy times, when a bartender does not recognize a regular, or does it vary by employee? I recently spoke with a new director of operations who took over a busy bar and restaurant and was surprised to see that there were few standard operating procedures in place for situations like these. He told me, “If you ask seven employees how we do something here, you’d get seven answers.”

Assuming your policies are clearly stated and observed, then the next question is whether you can hold an employee financially accountable for not observing it. This varies by state. In your state, according to legal website Avvo, “Missouri has no state law on deductions, meaning employers can generally charge you for mistakes as long as they don't reduce your pay below minimum wage.”

So it may be legal. It may be another question whether you should charge employees for their mistakes. My overall advice is not to penalize one employee for one mistake (though I might see things differently if this were a problem employee or repeat offender), but to turn this problem into an opportunity to review your policies and how they are communicated. Also consider whether they are adequately meeting the needs of your guests and employees on the ground as they go through their work routines.

As always, regulations vary by state and municipality, so check with your local restaurant association and attorney to make sure you’re in compliance.

More on charging employees for their mistakes here.

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