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To catch a thief

Any foodservice operation with a bar knows that it can be a challenge to keep beverage costs under control, and even more difficult to get to the root of the problem.Weekly inventory procedures, training in proper cash handling, and an accurate calculation of actual and theoretical costs are industry best practices. But often there is a suspicion that something else is going on... employee theft.

One way to put your suspicions to rest is to track bartender overs and shorts. Working with the bar's cash-register tapes, create a spreadsheet according to bartender and shift. Keep track of the amount the drawer is over or short each shift. If two bartenders share a register, the over/short activity should be shared equally, or pro-rated based upon hours worked.

In the sample below, note that the first three bartenders have accumulated "shorts" during a two-week time period. Added to previous weeks, they have a cumulative "shortage" of 3.47. Shortages are considered to be within industry standards and practices if they stay within a 1% range. Mistakes made by these bartenders in serving and ringing up beverages are accruing to the "benefit" of the customers, who may be receiving a slight amount more than they are paying for.

But look at bartender number four, Sam Wilson. He has accumulated "overages" of +6.77. Instead of errors made in the guests' favor, there is the sense that the guests are paying more than they should for the quantity of beverages being received. More likely, however, this bartender is stealing. He may be serving drinks to patrons and guests, collecting the cash payments, and placing the currency in the cash drawer. What he fails to do is "ring up" the drink in the cash register or on the point-of-sale system. This is an obvious and common practice, causing a slowly increasing beverage cost.

Bartenders can accumulate, over the course of a shift, a significant amount of cash from payments not "rung up." For example, in an average bar or cocktail lounge operation, by the end of the shift the excess cash could be $50 or more. The problem for the thieving bartender is that he has to somehow keep track in his head of the total amount of cash skimmed. For example, if a bartender accumulates $40 in cash that has not been rung up, the typical behavior is to only take $30 -- to psychologically "cover your tracks" by taking less than you have actually skimmed. But keeping an accurate account of what has been skimmed is difficult to do. A bartender who is stealing can usually be identified by monitoring a pattern of overages.

We've created a ready-to-use Over/Short Tracking Form. Don't be afraid to let your employees know that you're keeping track. Often times this is enough of a deterrent to stop a thief in action, or prevent others from taking advantage.

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