I recently learned that staff was comping fountain drinks and desserts as a way to make customers happy and also increase their tips. They were saying things like, “It’s on me,” when actually it was on me! Should I fire them for theft?
– Owner-Operator, QSR
You are right to be concerned that your staff is giving away the food that your operation is designed to sell!
And yes, you can make an argument that they are stealing from the operation for their own personal benefit in the form of increased tips. This would be no different than if your employees were comping their friends and family without permission or taking food for their own consumption that you did not approve. While you may be justified in disciplining your employees for this practice—up to and including termination—and should let them know about their infraction, consistent with your policies, I think this case points to bigger problems in your systems, management and oversight.
I believe employees should be empowered to give away comp items judiciously, especially high-margin items like beverages and desserts, to solve guest services problems such as a long wait time or a mistake in an order. However, in all cases, those comps should be tracked via your POS system so that management is aware, can review those variances and can account for them appropriately.
You can also require management approval for comps of larger-ticket items, such as full meals or entrees. Clearly those mechanisms are not in place in your operation. Employees found a loophole and exploited it for their benefit.
My advice, as is often true in this column, is to be sure you are fixing the problem and not its symptoms. A knee-jerk firing without fixing the process for employee training and awarding comps just invites the same or a similar problem for a new set of enterprising employees.
As always, this column is not legal advice. Check with your attorney to make sure you are in compliance.
More on accounting for—and holding people accountable for—comps here.