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Where to draw the line on employee theft in restaurants

receipt with tip
Photograph: Shutterstock

Question:

If a server adds an extra amount to a tip on a guest’s credit card transaction, what actions can or should be taken? The guest sent me a screenshot of the correct charge slip and the figures do not match. Curiously enough, the server never included a signed copy with the server report and other signed receipts.

– Brad, Owner, Winslow’s Culinary Creations, Sanford, Fla.

Answer:

Mistakes happen, and for general mistakes, I am always in favor of giving the employee a good amount of forgiveness and training given the cost of turnover and challenges of recruiting talent. But this does not seem like an employee training or discipline issue—it seems like fraud, and you should want no part of it.

First, be sure you are not reacting in a knee-jerk way. This can set you up for legal problems for wrongful termination. Trace all the documents you have to see if you can identify what happened. If your results are inconclusive, closely monitor the employee. People who steal don’t just steal once—he will strike again and you will catch him.

If you have evidence of wrongdoing, my advice is to work with your attorney and local police precinct and/or district attorney’s office to explain the situation and weigh your options. There are a few reasons for this. First, if you knowingly let this employee persist, you can be held accountable as well and do damage to your business and reputation. Second, this is illegal and not a coachable or trainable habit. There are gray areas with employee theft. For example, being too free with comps for friends, eating an employee meal without ringing it into the POS, rounding up a timesheet or taking leftovers home without permission are all examples of theft, but can potentially be addressed while developing and retaining the employee. Falsifying credit card transactions sits firmly outside of the realm of employee coaching.

As always, consult with your attorney to be sure you are in compliance with local labor laws and are protecting yourself.

Finally, don’t forget the guest services aspect of this. Thank the guest who brought this to your attention with something that will keep their business. Keep the story under wraps—or turn it from a negative one to a positive one—and thank them for making sure this does not impact future guests.

More on employee theft here.

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