How To Deal With Restaurant Employee Theft

Here’s a restaurant employee theft article from Greg McGuire at The Backburner:

As anyone in the food service industry knows, staff turnover is a constant problem. Hiring and training employees is important but often tedious work, and keeping your team motivated and happy can also be a challenge. Yet these “human resources” tasks are not nearly as tough to deal with as employee theft. An employee who is caught stealing presents two problems for your restaurant: first, someone is stealing from you, and second, something in the process of hiring, training, and retaining quality staff has broken down and led to theft.

The problem of losing money to theft should be dealt with first, obviously. However, dealing with the employee in question must be handled properly in order to minimizethe impact of the problem and ensure other employees understand the consequences of stealing without feeling alienated in the process.

Some tips on how to confront an employee who is stealing:

Make sure you have adequate proof. Account sheets, video surveillance, eyewitness testimony, or a combination of damning evidence is key to leveling accusations at an employee. You should be able to prove internal theft beyond a reasonable doubt before you ever confront the employee. If that requires you to wait a while in order to catch him or her red-handed, then so be it. When you do have that confrontation, you want to be ready with substantial evidence so the rest of your staff immediately sees your case.

Whatever disciplinary action you take, do it discreetly. There’s no reason to “make an example” out of somebody by staging a big confrontation in front of other employees. Bring the employee who has been stealing into a private area, confront them with the evidence, and present the consequences. If that involves termination, allow the employee to gather their things and leave of their own accord. There’s no reason to be forceful or aggressive, as this will only allow the employee to gain sympathy by looking persecuted.

Hold a staff meeting. After you have taken disciplinary action, call your staff together and explain exactly what happened, present the evidence you have, and explain the action you have taken. This will prevent rumors and gossip from driving employee perceptions of what happened and presents you with an opportunity to show the rest of the staff how serious you are about employee theft.

Dealing with the second part of the workplace theft equation isn’t nearly as easy. Finding the root causes behind the theft and improving prevention is a much more involved process. And a good prevention program is never going to be 100% effective. However, that doesn’t diminish the importance taking steps to prevent theft in your restaurant.

Tips for preventing employee theft:

Vet candidates when hiring, train new employees well, and create a positive work environment. Taking the time to find and train the right candidate will screen most potential problems. Many operators get into trouble with problem employees because they need to fill positions fast and the hiring process becomes compressed. When it comes to existing staff, maintain a close but professional relationship that emphasizes teamwork and community. Employees that have a good relationship with the management and feel like their contribution to the team is appreciated and that they are well compensated for that contribution are much less likely to steal.

Communicate clear guidelines for employee behavior. This also helps with other staff issues like poor performance, disputes, tardiness/absence, etc. Make sure your staff receives a clear set of rules that outline exactly how problems will be handled, including theft. When administering discipline, stick to the rules and reemphasize the standards you have already set. Consistency will go a long way towards maintaining your employee’s respect and help you manage problem employees more effectively.

Trust but verify. No matter how good your hiring, training, and employee expectation policies are, you will probably encounter a bad apple sooner or later. Have systems in place to monitor cash, comps, and inventory. You should always know exactly how much of each is coming in and going out of your restaurant. And try to limit the number of people who control or handle all three. That will make the job of tracking what went where much easier.

Hopefully employee theft is something you rarely have to deal with. Following the tips above will help make sure it is indeed a rare occurrence.

Greg McGuire blogs about the foodservice industry at The Back Burner, which is written by the employees of Tundra Specialties, a company specializing in restaurant equipment and other food service supplies.

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