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  • Peter Bouloukos

Bartender Theft?

Updated: Oct 12, 2022

As a long-time manager, inventory auditor and owner, it's not uncommon to hear the phrase "all bartenders steal." Now, sometimes it might seem to be true, but the accusation itself really is not fair in my opinion. I thoroughly believe people want to be valued, loved and trusted. Great managers and ownership groups create systems to control inventories and also know it's foolish to attempt to control people.

In my expereince, twenty-five percent of all bartenders are honest and do a fine job at all times. Hire for character with like minded values and then go out and support their best efforts each day. I adhere to the principles of "servant leadership" but this also can never denote any form of enabling. You control hard assets then release and support people.

Now, probably half of all bartenders will play by the rules as long as they believe the ownership has adequate controls in place and see their colleagues are not getting away with any type of infraction. Personally I create ten to fifteen black and white "rules" and the staff should know the consequences if they break them. You see, trust involves trustworthiness first, and to establish this requires a firm commitment to integrity and most of all consistency in both word and action. In most operations the middle fifty percent will take "advantage" of loose systems or lack of controls.

The last twenty-five percent will give away drinks, pocket cash transactions, over-pour product, short-pour product and generally speaking - at every turn - look out for themselves. If you have an employee who consistently is a few dollars over or short with the cash till, you probably have a thief. Further, if an employee has a walkout more than one time a year in most cases, they are pocketing cash and if you pay attention to this, many "walkouts" occur around the time "rent" is due at home!

1) Over-pouring for a "better tip."

Most bartenders believe this is not stealing! But the truth is, the bartender is giving away someone else's property. If you closely analyze inventory and track key products by the pour it is not uncommon to discover up to fifteen percent of any purchased inventory is lost to "trail pouring" or blatant "over-pouring." In a $2 million dollar operation serving sixty percent food and forty percent beverage, this bad habit can cost as much as $80,000 per year.

2) Not registering a drink.

This is where "drawer pulls" are so important. If a skilled bartender pours multiple drinks for different groups of people all at one time, he/she can collect cash payment all at the same time and only register one or two of the orders but placing all of the cash in the till. The plan is to remove the cash and place it into the tip jar on a subsequent transaction or at the end of the night. Many owners believe bartenders take home liquor, but for the most part this is like stealing from themselves. You see, at $5 per pour on twenty-five shots in a cash heavy bar, the bartender can generate $125 with each bottle. So in-fact, it's not crazy to believe bartenders actually will add inventory to an operation failing to audit on a regular basis. 3) Under-Pouring

This is your bartender stealing from your guests experience second. Many guests never complain, but will never come back when they feel they are getting ripped off. Here, the bartender will "earn" a free drink every four or five pours.

4) Ringing up a well drink but cash charging a guest for the premium product.

If your well is $5 and Grey Goose is $9, every five drinks equals $20 profit for a bartender on cash transactions. Standards and procedures can help eliminate this potential but you would be suprised how many bartenders are brilliant mathematicians. The variance will show up on a closely analyzed product by product inventory but many places only total sales vs. inventory without any pure audit or itemization.

5) Fudging the Waste or Spill Sheet.

The bartender could comp five premium or call shots during a busy shift but actually charge a guest for the transaction. This is simple to account for when a guest has cash in-hand while making the order. When the bartender has a minute or two, he/she will recall a few of the cash transactions and claim they were comped or spilled. 6) Poor Training and Zero Follow Up. Little things matter so much be it a recipe, draft beer pouring or the manner and order a bartender pours each drink. Draft beer can be the easiest thing for a bartender to steal because most operations have no clue how to measure kegs as well as how to produce a proper pour. Furthermore, no receiving or storage standards are documented or adhered to.

Determined thieves will quit when a new procedure or new audit standard is introduced. I have seen this very recently in one operation. Two "friends" quit two days prior to my announced arrival and I was brought in because nothing was making sense at the end of each day! Hmmm??? The great news is any bartender scam can be deterred by proper audits backed by clearly understood procedures and standards. All bartenders should know if they steal, they will get caught. The result of a strong inventory analysis is simple, honest people will do an honest job, and the people who operate on the fringes will also do an honest job and feel much better about themselves. Staff morale increases where clear expectations are created and trust is present. The problem? Your management team and many owners are stretched thin. They do not perform kitchen line and sanitation checks on a daily basis. They do not do the same at the bar because they don't have enough "time." Well, when a professional shows you real measurable slippage in one twenty-four hour span, it might open your eye's. In one very profitable high volume restaurant in just one of a few scenarios present an operation was losing two premium bottles of spirit each night. Volume can erase problems that are never discovered or properly measured. Incredibly, when I discovered this specific problem and let people know I was working on something else, that segment of inventory dropped by 3 percent cost! Isn't it ironic?

Finally, if you are under the opinion a gray area exists in the food and beverage industry, you are absolutely wrong! Systems support success. On-going education and transparency are critical. Removing any reason to not account for the movement of an asset is vital. As any investor knows, assets produce other assets. Yours in Success, Peter D. Bouloukos

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