How To Handle Employee Theft

Hiring, scheduling, managing busy nights: they’re all significant challenges when it comes to working with your employees in the restaurant business. But there’s probably nothing as challenging or disappointing as having to handle employee theft.

Employee theft is more common than you might think - especially in the service industry. Too often, managers are too busy or too far removed from the daily operations of the business to catch on when someone is stealing. It’s when you start noticing that tills have been off several days in a row, or several customers have complained about inconsistent prices, that you start to piece together the puzzle.

If you have an employee who is stealing, there are a few things you should do to address the situation - for your business, for the employee in question, and for the rest of your staff:

Gather your proof

No good comes of making hotheaded accusations when you think someone is stealing. It’s not always easy to keep a level head when your suspicions are rising, but it’s imperative to your reputation and your establishment that you keep your cool until you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that an employee has stolen from you.

Whether it’s testimony from other employees, video surveillance, inventory sheets, or billing paperwork, you need to build a rock solid case before you say anything to anyone. Keep in mind that you may have to prove your case to others, including your management team or even legal counsel, so it’s important that you have evidence to make your case.

Confront the employee

The fastest way to stop the theft from continuing is to tackle it directly with the offending staff member. There’s no need to do so in front of others - keep in mind that this situation is uncomfortable for everyone, and the accused staff member will be embarrassed and ashamed without having to face your accusations in front of every member of your staff.

Find a quiet place and a focused time to have the conversation, and be sure to present your evidence. The disciplinary action you take is up to you, but be sure it’s clearly communicated and happens immediately.

Be honest with your staff

The rumor mill moves quickly, so after you’ve confronted the offending employee, it’s time to set the record straight with the rest of your team. Don’t leave any room for interpretation or questions: be as open as you can be, and make yourself available for follow up questions or concerns when the meeting is over. And remember, the goal of being open with your staff is to share the facts and to rally your team around your business - not to use scare tactics to force anyone into line.

When you’ve dealt with the consequences of an employee’s theft, take an opportunity to step back and look at why it happened in the first place. You might find some opportunities to train or adjust your processes so it doesn’t happen again:

Carefully screen all candidates

We’ve all been in the final stages with a candidate who seems like an absolutely perfect fit. They fit your profile, their experience is perfect, they’ve been around your type of restaurant before, and their personality is a great fit with your team. You don’t want to lose an opportunity for someone who seems like a great fit, so you offer them the job on the spot, not checking references or having conversations with past colleagues.

The truth is, in most cases you probably do have a great fit. But you can’t be too sure, especially when it comes to making sure your restaurant doesn’t fall victim to employee theft again. It’s worth your time to have a quick check in with those who know the candidate to be sure there aren’t any red flags when it comes to their integrity.

Re-train employees

It may seem like a lot of time and work (and it may be), but in the long run it’s worth training your employees on standard processes. First, it will help you identify potential gaps in knowledge across your team. Second, it will allow you to take a step back and look at your process holistically, which is a great way to make improvements that might save you time, money, and headaches. And most importantly, it offers employees a safe place to ask questions and get verification on any parts of their job that they’re not totally clear on.

Make training a group activity, and mandatory for everyone so that no one misses the important updates. And it’s helpful if you make training sessions interactive: ask employees for their thoughts on ways to improve the process and they’ll feel like a valuable member of the team.

Monitor, monitor, monitor

Putting additional monitoring systems in place after you’ve dealt with employee theft is a natural progression. Think about how you monitor cash and inventory, who handles those pieces of the business, and how you can work together to make sure you’re not dealing with employee theft again. Involving key members of your team in this process will help them feel invested in the business and might just get them to stay longer.