Theft By Staff & Customers

There are two types of asset, fixed and liquid … pubs have both, the latter in abundance (as their stock in trade is literally liquid … beer, wine, spirits) and most importantly, for the small minority of staff who steal from their employers, pubs are cash rich. Regrettable as it is, one of the fundamental business truths a publican has to learn is that not everyone is honest and distasteful as it may seem one must be vigilant against those who would steal from us.

In this guide you can learn about some of the most popular and easily combated fiddles and theft methods beloved by staff and, sometimes, by customers too.

The one thing I will preface this advice with is, that in over 30 years involvement in the pub trade I have never managed a pub where at some point, someone didn’t steal from the business. Thankfully thieves are very much in the minority in our industry but nevertheless they exist and you need to deal with them not just for financial reasons but also for the devastating damage to staff morale thieves cause. The old adage of “a happy bar is a busy bar”, is never truer in respect of the demoralisation caused when innocent staff are under suspicion of the theft(s) committed by of one of their colleagues.

Stealing from yourself is still theft

For some entering the pub trade the idea of a job with “free” food and drink and access to lots of ready cash is quite attractive. Whilst the vast majority of your staff will be totally honest there are some who think they should get their “fair share” of your stock and money. In this respect leading by example is one of the most effective methods of minimising what retailers call “shrinkage”.

There’s no doubt about it, but publicans can be their own worst enemy in respect of theft and it can start with the smallest of habits, such as not paying for your own drinks. Whilst I have always insisted staff don’t carry personal money behind the bars I have managed, I have always found it useful to carry a small amount of my own money so that I can be visibly seen to pay for my own drinks. I have always tried to avoid recording what I drink and then pay for it later. For those who wish to take advantage of you, falsely recording your favourite tipple is an easy way for them to “get in on the act”.

Be honest, on a busy night when the customers are “six deep at the bar” will you be able to spot a dishonest member of staff giving away free stock to customers of what you drink? Or at the end of the same night will you really be able to recall whether it was four drinks you had or five? Pay as you go is the best way.

Prevention is better than cure

When you interview potential new members of staff a good question to ask is why they want this particular job. Whilst the honest answer might be they just need the money (which may be a fair response for what is often a low paid position combined with anti-social work patterns) if it really is the case that they are strapped for cash then proceed with caution.

Having established a member of staff is in financial difficulties, whether a new joiner or a long-standing part of your team, you should keep an eye on them. Whilst they might not “dip the till” they can easily supplement their income by not charging their partner, family members or their friends for all the drinks they consume.

Always try to use an itemised preset till or EPOS system, you can then check rounds later on the roll or records. Never ever over float your till(s), except for very busy sessions, as this additional cash can be a temptation and an opportunity for dishonest staff to steal from you. For more advice see the separate article on cash handling.

Price rises can also present thieves with an opportunity to steal from you as they charge the customer the new price and ring in the old price, thus creating a cash “surplus” for them to remove later. A preset till system or full EPOS till will eradicate this problem.

Keeping an eye on things

Years of experience have taught me the value of a pub CCTV system and the loyalty of honest staff and loyal customers in my crime fighting efforts. CCTV isn’t there to just satisfy the needs of your local licensing authority, it’s there to help prevent crimes such as acts of violence or theft (by staff or outsiders).

Having a CCTV camera positioned to record transaction at your till(s) can help to eliminate theft and more importantly acts as a highly visible deterrent against dishonest activities. On occasion it has even helped me to resolve customer queries over disputes about being given the “wrong change”.

Every pub has a band of ultra-loyal customers, who often congregate about the end of the bar or around the “open flap” you and your staff use to come and go from behind the bar. (In fact, I usually call them the “stiff end”.) These customers can, in certain circumstances be the first to spot dishonest staff. Whilst you should be aware of customers settling scores with staff they dislike you can use their observations as a kind of early warning system. On no account should you act solely upon their intelligence. You should only confront a suspected thief when you have gathered irrefutable evidence of their dishonesty (such as CCTV footage) or witnessed their wrong-doing yourself.

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