8 out of 10 Bar Managers Encourage Bartender Theft



I love outrageous headlines. Last week’s headline 8 out of 10 Bartenders Steal was the most viewed post of the week. And as I said, I don’t think that 80% of bartenders are dishonest, nor do I think managers encourage theft by bartenders, however, in my experience, management policy and protocol is the largest contributor to pilferage in bars and restaurants.

How did you hire and train your last manager? You tapped your ‘best’ bartender or server, the one with the highest skill set, longest tenure, and best sense of hospitality. You then handed them a set of keys, gave them the combination to the safe, issued an alarm code, told them to make next week’s schedule, and gave them a pat on the back and said “Go manage”. You now have a manager who is good at opening doors, opening safes, and making schedules but doesn’t have the first clue on how to manage people, cash, or product. And you sacrificed the one employee who was the most productive of the team as far as guest relations is concerned. Did you bother to teach them how to determine profitability through inventory variance, how to determine employee productivity, or how to create a P/L? We tend to create babysitters, not managers.

Enough ranting about deficient managers. Lets talk about theft and how to mitigate it and its effects on profitability. As I stated in the previous article, I think most people are honest and that if you take away opportunity, most people will remain honest. I’d like to touch a bit on some things discussed last week and then explore other ways to prevent loss and what you and your managers should be doing.


Not only should you be conducting full inventories every week and determining variance of cost percentage, usage, and dollars, you should be doing this in front of your staff. They need to know you are serious about shrinkage. They need to see you are active in ensuring profitability. Do you bonus your manager on performance as related to hitting cost goals? Then why would you let that person conduct inventory? Ever here of the fox and the henhouse? It is human nature to hide our faults and failures; I think most managers skew numbers because of this rather than trying to earn their bonus. At the very least, if your manager is conducting inventory, you should be auditing their work (this goes for third party inventory companies as well) by recounting your top ten sales items.

Spot Auditing

Top ten spot auditing will tell you a lot about bartender honesty and training level. What I also like about it is the fact that once you conduct one, your whole staff will know within two hours that they may be next. A little fear and uncertainty goes a long way in stopping bartender hijinks.


Most of us don’t have time to watch 14 hours of tape a day. I find cameras effective for proving theft after a variance is found in inventory. Placement of cameras is of the utmost importance in preventing theft. There should be one in liquor storage, in the office viewing the safe, and directly on all cash registers with the tip jar in the frame.

Key Control

Storage areas need to remain locked at all times. Keys should be issued to only one person per shift who is held accountable. If you must use a community key, please attach it to a large object so that any person who has it stands out clearly. As far as alarm codes are concerned, each employee who has building access must have a unique code so that you can audit who is unlocking and locking doors and when. It is also a good idea to set your alarm system to automatically arm itself at a set time after operations have ended and clean up should be finished. This keeps after hour parties from draining your stock.

Set a Good Example

If you or your managers have drinks or give drinks to guests during service, you should pay for those drinks. Don’t run a tab. Pay cash for each and every drink. Show your staff that no one drinks for free.

Bartender Comps and Promos

More than likely free drinks for big tips cause most of your loss. The easiest way to stop this is by allowing each bartender a shift spend. Giving staff members the ability to buy drinks for guests will keep them more honest. These drinks should be rang through the POS and a receipt should be kept detailing who the drink was purchased for and why. Bartenders should reward return guests and new guests with this spend, and not use it for getting friends drunk. A twenty-dollar spend per shift is a win, win, win marketing plan. Bartenders build their return guest business by buying a drink for customers and make a nice tip on the free drink, guests feel special and welcome when the bartender buys them a libation, and the business itself does better when that guest returns because of the good will shown. But again, all comps and promos must be tracked, audited, and proven worthy or you risk abuse of the system.


I’ve seen how you train your bartenders. It’s horrifying. Two examples:

  • I was sitting in a client’s bar recently and watched a bar manager bring a green recruit to the shift bartender and instruct the bartender to train the new guy. The bartender pointed out the draught system, the bottle cooler, the POS machine, and showed him where to store his jacket. Training finished in less than five minutes.
  • As I begin working with any client, one of the first questions I ask is what, in ounces, is their common pour, their rocks pour, and their up pour. Most (not all) are confident in their answer and answer in ounces. I then ask them if every bartender knows this and they always answer yes. I then find the closest bartender and pose the same question. In the last five years not one bartender has got it right. They either stare at me as if I asked them to describe quantum mechanics and the development of string theory or they answer, “Oh, I pour a four count.”

Training and holding people accountable is the surest way to prevent loss. You must spend the time and money to do it correctly. policy and protocol must be on paper to hold employees accountable for the information. Testing employees on that information must be conducted. There are no shortcuts.

I truly believe that our most of our employee’s faults and deficiencies are the result of our faults and our deficiencies  as owners and managers; we are not following best practices which cause the loss in profitability behind our bars. We’ll pick this back up next week (yes, there is a lot more to this).

8 out of 10 Bartenders will Steal



The following article ran this past Sunday in my local paper about theft in bars and one owner’s, Mr. Yarbrough, solutions to the problem.

Lack of attention to details can lead to major financial issues: My Biggest Mistake | cleveland.com.

Now, I don’t think 8 out of 10 bartenders are thieves, in fact, I like think that most are honest. However, I like to help people stay honest by taking away the opportunity for theft. One of my businesses addresses theft in bars everyday. There are solutions and best practices that will stop theft.

First we’ll address some points Mr. Yarbrough makes:

I didn’t pay close enough attention to details that can lead to major financial issues. Specifically, Mr. Yarbrough didn’t know he was being stolen from by his employees. More than likely he wasn’t conducting a thorough inventory regularly and justifying usage vs. sales.

  • Looking in the store room to order product is not ‘taking inventory’. Inventory is work; the bar fairies are not going to do it for you. You must count every item behind the bar (yes, you have to pull the beers out of the drop and not guess) and in storage.
  • You have to do the math; this means subtracting out goods received between the two counts in a period, adjusting for discounts (happy hour), spills, and comps and then match it against actual sales.
  • Determining  actual pour cost tells you jack squat – you have to know your potential pour vs actual cost to determine the variance and shrinkage. This means more math. And by the way, your bank doesn’t accept percentages, they accept dollars; know the difference between potential profit in dollars and actual.
  • ‘Spot’ inventories will tell you more than full inventories concerning employee performance. Before a shift do an accurate inventory of your top ten sales items (buy a scale to weigh open product). After the shift, inventory the same items and run a sales report. You’ll immediately know if the bartender(s) on that shift are honest.

When business is good, it’s easy to make allowances for shortfalls at the end of a night. I see this all the time in successful bars with high revenue, the drawer is off and no one is held accountable. One of the first questions I’ll ask an owner is, “Is the drawer ever short?”. Five times out of ten they’ll reply, “Why no, in fact it’s usually over”. This should be a red flag. The register is a calculator, it should balance to the penny. Drawer overages point to bartenders running a cash scam; short ringing orders, collecting proper revenue, and then removing extra cash when counting out tips at the end of night. Bartenders should be required to ‘blind drop’ the drawer, i.e. count out their starting bank and separate it from remaining in the till (this should be their cash drop) without seeing their sales. Also, bartenders should not exchange tip jar bills and change for higher dominations from the till. They should count, stack and turn the cash tips into management for higher dominations. This will help prevent cash scams.

I started using surveillance cameras and even started my own secret shoppers program to track theft. I like cameras. I really like cameras that I can watch remotely from my phone or home computer. Nothing says I’m watching you more than a phone call at midnight reminding the bartender to ring in the draught beer they just poured for their friend. I applaud Mr. Yarbrough for taking time to review his tapes also, that takes dedication. As far as secret shoppers are concerned I have mixed feelings. I certainly don’t think amateurs should be determining someone’s honesty. There are too many variables  and it’s extremely difficult to see exactly what is happening during a transaction. I know, I’m paid to do it a lot. When I write spotting reports I don’t put anything on paper that I couldn’t say in court under oath. Telling an operator that I ‘thought’ I saw something could easily cost someone their job and if it can’t be proven, could open an owner up to a lawsuit.

Best of luck to Mr. Yarbrough and I’m glad he had the determination to change the way he conducted business to ensure his own success. I’ll pick this thread back up soon to explore other ways to protect your business.

(to be continued)