Stopping Employee Theft in Your Coffee Business
Regardless to how good of an employer you are, and even if you treat your employees well, understand that employee theft is a reality, and you need to control it. While it may only be a very small percentage of your staff that might steal from you, it can have a significant financial impact on your coffee business. If it goes unnoticed, employees will usually become even more brazen in their activities.
When it comes to theft, your employees are likely to fall into one of the following four categories:
Mr./Ms. honest – these are people who would never think of taking anything if it doesn’t belong to them. If they happen to go home with one of your ballpoint pens, they’ll bring it back the next day, and feel guilty that they took it home, even though it was unintentional.
Incidental theft – these are people that will take home your pen by accident, and will keep it. And, they may scarf a piece of cheesecake occasionally when you aren’t looking, even though they know they shouldn’t. Because these items have minimal value, they have no great sense of guilt related to their activities.
Theft because of need and opportunity – this is when you have an employee who is perhaps living on the edge financially, and because they have the need, and because your security may be lax, they’ll take advantage of an opportune situation to take something.
Compulsive theft – this is the person who is always looking for something to steal, and they have absolutely no conscience about it. They typically rationalize the theft in their own mind. They consider you to be the rich, fat cat, and feel that they are over worked and under paid, so stealing from you is justified.
Employee theft probably exists to some extent within your operation, whether you are aware of it or not. You can most likely live with incidental theft, provided it doesn’t get out of control. Theft related to need and opportunity is, in reality, your fault. These people would probably not steal from you normally, but a lack of security procedures has created the temptation and means for them to do so. Compulsive theft must be discovered, stopped, and you must eliminate the person(s) responsible.
Losing product due to theft:
Your employees may have no desire or need for a sleeve of 12oz. paper cups, Java Jackets, or a roll of toilet paper… but they might like a frozen cake, gallon of chocolate sauce, 6-pack of beer, or a bottle of wine.
There are some simple things you can do to greatly reduce the chance of being ripped-off. First, don’t allow your employees to store their jackets, backpacks, and purses near where you store products. This makes it incredibly simple for someone to slide something into their bag or jacket pocket when no one is watching. I always had my employees store their personal belongings in the cabinet under the cash register (where someone would always be watching), or in my office, under lock & and key.
Second, keep the back door of your store locked with a key at all times (you or your supervisor being the only ones having a key). If customers regularly enter through your back door, this may not be an option. If your back door is an emergency fire exit (and it probably is), you’ll need to install an alarmed breaker-bar. The whole point is that you don’t want your employees to be able to flow in and out of the back door without you knowing about it. Carrying product out the back door to their car, a hiding place for later pick-up, or an awaiting friend, is one of the most common ways products will exit your store.
Once you have made it more difficult to stash things in their personal belongings, or carry them out the back door, employees may resort to hiding items in the trashcan. Of course you will unlock the back door to let them take out the trash. If they have hidden something in the trashcan, a dumpster-diving expedition will certainly be planned for after-hours to recover their treasure.
Periodic trashcan checks should eliminate this problem, or make it a far less appealing option to anyone considering this method to smuggle things out of your store. Buy a long handle 3-prong garden rake. When employees ask to take out the trash, accompany them, and have them hold the can up on the edge of the dumpster while you rake out the trashcan contents. What you are looking for are things that might have been hidden in the trash, but you can tell your employees that you are merely making sure that small wares aren’t being accidentally thrown away. During the 15-years I owned and managed restaurants, I discovered everything from six-packs of beer, bottles of wine, and packages of steaks hidden in the trash!
Another situation that will create an ideal opportunity for employees to steal from you is having only one person working in your store. If your baker comes in each morning a hour before you or the next employee, or if one person is left to clean and lock-up the place at the end of the day, opportunities for theft abound. As the old saying goes: when the cat’s away…
Always try to have at least two people in your store at all times. If there is not justification for having a second employee on the clock, then you will need to be that second person. If this requires you going from a 60-hour workweek to 80-hours, then this may not be a tolerable option. If this is the case, then at least invest a couple of hours more each day for a week or two to do some detective work.
During those times of day when only one employee is working, park at the far end of the parking lot, or across the street, so that you will reduce the chance of being noticed by your employee. If they are familiar with your vehicle, use your spouse’s or friend’s vehicle for a few days. Watch carefully (with binoculars if necessary). I know this all sounds a little CSI – like, but better to rest-easy, feeling fairly assured that your employee isn’t carrying away your store when you’re not watching. If I had the time, I could tell you countless stories of my experiences in catching employees red handed, loading the trunks of their cars.
If you suspect that theft of product might be occurring, but you’ve seen no direct evidence of it, then conducting a daily key item inventory may shed some light on the situation. Write down a list of 15 to 20 products that you think would be most appealing for someone to steal. In your coffee business, this might include items such as coffee, syrups and sauces, smoothie puree, biscotti, cookies, and desserts, sandwich meats & cheeses, and of course beer & wine (if you serve those from your operation). Then take an inventory of these items every day. Your employees don’t need to know what you are doing, and if they ask, simply tell them you are taking an inventory for ordering purposes.
What you are looking for are anomalies in usage. For example, let’s say that from your daily inventories you assess that you use about half a gallon of chocolate sauce per day. Then, one day you notice you used 1 1/2 gallons of chocolate the previous day. This should send up a red flag! Why did you go through an extra gallon of chocolate? Were you significantly busier yesterday, or did you featuring several drink specials which contained chocolate sauce? A quick review of individual item sales from yesterday’s cash register report should provide you with the answer. If you average one ounce of chocolate per beverage, then using 1 1/2 gallons means you should have sold approximately 192 beverages containing chocolate (128 oz. per gal. x 1.5 = 192). If this was the case, no problem. But, if you discover that you only sold 64 beverages containing chocolate, then 128 oz. (or 1 gallon) is unaccounted for and missing! A good indication that it probably walked out the door. If this happens, keep track of who was working on the day of the shortage. If this happens continually, eventually you will discover that the same person or persons were working every time.
Theft of money by employees:
Hopefully, none of your employees will have the desire to steal products from you, but some will be tempted by the lure of cold, hard, cash. Everyone could use an extra $20 a day. Employees who steal money from you will definitely hurt your bottom line, and must be eliminated.
The first way to reduce cash theft is to have a cash handling policy in place that will discourage theft. If multiple employees are using the cash register, and no one person is responsible, then I can almost guarantee that your cash drawer will keep coming up short on a regular basis. The fact that no one person can be held responsible for the shortages, will make grabbing a bill or two easy and appealing.
Implement a policy that one, and only one person is responsible for the cash register for the entire shift. They should count the drawer at the beginning of their shift to verify that they are starting with the designated change bank. Then, they should be the only person to ring up sales and make change. Even you, the owner/manger, should keep your hands out of their cash drawer. Finally, at the end of their shift, they should set aside the amount they started with in the change drawer, and total all the remaining cash, checks, and charges, and balance against what was rung up on the register. If they started with the right amount of money in the cash drawer, rang everything up, took all the money, counted back all the change, and they end up short… who’s fault is it? It can only be theirs. By implementing this simple policy, I once took an operation that was coming up $100 a day ($3,000 a month) cash short, and reduced it to $3 a day, in just 30 days! That’s over a $2,900 bottom line improvement, (in case you didn’t do the math)!
The other common method that a cashier might use to steal money from you is by using a method called, building a bank. This is the process of not ringing up items on the cash register, while still taking money from the customers, and then pocketing that money. Typically, they will obscure the view of the cash register display on the customer’s side with something like a flower, retail merchandise, or by turning the display so that it cannot be easily seen. Then, they will pretend to ring up an item, but will hit the no sale key instead, popping the drawer open so they can take the cash and make change, but in reality, they haven’t rung up anything. The other thing they might do when it is busy is to just not shut the drawer between transactions. They simply convey verbally the cost of items ordered by customers and take the cash, but once again, nothing has been rung up.
A cash register that prints out the order on a remote receipt printer to the person who will be preparing the item, can eliminate this problem. Quite simply, if the item isn’t rung-up, it won’t print out. If your barista or cook won’t prepare anything without a receipt (and they shouldn’t!), it will force your cashier to ring everything up.
If you observe that the cash register’s display has been blocked from the customer’s view, or there are an excessive number of no sale indications on your cash register’s detail tape, or notice that your cashier is not shutting the drawer between transactions, beware! While these may not be indisputable proof that your cashier is stealing from you, they should certainly heighten your vigilance to find out if something is going on.
If your coffee business only warrants having one employee working at a time, perhaps because you own a cart, kiosk, or low volume drive-through operation, then how do you go about keeping your employee from building a bank and stealing from you? The best solution I’ve seen is to turn your customers in to watchdogs. Affix a sign to the front of your cash register, in plain sight of the customer, that reads: If you don’t receive a receipt with your order, it’s FREE! This will force your cashier to hand each customer a receipt for their purchase. If they are building a bank, this means they will have to hand the customer a receipt that says – NO SALE; something they probably won’t fell comfortable doing!
The financial impact of theft of money can be extremely damaging, for example: Let’s say you have a cashier who is skimming off $20 a day by not ringing things up, and then pocketing the money. Not only did you loose the stolen $20, but the $7 of ingredients that were probably used to produce the ordered products; ($20 x 35% ingredient cost = $7.00). So in reality, you lost $27, and it will take an additional $41.54 in sales, to recover this loss; ($41.54 x 65% gross profit = $27). $27 a day lost to theft, X 21 days worked by the employee = $567 lost cash & product per month; $872 extra sales required to offset this loss. (Annual loss, $6,804; $10,468 in additional income required to offset loss.) You must stop theft of money!
Theft of money management:
If you have a manger running your operation for you, this can really create an opportunity for cash theft. Just about anyone who has ever run a food service operation (self included), probably felt that they were over-worked and under-paid. Some are tempted to grant themselves an unapproved raise. Your manger has the control key to the cash register, which means they have the ability to back off items that were sold. You would be wise to check your cash register detail tapes on a regular basis. If you see multiple items backed off in groups, or more worrisome yet, all backed off at the very end of the shift, beware!
A good way to keep this from happening is to establish a policy that no over-rings are to be backed off of sales on the cash register with the management control key. Instead, when the cashier makes an over-ring, they should take the receipt, write over-ring on it, sign it, and put it in the cash drawer. At the end of the shift, the total of all over-rings should be manually backed off of the sales total indicated on the cash register report.
Many years ago I had a manager that was stealing money from me in another creative way. This manager, who opened the store each day, would reset the cash register by Z-ing it out after the first half hour of business. He would then pocket the proceeds earned during that first half hour. Because additional sales were generated during the second half hour, the cash register hourly sales report would always show sales for the first hour of operation, thus eliminating any suspicion that something might be going on.
It wasn’t until I was doing a routine audit of cash register Z tapes that I noticed something wasn’t right. When you run a Z report, which resets the cash register at the end of each day, a multi-digit number will usually be printed somewhere on that tape. The next time you Z the register, that number will advance by one digit. I noticed that even though the tapes were sequential in date, every other number was missing. This tipped me off that the register was being Z-ed twice a day! When I confronted my manager with the tapes, his look of panic spoke volumes.
If you are doubting the honesty of any of your employees or managers, one way you can verify or eliminate your suspicion is by baiting the cash drawer. Slip an extra $20 bill in the drawer sometime during the day when they aren’t watching. If they don’t end up reporting at the end of their shift that they were $20 cash-over, I’ll do it a second time (just to make sure). If they don’t report it a second time, you should have no doubts that they are indeed, dishonest.
NEVER accuse an employee or manger of stealing unless you catch them red-handed (actually stuffing money into their pockets). Even though the circumstantial evidence may be overwhelming, unless you actually catch them in the act, they are likely to deny your accusations, and will probably file a complaint against you with the department of labor! The brief moment of satisfaction you will gain from letting them know you are aware of what they’ve been doing, will be quickly overwhelmed by the legal predicament you will find yourself in. You will be far better off to not make accusations. Simply terminate their employment. In many states, you do not need to provide a reason as to why you are letting them go. When they ask for an explanation as to why you are firing them, simply say: I don’t need to give you a reason, I’m just letting you go, goodbye!
Finally, don’t over look technology to help you with security. Surveillance cameras linked to a DVR (digital video recorder) can provide you with peace of mind, or evidence of theft. These systems have become very affordable, and many are easy to install. The value of these cameras go beyond having a video record of operations. The mere fact that employees understand that their activities are being video recorded, will usually discourage them from doing things that they might not think twice about, if no one was watching.
I think it’s important to not be paranoid about employee theft. Certainly, you don’t want to be constantly obsessed with the suspicion that everyone is stealing from you. In reality, the majority of your employees are probably honest people. But, you would be wise to establish some simple safeguards, and maintain a watchful eye.