Scams Behind the Bar

 In 1. David Scott Peters, bar

What! Bartenders steal?

Yes, it’s a fact of life. And to be really honest with you, I don’t know a single bartender who has not either knowingly or un-knowingly stolen. Which leads me to common bartending scams and what you can do to prevent these scams. All you need are your own two eyes and the reports on your POS system.

Bartender Scam #1: Probably the most common form of bartender theft is giving away free drinks to friends.

It’s a pretty small circle of bartenders knowing bartenders, and they all like to be hospitable in their own establishment, and that means free drinks.

Defeating Bartender Scam #1: Sometimes you have to spell out the obvious as much as it pains you to do it. It might never occur to your bartenders they are stealing because whoever trained them taught them that part, too. They just think it’s how it’s done.

Teach your bartenders what things cost. Teach them how each ounce of alcohol they give away to friends is one ounce of alcohol they are stealing from you. Demonstrate using real numbers. Teach them about pour cost and show them the reports that outline each missing ounce.

And then, give them some leeway. Give them the freedom to give away two free drinks each shift as a business building tool — say to gain a customer or win one back. (The ability to do this depends on your state’s laws. Please verify before implementing.) And if they think it’s necessary to give away more than these two drinks, they have to ask management (which you will say yes to 99 percent of the time).

Your POS system is a great theft identifier. And if you run your transfers report on a regular basis, it’s possible you might find some troubling patterns, such as Bartender Scam #2: The Floating Drink. A customer sits down at the bar and orders a popular beer and an appetizer. The bartender rings up the order and delivers the beer and appetizer to the customer. When the customer is finished the bartender drops the check which accurately has the beer and the food on it.

The customer then proceeds to pay with cash. As the bartender goes to the register to close out the ticket a new customer sits down and orders the same popular beer the first customer ordered.

While at the register, the bartender opens a new ticket for the new guest. The bartender then goes into the first customer’s ticket and transfers the beer from that ticket to the new customer’s ticket. The bartender then closes out the first customer’s ticket and proceeds to pocket the cash collected for the beer that was transferred to the new ticket. The bartender proceeds to do this many times during the shift, ultimately making themselves an additional $50 to $100.

Defeating Bartender Scam #2: Every shift manager needs to go into the POS system’s back office reports and run the transfers report. They will quickly see who transferred any items or whole tickets. Management can easily decipher the transfers from the bar to a server for guests who were waiting at the bar for their table from the ones that are clearly theft.

It doesn’t take long after the first bartender is fired for this scam for the rest of the bartending staff to stop or, better yet, never start this dishonest practice. (On a side note, this same scam can be run by servers on the floor by simply transferring a soda. The same report will catch the dishonest server as well.)

Bartenders are social people, and they make friends easily. I’m sure it’s never surprising to see a couple of your bartenders friends/buddies/pals sitting at the bar watching the game. You’re sure your bartenders aren’t giving them free drinks because you’ve educated them about pour cost and how liquor is like liquid gold. But are you sure they aren’t running Bartender Scam #3? It’s called the short pour and it involves cheating guests to give to friends.

Here’s how this one works: A bar customer orders a gin and tonic. Your bartender fixes the drink, only instead of pouring the full ounce into the drink, he pours half into the customer’s glass, and then duplicates the short pour the next round. Now the bartender has a free ounce to pour into his friend’s drink or even worse yet, they sell it to anther customer and keep the cash. He figures no one knows, so no harm, no foul. (And he knows that if you’re watching your item-by-item POS sales reports closely, you won’t find it!)

The short pour hurts your bar’s reputation. Your customers complain your drinks aren’t strong enough, and not only is the customer shorted, now the drink tastes different. But nothing looks funny in the drawer or in your POS reports.

Defeating Bartender Scam #3: Again, education is key. But if you have a dishonest bartender, he’ll find a way around your “rules.” In fact, nothing you do will ever completely stop a dishonest person from stealing. What you can do is put systems in place and have management on the floor to keep honest people honest.

So what do you do about this virtually untraceable scam? Double checking inventory on the shelves before and after a shift and then comparing what was sold to verify every ounce of booze was paid for won’t work because the bartender employed the short pour. What you need to do is call your POS dealer and have a “Customer Poll Display” installed on your bar register. This way the bartender knows that the customer sees exactly what they are being charged for, as well as management being able to see from across the restaurant. When a bartender knows they are being watched, it’s usually the best theft deterrent.

Otherwise the best way to discover theft and stop it in its tracks for most bartender scams is to employ a mid-shift bar drawer audit. In the middle of the shift, bring your bartender a new bar drawer. Run their server reports, credit card reports and grab their current bar drawer. Go back to the office and verify that the money in the drawer matches the starting bank plus all closed tickets, cash or charge. If you find that there is a lot of extra money in the drawer, you know you have a bartender who’s been stealing and is waiting until the end of the shift to take the extra money out of the drawer before they give it to you.

In addition to these scams, bartenders have a long laundry list of ways they can steal. All result in more cash in their pockets and less profits in yours. Again, with systems in place (and your POS system being the best one) and management in place on the floor, you have the best chance of stopping theft by keeping the honest people honest.

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Showing 2 comments
  • Bill
    Reply

    Barman takes cash for bar meal from customer, three hours later customer starts to leave, barman demands he pays for the bar meal “on his tab”. If customer says, “I paid”, barman insists he didn’t. Way to defeat this, I guess, is to make sure you get and keep receipt for initial purchase.

  • ibm.com
    Reply

    Excellent post. I am going through some of these issues as well..

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