Bartender Theft

Bartender theft is a huge topic that people inquire about. Even by the thieves themselves. Sound funny? Well, if you watch a crime show and they show you how to catch a criminal, what if a criminal is watching? It’s like going to school and finding out what not to do and what to watch out for. Get it?

This business breeds thieves. Really!

First and foremost, if you catch bartender theft, press charges. Most owners don’t. If the thief is willing to take something of yours, which is money, then you need to take something of theirs, money for fines, embarrassment, and their inability to ever work in this industry again. Do that enough times and you won’t get thieves working for you. If there is no consequence, you will always have bartender theft.


And if you are one of those thieves reading this, you will get caught, and I hope someone presses charges.

On the other side of the coin, if you as an owner hire a manager that really doesn’t know what they are doing, or what to look for, or if you are the owner that is managing also, and you really don’t have experience, half of the bartender theft responsibility is yours!

I always tell my staff that everything in this place is mine! If you take a stir straw without asking, I’ll fire you! If you ask me, I’ll probably just give you what you need. Sometimes a staff member is having a party at home and want some bar napkins, or straws, or even want to borrow some pourers. Ask me, and let me know, that’s one thing. Take these things without asking, that’s stealing.

Another interesting fact in bartender theft is the shear amout of theft varies from different parts of the country. Really!

You go to some cities, and you will find that the people who actually tend bar are all thieves. And they believe this is the way to tend bar. After all, everyone does it. Right? They have never been taught the correct way to tend bar, possess no self pride, no self esteem, and are completely useless.

The funny part about bartender theft, when explained to them the errors of their ways, and explain that it is an honor to serve people, and customer service is job 1, they look at you like you just fell off the turnip truck!

If you have a staff like this, fire them all! Start over and bring a new class of people to your business. Is it a pain in the ass? Yes. But it is worth it form a service stand point, and a financial one. And remember, you get what you pay for. If you are a cheap employer, you deserve what you get.


So let’s get started. The oldest, easiest, and the place most bartender theft starts first is the ring up. They will wait on a customer, and say that a bartender orders a bottle of beer. They will serve the beer, take the money for the beer, and ring up a soda or a draft beer, which is cheaper. When no one is looking, or at the end of the night, they will take what they have stolen. Easy right. Bartender theft is as bad as you let it be.

Another easy way of bartender theft is just the giveaway. They don’t take your money, as such, but they take the product. Generally it’s their friends who tend to frequent your place, especially when you’re not around, at least at first. After awhile, it doesn’t matter, as they will do it while you are there. Their friends will order a drink, and they will just give them the drink and won’t ring it up. As time progresses, more friends, and potential dates will receive the bulk of their giveaways.

Now this type of bartender theft will work in one of two ways. They will just give the drinks away, or they will give the drinks away and their friends will tip them huge. But huge will still be a fraction of what they would of actually owed.

Operating a bar or night club requires hands on work. You have to be there! Your place will operate better and you will be able to control bartender theft.

Similar to above, a bartender will start a tab for the customer, pour them drinks all night long and only actually charge them for a couple of drinks. This way, if they are questioned, they an prove they have been ringing up the drinks.

Another form of bartender theft is the void. Silly right? But they do it. The bartender will actually ring up the complete sales on a tab for the entire night. Then, they will void the entire tab when the customer leaves. If they are questioned, they will say the customer decided to pay in cash, or they walked out their tab.

These are just a few of the ways that is bartender theft. The only way to stop or really limit this is to be there. I mean really be there. Not off doing your books, putting stock away, etc, etc, etc. Get it? If you are going to manage a bar, you better be prepared to be there. Bartender theft will put you in the poor house. If you are going to be an absentee manager or owner, bartender theft will grow and put you out of business.


I came across an article that is a good “basics” read. Also, the magazine offers free subscriptions too. Learn all you can. Knowledge is power.

I will be adding some of the more cunning ways of bartender theft that will be coming soon.

Thirteen Ways to Prevent Theft Behind the Bar
by Robert Plotkin

For new restaurateurs, the bar is one of the most vulnerable areas to theft. This is particularly true if you have a booming bar business and a strong bartender. You might not feel the pain of constant theft and skimming, such as a free drink to the bartender’s friends here and there, or stealing from the cash register.


Complicating the matter is that sometimes the most dangerous bartenders exhibiting bartender theft are the best and brightest. Behind the bar is a place where individual talent and charm can be measured in hard cash, and a common and woeful tale is the stellar bartender with a huge following of customers, who is caught stealing from the owners. In that case, even an honest but average bartender might not be able to match the end-of-the-night profits turned in by the thief. Nevertheless, your bar should be a cash cow in your operation, and you should reap every penny of profit that you earn. You are always better off hiring for attitude (and honesty) and training for skill.

Have you heard of the term “shrinkage”? To the uninitiated, it may sound harmless, but just the thought of it is enough to make seasoned beverage managers wince and bar owners shudder. Shrinkage — or the liquor that is lost due to waste, spillage and bartender theft — can chew up 20 percent to 30 percent of the bottom line. Bevinco (a liquor inventory control service, with 100 franchises throughout the United States and Canada) auditors have determined that the average shrinkage is actually 23 percent on liquor and draft beer, about 10 percent on wine and 2 percent on bottled beer. That’s a lot of money. It could mean your profits for the year, particularly in a startup enterprise. Eliminating bartender theft, shrinkage, can mean the difference between financial success and failure.

Theft alone is an insidious source of losses. Opportunities are rife for theft behind a bar. Bartenders are often working without direct supervision. They steal from the bar and its customers because it’s easily accomplished, hard to detect, and extremely difficult to prevent on an ongoing basis. The temptations posed by constantly handling large sums of cash and dealing with a liquid inventory can often prove overwhelming. At some point, most bartenders contemplate stealing cash, giving out free drinks, or any one of a multitude of transgressions. Effectively limiting internal theft behind the majority of bars is no easy task, and eliminating it is unrealistic.

But it’s essential to formulate and put in place an operational strategy to contain the problem. To that end, here are practical recommendations on how to reduce your vulnerability to theft. . . . auditors have determined that the average shrinkage is actually 23 percent on liquor and draft beer, about 10 percent on wine and 2 percent on bottled beer.

1. Prohibit Bartenders From Checking-Out Their Cash at the End of a Shift

In many operations, bartenders are required to reconcile their cash drawers. This entails using the cash in the drawer to compile the bar’s opening bank for the following shift, and to itemize the remaining cash proceeds onto a deposit slip. If the bartenders are stealing, the checkout process provides them with an ideal opportunity to safely remove stolen funds secretly deposited into the register’s cash drawer during the course of their shift. Taking this responsibility away from the employees, bartenders will be forced to either pull the money out of the cash drawer during the shift or opt not to use the register as a place for their stolen funds.

2. Create Tip Jar Procedures

The bartenders’ tip jar should be placed well away from the operation’s cash register or POS (point-of-sale system). If the tip jar is placed right next to the register, it is far too easy for bartenders to divert stolen funds away from the register and into the tip jar. In addition, bartenders should be prohibited from making change out of their tip jar or taking currency from the tip jar and exchanging it for larger denominations out of the cash drawer. If the bartenders are stealing from the business and using the cash drawer for the stolen funds, they can easily retrieve the money from the register under the pretense of making change. For example, a bartender could take 20 $1 bills out of the tip jar, deposit the currency into the register, but instead of taking out a $20 bill in exchange, he or she could remove four $20 bills, withdrawing $60 of stolen funds.

3. Don’t Allow Bartenders to Participate in the Physical Inventory Process

The process of auditing the bar’s physical inventory is solely a management function. Bartenders who are stealing can use their participation in the physical inventory process to alter the recorded data so that it offsets theft. This can be accomplished by overstating the amount of liquor inventory on hand at the end of the month. Overstating the amount of liquor on hand will essentially have the same effect as if the theft never occurred.

4. Create a Perpetual Inventory System

The perpetual inventory system tracks the changes in the liquor room’s inventory. You can monitor against internal theft by comparing the last entry on a product’s perpetual inventory sheet with the number of bottles in the liquor room. The more inventories you store in the liquor room, the more reasons you have to adopt a perpetual system.

5. Require Managerial Approval of ‘Comp’ Sheet Entries

Bartenders should receive management approval before preparing the customer’s complimentary drink. This policy is intended to stop them from claiming, after the fact, that a drink was given away with management’s consent, when in reality the drink was sold and the proceeds of the sale were pocketed.

6. Strictly Enforce a ‘No Sale’ Policy

One of the more uncomplicated methods of bartender theft involves a bartender selling a drink and depositing the proceeds into the register using the “no sale” feature. Unless someone is watching the LCD (liquid crystal display), the act usually goes unnoticed. Since the sale wasn’t rung into the register, the bartender need only remove the stolen proceeds from the cash drawer when safe to do so. The best preventive measure against this type of theft is to restrict the use of the “no sale” key. One technique to deterring theft through use of the “no sale” key is to provide the bartenders with an alternative source for making change. A small, inexpensive container or even a cabinet drawer will suffice. By providing a separate source for making change behind the bar, the bartenders will no longer have a legitimate reason for accessing the cash drawer with the “no sale” key every time someone needs change. This will make it slightly more challenging to steal unrecorded sales and depositing the funds in the cash drawer without entering any sales data.

7. Require Bartenders to Verify Cash Drawer Count

Bartenders should be required to verify the amount of money used to comprise the bar register’s opening bank. This practice will prevent the bartenders from claiming that their opening bank was either over or under the prescribed dollar amount to explain a cash shortage or overage in the register. Periodically place an extra $10 bill in the bartender’s bank and see if the person informs you of the cash overage. It is a good way to verify if the bartender is counting his bank prior to the shift, and measure the person’s degree of integrity.

8. Enforce POS (Point-of-Sale) System or Cash Register Procedures

The cash drawer should always remain closed between transactions. Bartender theft will happen by allowing the drawer to remain ajar will completely negate the primary control function of the register. While bartenders should have access to the key that turns the register on, they should not have access to the keys that activate the “z” (end of shift summary) reading function. The LCD should face the public in a way that anyone seated at the bar can observe what is being entered into the system. The area around the POS or register should remain clear of clutter, such as books, manuals, or stacks of paper. Clutter can be used to hide money, used drink tickets or a ledger system for keeping track of how much stolen money has been deposited in the drawer.

9. Safeguard All POS Passwords

Ensure that all management passwords are kept safe and secure from the bartenders. This will prevent bartenders from being able to open reports and learn their shift sales. This is usually not done by management. They don’t have a swipe card to use on their POS ans give management passwords only. Of course all the staff looks on as the manager on duty punches in their passwords. A real easy way for bartender theft to get out of control.

10. Take an Immediate ‘Z’ Reading After ‘Last Call’

At the conclusion of “last call,” the manager on duty should immediately take the “z” reading of the register or run a sales report of the POS and pull the cash drawer out of the machine. (As suggested above, a “z” reading is the end-of-the-shift or day report from a POS or cash register; i.e., “z” is the last letter of the alphabet. Some folks will also refer to a mid shift “z” reading, when running a summary report in the middle of a shift. See below.) If the bartenders are stealing and using the cash register drawer for stolen funds, this procedure will force them to withdraw the money during the shift while there are still people milling about instead of the relative privacy of closing.

11. Do Not Allow Bartenders to Overpour or Underpour

Bartenders should be expressly forbidden from purposely over pouring or under pouring the liquor portion in a customer’s drink. Likewise, bartenders should be directed not to “top-pour” liquor or “ghost” the alcoholic portion in a blended drink. Both of these techniques are used by bartenders to steal by under pouring the alcohol in a series of drinks. Over pouring or under pouring becomes a non issue if “precision-pour” control spouts are used, or a liquor control system is incorporated into the beverage program.

12. Take Mid shift ‘Z’ Readings

If a bartender is suspected of stealing and using the POS or register’s cash drawer as a place for stolen funds, the manager on duty can either confirm or deny those suspicions by taking a midshift “z” reading. At some point in the shift, the manager should clear the register by taking a “z” reading or run a sales report on the POS and replace the cash drawer with a new bank. If the bartender has deposited unaccounted funds into the register for safe keeping, the cash drawer count will be “over” when compared with the cash register’s sales totals. One important element of the strategy is to periodically conduct two mid shift readings during the course of a night. This will prevent you from being predictable. The bartenders will never be certain which nights you’ll take two readings, making it riskier to use the cash drawer for stolen proceeds.

13. Document Theft and Terminate the Thief

You need to send a message loud and clear to your staff that theft will not be tolerated. While you might not want to pursue criminal action against a bartender for embezzlement or a similar crime, documented theft is solid grounds for termination. A mere wrist slap does nothing to discourage others from putting their hands in the till.

Sound like overstating the obvious? Well, consider the plight of one general manager of a midsized chain, who had to ax his best bartender with great reluctance. As you know, or will learn, the personality behind the bar can have a significant effect on bar revenues. It’s tough to let go of a superstar; however, as much money as he or she brings into the place, the upshot is that person is stealing from you. Don’t give him or her a second chance. If you permit the bartender theft in order to keep someone with other abilities you want to keep, you need to know, it will only get worse as people in general are just greedy.

Best Wishes

Bartender theft is all part of Night Club Management, so visit here too.

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  1. [...] View original post here: Bartender Theft |… [...]

  2. christy grimm says:

    Good info… so here’s a Q… what do you do when one of your co-bartenders is pocketing tips, therefore walking out with a few hundred more than you and your other co-bartenders?? We’ve been struggling with this for a few months now and lately its getting really bad. The thief is a relative of the owners, so its particularly stressful. He is taking huge tips from people he “hooked up” all night and pocketing them. On top of that he is taking money off the top of his register’s credit card tips that he puts in the bucket at the end of the night. I’m dying to know if you know any sneaky ways to prove it or catch him red handed. Without that, we can’t just go to his family and accuse him of stealing!

  3. admin says:

    That a hard one! I think that today in our modern world of technology, finding a easy to hide surveillance camera can be pretty easy and not very costly either. If you have it on camera, you have the best prof possible.
    If you are not sure you will be able to put something like that, maybe you should approach the owner, telling him that you suspect that one of the workers is steeling, but you are not sure who and that he should install a surveillance camera to find out.

  4. A.J. says:

    Another way of finding out if this person is stealing, have write down the serial numbers on a peice of paper of the currency that you want your friends to tip him, place the paper in an envelope and send it to yourself by registered mail, on it arrival to you on that night have one or more of yours friend “tip him” serious money $10 or $20. At the end of the night Have the owner open the envelope to read the letter and the #’s, to see if they match or are missing from the tip jar. Before this is implemented you could even make sure the letter is notarized, but make sure the owner and the “thief” are both working the same night.

  5. ROB says:

    My question is that a partner is controling half the money and bartending 5 nights a week.I know he is steling and cant catch him.He is my brother.can any one help.

  6. David says:

    Not to toot our own horn but implementing a bar theft prevention system like ours (www.suxessbar.com) is the best solution. It keeps everyone honest and quickly and pays for itself. Removing the anxiety of worrying about who’s stealing what frees ownership/management and honest bartenders to focus on customers having a rocking experience. In the long run offering customers a quality experience will fatten everyones wallet. To do that all eyes need to be on the customers, not on each other like some bad remake of “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” set in a bar. The technology is out there to deal with issues like this. Like the writer said; “you get what you pay for”, if you are too squeamish about spending money on a theft prevention system or investing in the people to watch over your investment, you’re gonna end up losing far more than you would have if you spent the money on prevention. However standing over your staff’s shoulder constantly is not the best solution either, you’ll end up losing both staff and customers.

  7. Nancy Messina says:

    What should I do if a regular customer walks out on a tab then a week later returns for a drink and pays it to the manager with a complaint. She said that the tab was padded. I have had problems with her for years. Now, we are under new management and I am being questioned.

  8. admin says:

    I am sorry but there is not much of advice i can give you here since the case is ancient history and can’t be proven to either direction. You can ask the new management to contact the old one and hear from them about the problematic costumer, or just tell them that and gain there trust slowly.

  9. Joe says:

    Also the bartender short changes you at the bar they are go for that.

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