How to Detect Restaurant Theft: 5 Tips

You would never accuse your hard-working restaurant staff of a crime without proof, but the evidence is mounting. Unfortunately, you believe that someone or several employees are stealing from your restaurant. How do you detect restaurant theft?

Here are 5 handy tips for confirming your suspicions of theft in your restaurant:

  • Get a POS to check for comped or voided items
  • Review your rate of dine and dash incidents
  • Ask around
  • Install video cameras
  • Hire an auditor

With these methods, nailing down whose been stealing from your restaurant will be a whole lot easier. Even if this person is only skimming a few dollars from the top here or there, don’t be mistaken. The money does add up, and you do have to do something about it.

Is Someone Stealing from Your Restaurant? These 5 Suggestions Will Confirm It

1. Get a POS to Confirm Comped or Voided Items

Restaurant scams come in all shapes and sizes these days. As the restaurant owner, you need to be privy to most of them if you hope to detect and deter theft. 

One such scam involves comping or voiding items on a bill. 

Here’s how it works. The waiter or waitress charges the customer the usual amount on their bill. The customer will pay.

Then, when the waitstaff goes to process the bill, they’ll void or comp certain items despite that the customer paid for everything on their bill. 

For instance, if the bill for a meal was $50, then the customer might have paid $65 with the tip included. The waiter or waitress would comp or void items so the bill total was now $43.

They get the entire $15 tip as well as the $7 extra for the item(s) they voided or billed.

If you look at the bill itself, that’s not going to reflect anything inaccurate. Even the receipt that the customer signed off on won’t have anything amiss. 

What you need to detect this kind of scam is a good restaurant POS software. 

Once you install the software, begin monitoring the number of comped and voided items.

It’s not to say that comps and voided items never happen in the restaurant industry; of course, they do. 

However, they shouldn’t be an overly frequent occurrence. If they are, then you have the right to be suspicious.  

2. Review Your Rate of Dine and Dash Incidents and the Waitstaff Associated with Them

Another tip-off that your employees could be chipping into your restaurant’s bottom line is an increased rate of dine and dashes.

A dine and dash, just in case you’re not familiar, is when a customer or group of customers come into your restaurant and order and eat a meal like normal.

When the time comes to pay, everyone leaves at once. The customers never had any intention to pay when they chose your establishment. 

While dine and dashers can be caught by the police if you’re fast enough on the 911 call, it’s not always easy to nab these criminals.

If one of your servers comes up to you and tells you that a customer dined and dashed, you’re going to believe them, at least the first time.

However, don’t be too naive. Dining and dashing is not that common.

According to a 2018 article from the Independent, the rate of dining and dashing is one in 20 or about five percent. 

The article found that slow service inspired the rate of dining and dashing, but that’s not always exclusively what causes it. 

Remember, most dine and dashers choose your restaurant and know what they’re going to do before they’re ever seated and place an order.

While improving your customer service and order delivery speed is always a good idea for customer retention, that’s not all you should do.

You might rework your restaurant’s floor plan, require credit or debit card pre-authorization for parties of a certain size, or add different payment methods such as table-side payments or a payment counter.

If you’re still getting a lot of dining and dashing incidents even after implementing the above measures, and if it’s always the same waiter or waitress who reports the incidents, then you know they’ll pulling your leg.

Your dine and dash problem was likely never as severe as originally conveyed to you. 

That doesn’t make the measures you took useless, as dining and dashing is still a problem in restaurants. 

For now, you have an even bigger problem, and that’s internal theft in your establishment.  

3. Ask Around

If you’re feeling especially brave, you could always quiz your restaurant staff about some of the strange incidents that have occurred lately and the money that’s been gradually disappearing here and there. 

We wouldn’t recommend walking into the kitchen and asking a large group at once. 

You never know how many members of your staff are committing the theft. Certain employees might be willing to lie and stick up for the other, so you won’t go very far with this method.

What you should do instead is bring your employees back one by one into your office and have a frank conversation with them.

Mention that while you’re not accusing them of anything, you’ve noticed that X, Y, and Z has been happening at an alarming rate at your restaurant lately and that you’re down A profits as well. 

Then ask if they know anything about it. If they tell you anything, then thank your employee for their honesty, even if they weren’t necessarily being honest.

Now, this method won’t remain very secretive for long. Once an employee gets out of your office, they’re going to tell everyone else what is going on so they can be prepared.

Keep in mind that this can give people time to corroborate a story. If two people tell the same story the same way, it seems more believable, right? Yet that doesn’t always mean it’s the truth.

You could get some nuggets of information out of asking your employees point-blank about what’s going on. 

Perhaps some of your employees have witnessed the theft or at least know about it, but they weren’t sure if they should say anything.

Now they have the opportunity to tell you what’s going on.

You very well could also end up with no truthful information by the time you’re done discussing matters with your employees.

You did not waste your time though. Instead, you gave your staff a chance to be honest. If they chose not to take that chance, then so be it. 

You’ll have to move on to something else. 

4. Install Video Cameras Around the Restaurant

No one fessed up to the thefts at your restaurant. In fact, after talking with your staff, you feel further from the truth than ever.

It’s now time to bust out the big guns. Set aside some of your restaurant income for a high-tech camera system.

The cameras should be placed throughout the restaurant in both the front and the sides by the POS systemand especially in the back.

Mount the cameras in corners where your conniving staff might have thought they could be sneaky.

Rotatable cameras will capture footage from several angles, which could come in handy for finally nabbing the culprit.

That’s not to say that it will happen overnight. You’ll have to record footage on all the cameras for as long as your restaurant is open and then take personal time to review the footage (we doubt you’ll have time when you’re working).

Since you were thoughtful and installed security cameras in even subtle corners of your restaurant, once the staff member commits a crime, you should have a pretty clear depiction of it. 

What if you don’t ever catch someone with their hand in the cookie jar, so to speak?

You very well might not! 

That doesn’t mean that the theft was never happening. However, between you interviewing your employees about the increased rate of restaurant theft and your follow-through with installing the cameras, the employee who was stealing might have stopped.

On one hand, this is an unsatisfying conclusion, because this person is still on your payroll and could one day resume their nefarious ways.

Think of it more this way. At least the theft stopped! You win in the end. 

5. Hire an Auditor 

If you want to take your restaurant theft detection methods about as far as you can, then you might hire an auditor.

You can work with the auditor on a part-time or full-time basis depending on your budget and how serious you think the theft problem is. 

The auditor can go through your restaurant’s financial records–including spreadsheets, bills, and receipts–to narrow down the source of theft and how much income your restaurant has lost.

They can also work with you to find the culprit. 

Just as installing security cameras can curtail the rate of theft, so too can the presence of an auditor in your restaurant, especially when your employees hear why the auditor is there. 

What Should You Do If an Employee Is Stealing From Your Restaurant?

Let’s say that through one or more of the measures above, you managed to determine who was stealing from your restaurant. What do you do now?

Well, that’s up to you. 

At the very least, you want to have a conversation with the employee and ask why they were stealing. 

They could have a very good reason, such as financial hardship at home, or they might not have any particular reason except for the thrill.

Even if you can understand why the employee did what they did, that doesn’t make it right. 

They’ve likely completely dissolved your trust in them with their behavior, so terminating their contract might be best.

If you decide to keep the employee on your payroll and give them a second chance, you should punish them according to company protocol. 

You might demand that the employee pay back restitutions as well.

Even if the theft wasn’t that significant, you still want to report it to your insurance agent. 

You should report the incident to the police as well, but you don’t have to press charges against the employee if you’d prefer not to. 


Discovering that your employees are stealing from your restaurant’s bottom line is a terrible realization to come to. Sadly, it’s not always easy to discover who’s stealing, as they can use sneaky methods to hide their unscrupulous behavior.

If the methods we discussed today lead to your employee stopping their thieving ways without you ever discovering who did it, that’s not necessarily the worst conclusion. You should monitor your staff carefully but be grateful that the problem resolved itself.

Of course, if you do discover who the culprit is, it’s then your choice to keep them on but punish them, fire them, make them pay you back, and/or press charges. 

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