How to Deal with Missing Inventory

Missing inventory can be the most frustrating challenge for a restaurant owner or manager. Itís difficult to imagine that people you bring into your business as employees are capable of stealing from you. Unfortunately, itís a fact of this business that can plague any type of restaurant, regardless of the value of inventory or the type of surveillance methods that are in place.

The first step when learning of missing inventory is to do everything possible to eliminate the chance that it has been lost or misplaced. This can happen, especially in big kitchens with a large staff. The second step is to be sure of how much inventory is missing and how long it has been missing for.

Itís important to not assume that inventory has been stolen, even when it seems obvious. Misunderstandings can happen, such as when:

∑ Employees assume a product has gone bad.
∑ Employees consume inventory, thinking that itís for everyone.
∑ Inventory gets tossed out because itís old or damaged.
∑ Inventory is put away improperly.

If youíre certain that you are being victimized by internal theft, itís important to find the perpetrator and make sure it never happens to you again.

When Inventory Grows Legs

Itís a horrible feeling Ė you suspect someone is pilfering your inventory but youíre unable to prove it. Many instances of petty theft start and end this way. For this reason, itís important to take a few steps to limit the chance youíll ever have this feeling again. If you have inventory with legs, take a little time to develop a few strategies.

∑ Catch them in the act: Surveillance cameras, inviting inventory and a few friends can help you catch a thief in the act. Try recreating the details of the initial theft and see if it happens again.
∑ Empower employees: The easiest way to find a thief is to encourage your staff to police themselves. Many employees will rise the occasion, and may even out a colleague for the best interests of the business.
∑ Hold a meeting: Meetings arenít always productive, but they can be when the subject is employee theft. Nobodyís going to out themselves in front of their friends, but a good meeting can put everyone on high alert.
∑ Ask around: It can be surprising what employees know about fellow employees.

Make Sure it Never Happens Again

A few strategies can go a long way toward avoiding employee theft. The most important one is to count your inventory as much as possible. Counting inventory makes sure that your management team has its finger on the pulse of your assets, and that you know how much of everything you should have. Regular counting can be a deterrent to employees, who know that missing product will be uncovered quickly.

A few more strategies includeÖ

∑ Install surveillance cameras: They can be expensive but worth it for restaurants with valuable inventory. Many restaurants use fake cameras, and this isnít a terrible idea, as they can be a strong deterrent.
∑ Be present: Employees are far less likely to take something when they know that management can be anywhere at anytime. On the other hand, employees are emboldened when theyíre certain that theyíre not being watched.
∑ Limit employee access: Keep the number of people who have keys, alarm codes and PC access to the smallest possible number. In most cases, the number of people who have these tools shouldnít be more than three.
∑ Discourage giveaways: Employees can get into the habit of giving away products to boost their tips. This is especially true behind the bar, where keeping track of liquor is an inexact science, to say the least. Remind your staff that giveaways are for managers only.
∑ Limit employee meals: Employees can overstep their boundaries when making employee meals. Be sure that your staff knows whatís available to them and whatís off limits.

Thereís no sure-fire way to avoid employee theft, but a few easy-to-start strategies make it possible to limit the chance that it can ever happen in your restaurant.