Expert Advice on Hospitality Topics

Don't Let Bartenders Rob You Blind

Posted by Nick Kaoukis on Mon, Oct, 01, 2012 @ 12:10 PM

By Bob Johnson

Part 2 of 2: The Recipe for Theft

It takes a highly disciplined individual with a strong sense of high personal values to avoid the "natural" tendency of theft available to a bartender. Where do you find them? Hire through referrals and references whenever possible and remember, the best deterrent to bartender theft is the manager's watchful eye.


Four basic conditions that make up the environment for bartender theft:


When bartenders see that little to no effort is being made to control the inventory, i.e., no weekly counting of liquor, beer, wine, no draft beer controls in place, no documentation for waste (waste sheets) and free drinks, allowing bartenders to "Z" their own register, allowing "free pour", wrong glassware, and more, then you have created the opportunity for theft. The fewer the controls, the greater the temptation to steal, and the easier it is to steal. Most owners/managers are fooled by sales. You think everything is just fine when you see big numbers coming in through the register, but it's not sales, it's the costs that ultimately determine the amount of profit. Would you rather make ten cents on the dollar, or forty cents on the dollar? Without controlling your costs, you're probably making the former.


Need or Greed

Drugs, gambling, excessive indebtedness, lavish lifestyle, kids needing college tuition, vacations, little display of self-discipline and basic values, few outside interests, constant partying, etc., creates a need for extra income. When hiring, it's best to call previous employers, do a background check that includes credit and criminal history, confirm previous jobs and conduct a thorough interview that includes testing before hiring. Do not rely on your "gut feeling" about a bartender applicant. Our industry has a lousy record of checking backgrounds before hiring.


Emotional Justification

If you are not a well-liked or well-respected manager, you may find that your theft problem is even bigger than you thought. The bar staff will steal to get back at you. They’ll use "emotional justification" to rationalize the theft. For example, "I worked 2 hours extra the day before and covered a shift last week on my day off and he never said thank you."


Lack of Knowledge

If owners and managers have little or no knowledge of bartending, some bartenders will find it difficult to respond to their direction. You might be telling them what to do, and you might be their boss, but you don't know what you're talking about - or you can't explain it very well - because you lack the necessary experience and knowledge. When bartenders become aware that they are smarter at what they do than their managers and owners, they now have more control of the business. This is not a good position to be in. If the bar is a big part of your business and you're not up on bartending techniques, perhaps some bartender training will serve you well.


Bob Johnson is a nationally recognized Beverage Management consultant who specializes in multi-unit management of nightclubs/bars and bartending. He is a 50 year veteran of the bar business and is known for creating America’s first certification program for bar managers, “CBM” (Certified Bar Manager). Mr. Johnson has taught at Florida International University in Miami, Florida, serving as Professor of Beverage Management.

Mr. Johnson can be contacted at:



Tel: (800) 447-4384