Managing Self Service Beverages

Aug 28 2012

Fraud Management Restaurant Management

Increasing Sales and Reducing Server Theft

Self-service beverages can be a great opportunity for incremental upselling. Typically they are high margin and low cost items, which makes them ideal for upselling. At the same time, because they are self-service (i.e. an employee does not need to retrieve them from a preparation station or bar), they are prone to being forgotten on the check, or given gratis in an effort to ingratiate a server with a guest. And, given the unsupervised nature of their production, they are often the tools of unscrupulous employees to commit theft.

So, How do you close the mistake-gap, and lessen the chance for fraud?

Your first step has nothing to do with programming your Point of Sale or trying to determine your top servers. The first step is actually pretty simple: set a sound order-entry policy, and stick with it.


“Everything goes on the check before it goes on the table”

This policy – simple to understand and enforce – will be the cornerstone of analysis and preventing theft. At its essence, it means that every single item needs to be rung into the POS before it’s delivered to the table.

Set this policy immediately, and enforce it by spot-checking several tables per day. As managers walk the floor, they should periodically take note of items on a table, specifically self-service items. Recall the check through your POS. If the items in question are not already entered, the server is out of compliance and should be confronted. Establish a firm sequence of events, and stick to it. Perhaps the first offense is a warning. Upon the second, suspend the employee for a shift, and upon the third, enforce termination. Be sure to track each server’s infractions through HR.

The second step is to eliminate the ability for employees to perform their own table transfers. The easiest trick for servers, and the hardest to catch, is the “charging multiple times for the same item” trick (sometimes called the “wagon wheel” scam). Here’s how it works: A server rings a coffee and presents the check. If the guest pays with cash, the server collects the cash, transfers the coffee to another table, and pockets the difference. That single coffee (or any other self-service beverage) can be transferred from table to table throughout the entire shift, until the end of the day, when it will either be ‘formally’ closed out, or the employee will ask it to be voided because of a mistake. (This scam is particularly lucrative for buffets, where the cost is higher.)

Floor managers will often resist their being required for table transfers. Do not acquiesce! Other than server mistakes (the server got confused and rang items on the wrong table), valid transferring of items from one table to another is usually pretty rare in a traditional restaurant environment. Since the transfer activity is because of server mistakes, these mistakes should be brought to the server’s attention, and discouraged.

After you have implemented these two very simple practices, you will see an immediate incremental increase in capturing those lost beverages.

In a future post, we’ll review ways to empirically monitor and track employees’ self-service beverage efficiency.

Rob D'Ambrosia

Rob D'Ambrosia

After recognizing that restaurant operators needed to leverage technology to serve their Business Intelligence requirements, Rob founded Ctuit Software in January 2000. From casual to fine dining concepts, Rob has experienced the full spectrum of front and back of house positions. He has installed POS systems and consulted for small and medium restaurant chains. Rob’s technology background is equally extensive having worked hands-on with computer systems and authoring both hospitality and IP telephony business applications.