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Equipment: Catching theft with POS systems

Editor’s note: The author is president of Sinclair Consulting in Atlanta. The guest column is part of The Schechter Report and NRN’s content partnership, and the views do not necessarily reflect those of Nation’s Restaurant News.

My last blog entry discussed on POS systems and how important it is for operators to use their system as more than overpriced cash registers and time clocks. Since then I had a good discussion about POS systems with an old friend and business associate who now works for one of the “big boys” in the POS business.

I shared with her one the flaws that I saw years ago in one of the systems that her company now owns. For those of you that have been around a while, you’ve probably heard about or even seen/caught someone playing the “moving soda” trick. That’s when a server or casher rings up a few beverages and then moves them around from check to check, collecting the money on them throughout a shift and only ringing them up once. Years ago, in my days with the Steak & Ale chain, I accidentally caught a server pulling this trick and figured out that, based on a couple of days worth of activity, he had hit us for thousands of dollars over his tenure at the restaurant.

So, my question to my colleague was whether that flaw had been fixed. Her answer reminded me just how important it is or operators to master as many of the tools as possible in their POS systems. Although the system we were speaking about still allows the ability to transfer items as is often needed, it’s gotten smarter over the years. Many systems, including the one under discussion, actually learns as it goes and starts to notice and report trends for every employee. Factors like beverage sales percentages, check average and transfer numbers are now automatically created and any suspicious figures are spit out as red flags. Employee theft is often a much bigger reason for food cost problems in a restaurant than purchasing or even portion control.

What can be done about this? As I said, learn everything that your POS system can do for you and make sure to put all tools in place. The biggest enemy of theft is accountability and tracking. Operators should know how many coupons they take in each day, on each shift and by each employee. Coupons should all be accounted for and, if there is a discrepancy, it should be investigated.

Many operators that I have worked with over the last few years have installed closed circuit camera systems to help combat theft. They are significantly less expensive than they used to be and the quality is much better, as well. Operators may want to consider a small system to start with and put cameras over the cash register, in the kitchen and on the back door. Also keep in mind that you can often link your POS and camera systems and view actual transactions on the screen as you are watching or reviewing. This is often an easy way to catch things happening that shouldn’t be.

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