Published On: February 9, 2022

Theft can occur in a bar in a couple different ways – theft from patrons and theft from the bar itself – and as the manager or owner of the establishment, you need to be prepared to deal with either situation as effectively as possible.

It can be difficult, though, because the unique social nature of bars and pubs can potentially create opportunities for thieves (either in front of or behind the bar) to attempt something. 

For example, bars have regular turnover of patrons – both regular customers and brand-new customers. So many new faces are coming and going throughout the evening that it creates a certain amount of anonymity for those with malicious intent.

There is also a lot of social interaction happening in a bar, making it difficult to know if two people next to each other are old friends or if they just met. Add to that the loud music and occasional rowdy behavior, and it can be very hard to spot and recognize potential problems.

Customers also have a tendency to leave their bags and other personal belongings unattended. They might leave something on the floor or hanging off a chair while they step outside for cigarette or go to the restroom. 

Then, there is the chance for thefts to happen behind the bar. This can be difficult to handle for many managers, because these are the people you hired because you believed them to be trustworthy. 

Unfortunately, all too much bar theft is committed by employees.

Some of this theft may be malicious, but, in fact, many of your employees might not even realize that what they’re doing is costing the bar money (i.e., giving away free drinks, overpouring, etc.). They’re not walking out the door with money or inventory, so they don’t think of it as theft. On the other hand, they may be using some dirty tricks to fake the numbers and pocket the cash.

It should also be noted that thefts in bars can adversely affect your revenue in other ways. If, for example, someone’s bag was stolen while they were at your establishment, chances are they’re going to look for another bar to patronize in the future. And they’re going to tell all their friends to do the same.

So, what should you do if theft occurs in your bar?

Prevention is the Best Solution

The most important thing you can do to deal with theft on your premises is take action to prevent it from happening in the first place. 

Some of the steps you could take to help prevent the theft of guests’ property could include:

  • Posting reminders not to leave personal property unattended
  • Installing cameras in obvious areas and making sure people know they exist
  • Training the staff to properly intervene in suspicious situations
  • Laying out tables and chairs in such a way that they interfere with quick and easy escape routes 
  • Involving law enforcement when necessary 

Preventing thefts behind the bar will require some proactive measures:

  • Carefully interview potential employees and hire trustworthy people who have great references
  • Check the bartenders’ tabs regularly
  • Reconcile cash drawers every night
  • Create and train everyone on your pour policy and make sure they’re sticking to it
  • Keep the extra bottles (and other valuable things) properly locked up
  • Watch for signs that suggest things are happening that shouldn’t, including:
    • Lots of guests but low sales
    • Ordering bottles of slow-selling products
    • Being strangely messy behind the bar, so it’s harder to see what’s happening back there
    • Hands moving from the cash drawer to the tip draw
    • Collecting the right amount for a tab, but ringing up the wrong amount or voiding the transaction.
  • Place cameras to watch for people walking out of the liquor room with a bottle or two
  • Let everyone know that preventative measures are in place to help discourage that behavior in the first place

Be Clear About Your Response to Theft

You need to make sure that everyone in your employ understands that if the bar’s sales suffer, you’ll go out of business and they’ll end up losing their jobs, too. 

You need to let your staff know that there are controls in place to prevent thefts and that any stealing will result in termination. 

You might also find ways to help any guests that suffered a theft so that they won’t hold you responsible for the actions of others. (Which is something your bar insurance may or may not cover.) 

Some of these measures may work better than others, so track how well your responses have resolved problems and determine if there are ways you can improve. You may not be able to control everyone who steps into your establishment, but you should be able to respond appropriately.

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