Restaurants have a reputation for being vulnerable to theft from dishonest employees, opportunistic customers or armed robbers. While no solution is foolproof, you can reduce your risk by installing robust cash-handling procedures. Pick the options that work best for your business, but bear in mind that adhering to industry best practices can keep you from making the same mistakes that others have made before you.

Best Practices

While owners have the freedom to adopt any procedures they choose for handling cash, industry best practices should be adhered to whenever possible. Only one employee should be assigned to a cash drawer at a time; this increases accountability. Cash should be counted at the beginning and end of every shift at a minimum, and any discrepancies noted. Once removed from the drawers, cash should be stored securely in an area that does not offer easy access to unauthorized users until it can be safely deposited.

Cash Drops

Managers should perform cash drops periodically to place cash in a more secure area and remove the temptation for both employees and thieves to access an overflowing cash drawer. Depending on your customer traffic and the frequency with which your customers pay their bills in cash, you can arrange for cash drops to take place at the end of the lunch and dinner shifts or on a more frequent basis. Point of sale software allows you to see how much cash registers are receiving, so you can create a process in which cash drops occur when a specified amount – say, $200 -- has been accepted by a single register.

Making Deposits

Every restaurant owner must decide who is authorized to make cash deposits. If you’re on-site most of the time, this may be something you want to handle yourself. You may also wish to grant designate managers or shift supervisors the authorization to conduct cash deposits in your absence. In general, the more people you authorize to handle cash, the greater the chance that something will go wrong. However, this must be balanced against the need to have enough authorized personnel to cover all shifts.

Handling Discrepancies

As a restaurant owner, you have options for handling what happens when the amount at the end of the day runs short or has an overage. Decide on an amount of discrepancy that would require a mandatory writeup. That amount might be different for a quick-service restaurant than it would be for a luxury dining establishment. Also, decide on disciplinary procedures if a particular employee has regular overages or deficiencies – say, termination if it occurs more than three times in a month. In addition, you may want to track how often employees are just slightly under the reporting threshold. If a particular shift worker always seems to be between $2-$2.95 short in a restaurant where writeups occur when anyone is more than $3 off, that could be a sign of a small but sophisticated skimming operation.

Accessing the Safe

Cash should be placed in a secure location between the time when it is removed from the drawers and when it can be deposited in the bank. For starters, one option is to seal each drawer’s sash in an envelope and sign it. That way, it’s tough for anyone to break the seal and forge your signature. Drop that into a safe, which should be located in a locked room. Decide how you want to secure the room as well. Some combination of door alarms and closed-circuit TVs can remove the opportunity and temptation for theft.

Checks and Balances

Any restaurant needs a procedure in place for handling checks and balances. One option is to have each cash drawer counted by the employee first, and then a shift manager. Use technology to control access, but balance that with supervision. If a trusted employee leaves his access card unattended, for example, that means anyone can access the cash regardless of whatever security policy is in place.