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Should an Applebees server who posted a customer receipt online be fired?

A recent story from my area of the country brings up an important question that will inevitably come up many more times. What should a restaurant owner do if an employee posts a customer’s receipt online? Does it make any difference that the receipt has something rude written on it?

Here is a link to the original story I’m referencing on the Consumerist. In short, the media is reporting that a church pastor stiffed a waitress because they didn’t like the 18% auto-gratuity on their check, the waitress posted the receipt online and then was fired by Applebees. One media outlet, the Huffington Post, is circulating a petition to get the server her job back.

Here is the USA Today version:

There are some major mistakes in most, if not all the news stories I’ve seen about this situation other than the original. Since the Consumerist’s original story had the facts right, it begs the question of intent of the other media outlets in misstating them. Here are the important facts being left out:

  • The waitress who posted the receipt online was not the waitress who waited on the pastor. She was not the one purportedly “stiffed”.
  • While the pastor crossed out the auto-gratuity and added up the tab without the tip, she did leave the server a $6 cash tip on a $34.93 tab, equating to a 17% tip. The server was not “stiffed” at all.
  • Applebees, where the incident took place, charged the 18% auto-gratuity to the pastor anyways, because it is their policy to charge 18% automatically on tables of 8 or more. This is standard in many full service restaurants. The waitress actually made a 35% tip on the table, though that certainly wasn’t the intent of the pastor.

I’m not posting this information to defend the pastor in any way. The pastor wrote “I give God 10%, why do you get 18%?” on the check. Even if she intended it for the restaurant and not the waitress, this sort of activity by a customer is inexcusable. The restaurant should “fire” the pastor as a customer for leaving such a comment on the tab in my opinion, or at a minimum give them a warning, and the church should fire the pastor for disgracing the church as its primary representative in the public. Using God as an excuse to make a negative statement about tipping an individual person is never okay, even if she did leave the server a 17% cash tip.

The real question being raised here is, “Should the server who posted the receipt be fired?”

My opinion is that yes, the employee was rightfully fired by the Applebees where she worked. Customer receipts are private property of both the customer and the business, not the server. As such, the server has no right to post that information online, regardless of what was written on it. Had the server only shared what was written on the receipt, without posting a picture of the receipt, I might have a different opinion. It’s possible there might even be some sort of criminal law broken by the server. The server’s defense is that there is nothing in the employee manual forbidding her from copying and posting receipts online.

I’d like to get the input of restaurant owners and managers out there that could face the same situation in the future. What do you think is the right thing to do as a restaurant owner?

One piece of advice I do have to offer restaurant owners on this type of incident is that you should have a policy in your manual forbidding employees from posting pictures of guests, their personal property, or the property of the restaurant online. I also believe it would be good to expressly allow the posting of food and drink pictures online for the purpose of promoting the restaurant.

Brandon O’Dell with O’Dell Restaurant Consulting is an independent restaurant consultant who offers operations and concept strategy consulting for independent restaurants and small chains. You can learn more about their services at www.bodellconsulting.com.

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What restaurant operators need to know about QR codes | Marketing content from Restaurant Hospitality

Everything you need to know about QR codesBrandon O’Dell with O’Dell Restaurant Consulting offers operations consulting and brand strategy advice for small to medium sized restaurants, food services and private clubs.

Restaurants, chef emphasize sourcing local ingredients | Nation’s Restaurant News

Locally sourcing ingredients is evolving from a niche market into the mainstream. Not sourcing any of your products locally will soon become a liability for your restaurant if it hasn’t already. Rather than the bloated menus full of heat and eat items, the new generation of restaurant concepts are offering less selections, making everything from scratch, and buying as many ingredients as possible from within 150 miles of their location. Whether you are a bleeding heart activist, or a pro-business capitalist, sourcing items close to home just makes sense. You can pat yourself on the back for saving the environment, or pat yourself for saving the local economy. Your choice. Either way, the move to source foods locally is getting to be less and less optional.

Restaurants, chefs emphasize sourcing local ingredients | Nation’s Restaurant News.

Brandon O’Dell with O’Dell Restaurant Consulting offers operations and concept strategy tools and advice for independent restaurants and small chains. Learn more at www.bodellconsulting.com.

50 ways employees steal from your bar or restaurant

I’m not sure where this list originally came from and I don’t take credit for it myself. I didn’t create. However, it is a great list of 50 ways employees can steal from your cash register or POS. As long as there is cash involved in transactions in the restaurant/food service industry, there will be theft. For every possible technique to prevent theft, there is another to get around that prevention method.

If you do suspect an employee of cash theft, one of the best techniques you can utilize to catch them is the mid-shift drawer countdown. This is an unannounced drawer switch in the middle of a shift. You or your manager take a new drawer, with change, to the register. You run a sales report on your point of sale system, or an “x” report (not a “z” report) if you are using a cash register. Switch out the drawers and count down the drawer the employee was using. Most employees who steal will keep their extra money in the cash drawer until the end of shift countdown or sometime close to it.

If you count down drawers together with the employee (which you should), they will try to keep track of how much extra is in the drawer in their head and pull the extra amount before the countdown. They are usually careful not to take so much as to potentially make the drawer short. This causes them to be long fairly often.

If you do not count down the drawers with the employees, they will not pull their extra cash until they count down their drawer at the end of the shift, and they are less likely to leave the drawer long every shift, but will still be long more often than an honest employee will.

In any case, NEVER allow employees to keep their tips in the drawer. This completely eliminates your opportunity to detect theft.

Another tool for reducing employee theft is cameras pointed at the till. Many camera systems will now interface with point of sale systems so you can see what an employee is ringing into a drawer while you are watching their cash handling. Having the cameras alone will keep many employees honest.

Another tip is to eliminate the “no sale” button, or require manager approval to use it. A no sale button makes it very easy for employees to collect money for drinks never rung in. You should also make sure there are no $0 priced items in your point of sale menu. Some poorly designed point of sale systems require you to create sales items for your modifiers, and can inadvertently cause you to have a lot of modifier buttons that can be “rung” in with $0 balances due, but still allowing the employee to settle the sale and open the drawer. If you have $0 menu items or a no sale button, use your sales by item reports to see how often they are used. Also use your transaction reports to see how many $0 transactions are settled. These are both good indicators of theft in your restaurant, bar or food service.

Take a look at the following 50 ways employees steam from your bar or restaurant and keep your eyes open in your own restaurant. An aware owner is one that doesn’t get stolen from.

50 Ways to Steal from the Bar

  1. Short Ring – Under-ring the correct price of item and pocket the
    difference. Common when employees have access to a “no sale” button or sale items with $0 prices that are used as modifiers in a point of sale system.
  2. Phantom Register – Extra register put in bar and items not rung
    in on main register.
  3. Serve and collect while register is reading between shift
    changes.
  4. Claim a phoney walk-out. Keep money received from
    customer.
  5. Phantom Bottle – Bartender brings in his own bottle and
    pockets cash from the sale.
  6. Short Pour – Pour less than shot to cover “give away” liquor
    costs.
  7. Collusion between cocktail server and bartender.
  8. Using one shot on two glasses.
  9. Claim a returned drink – Extra drink is sold and cash is
    pocketed.
  10. Returned bottle of wine – Wine is credited on inventory,
    bartender sells wine by the glass, pockets cash.
  11. Undercharge customers or free liquor in hope of large tip.
  12. Re-Using register drink receipts.
  13. Bartender exchanges drinks to cooks for dinners.
  14. Adding water (diluting) liquor to get more shots out of it. Pocketing the cash.
  15. Using lower priced liquor and charging for call brands.
  16. Receiving kickbacks from liquor distributors.
  17. Charging customer regular prices, ringing happy hour prices.
  18. Complimentary cocktail or wine coupons from hotel rooms
    sold by maids to bartender which can use in place of cash.
  19. Short-Changing Customers.
  20. Ringing food items on liquor key in order to cover high liquor
    cost percentage.
  21. Giving free drinks to employees in exchange for higher tips.
  22. Not pouring liquor into blended drinks to cover high pour
    costs.
  23. Duplicate imprinting of customers credit card charge slip.
  24. Claiming opening bank till was short.
  25. Z-ing out register tape early. Under-reporting of sales.
  26. Recording incorrect overrings and voids.
  27. Change a credit card amount after a customer leaves.
  28. Hitting “no sale” key to open register. Pulling money out later.
  29. Keep income from vending machines.
  30. Ringing items on another bartender or manager key.
  31. Bringing in a pair of work shoes, wearing boots. Put liquor
    bottle in boots and walk out with it.
  32. Claiming fictitious Paid-Outs to customers for broken
    malfunctioning vending machine. Keeping Cash.
  33. Re-using empty bottles to get new inventory out of storeroom
    without suspicion.
  34. Pouring wine by the glass and ringing in a bottle sale. (the sum
    of the glasses is more than the bottle price).
  35. Not ringing in cocktail server sales and splitting the money.
  36. Turning in only the amount of sales on Z-Report and keeping
    any overages.
  37. Under pouring drinks by a sixth, keeping track, and pocketing
    the cash for one drink every sixth drink.
  38. Using jiggers brought in from home that are smaller than
    standard pour, with the same objective as above.
  39. Substituting a house brand for a premium brand (that usually
    sells at a higher price), charging for the premium brand, and
    pocketing the difference.
  40. Overcharging the number of drinks served to a group of
    customers who are running up a tab to be paid later.
  41. Claiming a fictitious robbery.
  42. Re-pouring customer wine leftover in bottles (e.g., banquet
    wine) to other customers by the glass.
  43. Claiming a fictitious walk-out.
  44. Free drinks to local merchants in exchange for merchandise.
  45. Making juice or coffee drinks with little or no liquor.
  46. Picking up excess customer change on bar.
  47. Carrying full bottles of liquor and beer to the dumpster with
    the empties.
  48. Free drinks to the cooks in exchange for food that is sold and
    cash pocketed without ringing in.
  49. Inflate ending inventory values by filling empty liquor bottles
    with water and counting as full.
  50. Free drinks to customers in exchange for larger tips

Share your own tips for preventing theft or other ways employees can steal cash from an employer.

Brandon O’Dell and O’Dell Restaurant Consulting offer operations and brand strategy consulting for independent restaurant owners and small chains. Learn more at www.bodellconsulting.com.

Huge potential in QSR segment for ethnic restaurants

Here is an article citing some consumer feedback on the availability of ethnic foods in full service and quick service restaurants. Not surprisingly, there is a lot of potential for growth in both the full service and quick service restaurant segments for ethnic cuisine.

Take a look at the article and let us know on our blog what ethnic restaurants you wish you had in your market that you don’t…

Only 23% of Consumers Satisfied with Ethnic Offerings

Brandon O’Dell and O’Dell Restaurant Consulting offer operations and brand strategy advice for independent restaurants. Learn more at www.bodellconsulting.com.

What mobile apps are helpful to restaurants?

The potential of apps in business settings is mind boggling. Every time you turn around, someone introduces another fantastic app that automates a process or system for your business or personal life for a very cheap price. Unlike software, apps don’t carry a lot of packages, postage and marketing overhead. An app is hosted on a website and you use it via the internet, making traditional distribution methods for software worthless overhead.

Five years ago, when Microsoft and other companies were predicting that we would all be using internet applications instead of software someday, I thought they were crazy. Now, the writing is one the wall. Great applications are coming out constantly and business owners that don’t learn how to use them face the possibility of not being able to compete with business owners that do. Restaurants are no exception.

The following is a great article I found on mobile apps that are designed specifically for restaurants that really give you a good idea of some of the potential uses for apps. Some of them are already popular and some still have a little growth needed before they become mainstream and really effective. Either way, this article from Software Advice’s Stephanie Shih is a must read for any restaurant owner or marketing professional that wants to stay ahead of the competition.

Check it out here: 6 mobile apps restaurants should know about

Brandon O’Dell of O’Dell Restaurant Consulting offers operations and marketing assistance to independent restaurant owners and small chains. Learn more at www.bodellconsulting.com.

Are daily deal sites like Groupon good for restaurants?

With most of these sites, you offer a gift certificate that is sold on the site for 50% off. That’s a pretty big hit already, and by itself would turn one of these deals into a money loser. To make it really expensive though, these deal sites demand 50% of the money that is collected, and expect you to pay for the processing cost of the transactions for your gift certificates.

In numbers, here is how the “deal” looks.

  • You offer a $50 gift certificate for $25.
  • Groupon keeps $12.50, you keep $12.50.
  • You pay a 3.5% processing charge on the full $50 sale, which is $1.75.
  • You net $10.75 for $50 worth of your product.
  • The customer comes in and spends $10 over the gift certificate with a net tab of $60 (if you’re lucky).
  • You run a food cost of 33% on your product meaning that the food you sold cost you $20 to sell.
  • You normally run a 30% labor cost. You think it will go down when these deals get redeemed since you are busier, but you forget to factor in your loss of revenue so your labor cost actually goes up to 40%, not down, costing you $24 in labor.

Without calculating in other costs like laundry, chemicals, wear and tear on furniture, fixtures and equipment, and every other cost of you doing business outside of the 10% of your budget that is fixed, this daily deal that netted you $20.75 in sales (thanks to the extra $10 they spent) cost you $44 to sell. That’s a net loss of $23.25 for every deal that you sell. Since most deals sell 1000+ gift certificates, you could be looking at your Groupon, Restaurant.com or LivingSocial “advertising” campaign costing you $23,000 or more.

In contrast, that amount of money could buy you a premium billboard location ad for a year, two years worth of cable TV ads or 6 months of prime network television ads, two to four years of radio advertising, two years of service from a professional public relations specialist or full page color ads in two premium magazine circulations for an entire year.

One of the “selling points” for the daily deal is that the cost is spread out so you don’t have to pay for it all at once. In truth though, all advertisers will do this for you. The daily deal sites are doing you any favors or offering you anything you can’t get from another advertising medium. What they ARE very effective at is getting customers through your door, who will likely be loyal to the daily deal site instead of your restaurant, who will tip your servers low because of their low check averages, and who you will likely never see again.

There are a few businesses that daily deal sites could be good for, but restaurants are not one of them. For some great analysis on other problems created by these sites, for both business owners and buyers of these deals, check out the following article from USA Today, based on a study by Applied Predictive Technologies…

Daily coupon deals may not work for buyers, sellers | USAToday.com

Brandon O’Dell and O’Dell Restaurant Consulting offer operations and marketing consulting for independent restaurants, private clubs and food services. Learn more at www.bodellconsulting.com.

Are you taking advantage of low lobster prices? | O’Dell Restaurant Consulting blog

Lobster prices | NPR.orgWhen prices move significantly on food, it usually worries restaurant owners. There are times when prices going down OR up can offer you a good opportunity to earn extra revenue though.

Currently, Maine lobster prices are tanking. There has been a glut of Maine lobsters caught this year and prices for lobsters on the East coast have hit a record low. While a restaurant owner might normally think “prices are down, that’s great for me“, it can be a double edged sword. You do not want prices on your already low priced products going down, especially if those products make up a large portion of your sales. While initially you may earn more money from lower recipe costs from those items, eventually your customer is going to want some of those savings passed on to them. When you do decide to drop your prices or offer featured items with these low priced ingredients, what you might experience is a skewing of your product mix to those lower priced items. This can actually canabalize sales of other items that may have a higher food cost percentage, but also likely contribute more gross profit dollars to your bottom line. That means less money in the bank.

Low lobster prices are a different story. When typically high priced food items drop in price, they allow you to lower your prices and skew your sales mix toward those items. Even though those items cost less than they normally do, the lobster is probably still going to be higher priced than your average sale and contribute more gross profit dollars than your average item sold. This represents a huge opportunity to improve both sales and profitability. By offering a lower price on lobster, your guests perceive that they are getting an incredible value so more of them order the lobster. Your average ticket goes up and so does your average gross profit per item sold. Win for you and a win for your customer.

O’Dell Restaurant Consulting offers operations and marketing consulting for independent restaurants. Visit www.bodellconsulting.com for more information.

5 ways to bring media attention to your restaurant | Smartblogs.com

Here is a short article from Sara Petersen at Punch Mobile Marketing on how to get media attention when you are looking to market an event at your restaurant…

5 ways to bring media attention to your restaurant

For more help on building a better restaurant brand, contact Brandon O’Dell with O’Dell Restaurant Consulting for a free 30-minute consultation.

Are you taking advantage of the drop in Maine Lobster prices?

Big hauls of Maine Lobsters are leading to a drop in their price. While we still have to see how much of that drop will make it’s way outside of Maine, this may present restaurants, country clubs and other food services a great opportunity to drive sales by featuring Maine Lobsters at a price point they could not previously.

Check out the following article on the price drop…

Maine lobsters drop in price

Contact O’Dell Restaurant Consulting for many ways to drive more profit to your restaurant or food service’s bottom line.

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