Yes, there are bartenders out there that never think twice about ripping the customer off. The majority of bartender theft involves stealing from the house, but there are also any number of ways that they can steal from their customers.
Let’s assume that you are the customer here…
How Does a Bartender Steal From Their Customers?
Unfortunately, it’s easy. Short pouring, padding their bar tabs, and completely leaving out the liquor in a blended house specialty drink are just some of the ways to rip you off.
Dishonest bartenders combine many of the below methods to rip you off. Some you may be aware of – but others are rather ingenious. And, they’re not just ripping you off – they have no qualms about ripping off the house.
Most bartenders are very good at basic math skills. Keeping track of under-rings, padding your tab, and working with a dishonest cocktail server can add up to a lot of extra money each and every shift – with management none the wiser.
Before we get into this, I just want to say that the vast majority of bartenders are decent, hardworking employees. It’s those few bad apples that give the rest of us a black eye.
15 Ways Bartenders are Ripping You Off
Below are just fifteen ways that bartenders can rip you, the customer, off. There are more, of course, and dishonest bartenders are constantly coming up with new ways to line their own pockets.
1. Short Pouring
Probably the most common method of ripping you off. The bartender simply pours less than the required amount of liquor – usually right in front of your eyes.
Why is the bartender doing this? Mostly for two different reasons. One, he’s trying to make up for the over-pouring he has done for the big tippers – or his friends. Two, He’s short-pouring you and others to make up for the ‘no sales’ he’s ringing up for other transactions.
If a bartender wishes to rip off the house, and put some extra money into his pocket, he has to be aware of the liquor cost. A favorable liquor cost is crucial to a profitable bar. If he’s over-pouring – or not ringing up sales and pocketing the money, then it will drastically affect liquor cost.
Management is most likely taking regular inventories, calculating the liquor cost, and thus gross profit, so a bartender cannot simply keep over pouring and short pouring and getting away with it. He has to make it up somewhere – and that’s you.
2. Picking up Change
Happens all the time – especially in a very busy bar where the customers are getting pretty well tuned up. It’s a simple method of ripping you off, and can be avoided by simply counting the change that you receive back from your drink purchase – and putting it back into your pocket.
Dishonest bartenders will be extra careful using this method. Getting a reputation for stealing his customers’ change is not good, and management is most likely going to be alerted.
3. Pouring House Liquor, Charging for Call Liquor
You order a Beefeater and tonic. The bartender pours you a gin and tonic using the inexpensive house liquor – yet charges you that extra $2 or $3 dollars for the ‘call drink.’
You can avoid this by watching what the bartender pours. Simple. Of course, some bars have been caught filling up empty call liquor bottles with the cheap stuff – but that’s a different story.
So, why is the bartender doing this? Don’t take it personally, as he’s doing this to cover his other deceptive methods of making some side money. Experienced bartenders are very good at this – so beware.
Another thing to be aware of is that bartenders use this method mostly with the cocktail and food servers. If you’re sitting at a table out in the bar, or restaurant, you have no idea what the bartender is pouring.
4. Over Charging for Drinks
This is a very simple, common method to steal from you. The bartender simply quotes you the price of the drink and then rings up a smaller amount on the cash register.
This method of theft is very easy to pull off in front of unsuspecting customers, and bartenders can easily make an additional $20.00 – $30.00 per shift. Or much more. This can easily add up to over $100.00 per week.
It doesn’t work all the time, or, I should say, the opportunity doesn’t arise to steal for every customer. Many savvy customers know exactly what the price of drinks are in that particular bar, so sometimes it’s useless for a bartender to try this method and get caught.
The beauty of this method of dishonesty is that it doesn’t affect the bar’s liquor cost. Management is none the wiser, and combined with other methods of stealing, a bartender can make a substantial amount of ‘extra’ money each shift.
5. ‘Mishandling’ Your Cash (Short-Changing)
Very easy to pull off. You’re supposed to get $7.50 in change back from your $20 bill and you receive $6.50. Bartenders have to be careful with this method, as most people know exactly how much change they’re supposed to receive.
This method is most effective when bartenders are dealing with customers on the edge of intoxication. They just don’t pay attention.
6. Watering Down Liquor
An oldie but a goodie. The process is simple. Before you even order a drink, the bartender has added water, or some other colored liquid, to the bottle of liquor.
How does this work? I’ll give you an example. Let’s say you order a vodka tonic. The bartender pours 1 1/2 ounces of liquor right in front of you and you’re none the wiser because you believe that’s he’s poured you a nice drink.
What the bartender has done, before you even step up to the bar, is grabbed the soda gun, squirted a few ounces of water (or more) into the vodka bottle, and no one is the wiser.
This method also helps the bartender rip off the house. By replacing real booze with water, the bartender can now overpour or give out free drinks to good tipping customers. And, it doesn’t affect the liquor cost – making this method undetectable by management.
The only way to prevent this sort of theft is to catch the bartender adding liquid to the bottle of liquor – or investing in a hydrometer or other device to test the proof of each liquor bottle.
7. The Deceptive Long Pour
You watch the bartender pour your drink, and he uses some sort of fancy way of elevating the bottle high above the glass while pouring – fooling you into thinking that he’s pouring more.
Watch this one closely, as many bars will use different types of liquor pourers. Some pour slow – others very fast. The bottom line here is that the bartender is giving the appearance of pouring more when, in fact, he’s pouring less.
8. Using Unauthorized Jigger
This one is hard to detect. For whatever reason, the bar manager has decided to make his bartenders use a shot glass or ‘jigger.’ If they pour 1 1/2 ounce of liquor for a common drink – then that’s how much the jigger will hold.
Bartenders get around this very easily. They simply bring in their own jigger, which could be one of 1 1/4 ounces, and switch it with the authorized 1 1/2 ounce jigger. Management is oblivious, and the bar customer has no idea of what’s going on.
Why would a bartender do this? To cover up his over-pouring and ‘no sale’ rings. For example, if a bartender poured just 100 drinks during his shift using the unauthorized jigger, he could short-pour 100 X 1/4 ounce leaving a net gain of 15 – 20 drinks.
To put it in monetary terms, at $6.00 per drink, that’s over $100 per shift he could put in his own pocket. And, the customer, as well as the house, is the one getting short-changed.
9. Outright Overcharge
Another popular way to rip you off. Jack Daniels and Coke is priced at $8.00. The bartender charges you $8.50 or $9.00 and rings up the $8.00. He keeps track of these transactions throughout the shift and simply extracts the additional money from his total sales at the end of the night.
Remember that most bartenders are extremely proficient with basic math skills. He probably has a method of over-charging exactly $1.00 on certain transactions and keeps a running tally. He may extract this additional money at different times during the shift.
10. Padding Your Bill
This is very popular when you’re running a tab. Especially with large groups. Most people running a tab do not keep track of every drink they have ordered – especially in a very busy bar.
Check your bill carefully. A bartender can make a lot of extra cash by added additional charges and drinks to your bill. Why would he do this? Again, to cover up his dishonesty in other areas of the bar’s operations.
Whenever a bill is being padded, it’s not to simply get a bigger tip based on the charges. It’s most likely used to cover those ‘no sale’ transactions and over-pouring for generous tippers.
11. Claiming He’s Overpouring For you
Using his skill to give the appearance of over-pouring, a bartender can convince you that he’s giving you a really good drink. Not so. Some bartenders are so blatant, saying that “Hey, I’ve been pouring you really great drinks,” thus implying that they should receive a bigger tip.
In reality, they’re not pouring any more liquor than the required amount. Experienced bartenders have many ways to make it appear that they over-pouring – see additional methods, above.
Don’t fall for this. Not only is the bartender lying to you – he’s basically saying that he’ll ‘rip off’ the house in order to give you a better drink – and expecting a bigger tip.
Of course, on the flip side, there are bartenders out there will come right out and say they will over pour if you tip them well. Happens all the time.
12. Charging Regular Price During Happy Hour
This happens all the time. Bartenders know exactly when happy hour starts and ends. They simply extend the ‘regular’ hour a few minutes, charge you the regular price, but ring up the happy hour price. He pockets the extra money at a later time.
The method is simple. The POS system sill probably have modifier keys for happy hour prices. And, management knows exactly when the appropriate times are to discount drink prices. The bartender has to stay within those limits, so it’s you, the customer, who gets the short end of the stick.
Why would a bartender do this? Again, so he can cover up his over-pouring and ‘no sale’ rings. It’s a very simple method to add a few more dollars to his pocket every shift. This is where management and a good POS system comes into play.
13. Re-pouring Wine
For bars and restaurants that sell a lot of wine by the bottle, this method is very easy to use to rip off the customer – and the house. There are a couple of different ways to pull this off.
Firstly, the bartender opens a bottle of wine, maybe pours a glass, and then informs the bar manager that the wine has ‘gone bad.’ He then marks down the full bottle of wine on the waste/comp sheet. Bar management will not count this bottle of wine in their liquor cost/inventory system. The bartender then continues to pour the wine and charge by the glass.
Secondly, a bartender will claim that he sold a bottle of wine for the going price – $37.00. He then sells it by the glass for $9.50. Depending upon the size of the wine bottle, this could add up to around an extra $10.00 or so in sales that he won’t ring up – and put into his own pocket.
The best part of this method is that it doesn’t affect liquor cost. In fact, it actually helps with it. Using these wine pouring methods can cover up the bartender’s other methods of over-pouring and ‘no sale’ rings.
14. ‘Forgetting’ to Pour Liquor
Many bars have ‘house specialty’ drinks that are some variation of multiple liquors and mixes. This is a great way for bartenders to leave out some of the liquor ingredients and pour heavy for other drinks.
The process is simple. Let’s say one of these specialty drinks requires one ounce of the main liquor and 1/2 ounce each of two additional liquors. The bartender simply ‘forgets’ to put in one of the 1/2 ounces of liquor. He may even elect to eliminate the one ounce of liquor in some cases.
Why would he do this? Again, to make up for his other dishonest methods of ripping you and the house off. This method is very hard to detect, as many of these house specialty drinks have so much ‘stuff’ in them that it’s impossible to detect exactly how much liquor is in the drink.
15. Blended Drinks
Blended drinks really go along with the above method of ‘forgetting’ to pour liquor. Blended drinks are usually larger, in volume, and the customer knows that this makes the drink appear to be weaker.
Margarita’s, Daiquiri’s, house specialty drinks, etc. When there is a big glass and lots of mixers in the drink – it’s an easy way to short pour the liquor. Customers have a hard time detecting the amount of liquor in these drinks anyway.
Short-pouring the liquor in these types of drinks is easy. Especially when the bartender is using fresh fruit and a whole bunch of different types of mixers.
So, why does a bartender do this? Again, to make up for the over-pouring and no sale rings that he’s been ringing up through the night. There’s a pattern here – combining different methods of theft in order to not affect the liquor cost.
Bartender Rip-Off Conclusion
It’s an unfortunate fact that there are professional bartenders out there that don’t think twice about ripping off you – the customer. Short pouring, swiping change, overcharging, etc., are just a few ways that they accomplish this.
Of course, not all bartenders are in the business of ripping off their customers. Most dishonest bartenders stick with ripping off the house – not you.
Always check your bar tab. And your food bill for that matter. Mistakes can be made, so it’s not always a matter of intentional theft. If you are a victim of theft, make sure you ask for a manager and resolve the issue immediately.
Related Bartending Searches
Can bartenders be prosecuted for stealing from customers? Yes, they can. If it’s blatant theft, like stealing money off the bar or, worse yet, padding the credit card bill, customers are within their rights to prosecute the bartender – or the bar.
What if a bartender is drinking behind the bar? For the most part, it’s not our business one way or the other. Aside from sometimes appearing to be unprofessional, bartenders can be prosecuted for being drunk behind the bar.
Many bar owners allow this to happen, but there are also state and federal laws on the books that regulate this sort of behavior.