Theft by bartenders is very common. When accounting procedures are lacking and management is clueless, bartenders can make an easy extra $100 per shift, or more, by stealing from the house – and you, the customer.

Bartenders are no different than anyone else – no matter what the industry. Some people just have a penchant for stealing.

So, why do bartenders steal? Because they can. Many bars make it easy, and smart, dishonest bartenders take advantage of poor bar accounting policy in many ways. For some it’s the thrill – for others, they’re just trying to get something ‘extra’ because they believe they deserve it.

If a bartender thinks he can get away with stealing, he’ll do whatever he can to put those extra few dollars into his pocket. The key to preventing this from happening is to have smart inventory controls in place – and for management to remain diligent.

In the food and beverage industry, there is no excuse for theft. Period. Zero-tolerance rules the day. More and more these days, company’s across a wide spectrum of industries are now adopting a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy towards theft. And that’s good for honest bartenders.

How do bartenders steal? That’s an entirely different subject, and I wrote a very informative post on many of the exact methods that dishonest bartenders use to line their own pockets. Check out 25 Ways Bartenders Rip Off the House for a real eye-opener.

Let’s not forget that most bartenders are honest, hard-working employees simply trying to support their families or put themselves through school.  It’s those unscrupulous few that ruin everything for us honest bartenders.

10 Reasons Why Bartenders Steal

I suppose you could come up with hundreds of reasons for bar theft, but it all starts with the individual bartender. Below are listed ten of the most common reasons why bartenders, and other members of staff, steal from their employers.

  1. They Need the Money
  2. The Thrill of it All
  3. They’re a Disgruntled Employee
  4. Drug and Alcohol Addiction
  5. Low Risk
  6. Mental Health Issues
  7. Lack of Security
  8. Lax Accounting Procedures
  9. Minor Repercussions
  10. Inflated Ego

By no means is this list all-inclusive. Psychology Today provides us with great insight as to the excuses and explanations that people use to defend their outright theft. Good stuff.

Let’s take a closer look at the above ten reasons for theft that are common in the food and beverage industry. For brand-new bartenders – take notice. Theft is the quickest way to getting booted out of your very first bartending job.

They Need the Money

Sure, everyone needs money. Bartenders are no different than any other employee in that respect. Whether it’s trying to support their family, pay off school loans and other bills, or putting money away to buy a house – it’s all the same.

The problem here is that taking money from someone else in order to improve one’s situation is simply wrong. We all know that – there’s no getting around it. I don’t think I need to elaborate any further on this subject.

The Thrill of it All

Yep. Some people just get off on the challenge. I’m no psychiatrist, but I do know that some bartenders steal just for the thrill of it. Believe it or not, there are a few arrogant bartenders out there, and they don’t think twice about ‘upping their game’ for their own personal gratification.

Why Do Bartenders Steal?

They probably don’t necessarily need the extra money, but if it’s there – why not grab it? Besides, the bar owner is making plenty of money, right?

Eventually, they’ll get caught. Everyone does sooner or later. There must be consequences, and it all comes down to whether or not management takes the appropriate action. Again, zero-tolerance is probably the only way to go.

They’re a Disgruntled Employee

Didn’t get that promotion? Are other bartenders getting the best shifts? I’ll fix them. This is just sad, as most bars will always promote and give the best shifts to their best employees. Yes, I know that there are exceptions – but it’s no reason to steal.

Theft is always the fault of the person doing the stealing; however, poor management can certainly contribute. Bar owners need to know how to keep their employees happy. Timely raises, recognition when it’s deserved, and good working conditions all contribute to happy and satisfied staff.

Dissatisfied With the Bar’s Tip Pooling House Policy

I wasn’t aware that bar and restaurant tip pools could be such an issue – until I worked in a bar with a strict tip pooling policy. Thanks, but no thanks.

Banquet bartending is a bit different, where tip pooling makes sense, but many bartenders are growing increasingly dissatisfied with tip pools. I know. I talk with other bartenders all the time.

I have also fired bartenders for stealing, and one of the reasons I’m given for their theft is that they felt like the house was ripping them off by forcing them to pool their tips.

Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Unfortunately, there is a problem with excessive drinking and drug use in the food and beverage industry. Especially in bars. Many bartenders, just like those in other industries, need to feed their habits.

But what about negligence because they’re drunk or high? Missed opportunities to sell additional food and beverage items, forgetting to ring up drinks, missing from their work station, etc. The list goes on.

Low Risk

If so inclined, it’s relatively easy to steal in the food and beverage industry. Apathetic managers, poor accounting controls, and otherwise good employees looking the other way. And many bar owners simply respond to outright theft with a simple warning.

Why Do Bartenders Steal?

Who’s going to miss a few dollars here and there? That’s the attitude of these thieves. And, they’re usually good enough at it that they can claim that a simple mistake was made. Good bar managers will eventually get to the bottom of it.

Mental Health Issues

Again, I’m no expert in the psychiatric field, by any means, but some people do have mental health issues. Let bar management handle this situation. Mental health is a serious issue, and bartenders should leave that to the professionals.

This doesn’t mean that you should ignore erratic or ‘questionable’ behavior. We’ve all been around long enough to know the difference between good and bad behavior – although that could be debated. Again, let management deal with the situation.

Lack of Security

No camera’s, unlocked liquor rooms and cabinets, no visible management. Ouch. This makes for the perfect storm. Lax controls will get the bar owner what he deserves – theft.

It doesn’t take much. Visible management is one of the best ways of preventing theft. I’m not talking about micro-managing here – I’m saying that management must be visible on the floor. Always. They should be doing their paperwork during off-hours.

Most bars, especially those chain type restaurants and bars, now have a ‘controller’ in the house that manages all the paperwork. You know – accounting, inventory, probably some Human Resources, etc. Management should be out there mingling with customers and solving problems.

Lax Accounting Procedures

There’s no inventory being taken. And employees know it. How can you possibly run a bar without taking regular, accurate inventory? Well, some bar owners do precisely this. Unbelievable.

taking bar inventory

Performing a spot inventory on bartenders goes a long way in preventing theft. I wrote a great article about preventing bartender theft that goes into more detail on how bar owners can cut down on theft.

Minor Repercussions

There are no consequences. Many bar owners simply look the other way when it comes to minor theft issues. Free drinks, drinking on the job, etc. This shouldn’t be so, and don’t you get caught up in those games.

Even major theft like walking out the back door with a bottle of vodka sometimes goes unpunished. Not on my watch. Believe me, other employees will catch on and assume that, ‘ It’s OK to take stuff once in a while.’


Arrogance kills. “I’m the best bartender in the business and my boss doesn’t realize it.”  You’re looking for trouble, here. Yes, you may be a great bartender, but giving yourself a raise through theft is not the way to go about getting compensated.

Check your ego at the door. You applied for the job. You’ve been working there long enough to know what the deal is. Either play by the rules or look for a different opportunity. It’s that simple.

Bartender Theft Conclusion

Bartender theft is prevalent – make no mistake about it. You, as a brand-new bartender shouldn’t even be thinking about it. Don’t get caught up in that “But everyone else is doing it” kind of attitude.

You will get caught. At the very least, your fellow employees AND customers will brand you as a thief.  No one wants that. Do you want that on your resume? What if potential future employers find out?

Stay honest, get better at your job, and be ready to strike when a hot new opportunity presents itself. Character goes a long way in this business.

Related Bartending Topics

OK – so bartender theft is a problem. How, exactly, are they stealing this money? Good question. I wrote a couple of articles on just this subject. Check out how bartenders are stealing from their bosses. Then read about how they can rip off the customer.

What if I see a fellow bartender (or any employee for that matter), stealing? This is a tricky subject. Most importantly, are you sure they are stealing? What are they stealing? Are they giving out free drinks? Is it even your business? No one wants to be a snitch, but something does need to be done.

I would suggest that, in many cases, you confront the employee and explain that if you see it again you will report the incident to the manager.