Financial Data
Updated 20 Jul 2018

Combat stock theft in 3 effective steps

You’re don’t set out to hire criminals, but sometimes desperate times drive staff to pinch your food stock, ultimately driving your profits (and workplace morale) down. 

Diana Albertyn, 10 October 2017  Share  0 comments  Print

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Counting drumsticks, bags of fries and hamburger buns shouldn’t be on your list of daily priorities, but in an industry where margins are tight, food costs are always a concern. When you realise too much food goes missing or ends up in the waste bin regularly, it won’t be long before you begin to feel the pinch. 

While some employees may steal to reduce financial pressure, some may view it as the norm. It could even be an act of revenge by others who feel they are unfairly treated. Either way, it’s an issue that needs your attention – whether or not it has occurred in your business yet.

Related: Stock theft costs SA R430m a year


According to research by criminologists, three factors underpin employee theft:

  • The first is ‘opportunity’ or the circumstances that make it possible to engage in theft.
  • The second is motivation. In other words, if employees feel underpaid and overworked, they are more inclined to engage in theft.
  • The third factor is rationalisation, which is the attempt to justify certain behaviours or attitudes with logical reasoning.

Not to profess that your employees will steal from you, here are ways to prevent or alleviate the situation from leading SA franchisor Sally J’Arlette Joy, CEO and Founder of Sandwich Baron: 

1. Preventative measures combat theft 

Where immediate action is required, one of the quickest ways to deal with rampant theft is to install surveillance cameras at the premises. This may not be a good way to boost staff morale, but if theft occurs on an ongoing basis, it is one of the quickest and easiest ways to counter it. 


  • Keep fridges and storerooms locked.
  • Keep less stock on the premises. It is more manageable and easier to count.
  • Put labels on shelves and freezers to easily identify where everything is. 

“Another proactive step towards reducing theft is to regularly monitor inventory,” says J’Arlette Joy. Although isn’t a popular task, it’s a critical means of controlling food costs, therefore boosting profitability. She says it is a task many managers do half-heartedly or don’t do often enough.


  • Check fridges regularly for little packages of food that have been tucked away at the back.
  • Inspect bins for food items that have been stored away for later removal.
  • If the business is large enough, it might be worthwhile to consider employing someone to control the stocks.

2. Keep track of all inventory 

Inventory -taking -process

For the inventory-taking process to be successful, it needs to be structured properly. This means inventories need to be taken regularly. In addition, they need to be taken at the same time of day – either before the outlet opens or after it closes, suggests J’Arlette Joy. Ideally, they should also be taken before a delivery arrives so that the new stock can be added to the count.

“Scales are an important tool for businesses in the food industry,” she adds. “It is best to invest in a good and reliable scale to check stock sent by the suppliers and weigh portions.” Guessing the weight of food is not advisable as the likelihood of making an inaccurate judgement is high. 

Related: How to prevent employee theft in your retail store

3. Use easy operating systems

Put yourself in the shoes of the people working in various roles in your business. How, when and how often would you have the opportunity to steal if you were in charge of certain functions? How would you escape detection?

“This exercise can be very productive in revealing some serious security gaps and loopholes in your business,” experts advise.

There are several other controls that can be put into place to prevent a loss of inventory in your eatery:

  • Conduct thorough reference checks before taking on new staff.
  • Ensure there is only one access point to the premises.
  • Make sure to conduct training on controls. This is often overlooked even though it is so important.


It’s not easy to detect a thief from the get-go, but being vigilant and clearly stating the business’ policy on theft and fraud in employment agreements and in the business's operations manuals is good measure. Leave no one in any doubt as to what the rules are and what is expected of them.

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About the author

Diana Albertyn

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