Stories from the Front…

Here are some of the interesting things I have seen in 24 years of hospitality mystery shopping with a phrase to remember them by. The stories may make you gasp, save you money, or just bring a smile.

“I did what you asked me to do”.

I once caught a bartender who was giving away a round of drinks to his regular guests every other round or so. It was easy to see because he served the drinks without taking cash or making a check update in the register at any time. When I reported these missing sales to the owners, rather than fire the bartender they approached him with the information and told him to stop doing what he was doing.

When I went back a few weeks later, the bartender had developed a whole new way to steal. He was placing upside down empty shot glasses in front of his regulars to signify someone had bought them a drink. He then served them a drink and removed the shot glass from in front of them, but later placed them down again in front of other guests he knew. The bartender realized whoever may be watching would just see he was serving “already paid for” drinks, but the truth was no guest had bought the drinks and they were not paid for by anyone. I had to smile at the ingenuity… he had stopped doing what he had been doing before, and that is what they were asking of him, wasn’t it?

“One from column A, two from column B”

A word of wisdom to owners using shopping reports. Make sure the reason you release someone based on a shopping report is the strongest possible reason. I once shopped a hotel bar where the bartender was not only stealing cash sales, but she was grossly over serving a guest who was unsteady on her feet, cursing loudly, and exhibiting some obvious signs of being intoxicated. I detailed both the over serving and all the missing drinks in the shop report, but the client, for whatever reason, decided to fire the employee for over serving rather than stealing. Can you guess what happened next? The employee fought the termination and the labor board ended up asking me lots of questions about how many drinks the guest was served, the signs of intoxication she was exhibiting, and what training I had in to determine this. Despite being TIPS certified it was my word vs. the employee’s and the labor board sided with the employee since there was no other proof other than what I saw. Had they fired the employee for stealing, where there was hard data on drinks served at specific times to specific guests that could be shown never were entered to the register, the client would not have lost the case and would have saved quite a bit of money.

“Hogs get slaughtered, pigs eat”.

I was once told this by a good friend in politics who was trying to explain the concept of graft to me. The message is to not get greedy and take it everything at once… take a little and take it over a long time.

Mario (not his real name) was working a downtown bar at night and was also the bar and night manager. Mario was very consistent with his register steps and sales entries; if you were running an open check or paying for an individual round with a credit card, he would enter the sale to the register for the proper amount each time. When ready to cash out your check he would accurately cash it out for either cash or credit for exactly what you were served. For these sales, Mario was very consistent and above board… but for anyone paying cash for the drinks at the time of service (what I call a pure cash sale as not check is ever created) he stole the round by quoting the price due, entering a No Sale in the register, and handing back change to the guest. Since the register was one of these horrible machines with no pole display or a screen that did not show the amounts entered clearly to the guests, few seemed to notice he was not actually entering the sale.

What Mario did that I have never seen anyone else do, was that Mario stole EVERY cash sale for the entire two hours I was at the bar. When I went back and shopped him again he was doing the exact same thing. There were at least 30 drinks each time I observed that were served and paid for that were not anywhere in the register receipts for the shifts I watched him.

Mario fought the termination and swore at a labor board hearing he has never stolen anything from the owner ever. I had to coach the attorney to make sure he asked me “how does what Mario did compare to other things you have seen during your shopping career?” so I could make the statement on the record I had never seen anyone steal every cash sale made in all the time I had been a manager of a restaurant or run a shopping service. The owner won, Mario lost. To this date, Mario was the biggest pure individual thief I have come across, but he was bold enough to still challenge the termination despite being caught red handed.

“No good deed goes unpunished”.

Once at an airport location I had to conduct a shop calling for two dining guests, but my date could not make it at the last second, so I did the shop alone. After sitting down at the table I told the server my wife was still checking our bags and ordered a glass of wine and a lunch entrée for her as well as for myself. When she (of course) never showed up to eat the meal I asked the waiter to pack the food up to go. To my utter astonishment he brought back the wine in a take out cup with lid along with the food. In Massachusetts, where this happened, this is against every law you can imagine. I believe he was fired before the shift ended.

“Know the answer to the question before you ask it”

Every courtroom attorney will tell you they never ask any question of a witness without knowing the answer beforehand. A good mystery shopper will do the same thing. A waitress once served me a stew that was supposed to contain several silver dollar size pieces of chorizo sausage in it. It is the best part of the stew that I had enjoyed many times before, but when she served it this time there was no sausage in it at all. As my job is to appear to be someone unfamiliar with the food, I asked her “didn’t the menu say there was sausage in this stew?”. Without batting an eye. she leaned close and said “it is in there, it is just chopped up very small”. Apparently she did not realize that even if the sausage had been pureed I would have been able to at least taste it. Why acknowledge and fix a problem when you can make something up and tell the guest they are wrong?


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