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  • Stephan Busch

Theft in hospitality! Reasons - Reality - Perceptions

Theft in hospitality is a sad reality. The waiter and the housekeeper get blamed first – and most of the time they didn’t do anything! They were just conveniently there – appeared weak enough to be blamed. I don’t suggest to keep your eyes closed for the black sheep’s but as a manager trust and defense of your staff is your first priority!

Are all Bankers thieves?

--- no, that’s not fair either – I am sure there are some honest ones. But doe we have to live with a generalization that puts the stamp of crooks on a whole profession like waiters and housekeepers? When the guy in the great grey suit gives you a name card and he is a banker the reaction is normally – boooahh ! A banker - we meet some great people today ! This reaction comes even though bankers most properly stole more money from you in your life than a waiter would ever have a chance too steal

In an high quality printed advertising for Restaurant inventory software the opening sentence was a typical statement:

“Since restaurants and bars exist the waiters, always have been those who love to steal from the restaurants cash registers. That’s not big news. “

It continues in the text with the easy made remark :

” Most waiters and bartenders steal from your restaurant because they think they can easily get away with it”.

Great marketing for a company that tries to sell its product to people who have worked their way up from this roles. Its not advertising – it’s a smear campaign.

Can we just easily say that a whole profession is criminal? That brings up another question. Does this include the professional waiter or are these only the millions of underpaid , not trained part timers and students that we call also waiters? Are only the waiters and the so called “waiters” stealing or somebody else in the hospitality industry? And what is their motivation , their reason? Just because they can get easy away with it as this advertising suggested? What can we do about it?

Can we just easily say that a whole profession is criminal?

We shouldn’t as it is not true that the whole profession is criminal but sadly it is done and it reflects on the whole group which is a pity for the honest ones. Yes – there is a lot of theft going on in the hospitality industry.

There is a lot of employee theft going on in all other industries (do you want to know how many cars have been assembled in boom time Detroit or in Wolfsburg at VW on the side?). But this can not be an excuse. Hotel & Tourism is the biggest employer worldwide and so rightfully it should be taken serious, investigated and reported whenever it happens. First of all it should be prevented. I met many waiters , headwaiters, Maître’s that were outstanding honest personalities. They did not steal and their teams did not steal as they worked bounded by trust and loyalty. Even when not treated fair by their employers this was never an issue. There are of course others and I have witnessed many cases of theft. Theft by waiters, cooks, management, owners, guests, journalists, suppliers and many more. Except for waiters the other groups do not get mentioned in general.

Does this include the professional waiter

or are these only the millions of under paid , not trained part timers and students that we call also waiters?

It includes all of them. Again most waiters , barman and all other hospitality employees are honest. The black sheep’s make us all look bad. A recent article about the boom of tourism in Greece after the collapse of tourism in North Africa and Turkey reported of great income for restaurant and hotel owners. The high unemployment in the country allows these business owners to pay 2 Euro per hour or sometimes even 0 Euro. Tip is the carrot that is used.

For this money you can’t expect a professional and the ones who take this offer hope for tips or of course other ways to make more money. Outside the hospitality industry not many have heard about the theft of over 1 Million Euro from staff in the famous Adlon Hotel in Berlin. It was reported only in a few articles and not many follow up articles can be found even in the Berlin Newspapers. Here a link:

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We all know that guest are stealing sometimes towels, pictures and many more items. Would we generalize and say that guests are thieves? No we wouldn’t and we shouldn’t as it is simply not true.

What is the motivation?

Just because they can get easy away with it as this advertising suggested ?

One reason for theft in hospitality – and I believe the main reason as I heard it many times mentioned - is that employees believe it is just fair to take what the owner and employer should rightfully give them. I personally do not agree with that kind of reasoning as I believe that you should not take a position when you can not negotiate fair condition before the start and if you accept the employers condition it is self respect and dignity that will keep you honest or make you quit.

But I do understand them. When you get paid 2 Euros per hour as in Greece or slightly higher in New York - un employment is at an all time high - you might be tempted to feed your family at all cost. When you read articles like the one you find under this link

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- you will understand that staff that is poorly paid and often has to pay daily cash – from the tips - to the employer for keeping the job will consider stealing as a fair option.

When we were apprentice we also stole food from time to time. We believed it to be justified by getting paid 50 Euro per monthfor 12 hrs. to 16 hrs. working days, all weekends and holidays and many times without a day off at all. Who will throw the first stone?

Tipping is also a reason that staff feels robbed by employers.

Tips on Credit card are often not forwarded to the staff. I have seen that many times. I have witnessed owners who always took the complete staff tip box without sharing at all with the reason that this was paid with their salary. Service charge like in Germany ends up entirely with the business owner and never reaches the employee. Does any business explains this to the guest who believes that he paid 10% per cent to the staff ? In some countries it does though.

There is a Restaurant chain that is still operating where wait staff is paid 10 Euro for an 8 hour shift ( a little more than1 Euro per hour !) plus tips. The Restaurant supervisor is keeping a sheet in the back of the house where every mistake is noted down and deducted from this 1 Euro per hour! The waiters make good tips but this is not an excuse for such a business model. And you wonder why the staff think it is only fair to steal? The big companies dominating the cruise industry force guest to pay tips. Salaries are very low, uniforms have to be bought by staff. Do all the tips reach the staff ?

What can we do about it?

There are Hotels and restaurants who take Corporate Social Responsibility serious – it is the key – there are many where it is just said, printed, hanged on the wall beside the also ignored vision and mission statement and forgotten.

An employee that is treated fair, paid fair and feels that way will not steal from you easily. They will even stay long time with you and become loyal and trusted. The benefits of low staff turnover that comes with it we all know. All the places that hire only for the time they need staff and than are happy when they leave have to be aware that this kind of staff will want to make as much money in the short time they have. Also here – most will work the honest way - but not all.


We all have a lot to do. That includes owners, management, staff as well as the whole society. Prevention is only possible together with fair play. It is difficult in times where Banks are covered by law and bailed out by Governments for criminal conduct like in the last crisis. How can we teach our children to be honest in times where faked dissertations from ministers and Politian’s ( like in Germany Minister of Education, Minister of Defense and many more ) are normal and without severe consequences? In times where the cheating one seems to be the one winning? In times where the only task of insurances that people pay a lot for seems to be to avoid paying what they promised? There is a lot to do in all industries but we should do it for the reputation of hospitality and its workers.

There are organizations and people who do work actively on change – lets support them. Do not just follow the trend to blame waiters only when you can put less trust into your bank, insurance salesman and politician.

I believe it starts with ourselves. Can I change the others? I am honestly not sure and it is anyway not as easy and fast as to change myself. I am part of this society and have to live with many things I do not like or respect. But I have the choice to be honest, to keep my self respect and dignity even as a waiter. It has cost me jobs in the past, a better position or a raise but at the end it really made me feel good. It still does! I can respect myself and I believe the more people start thinking that way the closer we will get to a better society. Slowly, step by step but we should not stop. Service in hotels and restaurants is a great job that I love. The reputation got damaged by greedy owners first and black sheep’s followed.

Author: Stephan Busch, Academic Director at the State University for the Humanities Moscow RGGU, Faculty of Tourism & Hospitality earned his Master Certificate in Hospitality Management from Cornell University, USA. He has a diverse experience in launching operations, business development and service training- for hotel and cruise companies in Asia, Europe, Canada and,

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