Trust, but verify.

Count with MatchesThis other day there was a meeting on my schedule, but instead of meeting with me, my colleague was meeting with the police. Our meeting had to be cancelled because the person I was going to meet was dealing with the fact that their long-time, right-hand person had been exposed for embezzling a considerable sum of money over a period of years.

This is not the first time I have heard similar stories.

Another client had a controller who claimed the necessity for “getting in touch with restaurant operations.” That meant working the closing shift at their highest volume unit every Friday. It turned out that the sole purpose of working those shifts was to adjust the numbers at the unit level so the considerable sum they were stealing would not be needed to balance the books. This went on for years before being exposed.

At still another independent restaurant group, we received a signed consulting agreement and anticipated developing the capabilities of this well-regarded, three-unit restaurant group. Instead, we got a follow-up request to cancel the deal. When the owner requested the funds for our fees be transferred from the company’s money market account, it turned out there was no money in the account – it had been stolen by the bookkeeper.

I had my own brush with this, albeit in a lesser way when I was operating. One of my store controllers figured out the perfect crime. Take all the money in the safe at the end of the evening on Saturday, bet it on the Cowboys, have the money back in my safe by the time we opened for business on Monday, and keep the profit. I think you can guess how that one went. Not well for me, the controller, or the Cowboys.

I believe people are born with basic goodness. But I also know that a lot of things can happen along the way that can change people or their behavior.

It is important to protect yourself with the basics. Everyone must be cross trained. Everyone must go on vacation and have someone sit in their seat when they are gone. Controls must be instituted. It is a good idea, no matter how big or small your business, to ask frequent, random, and detailed questions about both significant and mundane income and expenses.

I don’t want to alarm you. We have clients who frankly are so concerned about protecting themselves that they decide to withhold information from managers who could use it to advance the good of their restaurants. Like with all things, it’s important to find the right balance. Protect yourself, but don’t spend so much time and energy protecting yourself that that is all you do.

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