Coupons, cash and connivers
Coupons are proven business drivers, but if they're not tracked carefully, some of the money they bring through the door could leave in servers' and delivery drivers' pockets.
 
Jim Pohle, a 20-year veteran delivery driver, said drivers easily can scam an operator by applying coupons fraudulently. The trick is simple: A driver keeps handy a supply of coupons gathered at the store, through the mail or advertising media, and when a customer pays full price for an order in cash, the driver submits the proper coupon and pockets the difference.
 
Table servers pull a similar trick. According to Jim Laube at RestaurantOwner.com, an e-consulting Web site, all servers have to do is collect multiple coupons and claim them against fully paid checks.
 
"I haven't done any empirical studies on that kind of theft, but I think it's fairly common," said Laube, a former restaurant manager. "If there's a way to cheat the system, somebody will try."
 
Pohle, who works for Domino's Pizza, agreed, saying someone's always trying to stay a step ahead of the boss by nabbing a few bucks at a time. "Years ago, Domino's drivers used to get $3-off coupons, and if a customer didn't use one on an order, they'd tear one off and turn it in at the end of the night."
 
Still, he called such thieves a few bad apples among the bunch than the majority of drivers. "Most guys don't want to risk their jobs over a few bucks extra. But there's always someone who will."
 
Watch carefully
 
Pohle said Domino's proprietary PULSE POS system makes coupon scams a serious challenge because drivers have to account for every coupon claimed. If the driver returns from a run saying the customer paid with a coupon that wasn't mentioned during the order process, he has to make the change in the system using his I.D. and password.
 
"If the manager's looking at the computer report and sees that Driver 07 is discounting $50 in orders per night, he should know something's up and who's doing it," Pohle said.
 
The problem is more common at the independent operator level, Pohle said, because not everyone uses a POS system with the technical muscle to track such activity.
 
"What happens at some independent places is the driver takes an order for full price, and then he changes it on the paperwork saying the customer had a coupon," he said. "If these guys aren't using POS systems that track coupons, the driver could make five or six bucks a delivery. And if they've got a good scam going, they could probably pull off a couple hundred dollars in a week and then leave that job before they get caught."
 
In a dine-in situation, an operator has more control, Laube said, because the transaction occurs onsite. A diligent operator can apply several means of double checking the coupon's authenticity, such as one listed in a recent RestaurantOwner.com Profit Tip of the Week. Floor managers, it said, should approve all coupon redemptions before guests leave because a conniving server is less likely to present a fraudulent coupon if the manager has a chance to verify it with the guest.
 
A thorough manager also will make random table visits to ask guests "how they enjoyed the meal and if they found value in the coupon." The Tip further advised a manager "make a friendly inquiry as to where the guest obtained the
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coupon." Laube wrote that he knew of servers who would give coupons to guests in hopes it would be reflected in their tips.
 
"One thing I'd do is watch the number of coupons each server turns in," Laube said. "If someone has significantly more than the rest of the pack, that's probably your first clue something's up."
 
Laube also recommended operators treat coupons like cash and gift certificates and keep them under lock and key. "Whatever you do, don't make it easy for them to get them."
 
Tech tools to the rescue
 
Speedline Soutions is helping users track coupons — both to gauge coupon performance and for security purposes — with its POS system. The Lynden, Wash.-based software developer has built in several checkpoints in order-taking and driver cash-out procedures that make it difficult for employees to cheat the system.
 
Some of Speedline customers set up high-value coupons, such as a free medium pizza, with "voucher required" status, which leads the system to track and reconcile that coupon as an additional tender type.
 
"The employee is responsible for putting those physical coupons into the till or they will owe the store that amount of money instead," said Speedline spokesperson Jennifer Wiebe.
 
The system also can be set up to force drivers to cash-out after every run and submit coupons then. Not only does the exercise reinforce driver accountability for cash, it minimizes excuses for lost coupons, Wiebe said.
 
Like Domino's PULSE POS, Speedline's system also tracks individual driver's performance to help operators spot trends, such as an extraordinary number of coupons applied by a driver after delivery.
 
And should a driver be crafty enough to steal a coworker's I.D. and password in order to apply coupons that way, Speedline offers fingerprint I.D. to stop him.
 
"Because the POS tracks who did what and when, fingerprint security adds another level of protection," Wiebe said. "The finger sensors reinforce to employees that someone is keeping track, and they're obviously much harder to dispute than a password that could easily be borrowed or stolen."

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