What is Time Theft and What Can Restaurants Do to Prevent it?

Eric StoberOperations & Management, Restaurants

This is the fourth post in our series from 7shifts, staff scheduling made for restaurants. Learn how 7shifts and Bypass can help quickly create schedules, clock in directly on Bypass POS and leverage sales and labor insights. 

Your employees help keep your restaurant running, but sometimes they can also work against you in unplanned ways.

Are your employees being paid without actually working and contributing to your restaurant’s productivity? Time theft, buddy punching, and other mischievous clock-in activities can leave your business overpaying some under-working employees.

If you aren’t careful, time theft can creep its way into your restaurant’s profits. While it may only account for a few dollars here and there, it can add up to hundreds of dollars every month. A study by the American Society of Employers found that 20% of every dollar earned by a U.S. company is lost to employee time theft.

But what can a restaurant do to tackle employee time theft in a careful and considerate way?

Read on to learn different types of time theft, how to detect it, and what can be done to prevent it.

How your staff may be stealing time at work

1. Buddy punching

A very common form of time theft is called “buddy punching.” A buddy punch is when an employee clocks in for their friend who’s running late, and in extreme cases, when the other employee isn’t coming in at all. This leaves your business paying an employee for work that wasn’t being done.

Research published in 2017 shows buddy punching has cost U.S. employers $373 million every year, and a Pollfish survey found that out of 1,000 employees, 16% admitted to clocking in for a colleague.

The tricky thing about buddy punching is that there’s no way for payroll to tell if the employee was actually working or not when they say they started—costing you money for no added value to your business. But cameras and smart software can give payroll an assist.

Here are a few things to try:

  • Installing a camera at your clock-in terminal to monitor who is punching in when, and for what employee. You can also see if an employee is clocking in more than once.
  • Leverage Bypass to detect improper clock-ins through its reporting. If it seems like an employee is raking up too many hours from what you have originally scheduled them, you can look closer to see if they take an extra 15 minutes in their shift.
  • Consider using time and GPS-tracking mobile apps to tackle buddy punching by only approving clock-ins by employees who are physically at your restaurant.
  • Use software-based push notifications prior to employee shifts to keep employees informed and reduce the frequency of late punch-ins.
  • Leverage schedule enforcements cross-referenced with 7shifts scheduling software to only allow an employee to clock-in when they are scheduled and prevent clock-ins for unscheduled shifts.
  • Install a biometric time clock if buddy punching is a recurring issue at your restaurant. A biometric time clock that has a fingerprint scanner or facial scanner can make sure that the employee signing in is actually the right employee, but that solution can be pricey.

2. Frequent breaks

Is your restaurant staff taking frequent (and unapproved) breaks during their shift? While short breaks can be important for keeping your employees sharp, you may find some employees like them a little too much.

With the rise of smartphones, employees now have a world of distraction right at their fingertips that can break down workflows and reduce your restaurant’s efficiency. Restaurant employee guidelines, cameras, and software can be the perfect solution to cut down on employee break time eating into your restaurant’s productivity.

To tackle small breaks employees might take during their shift, consider these strategies.

  • Implement a break policy that includes smartphone use so employees have allotted phone time without breaking the rules. Start placing timed breaks periodically through their shift—like 15 minutes every 3 hours. When you use restaurant scheduling software, breaks can be added automatically into your employee’s schedules to make it easier for everyone.
  • Implement a phone policy to detail when and where your employees can check their phones. Ideally, phone time should fall outside of the restaurant’s peak hours. If you want to go to the extreme, you can even have a box to collect phones at the start of a shift if the problem is getting out of hand.
  • Consider installing cameras to monitor workplace behavior and check for phone usage and downtime.

Breaks are important in the restaurant industry to keep your employees fresh, so don’t skimp on them, but implement them in a controlled manner to keep both you and your employees happy and productive.

Tackling time theft with work environment

You may find that the best solution to tackling time theft at your restaurant is also the simplest—cultivating a positive work environment. When employees truly care about your restaurant, enjoy working there, and are invested in your business, they’re much less likely to steal time at work.

While it’s shrewd to implement a break or phone policy, it is also important to implement it in a way that is not too repressive to your staff. To introduce the policy in a positive and transparent way, do so at a staff meeting where you can share data backing why it needs to be implemented, and give staff the chance to air their grievances.

Worried about adherence to the new rules? You can also make a no-tolerance policy so staff take the rules seriously. Since the rules are set out clearly and transparently, there should be no surprises when they need to be implemented.

When hiring new staff, be sure to check for a work environment fit. If you build the right team with the right personalities and work ethic, you will be able to cultivate the appropriate culture at your restaurant. In the hiring process, you can perform reference checks to weed out people with a tendency for bad behavior.

Always strive to build a positive work environment in your behavior and company activities, such as staff parties, giving positive feedback, sending a monthly company newsletter or offering rewards for good behavior or achievements.

The goal is to create a transparent and trusting environment, where staff don’t hold grudges and try to work against you, but are all part of the same team.


While time theft is a problem that can often fly under the radar, you can drastically reduce this problem with the right processes and software.

  1. Decide your break and phone policies and use cameras to make sure they are followed
  2. Use software solutions to prevent buddy punching and other mischievous punch-in activities
  3. Focus on cultivating a positive restaurant culture your employees value and upkeep!

In addition to the immediate impacts this can have on your bottom line, the larger implications for your business numerous. For example, when time-tracking is properly implemented and enforced, managers and operations can significantly cut down on the administrative time associated with running payroll. In addition, when schedules are rigorously enforced this provides an overall benefit to staff and they will be confident that they will always be accurately compensated for the time they work, which in turn leads to higher level of confidence in management and reduced staff turnover in the long run.