In the restaurant business, we learn about hospitality. We learn about finance. We learn about marketing. We learn (a lot) about operations as there are so many variables. But we learn – often the hard way – about fraud.
In the wider world, there is a certain segment of the population who think it’s OK to take what they want at your expense. Some are subtle, others are divisive and a few are criminal. Here’s a summary of a few that have tried in the years I have been a restaurateur which may help you spot them before they get you.
Email is the easiest one to use to try to trick you out of your money. I have had two variants of email fraud over the years.
E-commerce Con Trick
The first was one asking for the restaurant to ship cases of Louis Roederer Cristal. This is a variant of a classic e-commerce con trick where a stranger asks you to ship a product to them after they pay – usually over the phone. The address they would give you is usually the card address, but they will go on to ask for delivery at a specific time and, usually, intercept the delivery person by waiting nearby for them to arrive. So they get the goods. Then the cardholder discovers the fraud transaction and asks for it to be reversed. You then lose the money, along with the expensive goods they ordered. Back in 2010, there were less stringent controls on telephone sales, but if you follow best practice on distance selling MOTO transactions (i.e. the correct procedure) you should be able to protect your business against the financial loss, but you won’t get the products back.
Another variation of this is when somebody orders a take away over the phone and comes to collect. They may then add some odd items to the order, like bottles of Cristal, bottles of whisky, and may even ask for cash back. When you start to see these completely irregular purchases from a stranger, you should get suspicious. And I don’t know why a restaurant would offer a cash-back service like a supermarket. But if you really must, limit it to a small amount – you are not a bank!
Best practice: Don’t leap at random opportunities that come out of nowhere without conducting a full due-diligence on them. Where it’s obviously fake, just send it to the spam bin or refuse the order.
Unhappy Customer Compensation Trick
This one is a recent development which I posted over on my LinkedIn account recently. This one leans on your sympathetic side as an alleged customer sends an email to the restaurant and politely says they had a problem recently and the staff apologised and told them they would send them a voucher, but they haven’t heard back and are ‘just following up’. For large companies and chains, this would probably just get a ‘sorry’ and a voucher sent by email. It’s ‘small-change’ for them. But for independents, it makes a difference. And you have no idea what may happen if they do actually turn up – they may cause a scene to get the rest of the meal for free.
Best Practice: If it’s obviously fake, bin it. Or apply due diligence so you check the details. Find out the customer name and contact number – if they are a regular they should be in your booking system. Find out the specifics of the meal – actual foods ordered – and check with your team. Ask the customer where they sat. If the experience was so bad it warrants compensation they should be able to easily provide all the details you need before giving away free stuff.
There’s Something in My Food Trick
This can vary from something as innocuous as a long hair to various rogue materials they bring along with them, through to the malicious foreign body (like a screw) they plant to intimidate you into giving them the whole meal for free.
The screw actually happened and the con-artist made a good scene of choking followed by a bit of a drama about their child’s meal. The whole scene was suspicious as we make the minced lamb by hand and the chef said he would have felt the screw when he was kneading the herbs and seasoning into the minced lamb. Plus the screw wasn’t one you’d find in our kitchen. Sadly they were sat in a blind spot at the time so the only evidence was the screw on the table and their word. When you’re faced with angry customer threatening to go to the hospital, refuse to pay and waltz out trying to make you feel guilty all the while, it’s a tough call. However, they left and laughed their way down the road without any sign of injury, jumped in their car and drove off, never to be heard from again. Naturally, I took their registration number.
Best Practice: Watch the guests all the time, and make sure you cover the corners with your CCTV. If your staff are always diligent, guests are less inclined to try these tricks. Your CCTV gives you back-up against false claims. And, if somebody does try this on and nothing comes of it you can always report them for fraud if you have their registration number. Remember to keep your cool and get as much information from end-to-end.
I will Leave you a Bad Review
Guests can sometimes think they get to call all the shots. Sometimes you make a mistake and you may offer something to the guest as compensation – a drink, a voucher, a dessert, etc. This may be in keeping with what you may normally do, and what other establishments may also do if the same thing happened to them. But on this occasion, the guest thinks they are more entitled and demand more for free. And if they don’t get it they will leave you a bad review.
Any guest that tries to blackmail you into submission doesn’t deserve to eat in your restaurant in my view, so how you treat them is up to you.
Most larger operations would have managers approve any kind of discount or complimentary items, and if the guest is being difficult I am sure they would be given the option of escalating their complaint to senior management who may offer something later. If they won’t budge and they are out of line, let them write the review but put your side of the story so people can see the unnecessary abuse you had to suffer and draw a line in the sand.
Best practice: Try to diffuse the confrontation and agree on the compensation you are prepared to make. Worst case is to put your side of the case in a response to their ‘review.’