How does surveillance change behaviour in restaurants?

Restaurant surveillance may improve profit margins -- but not because owners can catch thieves in the act.

The modern world is full of surveillance. Speed cameras, street cameras and Internet monitoring systems are only some of the ways our behavior is monitored -- but can such techniques reduce the rate of theft in the service industry?

According to a new report, "Cleaning House: The Impact of Information Technology Monitoring on Employee Theft and Productivity" (.pdf), the work of Lamar Pierce, Daniel Snow, and Andrew McAfee, details how significant an impact surveillance can have on our daily lives.

There are a number of ways that restaurant and bar staff are able to supplement often modest or tip-based earnings. Whether staff use matchsticks to keep a mental note of incorrectly-given change and the few dollars pushing the till "up" to be collected later, or using "no sale" to access money without charging for drinks in exchange for being "taken care of," techniques used vary.

The research team measured how rates of theft altered at 392 restaurants in U.S. 39 states after the installation of surveillance technology. In each of the five "casual dining" chains, NCR Restaurant Guard tracking software analyzed all transactions and detected suspicious patterns, which could be a sign of staff filching from the till.

Over 630,000 transactions were tracked and collected through the research project.

The software installed gave managers an electronic tip-off to detectable unusual behaviour. After installation, the researchers say that average revenue increased by seven percent -- $2,982 -- per outlet. However, the team say that this change in pattern was not due to catching those with sticky fingers, but rather the mental impact of knowing you are being watched.

As a result of surveillance, staff were less likely to lift from the till -- and in order to boost their earnings, put more effort into their jobs -- such as prompting customers to have an extra beer or desert which raised revenue and their individual tips.

Employee theft costs the food industry an estimated $200 billion a year.

Via: The New York Times

Image credit: Flickr

This post was originally published on