The Restaurant: Impossible episode chronicling last year's fix-up of Whiskey Creek Steakhouse in Keyport, which first aired earlier this month, is now available through Comcast's On Demand service. Or, in the spirit of the show, you could steal it online.
When restaurant owner Pat Ziarnik last October spoke to Voracious about the filming, he stressed the "Texas chic" decor, menu adjustments and a la carte pricing structure which the Food Network team left in its wake. But he failed to mention host Robert Irvine's discovery of significant employee theft.
Viewers of similar restaurant makeover shows are likely to be familiar with the foibles depicted in the episode's dining room scenes, such as unwashed coffee pots and hamburger buns sporting happy faces drawn in ketchup. But Irvine deviates from the script which usually calls for the show's host to root through the cooler for evidence of frozen ingredients or rotting meat. Instead, he digs through the Ziarniks' books, coming up with an unexplained $111,000 in missing funds.
The Ziarniks admit the bar has been using the wrong size jigger, so customers were routinely receiving two free ounces of liquor with every Whiskey Creek drink. But Irvine's skeptical the measurement mistake could result in a loss equal to the value of 18,000 steaks.
In the show's most compelling scene, Irvine asks each of the staffers to step into a secret voting booth and respond to the question "Have you ever seen anyone steal from the restaurant?" by depositing a "yes" or "no" card in a box. He then randomly distributes the cards to the assembled staffers to hold up, resulting in an unbroken string of yeses.
But what Irvine's pulled off is a basic restaurant magic trick. The consultant phrased his question in such a way that if there was one known thief in the bunch, it would produce an all-yes line-up. And statistics show most restaurants are likely to have at least one thief.
According to a study of 1083 restaurants conducted by the National Food Service Security Council, 44 percent of restaurant employees steal. The average annual take is $113.46, although managers who stuff lobsters in their pants and nick hundred dollar bills from the till may pose a substantially higher cost.
"It's important to assume that people are stealing from you," the Nation's Restaurant News advised its readers.
The most common cases of restaurant theft feature a staffer giving a free meal to a friend or pocketing the money for an order without recording the transaction. Since that kind of theft can't be monitored through surveillance cameras, industry publications advise restaurant owners to drug screen their hires, run detailed reference checks and keep careful tabs on inventory.
But recent academic literature proposes a very different strategy: Staffers are less inclined to steal if they're satisfied with their jobs and paid fairly. "Co-workers are less likely to collude to steal inventory from their company when relative wages are higher," explained a 2012 paper entitled "Can Wages Buy Honesty?"
Irvine was right when he told the Ziarniks their relaxed schedule, which didn't include being at the restaurant for dinner service, was contributing to the theft problem. But showing up to support their workers and foster happier work conditions might be more effective than showing up to snoop. And pay raises probably wouldn't hurt either.
An update posted on the show's web page says, "Pat and (his wife) Karan perform 'a lot more double checks' to deter costly staff actions. Recently two staff members were let go, 'mostly because they were caught doing other wrongs,' they tell us."
Ziarnik didn't return calls seeking comment.