Ask The Salty Waitress: Customers Keep Stealing Our Salt And Pepper Shakers

Dear Salty, My wife and I own a breakfast and lunch restaurant, and we're blessed that it does a steady business of tourists and regulars. We've been fortunate, our customers and staff are generally all great and our regulars are like family. But we have a problem with customers stealing our salt and pepper shakers. My wife and I buy them from yard sales and antique shops, and they're all mismatched, some with roosters or pigs or lighthouses, etc. It's part of the charm and fits with the decor of the dining room, but we're going through more of them than I can keep up with. How can I keep them from ending up in customers' pockets?

Thanks,At My Wit's End

Dear Wit's End,

Ah, the curse of cute tchotchkes. Or cute anything, really. Fun rule of thumb for restaurant owners: Customers will steal anything that isn't nailed down, including toilet paper rolls, so best to keep those treasured family heirlooms out of reach. And it doesn't matter what kind of restaurant you run—no one is immune.

What can you do about these grubby thieves? You've got a few options.

  1. Swap out the shakers. Go to a restaurant supply store, get yourself dozens of boring, cheap salt and pepper shakers, and put the cute ones on shelves out of people's reach. They're still there adding ambiance, but they're less likely to end up in purses and pockets.
  2. Switch to packets. If people still can't resist snatching your shakers—that's gotta be a euphemism for something—you either have to eat that cost, or you might have to switch to those paper salt and pepper packets. Kind of tacky, I know, but if your restaurant is casual enough, maybe it's not a big deal.
  3. Salt and pepper on request. A chef friend of mine suggested making customers ask for seasoning (servers can bring over one of those big wooden pepper mills, which people seem to like for some reason), but at a breakfast place, that sounds like a pain in the ass. If I'm a customer, I don't want to wait on salt and pepper while my eggs are getting cold.
  4. Train your staff. Have you talked to your staff about the thefts? I know when it gets busy, I don't have the time to police every table, but if servers know to give a glance at the salt and pepper shakers as a table's leaving, maybe they could spot some of the shakers before they walk out the door.
  5. Sell that shit. Maybe customers, especially tourists, just really want a souvenir from your restaurant. Have you ever sold hats or mugs or even salt and pepper shakers? Get some made with your restaurant's name and see if that doesn't solve the problem. If it doesn't, at least those merch profits would offset some of the thefts.

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