Taxing Theft

We all know that some amount of alcohol will be pilfered.  Don’t you love that word?  Pilfered.  Sounds like a mere pittance.  It is anything but.  As a rule of thumb, the cost of the theft will be about three times the cost of the alcohol that is, ah, pilfered.

If you’ve been following recent posts on my sister blog, Canadian Restaurateur, you may have noticed a theme. Theft.  All restaurateurs know that theft is a significant issue that requires our constant vigilance.  The cost of the stolen product is bad enough, but if you also have to pay tax (plus penalties and interest) on the retail value of the stolen product,  it becomes a huge issue.  Everyone knows it isn’t right that a restaurateur should have to pay tax “as if” the stolen alcohol had been sold. Unfortunately, that isn’t the way it works in most tax jurisdictions.

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Legalized Extortion?

I’m going to describe a real case study and let you decide if the title of today’s blog is true.  This situation occurred several years ago at a client’s restaurant in Ontario.

My client operated a small, reasonably successful, restaurant in a fashionable downtown neighbourhood.  She was the head chef, general manager and office administrator.  She did everything but wait on tables.  I found her to be scrupulously honest in every respect.  One day she received notice that her restaurant had been selected for a retail sales tax audit.  She wasn’t concerned, at all.  In fact, she relished the opportunity to show the auditor her impeccably accurate and organized accounting records.  She knew that she had always collected and remitted the correct tax from all of her sales transactions.  She recorded every single sales transaction, even the few that were settled with cash.  In short, she thought it would be an impossibility that the auditor could reassess her business for any unpaid taxes.  She was about to experience the the impossible!

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You’ve Been Selected

You will find out about your upcoming audit, when you receive an officious telephone call from the auditor assigned to your establishment.  He or she will try to schedule a start date for the audit within the next couple of weeks.  They don’t like to give you too much time to get ready for their arrival, but they have some scheduling flexibility.  It all happens very quickly (in the space of a minute or so).  Even seasoned tax professionals begin to sweat!

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Is Your Restaurant Going to be Audited?

If you operate a restaurant or bar that serves alcohol, you can be certain that you will come face to face with one or more government auditors, about every four years.

Why?  Provincial and federal tax authorities truly believe that under-reporting sales is rampant in the hospitality industry.  Tax authorities are statute barred from reassessing returns more than four years old, in most jurisdictions.  So, every few years, you can expect a visit from the provincial sales tax auditor, who will audit two to four years’ worth of sales returns during each visit.  Canada Revenue Agency audits GST returns, but not nearly many or as often as the provincial authorities audit RST returns.  Undoubtedly, this is because there are far more GST registrants than RST vendors, and the GST registrants are much larger tax collectors.  However, with the coming harmonization of Ontario and BC sales taxes with the GST, both provinces’ licensed restaurants should expect a dramatic increase in sales tax audits (covering both taxes).

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Welcome to my new blog that should be a ‘must read’ for restaurateurs and their financial advisors.  My primary focus is on the audit procedures and practices used by Canada Revenue Agency (GST and income taxes) and the various provincial tax authorities (Retail Sales Tax & income taxes).  I am particularly concerned about the very significant risk that these practices  present to your restaurant.  To my knowledge, there are no other blog (or web) sites addressing this vital topic.  At the present time, I will remain anonymous, to avoid possible recriminations that may result from my comments.

As a successful restaurateur, I have been audited by CRA and the provincial government several times.  As a Chartered Accountant, I have been involved, helping other restaurants through their audits and subsequent appeals of their reassessments.  It can be an extremely frustrating, time-consuming, and expensive experience dealing with government auditors and the inevitable reassessments.  And it is getting worse!

In this blog, I will explain the various practices employed by tax auditors and how you can avoid an unjust reassessment.  Not only can you expect to save thousands of dollars in additional taxes, you may be able to significantly reduce your professional fees incurred to fight these insidious tax reassessments.  In Ontario, to obtain or renew your liquor license, your sales tax account must not be in arrears.  An audit will usually result in a reassessment for additional taxes, along with penalties and interest.  In most cases, the reassessment comes as a complete shock to the restaurateur.  Whereas CRA reassessments can be appealed, resulting in a suspension of immediate collection efforts, there is no such provision for Ontario taxes.  They will aggressively pursue collection efforts as soon as the reassessments are issued.  If your license is up for renewal, you must pay the entire amount of reassessed taxes, even though you will be appealing them. 

In July, 2010, Ontario and B.C. will be “harmonizing” their provincial sales taxes with the federal GST.  This has a number of implications for restaurants and other businesses.  Provincial auditors will be out if full force during the next four and a half years, as they attempt to audit as many businesses as possible before the sales tax years become statute barred from subsequent reassessment.  This will be their last kick at the cat, so to speak.  All indications are that they will not let this opportunity go by.    After that, you can expect to see more frequent visits from CRA auditors.  When they make a reassessment, it won’t be for 5% GST shortfalls, it will be for 13% HST shortfalls (Ontario).

With over 30 years’ experience as a CA, and 15 as a restaurateur, one can feel that he has seen it all!  But, I know that I haven’t.  I’m sure there are many new horror stories that would be of interest to my readers.  If you have such a story, please do tell us about it, so that we can all learn from the experience.  Obviously, you should write these stories anonymously.  If you are more comfortable sending the details to me in an email, please send them to  You can be assured that I will keep any private information in the strictest of confidence.