I started writing this blog in September, 2009. At that time, there was very little useful information about restaurant tax audits in Canada (or anywhere). In the 42 articles that I have written so far, I have tried to fill this gap with practical information geared towards restaurateurs. Based on the comments I’ve received from a number of readers, I think I have succeeded. There still isn’t much useful information about restaurant tax audits, other than what you will find in this blog. That’s a shame, but it keeps me motivated to continue helping as many restaurateurs as I can.
I had an interesting conversation with a restaurant owner the other day. We were discussing tax audits and he mentioned that he wasn’t worried, because his accountant had signed off on his financial statements. He thought that his accountant was responsible for paying any additional tax that might be reassessed by the CRA!
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.
The Canada Revenue Agency released some details of their 3-year pilot study (it was only supposed to run two years) of fraud in the restaurant industry. While not many details were released, you can read the Globe and Mail article, Taxman finds rampant restaurant fraud.
The media’s interpretation of the details that were released is a bit misleading. Of the 424 restaurants that were subject to scrutiny, it was determined that 143 of them exhibited evidence of fraud by erasing evidence of cash sales from their electronic POS systems. This is how they arrive at the “one-third” of all restaurants fraudulently hide sales from the taxman. Further, almost $1 million of hidden sales were revealed for each fraudulent establishment ($141 million).
So what’s misleading about that?
Most restaurateurs know they lose the cost of the pilfered product, but few understand that they may be responsible for the sales and income taxes (plus penalties and interest) that would have been incurred had the stolen product been sold. Significant tax liabilities often arise from sales (and income) tax audits of restaurants and bars. This can occur anytime purchased wine, beer and liquor is not sold, and one of the most common (and largest) causes of these items not being sold is theft and fraud.
When the auditor arrives to audit your bar or restaurant, he or she will review your internal controls to ensure the accuracy and completeness of your recorded sales and the taxes thereon. If the documentation is not available to determine that appropriate controls were effective throughout the audit period, the auditor will conclude that the controls were lacking and that the books and records may not be relied upon to support the sales taxes collected by the restaurant. Most independent restaurants will fall into this category. As a result, the auditor will proceed to apply an indirect audit approach to estimating the amount of sales that were likely to have been generated, based on your purchases of alcoholic beverages. Several key assumptions are used in this method, which I will describe in the remainder of this post.
As restaurateurs, we are all well aware of the high incidence of theft by our employees. Proper supervision and other internal controls can help minimize theft. As prudent businesspeople, we try to balance the cost of detecting and preventing theft against the cost of the items taken from the restaurant. Usually, we only consider the actual cost of the item that is being stolen. If a bottle of wine that costs us $20 goes missing, we consider our cost of the theft to be $20. Sound about right?
Unfortunately, your true cost of theft is substantially higher than the cost of the items that go missing! If you don’t believe me, please read on. You are about to be shocked and angered, I hope.