Video Monitoring VS Spot Checking

At VideoData Insights, we’re all about video monitoring.

Over the years we’ve put a lot of time and effort into thinking about video monitoring as an operational tool – why it works, what are its strengths and limitations, and how it can best be used to reveal the most sophisticated operational insights – all at the lowest cost and effort from our clients.

When talking to bar and restaurant operators, one comment we hear a lot is, “I already monitor our video. I use an app on my phone to log into our cameras and check up on what’s going on.”

We refer to this type of video monitoring as “spot checks.” And while spot checks have their value, they have significant limitations, and offer a mere fraction of the insights and effectiveness provided by a full video monitoring service. In this post, I’d like to talk about the differences between spot checks and video monitoring, and describe “video monitoring” in more detail.

  1. Sample Size. A spot check is, by definition, a short review of a specific “spot” in time and place. Even when spot checks are performed frequently, the accumulated amount of video reviewed is but a small percentage of the video available. As one might expect, the chances that the spot check happens to coincide with the exact instant a relevant incident takes place is fairly small. As a result, the spot check has a fairly low chance of catching repeated patterns of incidents that can negatively affect operations, and profit margins. While a manager can certainly extend their viewing time, no manager can devote the time and effort needed to review hours of video (without negatively impacting their other responsibilities).   

But a good video monitoring service does exactly that. They’ll review several hours of video, at different locations within the bar or restaurant.  As the sample size is measured in hours rather than minutes, they will see those individual incidents – each of which might take only a few seconds – that spot checks will likely miss. This way, problematic behaviors that might not be found by months of spot checks are quickly identified and corrected.  

  1. Arbitrary Randomness” vs. “Planned Randomness.”  One of the values of a spot check is that while staff is usually aware that management may be watching, they don’t know when. This lack of certainty can be helpful because it creates an overall chilling effect on improper behavior.

However, the fact that spot checks are performed randomly does not mean that they’re performed at the most useful times. Managers who perform spot checks do so when they have a free moment; when there’s a lull in customer activity; between shifts; during their break. Also, they generally do so only when they’re on shift, which again, may not be the most useful time to identify certain activities.

A video monitoring service uses what we refer to as “planned randomness.”  It means they’ll watch video at unknown times and locations within the bar or restaurant. However, those times and locations will be specifically selected to maximize the chance to see the widest variety of incidents and behaviors. They’ll also cycle through different times and locations to catch those incidents that occur only in the back-of-house, or during certain specific shifts (like those Tuesday nights from 9:00 pm to 10:00 pm when everyone knows the onsite manager is unavailable for spot checks).  

  1. Incidents vs. Behaviors”  When a spot check is successful, it finds an “incident” – someone doing something they shouldn’t, or something happening that shouldn’t be. But that’s all a spot check reveals. It can’t reveal how often that incident happens, or whether similar incidents occurred before or after the spot check.

A video monitoring report places that incident in context. It can reveal whether it’s an isolated occurrence that has no real impact on operations, or a pattern of behavior that happens each time a certain employee is on shift. It’s the difference between firing an employee who gave out a single free drink in a month because you (incorrectly) suspect he must have done it more frequently, vs. firing an employee who gave out a free drink because you know it’s the 20th time he’s done it this month. The first may cost the establishment a good employee, and will certainly damage staff morale; the second is probably an appropriate response to an actual problem, and will improve the bottom line.  

  1. Reporting and Analysis.  When a spot check reveals an issue, management typically addresses the issue on the spot or shortly thereafter. But once that happens, there’s no record of the event. A good manager may have a sense of how often he’s addressed a specific issue but, except in the most extreme circumstances, there’s no formal documentation or report. How many times has the incident occurred over the past 6 months? How many times does it occur on a specific shift? Is the incident part of a broader pattern that can and should be addressed with additional training?

A good video monitoring service will provide a steady stream of reports. Those reports document not only the occurrence of individual incidents, but also reveal how those incidents create broader patterns. For example, the report may show that certain incidents occur only when certain employees are working; or only in certain locations in the bar or restaurant. And with that additional insight, management can take proper corrective action.  

In addition, by measuring and reporting on how often each incident occurs, management can track progress toward fixing the issues. If the report shows that an incident occurred 30 times/month, management could then invest in additional training. However, management needs effective reporting to see if that training is reducing the frequency and impact of the issues. Without reporting, investing in training or other corrective action offers little more than “hope” that money is well spent.

  1. Impact.   A spot check can tell you that you lost $7/revenue from a free drink. That may be frustrating, but it doesn’t quite make the case for a meaningful investment in additional training or loss prevention mechanisms. But if you learned that staff give out 50 free drinks a weekend? Now there’s a business case, and a strong need, to invest in corrective action.  And by quantifying the financial impact of the underlying issue, management can ensure that their response is measured, appropriate, and has a reasonable return on investment.
  1. Consistency.  Regardless of how strongly a manager believes in the value of spot checks, video monitoring isn’t and never will be his most important job. There will always be other tasks, distractions and crises that require his intervention and time. While in theory, a manager can conduct frequent spot checks, in reality, they will encounter periods where they just can’t get to it.   

A video monitoring service ensures that once management commits to video monitoring, it happens. It doesn’t fall through the cracks, become a low priority, or get performed in a lackadaisical manner. A good video monitoring service performs its work consistently, professionally and reliably. It provides management with accurate and useful reports that identify problems, and permit management to craft effective solutions. It ensures that management’s vision for a well-run bar or restaurant becomes a reality.  


Spot checks, like any periodic audit in any industry, are useful for what they can do. In restaurants and bars, they can and should have a role in loss prevention and the quest for operational efficiency. But spot checks can never provide the level of insight and information that a full video monitoring solution can provide. An organization that relies solely or even primarily on spot checks to identify issues is, without doubt, seeing only the tip of the iceberg.