For some, restaurant security is a daily concern. Many, however, think about it only when locking up each night. If you're in the latter group, you may be opening up yourself to financial losses, injury, or even death. No security system is foolproof, but attention to this important aspect of your operation is warranted. Security can be divided into three major categories: guest security, employee security, and asset security.
Think about security in terms of the whole guest experience. Security issues begin when a guest steps onto your property and ends when they leave. We talked about guest safety in the August issue, and safety and security are closely related. In your parking lot, pay close attention to the light levels and minimize any dark corners or hiding spots. Landscaping and waste containers offer concealment for muggers, and guests who park near those areas are more prone to attack than those who park out front.
In poorly lit areas, consider installing motion-activated lighting, which illuminates the area when a guest or intruder steps into the field of the detector. These lights minimize your investment in expensive pole-mounted parking lot lights as motion-activated lamps can be mounted on the outside wall or roofline of your restaurant.
Keeping your parking lot free of sand and gravel also contributes to guest safety and security. While a push broom and shovel might be all you needed for an urban setting, a gas-powered vacuum makes cleaning up a sizable parking lot a relatively quick task. These units will pick up sand, loose gravel, and other debris in your lot across a 3-ft. wide swath.
During inclement weather, guests track water and snow into entry areas, and the addition of floor mats/ carpet runners can minimize the chances of a fall. While these floor covers might detract from the overall appearance of your entryway, they are a lot better greeting for your guests than a ride with your local EMT. Despite the best efforts, entry floors may still get wet, so post a caution cone warning patrons. Signs should also be posted in restrooms after mopping.
If customers have to walk down or up stairs or ramps in dimly lit interiors, make certain that there is supplemental lighting that alerts guests to a change in floor elevation. This is particularly important if you cater to older diners. In some cases, a strip of light runs along the stair tread edge. In others, lighting runs under the lip of the stair to light the tread below.
As for staff security, the first step is to identify and replace unsafe equipment. That ranges from a slicer that can be operated without a blade cover to a microwave that leaks energy. Too often unsafe equipment is used until someone gets hurt or until the equipment breaks completely. Don't let that happen in your restaurant; take action before it causes an injury.
Consider the microwave oven example. If you open the door and the unit continues to operate, you know immediately that the safety interlocks are not functioning. But microwave ovens can also leak energy if mishandled. A simple, hand-held microwave detector can tell you if microwaves are "leaking." You should also conduct a "burst test": hold the detector near the door and then open it while in operation. If the detector does not sense a spike in energy, your interlocks are operating properly.
Drive-thru windows can be an invitation to armed robbers. Yet in many restaurants little thought is given to this. A simple security measure is to install a surveillance camera and a sign that alerts would-be thieves that they are being photographed. A second measure is to install a revolving service window that keeps a barrier of bullet-proof glass between customers and your staff. An alternative to the revolving window is a sliding service drawer.
The most challenging security issues relate to cash and capital assets. Many times, building codes will mandate the inclusion of security technology, however, there is a minimum standard to which you should adhere—required or not.
Fire detection, notification, and suppression technologies may be required in some parts of your restaurants but not in others. While this technology contributes to the safety and security of your guests and staff, it also plays a major role in the security of your capital assets. Do you have a fire-suppression system under the hood over your range? "Of course I do," you insist; but I've found numerous foodservice establishments that do not have a fire-suppression system under the hoods or anywhere else in the restaurant.
Detection devices under hoods are common, but you should consider installing them in other parts of your restaurant as well. In storerooms, smoldering fires can get out of control if undetected. Smoldering fires are a particular problem if you allow guests to smoke on the premises. Servers carelessly dispose of lit butts—all too often they are wrapped up with soiled table linen.
Detectors should be hooked to some form of alarm system. At night, the detector should send a message to the manager or owner via a modem hookup, or to a paid monitoring service. Alternatively, the signal could go directly to a fire station.
Suppression is the third leg of a fire security program. Under the hood, we often choose dry-chemical extinguishers as they are relatively inexpensive to install and are effective. Carbon dioxide extinguishers are also effective, although, they cost more to install. But if you have a display kitchen, the CO2 dissipates quickly and you can be back in business for the next meal period.
An alternative to both these systems is a water-suppression system. I know, you never put water on a deep fat fryer, but the curtain of water put out by these extinguisher heads cools the hot surfaces and creates a blanket of mist that literally smothers a fire. Sprinklers are the standard form of fire suppression, one you should consider installing in all areas, except offices where you have computer equipment.
Sure, this step requires an added investment, but should a fire start you will be back in business far faster than if you have to wait for the fire department to extinguish a blaze. Also, you should see a substantial reduction in fire insurance premiums, not to mention the added sense of security.
Hand-held extinguishers offer a quick means of extinguishing a fire, and they should be installed in every area of the restaurant. But you have to do more than just install them. Your staff should know how to use them. Most times, your fire department will assist you with training.
When you head home at night, ensure the security of your restaurant by activating an intrusion alarm. These alarms typically require a digital safety code to arm and disarm them. When tied to motion or infrared detectors in various spaces throughout the restaurant, they can activate a silent alarm that dials a designated number, or an audible or visual alarm that not only alerts passersby but can scare away would-be thieves.
Surveillance cameras can be installed throughout the restaurant to improve asset security. Surveillance cameras in storage spaces or outside walk-ins create an extended record of entry to a storage space and, if properly positioned, record what is removed from a storage area. Such cameras also belong in the cash handling areas of your restaurant. If staff know that they may be monitored, they will be more likely to handle your cash correctly.
A POS system is a good way to secure cash assets. By enacting exacting policies for cash/credit handling and by requiring that any sale must go through the POS prior to its preparation, you can increase the chances that your hard-earned dollars will end up in your hands at the end of the day. The POS can also afford a means of overseeing labor costs. POS units are usually in highly visible areas and when used to check employees in and out of a restaurant, it's easy to see if anyone is "playing games" in an effort to cheat you out of your money.
Finally, one of the simplest ways to secure assets is to install locks wherever appropriate. In your walk-ins, place high-value items in a cage that can be secured with a padlock. Make sure that you keep your storerooms—particularly those that hold wine, beer, and spirits—locked whenever possible. While some restaurateurs illegally install padlocks on exit doors, an alarmed panic-bar-equipped exit door ensures that your employees can't skip out the back door without being noticed.