Who’s watching the store when you’re not? A better question might be, “What’s the best way for us to watch it, given the fact that liability is sky high and the number of high- and low-tech security options from digital video to fingerprint and facial scanners, software, policies and procedures, locks, codes, and training programs is greater than ever before?”
Indeed, restaurant and bar operators have more weapons at their disposal in the war on crime than ever before so many, in fact, that some security experts are warning that the greatest danger to any operation may be the operator’s lack of motivation to secure it.
Ralph Witherspoon, the owner of Witherspoon Security Consulting in Cleveland, OH, and a 30-year veteran of the field, sees food and beverage operators as being more willing to spend time and money on security. There is, in his view, “a wider acceptance by some owner/operators that they need to employ some of the measures that are already there. There are various types of access controls… because of the potential negative publicity and legal liability. There is probably also a greater understanding that there have been too many cases of trying to skimp and bypass things like fire regulations and safety measures.”
Whatever the approach, Witherspoon concludes, an operator “has to do it on an ongoing basis. He can’t say, ‘I’ll check it for a couple of weeks and if everything looks okay it’ll go away.'”
But where there is the will, fortunately, the way is more effective than ever before.
MORE THAN VIDEO
As in so many other areas of life, video cameras are becoming increasingly ubiquitous, and a significant tool in restaurant and bar security.
One of the latest advances involves a device called a text inserter, which allows an operator to overlay cash register receipts on digital video of cashiers at work. The ability to synchronize digital video surveillance and point-of-sale information promises operators that they might maximize performance and profits by decreasing losses resulting from employee theft and inefficient work processes.
“It will prevent a lot of sweetheart deals from happening,” says Dan Brown, national sales manager for API Communications Inc. in Chicago, which manufactures and markets a variety of electronic security devices. “You may have someone who will hit ‘No Sale’ on the touch screen or cash register, then open up the drawer, close it again and give that person a free drink. Things of that nature will disappear as that technology comes online.” The number of ways in which food and beverage operations are vulnerable at the point of sale also includes line item voids, discounts, coupons, excessive tips or checks under a certain amount.
This linking of video and POS may be the single most important advance in restaurant/bar security to come along in years, Brown says. “The biggest thing there is the ability to be able to keep an eye on their employees in what is very much a cash business. A lot of people are less likely to go ahead and pocket money because they know they have a camera on them. The other side of it is, if they do, you’re going to be able to see it happen.”
“It’s a great theft deterrent,” agrees Rick Youngblood, a partner in the Risk Reduction Group (RRG) based in Richmond, VA, and Phoenix, AZ, a subsidiary of Ace Investigations Services International. “You can pinpoint exactly what took place: ‘I saw you do this then.’ The paper from the register and the video from the camera should gibe as far as what you see took place.”
In the near future, Brown adds, will be upgrades that will allow managers to not only listen to but also speak to employees through the video units, which by law are restricted to the point-of-sale.
In February, SmartConnect, a provider of video-centric business intelligence solutions, released Restaurant Vision On Demand, a loss prevention system that helps restaurant operators combat employee theft. The subscription service makes video searchable by key business event, enabling managers to quickly and efficiently identify employee theft and monitor effectiveness of training. Detailed, customized transaction reports combined with streaming video, both real-time and stored, can be accessed securely via any PC or wireless handheld device through a web browser.
Products like Tricom Card Technologies’ ID-e can help operators with state compliance rules. The ID-e terminal with magnetic stripe and bar code reading capabilities is USB interface, with a large, read-in-the-dark screen showing age, birth date and license expiration. It also stores up to 4,000 records.
Such systems can also help lower insurance premiums. According to Robert Smith, president of Hospitality and Security Alliance, Inc. (HSA), “Most insurance companies will be very honest with you that their biggest problem is the liability side of the insurance. With nightclubs, it’s the assault-and-battery side, and with restaurants it’s employees and their issues slips and falls, the workman’s comp stuff.”
In fact, cameras come in very handy in case of incidents involving customers and employees alike. Says Youngblood, “If you don’t have cameras, it’s your word against theirs.” He urges operators to switch from VHS tape to digital in order to keep visual evidence longer.
Smith, a detective with the San Diego Police Dept., urges operators with digital video systems in place to “invite your insurance company in to see it, and ask them straight out for a discount on your premium. It’s a business; they’re not going to give you a reduction unless you prove to them that you deserve one.”
KEEPING FOOD SECURE
Security of a different kind yet just as critical to any food and beverage operation is food and beverage security, which is similar to but not the same as food safety. The vital difference between the two: food safety involves the unintentional contamination of food. Food security deals with intent. Unlike food safety, food security cannot simply solve problems once and for all. It requires ongoing vigilance.
The National Restaurant Association and the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation worked closely with the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to develop a systematic food security management approach specifically for the hospitality industry. The groups’ self-check list includes items such as:
Are there rules prohibiting employees from bringing packages or equipment into the facility or into certain areas within it?
Are procedures in place to enforce these rules?
Are programs in place to train contractors if they must work in sensitive areas?
Are there predetermined protocols for drivers who face suspicious circumstances?
Is there an emergency plan that identifies all areas in which products and ingredients are handled and stored — such as off-site warehouses, product chillers and controlled-atmosphere storage facilities?
“The biggest issue affecting the industry now is training of security workers bouncers, if you will,” says Smith, who adds that he “can’t find another industry that manages people and deals with the level of danger that they deal with, but has no mandate for training.”
In the U.K. and New Zealand, security training has already been mandated. “We can’t walk into Joe’s Bar in either place and get a job as a bouncer no matter how big our necks are. We’ve got to go take a course of a certain amount of hours, get a background check to prove we’re not convicted felons, and only then get a medallion that shows we’re certified to work,” says Smith.
“When it comes to those personnel who are being utilized for security duties,” Witherspoon notes, “a slightly greater number of locations seem to be utilizing some training or guidelines in writing. In the past it was just, ‘Hey, you’re big, go keep the peace’ like the sheriff in the Old West. There need to be rules because when something goes wrong those are the very things that will come back to haunt the owner/operator.”
Smith recently noted during a panel discussion that “within the next three years there is going to be some national attention based on the number of bouncers that hurt people or are themselves killed around the country. We will see mandatory training coming out.”