Ensure the safety of your employees and guests when there is a serious breach
By Ellen Weaver Hartman, APR Fellow PRSA
In my 25+ years of working in the restaurant industry, I have realized that most security breaches happen due to not following procedures. It is a former employee who taps on the back door about closing time and asks if he can be allowed to enter the restaurant to retrieve a jacket he left; or it is a restaurant manager who has “loose lips” about how much cash is on hand; or a security guard not doing his job, especially at closing time. As a result, serious situations happen that place at risk the employees or customers safety and the reputation of the restaurant.
Ealier this year, the Georgia Restaurant Association and Taylor English Duma LLP hosted a panel discussion on security tips for your restaurant and best practices for securing the restaurant establishment, employee safety, active shooter preparedness and effective crisis communications. The panel featured subject-matter experts in security, legal and crisis management, including: Susanna Rohm, ADT security consultant, Rob Strickland, author and president/CEO, Strickland Security & Safety Solutions LLC; Jared Watkins, detective for the Atlanta Police Department – Security Expert; Renata Elias, Marsh Risk Consulting; Michele Stumpe, Taylor English Duma LLP premises liability attorney, and myself. The panel was hosted by Naomi Green, development director at The Giving Kitchen, a nonprofit established to help restaurant workers in need.
Michele Stumpe, a lawyer with Taylor English Duma specializing in hospitality and retail industries, set up the risks and legal responsibilities restaurants shoulder. “Under the Georgia negligence standard, restaurant owners have an obligation to exercise ordinary care to protect your employees and guests from foreseeable risks of harm,” she said.“Restaurateurs also have OSHA requirements that they must meet including ‘restaurants provide a place of employment that is free from reasonable hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm.’”
According to Stumpe, courts around the country have begun to view an active shooter situation as a “reasonable hazard with the OSHA definition. It means that restaurants have an obligation to exercise ordinary care to protect against this type of issue.”
Rob Strickland, author and president/CEO of Strickland Security & Safety Solutions LLC, said that restaurant operators need a system of checks and balances to make sure that every day proper procedures and policies are being implemented by the staff and management. Another fellow panelist, ADT security consultant Susannah Rohm, also gave advice as she counsels clients to “expect the best and prepare for the worst.”
The panel’s tips for managing security issues include:
On-Site Inspections. Doors, cameras and other devices need to be checked daily to make sure all is working properly. There should be designated employees who are responsible for doing so and ensuring all equipment is in proper order.
Collaboration. Your restaurant should work closely with other retail and restaurant businesses in the area and/or shopping center. As a group, you can alert each other about suspicious activities in the area and work together to remedy the situations.
Cash Handling Procedures. Closing time is one of the most vulnerable times of day for your employees and most susceptible to robberies. As a business, you should have clear instructions as to how all cash is handled throughout the day and during closing time to deter thieves.
Security Cameras. Security cameras are one of easiest ways to monitor both employees and restaurant guests. “I recommend cameras in all strategic locations; entryways, bars, cash registers, etc,” says ADT’s Rohm. Not only can cameras monitor for robberies from outside sources, but they can also monitor and capture reports of employee the and/or assault.
Proper Lighting. Having a properly lit facility can help deter robberies. This is most true for the exterior of your building. Robbery, vandalism and other crimes are less likely to occur if dark, shadowy corners of your parking lot don’t exist. It also helps create peace-of-mind for employees who must walk to their cars after dark.
And, it goes without saying, you should never have only one employee closing the restaurant by him or herself at night. There should be a minimum of two employees who handle closing responsibilities and who leave the restaurant at the same time.
Alarm Systems. Hold-up buttons or panic buttons that go straight to authorities are a no-brainer. Rohm recommends having hold-up buttons not only at the register, but one in the kitchen and another in the bar area as well. The more access points employees have to hold-up buttons, the more likely they can get to them and alert authorities to a security threat. She also recommends an alarm system that has remote access, so someone off-site is always aware of openings, closings and the status of the security system.
Prevention. Well-trained employees can make a difference. This means all staff and especially security. Depending on the type of establishment you have, having a bouncer or security guard on staff may make sense to keep guests and employees safe. If properly trained, a security guard can help diffuse a tense situation or escort unruly guests out of the building if necessary. Often, the mere presence of on-site security can be a deterrence as well. And it’s especially important to train the team that if they see something to say something. If something is not quite right, it probably isn’t, and team members should alert their managers or the police just in case.
Communications. After incidents happen, I was asked if operators should speak with the media and react to bloggers and social media comments online. Every case is different, but I strongly recommend that operators be prepared, act and communicate quickly, and be transparent and sincere in your statements.
Being prepared means having a statement ready now prior to any situations, so that when and if something happens operators can act quickly to respond. When something happens, you must respond quickly, even if you don’t have many facts.
In most cases, you won’t have the facts before a first response is needed. Don’t let your public reputation be shaped by outsiders based on rumor, false early reports or speculation. Get out there quickly to show you are addressing the situation, and especially that your first concerns are people’s welfare.
The statement should be sincere and transparent to convey how the restaurant/owners feel about the situation; that you are working with authorities; conveys your condolences to victims and family; and that taking care of your staff and guests are of paramount importance.
In addition, operators should respond to negative posts on social media to set the record straight and to correct errors. I don’t recommend that you respond on every post – some can be ignored – but make sure the string has your statement written in an informal “non-corporate speak” manner.
Finally, operators should not just focus on statements and talking points for the media. You also have other important stakeholders, including your staff who are your ambassadors for you and your brand, to think about and speak to. Take care of them, give them counseling if needed, and provide them with a guide of what to say to your guests.
Doing these things effectively can make the difference between a crisis that produces minimal damage or is one that you never recover from.
Ellen Hartman, APR, Fellow PRSA, is the CEO of Hartman Public Relations, a full-service public relations agency specializing in the foodservice industry. Hartman has experience working for Coca-Cola, Concessions International, Chili’s and Huddle House and QSR brands like Popeyes, Church’s and Arby’s. An industry leader for more than 25 years, Hartman is active in the Women’s Foodservice Forum and Les Dames d’Escoffier International. She earned her APR accreditation from the Public Relations Society of America and is a member of PRSA’s Fellow program for senior accomplished professionals.