Crime-time weather

Stories of robberies at pizzerias and other quick-service restaurants are as plentiful as the stores themselves. Such sad sagas are read daily in local papers from coast to coast.

In Houston in 2004, two separate robbery sprees targeting QSRs had police scrambling to nab a man local media dubbed "the fast-food bandit." In a short period, the man robbed 15 fast-food restaurants, including branches of Wendy's, Taco Bell, CiCi's Pizza, Subway and McDonald's. That same year, six armed robberies took place at Subway restaurants in New York during a four-day stretch in July, earning the perpetrator the media nickname "the Subway bandit."

Why quick-service restaurants are such common targets is clear: they're cash magnets.

"Whenever you have an operation that's open late at night or 24 hours a day, that has a lot of customer foot traffic through the store, and where there's cash available, you're going to find higher crime potential at those locations," said Robert Figlio, Ph.D., chief executive of CAP Index Inc., provider of crime-based risk assessment.

Chris McGoey, president of Los Angeles-based McGoey Security Consulting, added that QSRs are attractive targets for thieves because their designed for quick ingress and egress.

"Criminals want to get the money and get away," McGoey said. "QSRs fit the bill perfectly."

Most fast-food chains have developed a standard menu of security hardware and equipment for all stores, including video surveillance systems, alarm systems, time-delay safes and robbery-prevention training. But if managers and employees aren't trained to use them or expected to follow them, such investments are for naught.

Good Times, based in Golden, Co., takes anti-theft security training seriously.

"We have a detailed security policy in place," said Gary Staton, director of training. "Crime prevention is one of 22 processes that all employees at our 44 units are trained on."

Key points of Good Times' policy include not taking out trash after dusk, daylight-only bank runs and checking through the windows for suspicious behavior in the parking lot before leaving the building at night.

"Frequent cash drops from the registers are also required," Staton added. "Our employees are also trained to use their headsets to keep in contact with each other, especially at night. If someone sees something suspicious, the others will know."

Routines can be risky

While following a security checklist is essential for covering all the bases, experts say using too rigid a routine will make obvious to thieves what's going on and when. Varying the routine somewhat keeps them on them unsure of when to strike and may deter them completely.

Experts also recommend operators avoid one-size-fits-all crime-prevention policies for multiple locations. The level of security at each store varies with the nature of a particular restaurant and that area's crime rate.

The National Restaurant Association sponsors a "Robbery Prevention

start quoteIt's important that a thorough risk assessment and management policy be set in place, codified and periodically reviewedend quote

-- Robert Figlio Ph.D., chief executive of CAP Index Inc

and Awareness" video that contains sound advice on reduce the chances of theft. The video touches on things like establishing clear sight lines into the store and positioning the cash register in a prominent place. Where activity is highly visible to people inside and outside the store—not to mention security cameras—thieves know getting away with a crime is less likely.

Jim Moran a restaurant consultant and former Domino's Pizza area manager gives the following advice:

1. Always use security cameras. There are plenty of places for crooks to rob that don't have security cameras, so they're probably less likely to bother places that use them.

2. Have a well-lit store exterior. It increases the chance that a criminal will get caught in the act (on tape, if you use a camera) or identified by witnesses.

3. Limit the amount of cash kept on premise. Set a maximum amount of money you'll keep in your till or register. Depending on your type of restaurant, that amount will vary, but in most every case, the lower the amount, the better.

4. Have a policy of full cooperation with armed robbers. Some time ago, a driver at a Domino's Pizza in St. Louis refused to give up his pizzas when the crook put the gun in the driver's mouth! To add insult to injury, instead of being praised for his courage, he was suspended for a week. The punishment seemed unfair, but it sent the right message: Headline-making heroics aren't worth the risk.

5. Have all employees sign a copy of your safety and security rules.

6. Pay attention to landscaping. Avoid bushes or other structures close to any entrance of your store that might provide a hiding place for robbers.

7. Make the police visible by offering discounts. A police presence at your store is always a plus. We had a deal going at one store where we gave officers a free pizza if they'd do their paperwork in our parking lot while we did our closing paperwork. When we were done, they followed us to the bank to make our deposits.

8. Don't close alone. You should always have at least two people closing the store and leaving together.

9. Keep the safe in the back. Large amounts of money should be out of sight and out of mind. All deposits and money handling should be out of view of the customer.

If you don't have a safe with a timer on it, consider getting one.

10. Know your neighbors. Just as you would notice something funny at a business near your store, if something

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doesn't quite seem right inside your store, the neighbors may notice it and call the police.

McGoey said another way to decrease robberies is to do background checks on employees. He said many robberies are "inside jobs" committed by disgruntled former or current employees.

"They can see how much cash really is on hand, how accessible the money is in the safe, if the alarm system is lacking or absent, if there's any video system. They know exactly how to penetrate a business," McGoey said.

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