Fast Food or quick service restaurants are unique commercial properties. They operate late at night or 24-hours a day staffed by crews of young adults or juveniles. They are largely cash-based businesses with a high amount of workplace violence against employees. By design, they are conveniently located on major thoroughfares for quick service. The nature of this business style makes it very convenient for customers. Unfortunately, this style of operation also makes it an attractive target for aggressive or intoxicated persons, robbers, and other criminals.

Nature of the Business

Fast food restaurants were developed to fill a niche in our highly transient and mobile society. The most successful restaurants are located on major thoroughfares, in shopping and business districts, or isolated at freeway access points. These characteristics are ideal for quick service restaurant sales, but also create some special security issues unique to this business sector.

Fast-food is designed for immediate consumption on the premises or takeout. This format allows for legal loitering for teenagers or criminal types who desire to hang out for extended periods. Fast-food restaurants have cycles and patterns of clientele depending on the time of the day and day of the week. The same restaurant can cater to working commuters during the morning rush-hour, mothers with children mid-day, school students in the afternoon, families at dinnertime, young adults in the evening, and the nightclub or bar crowd past midnight. Each customer cycle brings different security challenges with it.

Crime Demographics

No two restaurants will experience the same crime problems in the exact same manner. Neighborhood crime history and patterns can change for a variety of reasons. That’s why corporate cookie-cutter security programs are not always effective at controlling patterns of crime. However, because fast-food restaurant traffic is predictable, each location should be able to identify and measure crime activity patterns unique to that restaurant and neighborhood. If the restaurant or fast-food chain corporate office is paying attention, each restaurant can be assessed for risk simply by capturing and evaluating the crime experience of the location, its competitors, and its environment.

Restaurant business operators and corporate executives shouldn’t be surprised by the results of a crime risk analysis in comparison to other locations. I’ve done thousands of risk surveys and found that the operators generally agree and understand the vulnerabilities. What they are a little sketchy on is exactly what to do about it and what it will cost. In these cases professional advice should be sought to remove the guess work and implement a program that is cost effective.

Duty to Provide Adequate Security

Most state common law obliges a fast food restaurant operator to the legal duty to provide reasonable and adequate security measures once they are on notice of prior crimes against persons that may cause harm. Failing to provide adequate security, under the circumstances, could be viewed as negligent management if an injured crime victim sued the restaurant in civil court. The fact that fast-food chain restaurants get robbed occasionally puts the entire chain on notice that such crimes are foreseeable and a business reality for them.

What is Adequate Security?

By definition, adequate security is that threshold level of security planning that is a reasonable fulfillment of their legal duty of care to their restaurant customers and employees. The level of security necessary will vary depending on the nature of a particular restaurant, its crime demographics, and location. The security necessary will further be impacted by special operation conditions at a particular restaurant. For example, one location may be the stopping point for several bars that close at 2:00am and attract an influx of intoxicated customers in the drive-thru lane; another location may be a repeated robbery target because of the superior escape routes offered by an adjacent freeway; another location may be at the crossroads for rival gangs with dangerous confrontations. Each scenario will bring special problems requiring special solutions and resources.

Most fast-food chains have developed a standard menu of security hardware and equipment for all stores. These include video surveillance systems, alarm systems, time-delay safes, fortified drive-thru windows, and robbery prevention training for the entire staff. As the crime risk of a restaurant increases, so should the level of security measures. For example, higher risk stores should increase the frequency of security surveys and cash audits to monitor adherence to policy. Frequent surveys will catch overlooked maintenance repairs to locks, lighting, video, and alarm systems. It also makes sense that managers and employees at higher risk locations receive frequent reminders of their security training.

Hiring, Training, Supervision

Some operators and corporate mangers do a better job of controlling the risk at their restaurants than others. Hiring, training, and supervision of workers can affect the crime risk of any location. Background screening is very important, especially at the management level, to avoid hiring serious felons or dishonest employees. Drug testing has become a critical component of screening especially at the store management level. I’ve seen locations with horrendous criminal incidents that could be traced back to dishonest employees.

What’s the Solution?

Fast-food and quick service restaurants should develop a security plan tailored to meet the specific needs of a property and the conditions under which it operates. Large chains should have a menu of basic security procedures and a progressive list of add-on solutions for higher crime properties. There is no need to reinvent the wheel or invent custom security solutions at this level. Before reasonable security solutions can be applied, a risk assessment must be made to determine if the solutions offered will be adequate, under the circumstances. Unfortunately, I have seen many high-risk fast- food restaurants operate without adequate security because no assessment was ever made or the decision to reduce the budget won out over the safety of the customers and employees.

Obviously, the cycle of assessment and application of security solutions must be constantly reviewed for effectiveness. If the pattern of assaultive crime is escalating with security measures in place then the existing security plan needs to be supplemented. Likewise, if the crime problems plummet in the presence of security solutions, maybe a lower standard is warranted if the source of the problem has been eliminated. For example, one restaurant had a horrible problem with car club street cruisers. It was great for late night sales on weekends, but bad for drinking on the property, customer abuse, and fights. After the city passed an ordinance banning street cruising, the hostilities on the property fell off dramatically. This restaurant was able to terminate it’s costly off-duty police coverage for less expensive uniformed security service to maintain order on the property.

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Fast-Food Restaurant Security