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How to Select a Restaurant Security System

How to Select a Restaurant Security System

by Joe Erickson

With the myriad decisions required to turn bare ground or an empty lease space into a successful restaurant, you will want to delay to the last minute any project that is not absolutely critical.

Your security system might seem like something that can be figured out at the last moment; however, there is a strong case to be made for carefully considering the security system for your investment during the design phase rather than waiting until the construction phase.

Sure, planning for and selecting the right security system for your restaurant may not appear as difficult as choosing the right tables and chairs, but then things aren't always as they appear. The numerous critical purchasing decisions you will make at the startup of your restaurant, such as equipment selection, décor, and furniture, are decisions that aren't easily reversed once the investment has been made. So it is with a security system.

Planning for Your Security System

Strategic planning at startup is made difficult because of the many unknowns you'll encounter both during and after the construction stage. Unfortunately, the benefit of hindsight doesn't come into play until after you have made mistakes. Although most security companies can easily slap in an alarm system after the construction phase, the effectiveness and aesthetic values might be limited because of design. For instance, you want to install a "panic" button at the bar but your design is such that the bar has a walk-through opening at each end. Your contractor thought to install underground electrical and plumbing, but didn't allow for underground access for additional wiring such as alarm, POS communications or phone. It's not the contractor's fault; he is simply building according to the design plans.

Ironically, considering that burglar and fire alarm systems, CCTV (closed-circuit television) systems, POS (point-of-sale) systems, telephone, music, television and paging systems are common in restaurants, designers overlook some or all of these during the design stage. You should discuss wiring with your architect, and, you'll want to be sure to prepare for wiring accessibility for all the systems that need it.

Many alarm monitoring services offer both burglary and fire alarm monitoring. Failure to properly plan one without the other could prove to be more costly. In fact, more and more municipalities now require that businesses incorporate automatic fire alarm monitoring. Robert Brown, fire marshal for the city of Rosenberg, Texas, says that Rosenberg adopted the 2000 International Fire Code as the city's fire code. The code requires that fire control systems be constantly monitored. When a fire control system is tripped, the monitoring service must contact the local fire department within 30 seconds. Fire systems include smoke alarms, pull alarms, sprinkler systems and fire suppression systems. Automatic monitoring usually requires a designated phone line; therefore, coordination of both burglar and fire alarm monitoring is essential to avoid duplication.

Some security installation contractors also install fire alarm components. You may find there are savings to be had by using the same contractor for both because both require installation and wiring. Additionally, if CCTV will be a part of your security system, you will want to allow for pre-wiring as well.

So Many Questions

The design of your restaurant will affect the system's ability to monitor the building. Burglary, theft and robbery prevention are the chief reasons to install a security system. Design considerations, such as the number of entrances and exits, daytime and nighttime visibility, employee and vendor access, glass windows, and even landscaping play a role in your security system. Security company ADT recommends that you consider the following aspects of your design and operations when selecting a security system:

What's your concept? High-volume bars or restaurants, such as casual-theme dinner houses, may be perceived by criminals as easy targets at closing time. Visibility to the outside is usually not as good as a fast-food restaurant with a drive-thru and plenty of windows. On the other hand, fast-food restaurants may be perceived to have more cash than a typical full-service restaurant that tends to take a greater number of credit card sales.

When are you open? Your opening and closing times affect the amount of security needed as well. Restaurants that close at 2 p.m. are far less likely to be robbed than one that closes at midnight. Early openings, such as 6 a.m., can also present an opportunity for criminals. Burglary protection becomes even more important when the criminal thinks he has plenty of time to accomplish his objective, such as when the store is closed.

What's your square footage? The size of your restaurant has a direct relation to the amount of area that needs protection. The larger the restaurant, the more there is to cover, possibly requiring additional motion sensors or door and window contacts.

Free-standing or strip center? The type of building and the location of your restaurant are essential factors when determining your security needs. High-crime areas may be more susceptible to burglary and robbery attempts. Also, free-standing buildings may require more coverage than a lease space in a strip center. Some strip center locations require just the front and rear parts of the building to be protected against break-ins, whereas a free-standing building may be exposed on all sides. On this note, each entrance to your building, including doors, windows that open, and roof hatches, will require a door or window contact.

Do you need extra protection? You may have specific areas of concern such as expensive artwork or furnishings. Extra security equipment may be necessary to protect them. Also, the more glass you have, the greater the number of glass break protectors that may be required. Conversely, glass provides good visibility, which can be a good deterrent to crime as well.

What about lighting? Poor lighting presents more opportunity for prospective burglars and robbers, and thus more areas to protect. A well-lighted parking lot and exterior to your building is your first line of defense in preventing crime.

How many cash register and checkout areas are there? The greater the number of cash handling areas, the greater the need for security devices such as panic buttons and video cameras.

Do you have on-site safes for money or valuables? On-site safes mean that you have cash on the premises. Consider drop safes for which on-site personnel don't have access. The less cash you have, the less appealing it is for a criminal to risk an attempt to get it.

What does your insurer think? Insurance requirements may affect the type of system you purchase. For instance, many insurers require that your system be monitored so that fire or police are notified when the system has been breached. Always check with your insurance company before purchasing a security system. They provide rate reductions based on the amount and type of security features in your system. For instance, some insurers may offer discounts if you have a video surveillance system capable of capturing robberies, slips and falls.

Knock, Knock, Who's There?

Inform your prospective security vendor if you plan to grant access to third-party contractors such as janitorial companies or pest control services. Many systems will allow limited password access for this. Consider that passwords will need to be changed often. Third-party contractors hire and fire employees just like you will. Consider having a video surveillance and recording system to help monitor your restaurant when management is not present.

start quote. . . Disgruntled employees can become knowledgeable criminals.end quote

The restaurant business often means high staff turnover. Disgruntled employees can become knowledgeable criminals. They are aware of your systems and habits. Consider changing passwords for access often. Use locks for which the keys cannot be duplicated for all entry doors. Many restaurants now use controlled access rather than standard keyed access for delivery and employee entrances. Controlled access can be equipped with a variety of technology. Keypads, magnetic card readers, and biometric devices (fingerprint ID) are used to restrict access for unauthorized persons. These systems can also be integrated with your security and surveillance systems to form a more complete security system.

One can never be too careful when it comes to staff awareness of proper opening and closing procedures. This should be high on the list of training objectives for new hires. You should put in place strict security procedures, especially during the opening and closing times. Front and rear doors should remain locked when closed. Entrance and exits should be monitored, and employees should be accompanied to cars after-hours. Delivery personnel should be easily identifiable before allowing them access through the back door, especially prior to opening. Consider contracting an armored car company for cash deposits. Finally, incorporate security checkpoints such as verifying that all doors are closed and windows locked before leaving the building or setting the alarm.

Alarm and Monitoring Options

Burglar and robbery alarm systems include a variety of components that make up the intrusion detection and control system. Most security companies offer a basic package that includes a control center, keypad, two to three door contacts, an indoor siren, and a motion detector. Our research discovered installation equipment charges ranging from $99 to several thousand dollars for more sophisticated systems.

Some alarm components are specific to prevention and detection of burglary, while other components are intended to deter would-be robbers and alert law enforcement of a robbery in progress. Basic systems don't usually include enough components to protect your restaurant adequately for both burglary and robbery.

There are literally thousands of burglar and fire alarm vendors offering a variety of services. Basic alarm monitoring runs about $30 to $35 per month for standard monitoring service. Optional services such as combined fire and security monitoring are additional.

Basic security monitoring generally includes 24-hour monitoring. In the event the alarm is triggered, the monitoring service will typically call the restaurant first to verify if the triggering was accidental. They will then ask someone to repeat the password assigned to the account and may even request a reason for the accidental triggering. Police will be notified immediately if they are not given a correct password or if no one can be reached at the protected premises. Once police have been notified, the service will then begin calling the phone numbers of individuals for your restaurant that are on the notification list you have provided. A list of four to eight names is a common number that most services keep on file.

Activation of a panic alarm bypasses the step of calling the restaurant first and immediately notifies police there is a possible robbery in progress. Needless to say, false alarms are inevitable. However, don't expect law enforcement to be sympathetic to false alarms. Most municipalities have legislation in place that makes owners liable for false alarms.

Citations and fines are common occurrences for establishments that have repeated false alarms. In fact, alarm permits, typically required when installing an alarm service, are often revoked after repeated violations.

Since false alarms are a big issue, it is prudent for restaurateurs to take steps to prevent them. This includes maintaining the equipment in working order and diligently training staff on how to use the alarm system. Managers should carry the alarm password on them so they will have it handy in the event of an accidental alarm trigger. Passwords can easily be changed from time to time to allow for change of personnel.

There are many options to consider when installing an alarm service. Most important is probably the anticipation of using the same company to monitor both your fire and security alarm. This will result in a savings for the monthly monitoring service rather than paying two separate services.

Other Services and Systems

Back up communication and paging services. Most services offer a cellular back-up module in the event the phone line used to send an alarm signal is severed or disabled. This usually involves a hardware component and an additional monitoring charge. Certain services offer automatic paging or text messaging notification when the alarm is tripped.

Reporting. Some services provide owners with activity reporting such as open and close times. This helps owners track times employees arrive at and leave the restaurant. Most services include Internet access to the monitored reporting.

Video surveillance. The introduction of the digital video recorder (DVR) and the omnipresence of the Internet have combined to provide owners with the answer to a question that seems to be forever on their mind: What's happening at my restaurant when I'm not there? Most DVRs can be configured for access via the Internet, thereby giving operators the ability to view their restaurant "live" online. Optionally, they can review recorded data online as well. Recorded incidents can be copied to media such as a CD or DVD to give to law enforcement or insurers investigating a case. (For more information, see "Is Your Restaurant Ready for Closed Circuit Television?," RS&G Archives.)

Most security vendors also sell video surveillance; however, purchasing surveillance from an independent provider doesn't dilute the options to integrate your security system with your video surveillance. Most DVR systems have the capability to integrate with alarm sensing components. Talk to your system vendors about integrating designated sensors such as door contacts, safe contacts, or motion detectors to automatically begin recording when tripped.

Protect Your Investment From Day One

Determining how much security you actually need begins with evaluating the risks to which you are exposed. Businesses without a burglar alarm are four times more likely to be burglarized than those with electronic alarm systems in place. And if intruders do break into a business with an alarm, losses are significantly lower. It is also worth noting that a security system not only protects property, it can help protect employees and customers.

Personal preferences and concerns also affect your security decisions. For instance, if you want to deter employee theft, install video surveillance. If you want to prevent vandalism, install outdoor cameras. If vendor theft is an issue, controlled access and strategically placed cameras may be the answer.

You have a significant investment and you want to protect it. Thorough planning of your security system, even though potentially difficult and time-consuming, can help ease your security concerns and provide a more productive operation.

-- Restaurant Startup & Growth

Designing for Security

  • Light all exterior points of entry with permanent fixtures that are difficult to reach or tamper with.

  • Light the interior of your business enough that someone outside the building could see someone inside.

  • Install a fence or hedge -- it's your first line of defense.

  • You should be able to see through the fence.

  • Hedges should be wide, rather than high, and of a prickly, thorny variety.

  • Install window locks designed and positioned so they cannot be reached and unlocked after breaking the glass.

  • Install safety glass (glazing). It is highly effective at deterring break-ins.

  • Install a deadbolt lock/latch in each exterior door.

  • Lock overhead and receiving doors with high-quality padlocks.

  • Be sure you have adequate lighting both inside and outside your business.

  • Exterior lighting should illuminate dark areas around your building and parking lots.

How Much Security Do I Really Need?

A number of factors determine the security a restaurant may need. Review these aspects of your business with your security system provider and, if possible, your architect during the planning and construction phase.

  • Square footage of the restaurant.

  • Location.

  • Amount of glass in building.

  • Number of entrances or access points.

  • Interior and exterior lighting.

  • Number of cash register/check-out areas.

  • Need for on-site safes for money or valuables.

  • Structural vulnerability to fire.

  • Video surveillance needs.

  • Type of restaurant (table service, fast-food, bar, etc.).

  • Business hours.

  • Opening and closing procedures.

  • Days your business is not open.

  • Facility access to third parties and employees (pest control, janitor, etc.).

  • Turnover rate of employees with access to building.

  • Out-of-the-office or remote monitoring requirements.

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