Slater says all four locations of Blue Moon Pizza have cameras. Their value is not just in catching the bad guys but probably alson deterring crime. “We have small signs stating that this business is under surveillance,” he says. “We like to keep honest people honest.”
Other operators say they would not think of opening a new restaurant without cameras. Terry Black, owner of the two-unit Jimmy & Joe’s Pizzeria in Chandler, Arizona, says he installed a security to protect employees, One Jimmy & Joe’s location is on the same commercial strip as a sports bar, and there have been incidents in which drunken patrons entered the pizza restaurant and threatened employees. “I am not worried about my stuff,” Black says. “I am worried about my kids that work here.”
Both locations of Jimmy & Joe’s have cameras and an alarm system. There are also panic buttons, so employees can call for help instantly. Black notes that restaurants don’t have as much cash since many customers often pay with credit and debit cards. The system is supposed to make employees feel safe.
For some, a security system is also a management tool. “If you are in back doing books, you can watch the cameras,” says Keith Arnold, owner of the Garlic Knot in Littleton, Colorado. “You can see ‘here comes the lunch crowd,’ now you have to run to the front and help.”
Arnold says managers also can see when workers are slacking off between the busy times. One franchisee of the 10-unit system even calls workers and tells them to start cleaning instead of leaning on the counters. “It’s Big Brother, but in a playful way,” Arnold says. He adds that employees know a manager is watching. “Having cameras is a great checks and balances. If they ever were thinking of doing anything they shouldn’t do, they know the cameras are there.”
Security systems have been around for years, but new technology has helped the systems become even more useful. In addition to being able to watch the surveillance on a desktop computer or laptop, the user can download an app so they can watch on an iPad or smartphone. Digital video recorders (DVR) can help users save the video onto a disk drive, a USB flash drive, or in Blue Moon Pizza’s case, onto the CD that they handed over to police. “I copied the video while they waited,” Slater says.
Other new technologies include panic buttons that can be worn as pendants or on a belt clip, instead of affixed under a counter. At Blue Moon Pizza, the manager and one random employee wears the panic button each day. That way, Slater explains, even if a robber tells the manager to take off the panic button, someone else in the store has one and can alert the police.
Jeff Frye, vice president of sales and marketing for St. Louis-based Interface Security Systems LLC, says some restaurants put panic buttons in the walk-in refrigerator. “Say the employees got tied up and thrown into the refrigerator,” he says. “We put the button at floor level so they can kick it and get help.”
It is important to get help quickly, Frye says, so operators are moving away from the modem, or dial-up systems, and moving to a cloud-based surveillance system. “You want your system to be as fast as the Internet,” Frye says. With a wireless system, intruders cannot cut the phone lines to disable an alarm. Also, the restaurant owner can receive alerts when a certain cabinet is opened, a refrigerator’s interior is getting warmer, or a computer is moved.
“The reason you want to marry video with the alarm is verification,” Frye explains. “You can reduce false alarm nuisances. The owner of the restaurant can look on his smartphone and see the alarm is going off but it’s just a drunk banging on the window. That saves false alarm fees.”
As with anything else, the costs can range wildly. Small business owners can buy security cameras at the same warehouse retailers where they buy paper towels and coffee, and pay $1,000 for six cameras. A more robust system might include, for example, monitoring by a staff of security experts who see the video when an alarm is triggered and can communicate, via two-way audio, with people inside the building. These start at a few thousand dollars, plus monthly fees.
Black says everyone expects businesses to have cameras, inside and out. “People have said to me, ‘I know you have cameras inside but do you have cameras outside? Someone hit my car and they didn’t leave a note.’ ”
Operators who install security cameras have to make sure they are not violating any laws related to privacy. Some of the laws vary by state, says Rochelle Wilcox, an attorney with the Seattle-based law firm Davis Wright Tremaine LLC. California, for example, is a two-party consent state for audio. That means if someone is recording something with sound, all the people being recorded must give their consent to be recorded. “So any surveillance that captures voices could cause problems,” Wilcox says.
Also, avoid placing cameras in any area that is supposed to be private, such as restrooms. Do not install hidden cameras in offices, because employees have a reasonable expectation of privacy in an office.
“The employer needs to make sure to check in with counsel,” Wilcox says. “Any time you use hidden cameras you are opening yourself up to potential liability.” Keep the cameras in visible and in open areas, such as hallways, front of the house and outside.
Nora Caley is a freelance writer specializing in food and business topics. She lives in Denver, Colorado.