2010 April: Lock It Up

Ultimately, pizzerias are in business to make a profit — and there’s so much an operator does to secure those earnings. From analyzing distributor deals and assessing a marketing campaign’s ROI to creating a quality product and seeking new operational efficiencies, pizzeria owners are oft-moving, oft-reflecting, oft-evaluating souls. After all, profit, particularly in today’s economic climate, has proven increasingly difficult to grasp.

So what good does it do if some of that profit sneaks out the door? After all the hard work and analysis, what good comes of careless procedures or shoddy means of protecting that hard-earned revenue? Not much. ”

“Much like a pizzeria needs an oven to cook pizzas, it needs a safe to protect the money. Any facility that handles cash should have some way to secure it, and a safe protects the business, so the profits can be retained,” says Rosemary Leonard, vice president of Corporate Safe Specialists (CSS) in Posen, Illinois.

Make no mistake, a safe plays an important role in the pizzeria setting. To secure a pizzeria’s income and protect it from both internal and external theft, a well-appointed safe is one of the operator’s most definitive ways to ensure that earnings stay where they belong.

Too often relegated to a background issue and rarely a common talking point at trade shows or among operators, safes serve a clear purpose. In 2006, for instance, a Florida pizzeria’s safe with fingerprint identification thwarted an attempted robbery, subsequently allowing cash to remain in that operation’s hands.

Safes perform two major functions: first, to safeguard cash and important documents from robbery or fire; and second, to serve as a robbery prevention tool. In the 1970s, drop safes, in which money could not be immediately accessed once released into the safe, became popular in convenience stores, soon after wiggling into the restaurant market as the industry standard. In the years since, safes have evolved in technology and manufacturing acumen to improve both cash protection and employee safety. No longer is the safe a black box in the corner or, even worse, a shoe box.

While security tends to be a reactive rather than a proactive buy, security experts urge more sensibility. A 100- pound safe with key and slot, the most basic safe experts recommend for pizzerias, runs in the $250 range, useful for a delivery driver’s car if not the restaurant, while more elaborate, heftier safes with built-in technology and dual access top $1,500.

“The $50 safe at Home Depot just won’t cut it,” says Ed Dornisch, owner of New Jersey-based A & B Safe Corporation. “You need to really look at the locking system and the quality of the container. Plus, you want to be able to bolt it down.”

In shopping for a safe, operators should seek a hassle-free unit, which stimulates employee compliance, and consider these key functions: 

Timing features. The time-delay feature allows access to the safe only after a designated amount of time has elapsed. A sticker on both the safe and front door alerts would-be robbers that the safe cannot be accessed immediately. While Domino’s Pizza does not identify a specific manufacturer that franchisees must use, the national chain does require each of its stores to have a safe with the time-delay function, a nod to the feature’s critical value.

A time-lock system, meanwhile, prohibits anyone from entering the safe when the store is closed. “Protecting your money during business hours is just as important as protecting it during non-business hours,” says Pat Murphy of Houston-based LPT Security Consulting. 

Electronic interface. Old tumbler dials have largely been traded for electronic keypads, which allow for multiple user combinations, simple four- or five digit memory and faster operational use. In many cases, the old tumbler dial can be replaced by an electronic keypad.

The most important benefit of electronic interface remains the audit trail feature. In giving each employee with safe access a personalized code, the interface stores a detailed, often lengthy record of who was in the safe, when and for how long.

The biggest downside: an innocent combination error often activates a lockout feature prohibiting access. “But that’s a small price to pay for the benefits,” Murphy says. 

Dual-access safe. Domino’s Pizza Director of Security George Ralph encourages his operators to consider a dual-access safe, in which the first compartment holds operating cash and a second drop compartment holds the majority of the day’s sales. “Minimizing the amount of readily available cash acts as a (robbery) deterrent,” Ralph says. “Encouraging staff to skim the money regularly and drop it into the safe, keeping no more than what they need to operate for the day, is always a best practice; the dual-access safes promote this.” 

Bill validation. Much like an ATM, the bill validation feature allows an employee to feed bills into the safe for a computerized deposit, bypassing the manager’s traditional task of manually counting cash. While safes with bill validation technology can run well over $3,000, Leonard champions the ROI.

“Why use an employee’s time on something that technology can do? Human error can cost money, so get labor savings and eliminate the bank fees to maximize ROI,” she says. 

Chicago-based writer Daniel P. Smith has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.