Back Office / Security
Surveillance cameras add security for entire establishment
By Nara Caley
Pizza Today File Photo

Surveillance cameras are not just for videotaping robberies anymore. Today, restaurants use surveillance cameras to make sure employees are trained well, that customers had the experience that they described, and that things are going smoothly even when the manager is miles away.

“It gives you piece of mind if you want to walk away from the store,” says Kelvin Slater, co-owner of the two-unit Blue Moon Pizza in Georgia. “I don’t think I would open a store without cameras now.” Slater has eight cameras in his Smyrna store and six in his Marietta store, and hopes to open a third store by the end of this year.

Slater says he can monitor, from his laptop computer, whether a staff member greets customers at the front door, what time workers arrive through the back door, and whether everything is going well at the bar. He says he hasn’t had any foul play in the restaurant, but that’s not entirely due to the surveillance system. “No one wants to steal a case of pepperoni,” he says. “I worked in other restaurants where you have steak and lobster, and those are more likely to get taken.”

Chris Dyess, executive vice president of direct sales for West Des Moines, Iowa-based Westec InterActive, says most restaurants use the cameras to make sure workers are following procedures. “A lot of our customers use it in the back of the house to make sure they’re not putting too much cheese, they’re checking vendor deliveries correctly, and they’re opening the restaurant correctly,” he says.

Dyess says the newer technology lets the operator set it up so the camera records the area only when the back door opens. With the old technology, a manager would have to rewind and play hours of videotape when the cash register came up short or someone was injured.

Jeff Gannon, director of business development for Louisville, Colorado based Envysion Inc., says today’s video monitoring is less complex than older systems. “It’s hosted online, it’s easy to use, it will not strain your network or broadband connection, and it will work in tandem with your existing point of sale system,” he says. Operators can set up alerts that send an email when a procedure is violated, such as the cash register has more than ten voids in one shift. The owner can watch those transactions from their computer.

Some restaurants have used the cameras to defend themselves against slip and fall lawsuits. “One woman actually poured liquid on the floor and lay down,” Dyess says. “She wanted to sue the restaurant, but the camera saw her pouring liquid on the floor.”

Theft deterrence remains a big reason why restaurant owners install cameras. “They are looking at the bottom line all the time,” says David Disher, president of Advanced Digital Security in Dayton, Ohio. “They say, ‘I can’t figure out how I’m losing money.’”

Disher says operators want to see whether customers, burglars, and vandals are stealing product or cash, or if the theft is internal, such as employees improperly ringing up purchases or removing boxes of food. He recommends letting employees know the cameras are there. “There are some deterrents that go with seeing the camera,” he says. Don’t put up fake cameras, he says, because there have been court cases concerning employees thinking they were safe from crime because there were cameras in the business location, but the fake cameras failed to protect them. (For any legal question, consult your lawyer.)

Dyess agrees that the cameras should be out in the open. “It’s better to tell people,” he says. “We have customers who request hidden cameras and we don’t like to do them except in specific circumstances.”

He says cameras have picked up some questionable actions by employees. “One of our customers tells us at the end of the night they give the leftover pizzas to the staff. They find out the staff was ‘accidentally’ cooking up ten extra pizzas. The system put that to an end.”

It also ended the habit of crew members preparing free pies for their friends, or loading up the toppings and charging them for one topping.

Gannon says he has received comments from operators. “I get feedback, ‘As soon as we installed the cameras, three employees walked out,’ ” he says. “And from the other employees they get, ‘Hey, thank you, we didn’t need that person here because he was nothing but trouble.’ ”

The costs vary. Dyess says a typical restaurant might get a subscription, which means they don’t own the cameras but pay about $320 a month for eight cameras. The company also offers systems for purchase, which can cost several thousand dollars upfront. Disher says a system costs about $5,000 per store, for five or six cameras per store. Gannon, meanwhile, says a system could cost $4,000 or more upfront.

When shopping, ask what kind of tech support you get, how often are the cameras replaced, and what kind of computer or point of sale system do you have to have so you can watch the video remotely. Then, analyze your return on investment to see if your food costs and other costs changed. ❖

Where To Install the Cameras

In general, it’s a good idea to install a camera over the front door, back door, the bar, front of the house, prep areas, and cash register.

Your vendor can help you decide where to put your cameras. David Disher, president of Advanced Digital Security in Dayton, Ohio, says a restaurant customer wanted to put a camera in the freezer to see if employees were stealing boxes of product. He recommended against it, because the camera would likely also record people legitimately removing food to bring to the prep table.

Instead, he suggested putting a camera outside the back door. “You want to catch him when he’s coming out,” he says. “Watch the dumpster. It looks like he’s just throwing out the trash.”

He says employees who steal product throw the box into the dumpster, then come back later and retrieve it. This only works if it’s not trash pickup day. “You have to think, what are the basic human behaviors he will exhibit while doing this,” he says.

Nora Caley is a freelance writer specializing in food and business topics. She lives in Denver, Colorado.

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