Cooking Good Security

Darden Restaurants reduces robberies and false alarms

When law enforcement veteran Kenneth Grover, Ph.D., joined General Mills Restaurants in 1994 (the company was spun off as Darden Restaurants a year later), he immediately faced a problem that was a cause of significant lost annual revenue. That year, the company - one of the largest full-service restaurant providers in the country - reported 144 robberies across more than 1,200 locations. As Vice President of Corporate Security, it was Grover's job to help protect the safety of employees and guests by reducing the number of robberies.

Since opening its first Red Lobster restaurant in Lakeland, Fla., in 1968, Darden now owns and operates more than 1,800 restaurants that employ approximately 180,000 people and serve nearly 400 million meals a year.

The Darden family of restaurants features some of the most recognizable and successful brands in full-service dining: Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze and Seasons 52. Darden is headquartered in Orlando, Fla., and generates more than $7 billion in annual sales.

Grover says maintaining the safety of Darden's employees and guests has always been his number-one priority. "We put all our resources into dealing with personal safety issues first," he says. "Protecting property is second.

"Our company policy is that we (security) respond to any robbery site in person," Grover continues. "We provide trauma support for employees as well as assisting law enforcement with resolving the case. We determine cause and initiate security solutions to prevent another incident. The first year on the job I spent my life in hotels. I had no time or other resources to do other things."

Technology, Training Provides ROI

Working with ADT Security Services, Grover put a variety of electronic security equipment in place at restaurants and brought existing devices to the highest operational levels. That, along with policies and procedures written by Grover and his staff, and combined with manager training, began to have dramatic impact on reducing the rate of robberies.

"ADT helped by providing information and guidance on the type of technology available and how it could best be applied in a restaurant environment," says Alan Schellenbach, ADT's Regional Director of National Accounts. "But most of the credit has to go to Darden's security team and Dr. Grover for creating new security policies and procedures and then getting the buy-in from top Darden operations management and the individual restaurant managers as well."

As examples of the security policies implemented, Darden always requires that at least three employees be in the restaurant before opening and after closing and that the door to the safe always remain locked, except when it is in use.

To get some idea of the return on investment, Grover went to Darden's controllers and asked for an estimate on how much each robbery cost Darden in lost revenue. The estimate was in the tens of thousands of dollars. The 144 robberies in 1994 were a real loss to the company's bottom line. More importantly, the safety of guests and employees was being placed at risk.

Within a short period of time, robberies began to decline as individual restaurants followed the new security procedures and embraced the practices as part of the company's culture. By 2009, there were only four robberies across the entire Darden system. The conclusion of Darden's 2010 fiscal year has been the best in 15 years, with only two armed robberies across more than 1,800 restaurants.

"The return from our security investment has been unbelievable," Grover says. "Now that the robberies have decreased so dramatically, we are able to provide asset protection and recovery and expand our services to our operators."

False Alarm Reduction

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