Securing The Hard Rock Cafe

When you talk security and life-safety to Howard Long, senior director of facilities for the global restaurant chain Hard Rock Café, you can talk all you want about gigahertz and megabytes, but that's not what his ears want to hear. "When we talk security or life-safety, it's about helping us with our business need," explains Long.

Long, who was in Hollywood , Fla., yesterday at the company's cafĂ© in the same-named Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, as a guest of ADT Security Services – the integration business which, incidentally, recently won the contract to supply Hard Rock CafĂ© with all of their security and life-safety needs. Like his quote above indicates, he's very focused on the business-level goals as he thinks about security. Part of that awareness probably comes from the fact that Long has to think globally.

Having started in London in 1971, Hard Rock CafĂ©s now span the globe from Melbourne, Australia , to Berlin, Germany. And along with that global expansion, the company has become a "trusted brand" – people trust it enough to the point that the Hard Rock CafĂ© T-shirt is the ubiquitous souvenir (and chief marketing item, as it flashes around the world on the chests of everyone from the very young to the hard-rockin' retirees).

With 68 corporate-owned cafés, the Hard Rock Café business is by no means one of the largest restaurant chains, but because of the nature of the brand, they have to treat it like it's a massive worldwide business. In fact, that's partially true, especially as the name has been expanded to everything from casinos to clothing shops. As not only a global business, but as an icon of the Western world, facility management and security is a very serious business for Long. "We have to stay focused on managing our risk profile."

But it's not gangs of thieves or International terrorists they're always on the look-out for. In actuality, the kind of thing that keeps him up at night is a café fire.

"We've had a few fires, including two in particular," he says. "Fires are just devastating to our business."

Indeed that was the case when a fire hit the Hard Rock Café London in 2005, shutting the company's flagship and original location for 5 months. The fire was never pin-pointed to a particular fire safety failure, but for Long, the fire was traumatic to the company, having taken down the company's cornerstone operation. Losing the flagship restaurant made management think about survivability.

This came at a time when the company was already dealing with the aftermath of a fire at the Hard Rock Café San Juan, one year before. In that fire, which also never saw its origins pinpointed, the building's facility burned down. It was made more challenging by the fact that the café had been housed in a building that dated back to the 1700s, and all clean-up and rebuilding response was tied with red tape due to the historical nature of the location. In terms of business dis-continuity, that meant the San Juan location was out of operation for a full 18 months, said Long. "It seemed like you couldn't sweep up the ash without applying for yet another permit."

The two safety and business continuity events were a major wake-up call to Hard Rock Café. Before that time, the only time a café had been off-line was when termites hit the all-wood structure of the branded café in Key West .

Coming out of those two fire situations, Long and the facilities team wanted to set standards for security and life-safety/fire safety that could be applied company-wide. There had to be, he thought, a clear focus on life-safety, with all the elements of fire detection, fire suppression, fire sprinklers and fire extinguishers, and it was going to cost money to make the company ready.

Unlike most security and safety managers, however, who face an uphill battle when pitching such plans to executive management, Long's employers were thinking at the same level.

"Actually, a lot of this came from executive management," he said. "I had never had goals, in fact, to think globally about security, but this was a chance to do that. Executive management came to us and said, ‘This is not going to happen again. Do what you have to do to ensure that.'"

The Hard Rock CafĂ© facilities team called in Hughes Associates, one of the leading risk and property loss protection consulting firms in the U.S., if not globally. The crew from Hughes Associates came back with a detailed life-safety plan and standards, and best of all, said Long, it wasn't written for the facilities guys. Instead, it was written for the key operations people – the general managers of the cafĂ©s.

That's actually when ADT Security Services stepped into the picture with their integration services. The integrator had previously been doing some here-and-there work with Hard Rock Cafés, mainly with burglar alarms, but now armed with a set of global standards for life-safety, the worldwide security and life-safety firm stepped in to manage Hard Rock's worldwide. In fact, the service became a one-stop shop kind of deal as ADT turned to sister companies in Tyco Fire & Security to deliver other components such as sprinklers.

It was a solution, says Long, that works well for him, since he'd rather have one point of contact. It also meant it was easier to apply global standards in disparate countries.

Not that applying those standards, which were based upon the most stringent ones in the U.S., was easy. While the directive to "make sure it doesn't happen again," came from senior management, store managers were looking at the life-safety and security improvements as cost points that could lose them the edge they needed for an annual bonus.

"The main problem I faced is that the managers don't want to go above and beyond the local code," says Long. "If there is only one required fire suppression inspection per year and we as the facilities department say we want to do two, they question our judgment."

It's especially true in Europe where some countries have very different perspectives on fire-safety than their U.S. counterparts. Fortunately he's been able to get around that challenge by getting those managers involved. They do "get" the business continuity and employee and customer life protection issues.

The challenge, says Long, "is that managers tend not to be overly technical. Our team spends a lot of time providing guidance to those cafĂ© managers as we upgrade their life-safety systems. They ask a lot of questions. Some are great questions that have actually made us re-examine what our security and safety approach is. But, of course, we also get those questions where we go, ‘Oh, I think I've heard that question 100 times already.'

"The key is to get them involved in the process," continued Long. "We're there to provide support for them, and at the same time, I look at the managers as being our department's hands-on operational staff. You have to get every thinking the same way."

Beyond Life Safety

While life-safety is clearly the lead focus for Hard Rock Café, Long says they don't forget about security. Hard Rock Café, because of the popularity of the brand, has long delved into retail operations. And it's more than the classic "orange circle" logo T-shirts. Now the company has retail shops (in the process of being renamed "The Rock Shop") where you can find everything from $200-plus cashmere sweatshirts to leather-and-canvas cargo pants, and of course, racks of the classic souvenir T-shirts.

"Retail is the big challenge," admits Long. "We have a big problem in shrink."

To fight that, the stores use ink tags on some items, but Long says they've also had to re-examine store designs so that shoppers and tourists couldn't easily grab a pair of leather pants and be out the door before a sales associate could look up. He's also finding that closely monitoring point-of-sale data can tell him where the shrink is happening faster than video surveillance can.

On top of the retail component at their restaurants, the Hard Rock Cafés themselves are slathered with rock-n-roll memorabilia, some of which could probably earn the "priceless" designation. Despite that, Long says the memorabilia isn't the main issue. Security for those items starts with big bolts and into the walls.

"If you were to steal one of our pieces of rock memorabilia, not only would you end up taking a big chunk of drywall with you and leaving a track of drywall dust on your escape route, but we have high-tech layered security with cameras in the cafés and alarms. Theft of memorabilia really doesn't happen very often."

In fact, you could call it covert surveillance, but it's not. Perhaps it's even "crime prevention through environmental design", but it's hard to spot the dozen-plus cameras each café has when you're busy ogling the amount of memorabilia on the walls, from Jeff Beck's old guitars to early promo posters for Korn.

"Besides," says Long, "people don't want to steal the memorabilia – they actually seem to prefer to steal the T-shirts."

You're kidding, right? They'd rather have a wad of cotton that costs $3 to print than a classic artist's gold record?

"I'm dead serious. They'd rather steal the T-shirt."