Safety tips for handling robberies and abusive customers at your restaurant

Tips on handling robberies and abusive customers
By Carola Hicks
March 17, 2011

The preservation of personal safety is one of the most basic rights of human beings. The stakes are high in providing a secure workplace in foodservice, and organizations are well advised to adopt a proactive approach rather than a reactive approach that waits for incidents to occur before taking action. It is always management’s responsibility to implement plans that ensure the safety and security of workers. This month I will provide pointers for those workers who handle cash, work alone or in isolation.

Handling cash

  • Leave a clear, unobstructed view of the cash register from the street. Post signs saying cash register contains minimal cash.
  • Store cash in a drop safe, limited-access safe or comparable safe container.
  • Don’t count cash or close the till in front of customers.
  • Practice the “buddy system” during cash drops.

Creating a safer restaurant or retail environment


  • Develop a workplace violence prevention plan.
  • Train employees on what to do in case of a robbery.
  • Train employees on how to de-escalate a potentially violent situation. Establish a policy that employees not resist or pursue shoplifters.
  • Establish a reporting process for violent incidents and threats.

  • Post emergency telephone numbers.
  • Post laws against assault, stalking or violent acts.


  • Schedule at least two people per shift. Minors may not work without adult (age 18 or older) supervision after 8 p.m.
  • Don’t require servers to wear revealing or sexy uniforms.
  • Keep background noise to a minimum.

Entering and leaving

  • Have more than one exit employees can reach in case of emergency.
  • Practice the “buddy system” to walk to public transportation and parking areas.
  • Make sure back doors are locked at night. Employees should still be able to exit easily.

Security and lighting

  • Use alarms and locks, making sure they work properly.
  • Use security surveillance cameras or mirrors.
  • Provide a “panic” button, silent alarm or other means for employees to communicate with police or security.
  • Provide adequate lighting and security in parking lots and other areas where employees go alone at night.
  • Work with your local law enforcement to identify any special arrangements which might be useful in a particular location.

Ministry of Labour health and safety inspectors will enforce OHSA provisions for workplace violence and workplace harassment and determine if employers are complying with their obligations. Employers and workers should always contact police first in emergency situations, if threats or actual violence occur at a workplace.

About the author: 

Carola Hicks is CEO of Workplace Safety Group, a company providing Health and Safety resources to associations and specialty industries nationwide. Carola has worked as a health care provider for more than 38 years, sharing her wealth of health and safety related knowledge. She can be contacted at 1-866-347-7707 or

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