This is not the time to start thinking about server safety

When I started my first job in Management year ago, a fellow manager told me this story on my first night.  He had managed a restaurant a few years earlier with his best friend.  He asked his best friend to close for him on a Saturday night so he could go on a hot date.  Sunday morning he returned to the restaurant to find the alarm not set.  He didn’t think much of it until he saw the floor was filthy outside the walk in cooler.  He opened the door to find his best friend dead inside.

I’ve never forgotten that story because it underlies one of the most frightening facts that not even everyone in the business knows.  Restaurants and their employees are very frequently the targets of violent robberies.  In the book Fast Food Nation they even go so far as to point out that a restaurant manager is more likely to be killed on the job than a police officer.  Every week I write the “weird restaurant stories” column and exclude most of the robbery stories.  This has caused me to be painfully aware of how large a problem this is for the industry.

What is far less often reported is crimes against servers.  Over the years I have known several servers of were mugged leaving work.  This happens far more often than is reported or talked about.  With the holidays approaching this is a far greater issue.  We all need to rethink our processes for leaving the restaurant with cash in our pockets to avoid any would be thieves.

Here are a few personal security tips for the holidays.

Never Leave Alone: The most basic thing you can do to protect yourself is to leave the restaurant with someone else.  This is not a failsafe plan, but it lessens your likelihood of being victimized significantly.  A person walking out alone is a much more desirable target for a mugger.  Wait for someone to walk out with you.  Leaving five minutes earlier is a poor tradeoff for losing all of your tips for the evening.

Change Your Look: The less you look like a server while walking to your car the better.  Thieves know that servers are far more likely to be walking around after work with large quantities of cash than the general public.  Something as simple as throwing on a sweater or changing your pants can reduce your likelihood of getting victimized significantly.  Look at yourself in a mirror and determine what you can do to look less like a server.

Park Smart: The desolate parking lot close to work might not be as advisable as the well lit garage a little further away.  Determine the best place to park for when holiday shopping season begins.  As you walk out of your next shift, note potential hazards.  Days will continue to get shorter.  Take some time to notice your surroundings now to keep yourself safe when it starts getting dark at an earlier hour.

Split Your Cash: If you are mugged, you will be forced to hand over your wallet, purse, or the money in your pocket.  When you leave with a significant amount of money, hide some of it elsewhere on your person.  A sock or a bra may help preserve some of the night’s earnings.  This won’t stop the crime, but it will mitigate the damages.

Do Not Fight: When all of the other tips on this list fail, please remember this one.  If you are mugged, it is probably by someone who is armed and is better prepared for this fight than you are.  Your first instinct may be to defend your money, but it should be to defend yourself.  Losing one night’s income is bad, but it is far better than being beaten, shot, or killed.  In real life, no one wins a fight.  Even if you do manage to fight off your attacker, spending the rest of the season with a black eye or paying off hospital bills is far more costly.

This post is not intended to scare you unnecessarily.  It is important that you understand the dangers you face as a server.  The dangers grow considerably during the holiday season.  Most likely someone reading this blog will know someone who will be mugged this holiday season or be a victim themselves.  I am posting this prior to the season to help prevent this.  Talk about this at work, remind those around you, and consider posting this on a bulletin board or forwarding it to coworkers.  The threat is out there and each one of us is a potential victim.   Take some time to think about how you can make yourself a less attractive target in the months ahead.

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