Home BUSINESS News Supermarkets, Restaurants Hire Security, Limit Hours to Combat Crime

Supermarkets, Restaurants Hire Security, Limit Hours to Combat Crime

Supermarkets, Restaurants Hire Security, Limit Hours to Combat Crime


Restaurants and grocery stores said they are revamping operations in response to crime, with some operators limiting hours, spending more on security and closing stores entirely.

Starbucks Corp.

last week said that it was permanently closing 16 U.S. stores after workers reported incidents related to drug use and other disruptions, and would likely close more. Casual dining chain


NDLS 11.13%

& Co. has encountered drug use in bathrooms in certain markets, and is training workers on how to respond, Chief Executive

Dave Boennighausen

said. Supermarket giant

Kroger Co.

last year listed organized theft among the factors pressuring its profit margins for the first time.

During an internal forum at Starbucks’s headquarters Wednesday, interim CEO

Howard Schultz

said the stores were profitable, but the company was closing them because of employees’ safety concerns.

“We are facing things that the stores weren’t built for,” Mr. Schultz said. “We are listening to our people and closing stores.” He said local governments must do more to fight crime and mental illness as the need to address safety has grown.

Food-oriented establishments and consumers are airing increased concerns over crime as U.S. consumers have resumed shopping in stores and dining out, after governments and businesses lifted Covid-19 restrictions. Forty-four percent of 1,005 adults surveyed earlier this month said they were more fearful to be in public because of bad behavior and rising violence, up from 39% in March, according to a national online survey by food-service research firm Lisa W. Miller & Associates LLC.

Violent crime has been on the rise in the U.S. since the onset of the pandemic, with cities including Seattle, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York reporting a surge in shootings and killings. Murder rates have also soared in rural areas. Local officials and law enforcement point to pandemic-related stress, a proliferation of guns and increased alcohol sales, among other factors.

While violent crimes in restaurants and grocery stores remain a small part of the overall U.S. total, incidents have increased in recent years, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics. The number of aggravated assaults that took place in restaurants increased by 60% from 2018 to 2020, the FBI data showed, and the number in grocery stores increased by 73% during the period.

Some McDonald’s and Burger King franchisees say they have had to deal with crime in parking lots and people loitering in stores, particularly at night.


Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg News

Becky Mulligan said she answered a call this month from one of her Mod Super Fast Pizza Holdings LLC store managers, who said an armed robber had hit one of the Bellevue, Wash.-based chain’s stores.

Ms. Mulligan, senior vice president of operations for the 520-store pizza chain, said she has had to respond to more incidents of violence, theft and robberies affecting the chain over the past six months, particularly as gas prices have risen and the economy has cooled.

“There seems to be a layer of stress going into the restaurants, more than it used to,” she said. About six weeks ago, after an armed gunman entered one of Mod’s West Coast stores, a manager put herself in front of a young crew member working at the cash register, Ms. Mulligan said.

Mod is installing more panic buttons in its stores, and offering emotional support resources to employees after an incident. Employees are instructed to never leave the back doors of restaurants open, and the company limits hours if working at night feels unsafe, she said.

Some Burger King and

McDonald’s Corp.

franchisees said they have had to deal with crime in parking lots and people loitering in stores, particularly at night.

Store safety issues at supermarkets, driven by theft and homelessness, have become a bigger challenge in recent years, merchants say. They said they are hiring more security guards and locking up theft-prone products, while coaching employees on how to manage conflicts.

Kosta Drosos, general manager of Fresh Market Place in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood, said the store has long dealt with crime, and homeless people asking customers for money or products. He said he and some employees six months ago found a man shooting up heroin in one store’s staff bathroom, and escorted him out.

“Nothing is out of the ordinary anymore,” said Mr. Drosos.

Fresh Market gives all employees safety training and coaches them to avoid confrontations and defuse conflicts, he said. Earlier this month, Mr. Drosos said, store management discussed whether managers should carry weapons in the store, and decided they wouldn’t for now.

U.S. grocers have said they are working to protect staff and operations in response to what some said are a growing number of crime and safety-related incidents in their stores over the past few years, grocery trade group FMI said in a July report. About 72% of 18 food retailers representing over 12,000 stores surveyed by FMI said they have plans in place to deal with violence prevention, while 88% said they are ready to deal with robberies.

Store safety issues at supermarkets have become a bigger challenge in recent years, merchants say.


Jeremy Hogan/Zuma Press

Doug Baker, who oversees industry relations at FMI, said retailers have long dealt with crime and disruptions, but instances have increased as more people face rising inflation and tighter budgets.

Good Food Holdings LLC Chief Executive

Neil Stern

said homeless people camp outside of some of the grocery chain’s stores, sometimes harassing employees and customers or stealing prepared food. The company, which owns New Seasons Market and Bristol Farms chains on the West Coast, has also been struck by organized shoplifting that typically affects general merchandise and over-the-counter medicine.

“We’ve had incidents where we had to close stores for a period of time, or close stores early,” Mr. Stern said. In response, the grocer has hired more security, he said, and in some cases changed layouts of stores so that they aren’t as familiar to potential thieves.

Theft is a growing problem for U.S. retailers, executives said, partly as organized crime rings steal from stores, then sell goods online. Kroger,

CVS Health Corp.

and other major retailers have cited theft as a growing pressure on their businesses.

New York-based Morton Williams Supermarkets is placing on shelves smaller quantities of items that often get stolen such as bacon, smoked salmon and some ice cream, said Steve Schwartz, director of sales and marketing at the grocery chain. Tide detergent products have also been targeted by thieves, he said, and the grocer now puts most of those items behind the counter.

Mr. Schwartz said Morton is spending more on security while losing money on stolen items. “It’s a lose, lose, lose all the way around,” he said.

Write to Heather Haddon at heather.haddon@wsj.com and Jaewon Kang at jaewon.kang@wsj.com

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