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Cybersecurity: What Restaurant Owners Need to Know

By Sam Darwish

Cybersecurity is an issue that directly affects the restaurant industry and its patrons. A negative reputation of losing customers' personal information can reduce a restaurants' foot traffic. And we all know that little to no patrons equal a potentially quick end for a restaurant. This situation is avoidable if restaurant owners take the proactive steps to secure the IT infrastructure, which can save hundreds of dollars and help restaurants stay profitable.

The latest Trustwave Global Security Report states that the food and beverage industry accounted for 10 percent of data breaches in 2016. Of the incidents reported, 75 percent of cyberattacks in restaurants were caused by a breach in the Point of Sale (PoS) system. Because cybersecurity has become a significant issue, restaurant of all sizes must have leaders who understand how critical data security is.

Seventy percent of the U.S. population is concerned about the possibility of their information being stolen, according to a Gallup poll. Whether it be cases of identity theft or credit card fraud, it has never been more important for restaurant owners to ensure they are taking necessary precautions to protect their customers.

When a customer enters the doors of a restaurant, the last thing on their minds is the possibility of their information being stolen. Therefore, restaurant owners must understand the importance of cybersecurity to ensure the success and longevity of their business. Here is a list of 5 proactive first steps to protecting the business and customers:

1. Secure Your PoS Systems - Hackers often look for the biggest outcome that requires the least amount of work, which is why data breaches of PoS systems are among the highest ranked. These cybercriminals are able to steal large amounts of personal information from a single system. To protect the safety of their customers, restaurant owners must ensure their business is following government-regulated PCI compliance guidelines and always use the most updated PoS system. Currently, all restaurants should be using EMV chip card readers, which use computer chips to authenticate and secure debit and credit card transactions.

2. Utilize an IT Professional - It is best practice for restaurant owners to utilize a third-party vendor who is an expert in the technology industry to install and host all IT necessities, including highly protected PoS systems, Wi-Fi networks and security systems. By utilizing a trusted IT provider, restaurant owners can have confidence knowing all technology components are in the safe hands of a professional who understands the complexities of cybersecurity. If an IT issue arises, have someone on stand-by to take care of the issue who understands the problem and can easily resolve it so your business is not compromised.

3. Train Your Employees - In order to enhance a restaurant's security, it is essential for all restaurant employees to go through cybersecurity training. This training will allow employees to watch for the warning signs and potential triggers of a data breach and implement preventative measures throughout the restaurant. Your employees can be additional watchdogs if they understand what to look for and each individual can be one more roadblock cybercriminals must navigate to access private information.

4. Protect the Wi-Fi Access - Several restaurants choose to offer customers free Wi-Fi. Offering free connectivity can help serve as an opportune way to connect with patrons, improve customer service and enhance the overall experience. However, these are large public networks that are accessible to anyone, and by anyone, we mean hackers. If a business owner chooses to offer Wi-Fi, it is critical to design and implement a protected network. For Wi-Fi networks and all additional technology components that require password protection, change the standard default password that comes with the system in order to prevent an easy cyberattack. Better yet, implement a log-in with customers' social media accounts and collet vital marketing analytics.

5. Have a Crisis Communications Plan in Place - The unfortunate reality is that a restaurant owner can do everything in their power to prevent a data breach and still fall victim. Cybersecurity attacks lead to loss of reputation, customer loyalty, and additional fines that can cause unrecoverable damage. It is always best practice to have a crisis communications plan in place so that if a data breach occurs, you can quickly provide customer support and ensure brand reputation.

  • First, have a prepared statement drafted informing customers of a data breach. Be transparent and provide all details legally allowed regarding the breach so patrons know the issue has been addressed and is being resolved.
  • To ensure information is not leaked, designate one member of the leadership team to address the crisis situation. No one other than the designated employee should address the public. This way, everyone involved knows all information regarding the vulnerability is coming from a reliable source and the message is consistent. If a restaurant has several locations, communicate which locations specifically have been affected by the breach.
  • Keep customers updated and informed on the status of the recovery process so they are aware of the action items being taken to solve the problem as time progresses.
  • Lastly, once the crisis is under control and all issues have been addressed, notify customers and explain the steps put in place to ensure it will not happen again.

Hackers often take seconds to break into a restaurant's system, and reversing the consequences of that data breach can take years. If handled improperly, some restaurants may never fully recover once they have been. By taking action and securing all IT components ahead of time, restaurant owners are not only protecting their business, but the people who make it function: customers.

Sam Darwish Sam Darwish is the president, CEO and co-founder of Skinny IT. Based in Frisco, Texas, Skinny IT delivers a wide range of customizable information technology solutions to more than 150 enterprises worldwide, helping them to optimize operational efficiencies and increase the bottom line. The company offers a wide array of IT services for converged solutions providers, large-scale national retailers and value-added resellers across the country. For more information, please visit

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