Restaurants that deal with cash deal with costs. Such costs are simply the result of inefficient handling of cash. When not addressed correctly, these costs can be substantial. Many organizations haven’t yet realized the impact this has on their bottom line. But not all are in this predicament. Technology exists that helps close the gap. Once such technology is a smart safe.   

Smart safes have expanded their footprint into the quick-service restaurant industry for some time, as their adoption rate has been on a healthy trajectory over the last 5—6 years. Many factors exist that are fueling this growth. Despite their variance in effect, they all share one common theme: smart safes help secure and automate the processes of cash handling, and provide the audit trail required that enable restaurants to make strategic and data-driven business decisions. Many restaurant owners have figured this out, and are benefitting nicely as a result.

For restaurants considering a smart safe, the first step in the process involves research. Some restaurant owners have already concluded that deploying a smart safe makes sense, based on information they’ve been able to gather. Perhaps they’ve read articles online. Maybe they saw one demonstrated at a trade show, listened to a sales pitch and grabbed a brochure. Maybe they’ve spoken with friends in the industry who have deployed them already and have seen fantastic results. Through multiple data sources, restaurant decision makers have concluded that it’s time to seriously consider adopting smart safes for their stores. They are now ready to consider current solutions that are available in the market. But what are the variables to consider?

When evaluating a particular smart safe, restaurants should consider the following factors before deploying one into their place of business.

Simplicity and Ease of Use

Smart safes are built on technology, hence the name “smart.” A typical smart safe will have note validators—which are programmed to accept and deposit notes automatically into the safe, making a recording of each inserted note. In addition to the note validator, a smart safe will also have a user console, which is used as an input device for all commands, such as logging in, conducting a transaction, or printing a report. A smart safe should also have a built-in printer, in order to print receipts for each transaction, or print reports whenever requested.

In a busy store environment, adopting new technology isn’t always well-received. Store employees are not inclined to navigate through a complicated device—real or perceived—when there is a line of impatient customers standing in front of them. This is why technology for a restaurant must absolutely be designed with ease of use and simplicity. Anything short of that is destined to fail.

For a smart safe, simplicity can be a result of many factors, including the size and placement of the user console (employees shouldn’t have to ‘stoop’ or ‘lean’ to use it), ease of navigating through the menu commands, accessibility to key components such as the note validator and printer, and ease in facilitating manual drops. The end user experience is critical when designing technology, and smart safes are no different.

User Authentication

One key benefit a smart safe provides is the ability to trace all transactions to the individual user level.  This becomes critically important when discrepancies need to be researched. Enabling and managing individual user access must be simple and scalable, particularly as the user count and smart safe count expands within a store environment.

Once user PINs are assigned, measures should be put in place so that PINs are changed on a periodic basis, and auto reminders should be a part of the software solution to enforce this policy. In addition, the user console should be simple enough to be able to assign and modify individual user access rights, on a real-time basis. Multi-user authentication should also be available, both in hardware and software formats, particularly to govern access to the note cassette vault.


A busy restaurant environment cannot afford a critical component of its store security and cash management infrastructure to be down for a period of time, waiting on a service technician to arrive to fix an issue. The most common service requests for smart safes pertain to note jams in the bill validator, which are often caused by worn or dirty notes. In this case, self-service becomes critical. A smart safe built with serviceability in mind should be designed in such a way that the note validator can be easily removed to clear a note jam, by an authorized store employee, without providing access to the safe funds.

In addition, other components such as the power supply should be easily accessible by a service technician in the event such components need to be replaced. This saves valuable time and minimizes service costs and system downtime. A smart safe designed with serviceability in mind will help maximize system uptime and minimize store disruptions.

Secure Connectivity

For restaurants with multiple locations, connectivity to the smart safe is an essential function needed to leverage the system to its fullest capabilities. Connectivity can be made to the restaurant’s network, and to a central console/dashboard at the restaurant’s headquarters, and to the restaurant’s bank. When evaluating a smart safe for a particular location, the system should provide Ethernet connectivity as a standard feature and cellular or wireless connectivity as an optional feature.

No matter the connectivity vehicle, any data transmitted from the safe should be done via a secure method. Many security protocols exist, and a restaurant will likely have their own requirements around data security. A smart safe manufacturer should have this area well-covered, and a restaurant organization should have this as a key component of their RFP.

David Barclay is the director of global marketing at Tidel, a world-leading provider of cash management systems and robbery deterrent products for the retail, convenience store, quick service restaurant, and hospitality industries. He is responsible for all global marketing and product management initiatives, and has served in this role since joining the company in 2013. David brings 23 years’ experience in marketing and product management to Tidel. Before joining Tidel, David has spent time in marketing leadership roles for some of the world’s largest technology companies including AMD, Compaq, and Dell.
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