SEBRING — Authorities continued to investigate Monday two apparently unconnected restaurant-related robberies over the weekend.
In the first incident, two Chili’s employees were robbed in the early morning hours of May 17 as they left the back of the restaurant, authorities said.
A black male approached the two at about 12:45 a.m., said Lt. Sean Casey of the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office. The robber, who covered his nose with a blue bandana, pointed a gun at them and demanded money, Casey said.
The second robbery took place at about 10 p.m. May 18 at Arby’s, authorities said. The suspect was described as a white male, possibly Hispanic, wearing a gray hoodie, according to a Sebring Police Department report.
An employee said she was in the front counter area when she heard someone come in and turned around to greet the person, the report said.
She noticed the man had most of his face covered and told her all he wanted was her money, the report said.
The employee described the suspect in his 20s and about 5 feet, 8 inches tall. She said he was clean shaven and spoke with a New York accent, the report said.
He left after she handed him the money, the report said.
Highlands County is no stranger to restaurant robberies. In 2012, several robberies occurred.
Nell Hays, crime prevention specialist for the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office, said to reduce the potential for such robberies, businesses should not reopen doors for any reason once their employees lock the doors at night. Hays said she has known of several robberies where the robbers claimed they left something inside.
Hays said the employees also should use the buddy system when going to their cars or taking garbage out at night.
Another suggestion, she said, is for businesses to have their parking lot lighted and to have it lighted throughout the night.
They should also make sure the shrubbery doesn’t provide a hiding place for robbers, Hays said.
Employees also should not leave the locked restaurant until they’ve surveyed the parking lot and looked for suspicious vehicles or persons, she said.
If a vehicle or person is unexpectedly there, the employees should ask law enforcement to check them out before the employees leave, Hays said.
The south Dairy Queen in Sebring uses some of those ideas to protect employees, said manager Heather Mahaffey.
“We have a buddy system in place,” she said. At night two employees leave the restaurant. Their parking lit is well lighted and they’ve upgraded their surveillance system, she added.