Adventures In Babysitting

December 13, 2010 at 10:31 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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I wrote this about two weeks ago.  It’s not as rambling as it seems–in other words, there’s a point to it.  I swear to God there is.

This was my night Sunday at Pizzarama.
When the manager is working, the place is a barely contained disaster.  When he’s not working–like Sunday night–it’s a clown car with no wheels.
I was scheduled for six instead of five as usual, so when I got there I was thrown right into the middle of the rush.  Nick is a driver/shift runner, or a shift runner that drives, or a wanna-be assistant manager–I’m not sure which.  He sets me up with a triple.
One of the runs is missing.
It’s not on the rack, and the slip is not on the cut table or the makeline.  Did someone take it already?  It seems that their system of creating busy work for the manager didn’t stop this one from slipping through the cracks.
You see, the way Pizzarama operates–and I don’t know if it’s a conscious desire to do things in the most inefficient way possible, or merely a stubborn refusal to adapt to new ways of doing things when those new ways are discovered and developed by competitors–but some of the things they do there are just downright stupid.
Say what you will about Domino’s Pizza, but many of their processes are damn efficient.
They even have a name for it that I’m wondering if Pizzarama even understands:  operations.  Operational excellence.  Operational efficiency.  Domino’s is one of the best at it, and I improved some of the processes when I managed there.  It’s a philosophy–
–that Pizzarama doesn’t buy into.
But what Domino’s has done–what they are the industry leaders in as far as pizza goes–is speed and efficiency in the area of operations.  Hell, I’m not even sure Pizzarama uses the word “operations” to describe the day-to-day work and processes that get the food to the customer, from prep to makeline to oven tending to delivery.  If they have a word for it at all it might as well be “sheep-herding” for all the good it does them in their thumb-fingered effort to get the pizza out the goddamn door.
Now Domino’s isn’t perfect, of course, and your mileage may vary, but here are some of the key differences between Domino’s Pizza (especially the ones I ran) and Pizzarama):
Pizza makers at Domino’s are trained for speed, first and foremost.  Of course they have to be accurate, but that comes with time.  At Pizzarama (and Papa John’s was like this as well) they use measuring cups on all the toppings on every pizza.  There is a complicated chart and a dozen color-coded cups for use with the toppings and they are used consistently, even during the rush.
Oh, the rush.  That’s the big difference.  At Pizzarama, it’s the rush.  At Domino’s, it is THE RUSH.  I’ll get to that.
At Domino’s, we were trained for speed.  I’ve talked about this before.  How fast can you make a large pie?  How fast can you slap out the dough?  How fast are the pies rolling out of the oven?
We didn’t weigh every pizza, not by a long shot.  And we sure as shit didn’t use a cup on every pizza.  Grab the cup, fill it with the topping up to the appropriate line, maybe shake it to level it off.  Then look at it.  Okay, good.  Now take it and dump the topping into your other hand and unevenly spread it around.  Drop the cup in the bin so you can use both hands to move the toppings around, because they are lumped up in one spot when you pour them from the measuring cup.  No, it does take as long as I am describing it.
At Domino’s, we would weigh toppings on occasion, when we were slow, and match them up with the pictures on the wall.  If you weighed a few and had a good idea of what it was supposed to look like, you would then be able to “eye-ball” them, estimate them, and then once in a while (as in every few weeks or months) weigh them to recalibrate your internal scale, as well as feedback from your manager–that would be me.
And proportion and distribution were important as well.  “Itemization” is a Domino’s word, which means the toppings are well-distributed across the body of the pie, as well as being the correct amount.  And you always made sure you had toppings out to the edge of the sauce-cheese border of the crust.
Because of the emphasis on speed, sometimes things got messy.  When you made pizzas on the makeline, you scooted them along the grates, which covered the catch trays.  With catch trays, accuracy didn’t matter–although precision still did.  Whatever didn’t land on the pizza fell through the grates and went in the catch trays.  Cheese especially–
And even our cheese was designed for speed and efficiency.  Our cheese was diced–individual pieces were cubes.  Perfect cubes.  Places like Imo’s used a shred.  It was fine, small pieces, but still–a shred is inefficient.  It would clump, and you would get more in some areas and less in others.  At Pizzarama, they used a dice, but the pieces were elongated.  They were rectangular-shaped boxes.  That leads to inefficiency and over-lap.
At Domino’s, you would reach into the cheese bin, grab two handfuls of cheese, raise your hands up about a cubit above the pie (what’s a cubit?) and sprinkle the cheese.  Maybe “sprinkle” is too delicate of a word.  Starting with your palms up, you shake your hands with fingers open, causing the cheese to rain down on the pizza, casually turning your hands over in the process.  You get a fairly even distribution of cheese, and what doesn’t go on the pie goes in the pit–the catch tray.  You generally get a pretty even spread.  To make it more even and to shake off any excess, pick it up and give it a quick spin-and-drop.  Excess flies off, into the catch tray.
Too much detail?  It’s an artistic technique, similar to making pottery.  Except the art we are making here you can eat.
The cheese catch tray is dumped back up into the cheese bin fairly often; it doesn’t sit.  All of this is perfectly acceptable and food safe, and passes health department code.  You slide the pie down to put the toppings on, so it’s over another catch tray.  After the rush, some lucky soul gets to “pick the pit”–piece by piece pull the shit out of it and toss it back in the right bin.  Mostly just the meats and large pieces of veggie, unless you work for an anal-retentive manager that wants it all picked clean.  But it is done this way so you can make pies fast, and then clean it up later.
At Pizzarama, the makeline is a flat table.  No grates, no pits.  Of course, there is no flour or dough table, either.  The dough is prepped into the pan already, from frozen.  It thaws, and is just adjusted to fit the edge and is used.  So you take a pan with a dumb ol piece of dough in it, stretch it a little and place it out to the edge, and you’re ready to make a pizza.  Sauce it?
First, you grab the right-sized plastic ring (think Frisbee golf) and place it over the pie.  This is your “template.”  Obviously, idiots, morons, and piemakers can’t sauce a pizza and stay inside an imaginary line without a plastic guide–Yet I’ve been doing it for years, and have personally trained several dozen people to do the same.
Leave that ring on; you’re making the rest of the pizza with it in place.  I know there is some system with the cups, but so far I haven’t bothered to learn it.  The piemaker takes a cup of cheese and tries to run it through their fingers in a futile effort to spread it evenly.  Not only is it not even, but it is definitely not covering the edge where the sauce is.  That is a big no-no at Domino’s:  cover the red edge.
The toppings are going to be like that as well, and it is completely antithetical to all my previous training.  Distribute the toppings evenly, for God’s sake.  And get them out to the edge, or the edge of the sauce.  Drop and scatter.  spread it out.  Doesn’t matter if some falls off the edge.  Get it made, and get it made *fast*.
Pizzarama has this new pizza now, some gimmicky thing.  Amber, our main pizza maker, made one for me a few weeks ago, and I saw what was involved.  Christ, it takes like five minutes or more to make this ridiculous thing.  They really don’t care about time.  And I can tell, too, in their whole attitude about service.  At Domino’s Pizza, when we got busy, we worked harder and faster, faster.
At Pizzarama, they simply tell people it will take longer.  The other night I happened to look at the ticket while I’m waiting for the customer to open the door.  The promise time was 7:09, and I was there before 7.  Cool, I’m early.  Above that was the order time:  5:39.  I can’t believe the customer said, “Sure, no problem.  I’ll wait an hour and half for a pizza.  I have brain damage.”
At Domino’s I used to say that as a manager I was just a glorified pizza maker.  Well, is there any other option?  Yes.  You can do things the Pizzarama way, which is to create inefficiency that makes busy work for manager.
At Domino’s, when a driver comes back from a run, the first thing he does is make a drop:  whatever excess cash you have goes into an individual drop box for safe keeping.  Make sure you hang onto enough to make change.  Then you go to the rack and see what’s up.  If it’s obvious, you assign them on the computer and go.  If you have a question, you ask it.  The manager is on the line making pizzas, but knows what is going on and can answer a question.
So you take your run, with minimal-to-no manager interaction unless necessary; it doesn’t disrupt the flow.
At Pizzarama, when you come back from a run, the first thing you do is wait for a manager.  They may be cashing out a carryout customer or a driver, or they may be on the phone.  Hopefully you are no more than fifth or sixth on their list of things to do at the moment.  While you’re waiting, you can run any checks through the check verifier.
So the manager is ready for you.  After every delivery–every time you come back to the store–you cash in from that run.  Instead of waiting until the end of the shift, you do it every time you come back.  He checks you in, you deal with the exchange of money and so forth, and then he personally checks you out on your next runs.
There is a bit of logic to this, I admit–but the control is unnecessary and too much.  When I was a manager, I would control what the drivers took, especially when we were busy.  And the experienced ones could make their case if they didn’t like my routing, and I could change it up.  But I didn’t have to physically take them by the hand and punch it up on the touch screen for them.
And cashing out after every delivery is a ridiculous waste of time.
And time is what it’s all about, especially in the pizza business.  A good 50 to 60% of any given day’s business is going to come in a 2-hour window–5 to 7 pm.  That’s dinner time.  That’s THE RUSH.  And often, 50 to 60% of a store’s business for the entire week is going to come between 5 and and 7 on Friday and Saturday night.  That is THE RUSH.
Your business can pretty much break down into three parts:  prepping for the rush, handling the rush, and cleaning up after the rush.  Those are the basics of the restaurant business.
The basic premise of prep is this:  What can we do to help speed things along?  This lays the framework for everything we do.  One of the basics is folding boxes, of course.  Drivers can do it in between deliveries, phone people can do it between taking orders.  During a slow day shift, the driver can get a lot of boxes folded.  In a Domino’s you’ll see a corner filled with several stacks from floor to ceiling with boxes.  This makes it much easier, and it’s a fairly logical conclusion–fold boxes in advance, so they are ready when the pies come out of the oven.
Unless you’re at a fucking Pizzarama.

It’s a Sunday night, and it’s a busy Sunday.  Late November is football season.  The Rams won, and with a 5-6 record they stand as much chance of making the playoffs as anyone right now.
I came in at six, the height of the rush.  Nick gave me a triple, but the first one is gone.  They don’t know where, it’s just gone.  He said, “Don’t worry; we’ll find another one and still make it a triple.”
Fine.  He sets me up, but the the third one isn’t ready yet.  Okay–
Taking it all in, I see that the oven needs tending…
Almost 30 minutes later, I take my runs.
I was stuck there; my sense of duty and realization that things would come to a grinding halt if I left kept me chained to the cut table.  Amber and Ryan were on the makeline.  It must have been busy for a manager to be there.  Tom was the other manager, and he and Jorvice played tag with the phones, the carryouts, and the wings, and Tom was cashing drivers in and out.
Fuck.
I couldn’t go anywhere.  I kept pulling pizzas, throwing them on the paddle, cutting them, and then–oh, yeah–
FOLDING A GODDAMN BOX AS I WENT FOR THE FUCKING PIZZAS!
How can you not have boxes folded for a dinner rush?  Just–how does that shit happen?
Part of it is the poor design and layout of the store.  There is simply no room to put a stack of folded boxes.  It’s not normally my problem, but right now it is.  However, if I was the manager–
I’d find a goddamn place for folded boxes.
I tried to get Jorvice’s attention a couple of times, because he would have had time to help, but he was busy fucking around in between jobs.  I like the kid, but–
Hell, I like most of them but they’re just kids.  Including the manager.  I mean, he’s in his mid to late 20s…
And I know I was a child then as well.
I know he means well and he tries.  I wonder if I was like him when I was a young manager.  Part of me wants to be a manager again, to show them how it should be done.  Luckily, the larger part of me doesn’t want the hassle at all.  Of course, I know if something happens to my day job, I’m very likely to end up there.  Again.
The other two assistants, Ryan and Tom, are really young.  Ryan is in his 20s, and Tom is 19, I think.  Ryan has a sense of responsibility, I think.  To Tom, this is just a job, and a shitty one at that.  I won’t disagree with him.
It pisses me off though, that as jaded and bitter as I am, they are forcing me to care more about the job than I want to simply because they don’t.  Dammit!
The Dude was working that night also.  He came back from a run in his usual laid back style.  He came over to say hi, and I handed him a stack of boxes.  “Can you take these carryouts to the warmer?”
He protested.  “Well, man–Dude–my–I have a run up.”
“Dude, I have three runs up.  And I can’t get off the oven.  Suck it up.”
Finally, my third run of three is up.  Actually, it had been up, I had just missed seeing it.  Finally, though, Tom checked on it, and then took over the ovens for me.

I took that triple and did okay on it, but I was livid from the time I wasted on the ovens.  I felt like I had a clock nipping at my heels, and I was in a hurry after that.  I was in so much of a hurry that on my next run–a double–I forgot a pizza on one order.
Well, fuck me.  I was at the customer’s door and I had already knocked when I figured it out.  I looked at the ticket and the price was kind of high for one pizza.  I could tell by the weight that there was just one in the bag.  Instead of listing each pie individuall, there was a “2” next to it because they were the same.  Shit-crap. I need to suck it up.  The guy answered the door.
“How ya doin?  Listen, I’m sorry about this.  I just realized I had only one pizza here.  You ordered two.”
He seemed confused.  “One pizza?
“Yeah.  I don’t have it.  Sorry about that.  Let me give you this one, and I’ll be right back with the other one.  You aren’t too far away, so it won’t take long at all–”
He finally catches up, as I give him the pie.  “Okay.  I’ll pay you when you come back.”
On the way back to the store, I call the store and explain what happened.  I did that to stall any confusion and keep the pie I need from getting eaten or given to another customer, but I wasn’t hopeful.  However, when I got back the pizza I needed–
–was coming out of the oven.  That’s a bit odd.  There are a variety of reasons that could have happened, but I don’t stop to ponder the beauty and synchronicity of it all.  I cut the pie and go.
Back at the guy’s door, I knock and he answers.  Again I apologize.  “Sorry about that, man.  But this pizza is hot and fresh; it just came out of the oven for whatever reason–”
He gives me a “Hm-hmmf,” in an unconvinced tone.
“No, really,” I said, and I open the box to show it to him.  I never do that.  Never.
Maybe not physically, but metaphorically, his hands were on his hips.  He said, “That’s not what I ordered.”
Uh…  “Are you sure?” I asked.  “I just–”
“–And you forget my red sauce,” he said, as he backed into the house.  I was still holding the pizza; he didn’t take it.  He said, “You know what?  Don’t worry about it.”  He closed the door.
It was about then that I realized what was going on.  Son of a bitchin fuck.  Shit.  I walked back to the van, cursing him.
Back at the store, I had to wait for TOm to cash me in.  I didn’t say anything, however, until he got to the screen and started to punch it in.
“Wait a minute.”  His fingers stopped.  “That guy–the one that I forgot the pizza to–he didn’t pay.”
“What?”
“He didn’t take the second pizza, either.  But he kept the first pizza and he didn’t pay.  He just refused the second one and closed the door on me.”
Tom just looked at me.  “Okay…”
“And I stil have the other pizza, and I’m keeping it.”
I’m keeping it out of spite.
We asked Jorvice if he remembered taking the order, because his name was on it.  Yes, he did order two of the same pizzas, which is not what he claimed.  And no, he didn’t order any red sauce, either.  So he’s a fucking liar, and a thief.
I guess because he had time to think about it, which is never a good thing to do to customers.  Him and his buddy sat there, watching the game, and big ol’ fluerescent bulb slowly lights up over his head.  “Hey, you know what?”
“What?”
“We done ate one pizza.  Are you full?”
“I reckon so.”
“So am I.  I don’t think we need that other pizza.  I know how we can get this one we just ate for free–!”
Bastards.  You shouldn’t piss of the pizza guy, because he knows where you live…

How upset should I have been about all of that?  What is the right level of irritation?  Not only did he not pay, but he didn’t even tip me.  The thing is, I have a new, higher dose of my ADD medication.  One of the side effects is irritibility.  But is irritability really a side effect?  I think that before, I was just happily oblivious to everything.  Now I’m just more aware of how things are.  Irritation is a natural reaction to the world around me.  What part of how I feel is drug reaction and what part is a natural reaction to the fucked up world around me?
Little things have been bothering me at Pizzarama over the last few weeks as well.  Mostly little things, like a lack of leadership and an overall sense of impending disaster that is the signature for most shifts.  Most people just fuck around and do what they want, and eventually get around to doing their job at the bare minimum level.  That’s why I couldn’t get any help from anyone when I was stuck on the ovens:  they were too busy doing as little as possible to avoid working hard.
Except Amber, the piemaker.  She is an unassuming, cute but slightly spread in the ass young girl about 19 years old.  Mostly she is quiet, but if you ask her a question or talk to her about something, she starts to gush and open up.  She’s a nice, sweet girl.
Before I left the other night, I went over to talk to her quietly.  I didn’t want anyone else working to hear it, because it certainly wasn’t meant for them.  I came up to her and said, “I want to tell you something.”
She looked at me, then turned back to her work, cleaning the makeline.  But I had her attention.  I said, “I’ve been in the restaurant business for 25 years.  I’ve been a manager for a good 16 or more or those.”  I put my hand on her shoulder.  “You are the hardest working person here.”
She smiled.  “Thanks, I appreciate that.”
I said, “I don’t know what they would do here without you.  You keep everything rolling when everyone else is dicking around.  Without you, I wouldn’t have deliveries to take.  And I appreciate that.”
And I meant it.

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