[Webinar] How to Hire, Train & Retain Great Pizzeria Employees

Posted by Brad Brooks

Brad was the Sales & Marketing Director at SpeedLine Solutions from 2019 to 2022. He utilized his 20 years of experience in the restaurant technology industry to help him lead the sales and marketing teams to provide innovative solutions for our customers.

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How do restaurant owners hire amazing employees? How do they keep them from jumping ship when a new opportunity comes up? In this webinar, I spoke with two restaurant owners on how they and their managers tackle employee management.


Webinar Transcript

Brad: Thank you for joining us today for How to Hire, Train and Retain Great Pizzeria Employees, presented by SpeedLine and Pizza Marketplace. Today, we're going to have a great conversation.

I've got a couple of terrific guests with me, and the first guest is Gabe Connell, he's the founder of HotBox Pizza, and I also have Mary Kay Haas the Director of Marketing for Pizza Factory. Let's first of all start off by maybe meeting our panelists today. Gabe, why don't you tell us a little bit about your background, and what got you into this business?

Gabe: Sure. I'll try to give you the short version, I guess. What got me into the business was, I was a student at Indiana University a long, long time ago, and loved pizza and found myself doing a marketing project at a local pizza place in Bloomington, Indiana. While I was doing this project, I kept thinking, what a great industry the pizza industry was, and why not do this in other markets that people graduate to and move to after they leave Bloomington, Indiana?

It's that idea that I then followed up on about 10 years after graduating and said, "Hey, I think I really want to do this." I was probably young enough at the time and courageous enough and dumb enough to think, hey, why not? I didn't have a lot to lose and thought I'm going to give it a go. That's when I started the company. Currently we have 22 stores. We've got a couple in development right now. But we're still a very small company, obviously in a very big industry, with all of our locations in Central Indiana.

Brad: Now, Gabe, are you franchised, or are you all corporate?

Gabe: Yeah. We have eight company stores, and then the rest are franchisees of ours.

Brad: Excellent, very good. Mary Kay, let's find out a little bit about your background. How did you get involved with Pizza Factory?

Mary Kay: I got involved with Pizza Factory, because when my husband was in high school, he worked for the local Pizza Factory in Mariposa, and I think it was always his dream to open up a Pizza Factory. In 1997, we were able to get an opportunity to open our first location. So, we did, in a small town. Then in 2012, the company was sold, and MJ Riva and her husband Bob took over and I was offered a full time position as part of her team, and that's where I am today.

Brad: Excellent. You have both experience as a franchisee as well as looking at it from the corporate side.

Mary Kay: Yes, I do.

Brad: Interesting. Well, let's talk a little bit... My name is Brad Brooks, I am the Vice President Sales and Marketing here at SpeedLine Solutions. As you can imagine, our goal today is to find out a little bit more about how to hire, train, talking about retaining and some strategies there and understand a little bit more from our panelists about coaching and discipline, what that looks like in the store, and how you influence that with both corporately owned stores, as well as with franchisees, and then finally talk a little bit about compensation and performance incentives.

Let's jump right into this and talk about hiring the team. Mary Kay, let's start off with you. When you were a franchise, and maybe it's probably best to talk about that a little bit from the franchise perspective, where did you advertise in order to find great employees?

Mary Kay: When we first started, social media wasn't a huge thing, Facebook wasn't a big thing at the time when we got started. We had a local high school, and we got a lot of our recruitment from the high school and hiring these young kids. Then from there, we would local advertisement in the newspaper, and then of course, as trends changed, now, it's social media. We put a lot of now hiring out on Facebook and Instagram.

Brad: Gabe, maybe over to you, just to find a little bit about the type of profile that you typically hire. When you're thinking about your corporate stores, for example, what do you look for in terms of experience? Are looking for someone who's brand new, who maybe doesn't have any experience? This is their first job or you're looking for someone who's perhaps been part of the industry before?

Gabe: Good question. For us, hiring somebody who has no experience is sometimes a great thing, that they don't come in with preconceived notions about how to do the job or the right way to make the product. Sometimes hiring somebody from another pizza place is actually a negative, because they come in with an attitude of oh, I already know how to do this. Rather than that being a blank slate and an open mind and just having the attitude of, hey, teach me, I don't know how to do this.

Experience for us isn't a requirement. We feel obviously it's our job to train people. The expectation isn't that they come in and they know how to operate our POS or they know how to make a pizza. Really, what we look for is attitude, because that's hard to train, it's hard to train somebody to smile or to have a good attitude. A rule that we like to follow is if they don't smile in the first 30 seconds of the interview, don't hire them, because if they don't smile while they're trying to get a job, they're never going to smile at a customer.


A rule that we like to follow is if they don't smile in the first 30 seconds of the interview, don't hire them, because if they don't smile while they're trying to get a job, they're never going to smile at a customer. -Gabe Connell, HotBox Pizza


Brad: It's probably fair, probably fair.

Gabe: Yeah.

Brad: Mary Kay, when you're bringing people into your organization, do you have a similar sort of philosophy and looking for people that are maybe fresh to the industry, or do you look for people with experience?

Mary Kay: I agree, we like inexperience at times, because we do a lot of training on site, and Gabe's, right, sometimes if they have too much experience, then it's hard to get them to adapt to what you are doing. But I agree, we look for that smile and that enthusiasm and go from there.

Brad: I've seen some really interesting hiring tools that have been used. Obviously, this is difficult to do during a time of COVID. But have you ever done group hiring where you bring in a group of people and watch them interact with each other or done anything like that?

Mary Kay: We have, actually. Our second store that we did, because we had so many applications at the time we did, we brought them in as a group to see how they interacted, and those that stayed through it, you knew that they could work as a team together. We do that at times, as well.

Brad: Interesting. What about referrals? You mentioned social media being one of the ways that you generate potential leads to people who are looking for work and to bring them in. Gabe, do you do anything to actively encourage those referrals?

Gabe: We do. We started a program about a year ago, and I'm sure that most of the people who are participating today can relate that hiring has become a huge challenge. Really, for us, it's been about the past two years, it used to be we opened up our doors when we had a new store opening and it was handling all the applicants was a hassle.

Now it's like, oh, I would love to have that as a problem. It's hard to get applicants. We started a program about a year ago, where we offer what amount to a $200 bonus for referrals is paid out $50 when the referral is hired, $50 at their 30 day review, and then $100 after 60 days. We figured if we can get somebody to join on and be with us for 60 days, there's a good chance they'll be with us for a while. So, we pay the employee who referred them, total of $200, but we stage it as $50, $50, $100.

Brad: Gabe, let's stay with you for a second, I want to ask you so other than smiling in the first 30 seconds, and I think that's a great rule, what are the top three qualities that you look for when you're looking for a brand new employee?

Gabe: The things that we try to look for are things that we can't train people on. As I said, attitude, smiling, work ethic, and a lot of times we're going to be hiring people who this might be their first job. It might not even be work ethic in terms of a previous job, but what do they do in school? What extracurricular activities are they involved with? We like to believe that the best indication of somebody's future is their past.

If we're talking to somebody, and they just don't do a whole lot of anything, it's pretty telling me about their personality and what type of employee they'd like to be, versus somebody who's highly involved with different activities, and then the realization to us as an employer is we've got to provide them flexibility, if they're involved with sports or organizations, and other things in their life. We need to be accommodating and flexible in order to get what we consider to be better employees.

Brad: Yeah. When I was doing a lot of hiring for QSR, I found that one of the questions that worked particularly well for me was to ask people, "What do you do on your day off? Tell me about your day off." You get a sense of how energetic they are. Now, if a person's not smart enough to tell a story about how full of energy they are on that day, they're not going to get smarter when it comes to the real life. I know that some of it's made up, but I almost count on that because I'm looking for someone who's at least in tune enough with what I'm trying to get out of them and trying to please.

I'm not trying to encourage people to lie, but I understand that people will often tell you that they probably... If they say they get up for a run every Saturday morning, it's maybe once or twice a month they're doing that. Yeah.

Mary Kay, tell me about what happens when they get hired. Let's maybe talk about training a little bit here, when they get hired and join a Pizza Factory, well, what does that experience look like? Take us through that?

Mary Kay: Of course, when they first get hired, we cross train. We like to put them in a position that they're going to strive and be good at. On a typical day, they'll be shadowing somebody that has the experience to train in our locations. We have a book that we call the employee handbook. We get them comfortable with what our culture is, we'll take them through sandwich making, taking orders, obviously, a very important aspect of our business is customer service. They are a face of who we are, so we want to make sure that they're comfortable when a guest comes in, how to greet them, how to take their order, how to make sure we're saying thank you and goodbyes, and making sure that everybody feels good about coming to our restaurant.

Brad: Now, in your shops, do people have set positions, or do they float and do whatever is needed at the moment?

Mary Kay: We train them to float, but in the beginning, we trained for a set position so they can get comfortable with it and then move on to the next area in our stores.

Brad: Okay. Gabe, maybe talk about your experience when you bring them on board, what does that look like with a new recruit?

Gabe: Pretty similar to what Mary Kay said, that when we first bring somebody in, there's an orientation that they go through with either the general manager or the district manager of that store. The goal is that initial orientation and training is done on a Monday or a Tuesday, at an off time, so three o'clock in the afternoon, four o'clock. What we don't want to do is bring somebody in at Friday night at five o'clock, and expect that they're going to get any sort of real training or focus on them.

We like to bring them in at an off time. The district manager or general manager will do the orientation with them and then hand them off to a trainer for that position. We essentially have three entry level positions. We have our front counter people who are in charge of basically handling incoming orders, taking care of customers when they come into the store, pizza makers and delivery drivers.

They're handed off to somebody who works in that area. The goal is for them to spend three shifts together, where we basically transition from the trainer doing the work, showing them how to do it, and then letting them do the work with the trainer shadowing them. At the end of those three shifts, if the trainer certifies that, hey, they're good to go, then the manager knows that they can schedule them to work solo. If they're not ready yet, then the trainer might say, "Hey, I need another shift or two with them before they're ready to go."

Brad: Staying with you, Gabe what happens then? Is there ongoing training that's provided at regular intervals for the team?

Gabe: At their 30 day review, the goal would be for them to then be classified as what we'd call a D4, which would mean that they're proficient in that area that they've learned, and now we can train them in a new area, but we need to then make sure that we're taking a focused approach to saying okay, maybe they're a D4 as a pizza maker, now, we want to teach them front counter, but we have to take a step back and say, okay, now we need to give them the time and attention that we did at the first day, we need to do that again.

What we don't want to do is have people just drift over to another position and say, "Oh, hey, making pizzas looks fun I just think I'll go there and try that out." What we realized was a lot of times we would say, "So and so is really... Their pizzas are sloppy, they don't portion properly." Then we realize, we never trained them. They were a front counter person who was doing a great job, and they just would drift over to the make line and decided they wanted to eat pizzas and never were actually trained. We want to make sure that we take them through the formal training when they go from position to position.

Brad: Mary Kay, your franchisees and speaking of this from the franchisee perspective for a moment, what type of training is provided to a franchisee in terms of managing staff? One of the things that I've become acutely aware of, especially with franchise organizations, it's not everybody has the same experience in food service or even in management when they first get a franchise. What do you do in order to provide that new owner with management training so that they can effectively hire and manage and train those staff?

Mary Kay: When a new franchisee comes on, they spend four weeks at a train location. Of course, they go through management training at that location, and that is hiring and training your staff. Then after that, at the franchise level, we have conventions and we have webinars and we bring people into our conventions and on our webinars that are good at this and that continue to help us support and give the tools to our franchisees as ongoing training.

Brad: Gabe, you mentioned that you have a district manager or regional manager who does that initial training. Is that correct?

Gabe: Yes. Either the district manager or general manager does the initial orientation, which is the opportunity for us to give people a feel for the culture of the company, of the dos and don'ts of working with us. We've realized pretty early on, especially with people coming from other companies, maybe their expectation for what was acceptable was maybe a little bit different than ours. The realization is, we shouldn't expect anybody to come in and know what our expectations are, and what we maybe consider to be common sense, because how would they know if they haven't been told?

That orientation is really an opportunity to sit down and explained to them everything from their employee discount to when does the schedule get posted? How do they request off, all those sorts of things, just so that they know where to go if they have a question and understand the policies of the store.

Brad: Mary Kay, when you think about the culture that you have at Pizza Factory, could you describe it in two, three, five words, in terms of the values or the culture that you're trying to create?

Mary Kay: Oh, jeez, five words. I think the culture that you're talking about as our employees, as our hiring employees?

Brad: Yeah, for hiring employees.

Mary Kay: For what? Can you repeat that?

Brad: That's right, for hiring employees, what's the culture that you're trying to create?

Mary Kay: I think we create a culture of a safe place to work. One of the most rewarding things for us is to be that employee's first job and to teach them how to work. Many times, and we hear this so many times, we have a high school student that worked through us throughout high school, we're their first job, and we will get an email or a phone call calling us up and thanking us for teaching them how to work. I think that, the culture of that being able to do that, and giving them a workplace that makes them feel safe and comfortable to be able to do a job being their first job.

Brad: I'll share a little bit of my personal experience with this. My first job was at McDonald's. With the experience that I had, I had a very good general manager, and I had some really strong assistant managers. I wasn't a particularly great employee, ironically. Not because I did anything wrong, I was just kind of slow. But they encouraged me all the way along.

When I went back and looked at my career trajectory that started off in food service, and I thought about the systems that they put into place in order to make sure that I didn't fail, that's exactly what I'm hearing from both of you, is that there's a system in place to prevent people from failing at their job, particularly that all important first job. I think that you really can't underestimate the contribution that you're making to people's lives and careers by teaching them how to serve customers, how to be productive, and how to use a system in order to make both their job easier, but also make the team work better as a whole. You run across individuals that, they understand that and they start to catch on.

Gabe, when you're training new employees, do you identify them in any way to customers? Do you have an in training badge or anything like that?

Gabe: We don't. Our goal is really for that employee to not interact with the customer in terms of doing anything that would have an impact on that customer's experience without somebody right there with them. When the trainer says to the general manager, "Hey, they're good to go." Now they're ready to work solo. Up until that point, we want to have somebody there shoulder to shoulder with them, so that they don't make a mistake or make a decision that would have an impact on the customer. The goal for us is to not identify them as such, because really, what we want to make sure is that we've got somebody right there with them working shoulder to shoulder.

Brad: That's very good. Let's move on to talk about the other side of this equation, which is how do you make sure that they stay engaged and are as enthusiastic on day 365 as they were on day one? Mary Kay, let's start off with you. Why do you think people stay with Pizza Factory?

Mary Kay: They stay because they enjoy their job. We create a fun atmosphere, and I think that the team aspect of it as being part of something is why I think they stay.

Brad: What's the most common reason that they leave? Is it a good reason? Is it something like I'm going back to school? Or is it, I don't like working here? What's your sense?

Mary Kay: Most of the time, it's because they are going back to school, because we do have a lot of high school kids. Then summertime comes, they go off to college, and they come back home for the summer, and they call us up and say, "Hey, do you have some extra hours?" We say, of course, we'd love to have them come back. We do that over and over again. Many times, I've had college students come back and work for the summer, and they go back to college, throughout their college career.

Brad: That's amazing. Gabe, for you, why do you think people stay? Let's start there.

Gabe: It's a good question, and it's one that I spent a little bit of time on recently, did a survey with our employees, asking them a variety of questions, but really what I was focused on was retention, and what is it about the company that keeps people there? We're certainly going to lose people because they graduate from school, and they go to college, or they graduated from college, and they go get a career in their field, and that's awesome, and we want to pat them on the back and wish them good luck. But what I don't want to do is lose an employee to another similar job.

Gabe: I wanted to figure out what did people like about it? What do they stick around for? Essentially, it seems that it's the people who they work with, it's the environment of the store, it's the fact that pizza is a fun business, it's a social business. While we've all been socially distant in the past year, and a lot of people don't gather to eat, as they have, we'll hopefully get back to that. But, typically, pizza is a social food, people are ordering pizza for a party, for an event. We're not selling caskets, we're not selling insurance. It's a fun business, and I think that's what people really enjoy about it.

Brad: Yeah. You're not selling caskets. That's what we're comparing to. That's good. Here, try this one. Something very wrong with that, in my mind, right now. When you have a situation, I don't know if you've run into this in any of your locations, where you have a factory or you have a new employer that moves into town, and takes all the air in the room, as it were, and suddenly starts offering higher wages, have you had to deal with those types of situations, Mary Kay?

Mary Kay: Very rarely. I don't think it's... I'm not saying that a higher wage isn't driving some. But it's not always about the money. I think it's about the recognition and about where they work. I think that speaks volumes for us a lot of times, because if they feel appreciated, and they are recognized for the job that they're doing, they usually stay, they usually don't go off to somewhere else to work, because generally like where they're working now.

Brad: Gabe, for you, what type of growth opportunities do you offer within your organization? You talked about the regional manager, so I assume that there's a hierarchy that people who are ambitious could work through?

Gabe: Without a doubt. Obviously, we have employees who are with us, who are currently general managers who started off as pizza makers. We have district managers who started off as maybe assistant managers or general managers. We also have a program where we will finance somebody opening up their own store, if they've proven themselves with us over a period of time. Actually, we have a district manager who's been with us for five years, who is going to become a franchisee, just recently signed a lease for a location, and we're going to finance him opening up his own store, which is pretty exciting.

It's really fun to see people be able to grow and develop. And not have people get to a point where they've hit a ceiling and there's nowhere for them to go and we lose good people because we can't provide an opportunity for them.

Brad: Right. You shared your own personal story, Mary Kay about your husband's experience. It sounds very similar to what Gabe just described. I know that MJ, the CEO of Pizza Factory started off working at a restaurant and eventually purchased the entire chain. Tell us a little bit about what you're doing to encourage your employees to take that next step in their career?

Mary Kay: Well, that's just the same thing for us. We just recently had a store in Washington that we took over and ran for a couple of years. We had a manager that just rose to the top, and he was so excited, he wanted to buy the store. That is exactly what he's doing. We do have managers that work with us and go on to either buy the business because their owners are retiring or open up a Pizza Factory franchise of their own. It is very exciting to see a lot of our franchisees have come within the franchise... Working for Pizza Factory or being a guest of Pizza Factory.

Brad: That's fantastic. What are your expectations for tenure? How long do you expect people to stay, Mary Kay? Do you expect people to say three years, or do you expect them to stay a year? What do you expect?

Mary:  When you hire somebody, especially because we work with youth, a lot of younger people, we expect them to be there through high school and if they're going to a community college or college near us. But we do have those that have made a career out of being a manager for Pizza Factory. I think it's a little bit of both, actually.

Brad: Gabe, you mentioned that you'd like to get people on board and within that first 60 days, so you feel real comfortable that they'll stay. Beyond that 60 days, same question for you, what do you expect in terms of length of time? Is it common for people to stay three, four or five years, or do most people turn over in 12 to 18 months?

Gabe: What we like to see is what Mary Kay spoke about earlier, where if somebody gets a job with us their sophomore, junior year in high school, we want them to stick with us through their high school career. When they graduate, we hope that when they come back for breaks, they want to pick up some hours while they're in town, whether it's over winter break or summer break. Can be, that's pretty exciting to see. Because it means we must be doing something right that they're coming back into town, and this is where they want to be.

That's what we'd like to see is stick with us until they're ready to move on to whatever their career is. If we have people who really have a passion for the business, and they show that they're good at it, we like to take a look at and say, can we provide that career for them? Is there an opportunity with us? But we have a store at Purdue University, if somebody is an engineering major at Purdue, and they work for us for a year or two, while they're there, when they graduate, chances are they're going to get a really great job in their field. Our hope for them is that's what happens, and that's what they pursue. It just depends on the situation.

Brad: Terrific. Let's talk a little about coaching and discipline. We've covered some of this, but you talked about that employee handbook, Mary Kay. I imagine that the employee handbook has more than just policies about when to show up for work, and so forth. How do you hold people to those all important standards that help to create an experience that's the same, regardless of which Pizza Factory I go to?

Mary Kay: Well, I can speak for my store. I just think it's just that we hold them accountable for what they're doing every day in our store, and we set those policies and we expect them to follow them.

Brad: Gabe, what about you from a coaching perspective, what do you do in order to keep people on track?

Gabe: Yeah. A saying that we like to try to follow is praise in public, discipline in private. If we ever need to reprimand somebody, we want to do that privately and have a conversation with them to try to figure out, hey, what's going on? Typically, if it's a good employee who's slacking off, or they keep showing up late, they're not working as part of a team, I like to talk to them separately, rather than calling them out in front of their peers, which typically will embarrass them or maybe take them off a little bit.

I have private conversations, "Hey, what's going up?" Hopefully work through it with them in figuring out what's the issue, and how do we correct it? Hiring good people is tough, and what I don't want to do is lose a good person over misunderstanding or pettiness. I think that if somebody has been with us for a while, we owe it to them to say, hey, if they're going through a tough time, personally, or something's happening, let's work through it with them, rather than just say, "Hey, you're fired." Because people are tough to replace, good people are really tough to replace. We don't want to just churn through people because they're having a bad day or a bad week.

Brad: Mary Kay, as I was preparing for our conversation today, I started thinking about the idea of why people join large organizations, why they don't join a small, independent company, rather they want to join something that's part of a chain? I actually thought that people will say things like job stability. But what I think they're really saying there is they're saying, I want to be in a company that has enough discipline that I know that when I come to work, make a mistake that the boss doesn't turn around and say you're fired. Because in a lot of cases, those large organizations will have some sort of a progressive discipline plan, where you get a verbal warning, you get two written warnings, and then you get the third one, and you separate your employment to that point. From your perspective, what do you do in your store in terms of progressive discipline?

Mary Kay: Well, I think I'm going to go off what Gabe said. For us, we have rules. If somebody shows up late for work, they get a warning. Like I've said, there's many... Because we're such a small group, we know somebody is off or having a bad day or something is going on with them. But we try to stick to those policies so that we're setting good examples for everybody, shows up late for work, we're going to talk to them. If they continue to do that, they're going to be written up, because you're setting standards for everything else around you to make sure that they're doing their job, and that they don't slack off and that they don't continue to have bad behavior in your location.

Brad: Do you have any examples of things that you consider immediately fire-able offenses?

Mary Kay: Theft. Theft for us is a fire-able offense, I feel. We put trust in our employees to handle money, and that's one thing we talk about in orientation with them as well, that, that is. We don't tolerate any kind of bullying in our stores. We have a no bullying policy. We do it outside in our communities, and we have it in our store as well. That would be another offense for us, if somebody is making somebody feel uncomfortable at work, it would immediate termination as well.

Brad: Right. Gabe, do you do regular reviews with your employees as they go through their time, in order to help them progress in their career, if that's the direction they'd like to go?

Gabe: We do. We do a 30 day review, a three month review, a six month review, and then an annual review. The goal for all of those is to have a conversation with an employee about really, how are they progressing, how are they developing? And give them an opportunity to talk about where they would like to go, and what do they need? It's a two way conversation. The manager evaluates them, but they also have a portion that they complete, so that we can hear from them and see what they're struggling with, and what is it that they want to do?

Again, we don't want to lose somebody to go work somewhere else, because they feel like oh, I've just been stuck being a delivery driver, but I'd really like to learn other areas of the business, and they won't teach me. So, I'm going to go work somewhere else where I feel like I can learn more. If somebody has an interest, we don't want to assume, hey, delivery drivers make the most money, they're happy being a delivery driver. Let's have that conversation and talk to them, find out what are their passions, what are their interests, what do they want to do?

Brad: Very good. That's a nice segue into our next section, and we'll talk about compensation and performance incentives. Mary Kay, I will bet that you run across employees all the time that you think are doing a phenomenal job, how do you recognize and reward those people in your organization?

Mary Kay: We recognize within our group, I think that, letting them stand out... We do a lot of things on Facebook as well, because your guests are seeing what is happening in your store, you post it on social media, they've done something well, we reward them with bringing it up to the team. We may get a great review on customer service of our employees, and we post it on our wall to say, "Hey, look what you've done. This is a team here." They love that, they love to be recognized for what they've done well,

Brad: That's great. Gabe, do you have programs that are formalized that recognize employees across the company? I'm thinking things like scholarships, Employee of the Year, some people do Pizza Olympics and so forth, or do you have a conference that you bring people to? Anything like that?

Gabe: Yep. We do some things, but I would say we don't do enough. It's part of that project that I've been working on in terms of employee retention, and asking each of our general managers, what is it you'd like to do for your employees that we currently just don't do? A lot of the things that they asked for came down to recognition. Buying small little gift certificates, other businesses so that they can hand out to employees for doing a good job, but spontaneous.

A customer comes in, they're picking up four pizzas, and they've got a couple of kids with them, "Hey, let me carry that out for you." "Hey, great job, here's a $10 gift card." Or give me a delivery driver a free car wash or something along those lines. We're starting that program with small little recognition, and then also incorporating a scholarship program into the mix as well. Because, as we talked about earlier, we want to have employees work for us up until the point they go to college and possibly even come back. So, recognizing those employees with a scholarship is something we're putting together right now.

Brad: That's fantastic. I love it when I ask a question, and the answer comes back as something that surprises me. That's good. I didn't know that about your scholarship program. Is there a particular specialty that you're looking at when you're looking at that scholarship, or you're looking at something that's a little more general?

Gabe: It's going to be general, because again, our recognition is that we have a lot of people who are going to major in various things and go into careers that might not be restaurants or pizza, but if they worked for us while they're in high school, they come back while they're in college, we want to recognize them and help them on their way, even if it means that at some point, they're going to separate from us and go on to do different things. Hey, that's great. Good for them. We want to cheer them on and help them on their way.

Brad: Mary Kay, do you have... We talked about the review process with Gabe a little bit, but do you have a set schedule for raises and things like that, that you recommend to your franchisees or that you've implemented in your own organization?

Mary Kay: I think the review process, obviously, with nowadays, how it is, it's they're getting scheduled raises yearly. It's been a little tough for us to be able to implement that like we used to. It just depends, we do have a review process. They meet their goals after so long, and we sit down with them and go over the review process, and we do give them small raises throughout that as well, or bonuses or other rewards.

Brad: Gabe, your group, how do you handle tips? You mentioned that the delivery drivers make the most money. Are tips for the delivery driver, is that kept separate from any tips that are collected in-store, if you even do that?

Gabe: Yes. Drivers keep 100% of their tips. Delivery drivers have become really challenging for us to hire. The big incentive, obviously for drivers is not only the tips, but they're taking cash home after every shift, which it's a pretty big character to put out there for new hires. In stores, it's actually, over the past year, in-store tips have become insane.

My son works at one of our stores and he's an in-store employee. I see the tips that he comes home with, I'm like, "Where is all this money coming from?" It's just insane how our in-store tips have really increased, especially during the age of COVID. Those are split up equally based on number of hours with the in-store. If somebody works, a five hour shift, they're going to get more in tips than somebody who worked a two hour shift. But they do get divided up based on that shift, based on number of hours.

Brad: Mary Kay, from your perspective, what do you do for separating out tips for employees? Do you poll them or how does this work?

Mary Kay: We do the same exact thing. Like Gabe said, make it fair, because your day crew may work as hard as your night and they do, they work as hard as your night crew, but obviously, a lot of business comes in, in the evening, could be or times that they're not working. So, we do split it evenly with hours worked. The delivery drivers do keep their tips.

Brad: Nice. Is there a sense of trying to please customers in order to get the extra tip, or is there a sense that people will tip whatever they were going to tip anyway? What's the perception in the store, Mary Kay?

Mary Kay: I don't think it's based on tips. Obviously, our employees are very appreciative when they do get a tip, but I think generally they're just customer service oriented and they just want to make sure that the guests is having the best experience. It's an added bonus if they get a tip. If they don't get it, they still treat the customer like they would if they hadn't or had.

Brad: It's so important to do that. If you can instill that in your team, that the reason that they do something and they go above and beyond, they carry the pizzas out to the table, it sure makes it easier in the rest of their life not to look at money first, and to think in terms of, I manage a sales team. There's a rightful perception that there's a commission check at the end, right?

But the truth is, the reason we should all be doing this is because we're out here to serve our customer. But first and foremost, and the less you talk about the money as being the goal, and the more you talk about delighting your guests, or making customers happy or finding the right solution, I find that, that is a much stronger focus and really gets people aligned much more quickly than just chasing a dollar, which is, that's an empty reward in the end.

Little philosophy, free philosophy from Brad Brooks. We got a little bit of extra time here, and I have one extra topic that I just wanted to touch on about staff safety. It's hard to talk about staff safety without immediately going to COVID. But I actually want to go beyond that, and talk a little bit about what do you do in order to keep your drivers safe? How do you train your drivers and your in-store staff to be safe in a time where sometimes, and I don't know if your situation is like this, but I have some customers that were buying bulletproof glass because of the locations that they're in. What do you do, Mary Kay, in order to keep your employees safe and train them?

Mary Kay: Well, right when the pandemic started, we set up policies in place and had a meeting on keeping our... Because we want them to feel safe coming to work and comfortable coming to work. Obviously, our cleaning procedures were already in place. We just implemented higher standards for them as well. For our delivery drivers, we have contactless delivery. For our employees that are coming in, obviously, our dining rooms are closed, we made sure that takeout and pickup were safe for them. Some of our stores did put up plexiglass, some of our stores implemented the contactless credit card at the counter, so that they didn't have to collect money or collect credit cards on that end of it as well.

Obviously, mass coming in, we have signs at our doors and banners inside our doors so that our guests can know what we're doing to keep our employees safe, as well as keeping them safe when they walk into our establishments.

Brad: That's great. Gabe, maybe going beyond what we've done in order to deal with COVID, what do you do in general in order to ensure safety within your restaurants?

Gabe: From a training standpoint, we teach drivers that if they pull up to an address, and something's off; the house is dark, it looks like an abandoned house. Call the customer, don't just go up to the door, say, "Hey, I think I'm at your street but I'm not sure. Can you put your porch light on, I want to make sure I've got the right house." But don't go up to a house if they can't get a hold of the customer, and they don't feel good, come back to the store. Don't go to an abandoned house because what we've read is that most pizza delivery driver robberies occur, somebody will call in a delivery to a location that they know is abandoned, nobody lives there, and they'll wait for the driver to come to the door and then they'll come around from the side of the house and rob the driver.

We teach them to look at the area, does this look like a safe delivery? If they don't feel safe, if there's a dog in the yard, call the customer and say, "Hey, there's a dog in your yard, would you mind securing it, since I'm caring pizza that smells really good, I don't want to this dog over." Using safety and putting their safety really at the forefront. Even when it comes to driving, if it's snowy roads out there, the delivery driver needs to make the call on do they feel safe driving?

We might have a driver who has four wheel driving, loving delivering pizzas in the snow, and somebody else might be driving a Camaro and they're sliding all over the road. They might say, "Hey, I don't feel good out there." It's their decision and there's no repercussion if they say, "Hey, I don't feel comfortable driving." Not a problem, let's pull them off the road. Because again, their safety is paramount, and if they are in an accident, if anything happens, not only are we putting them at risk, now we're putting other drivers in a position where they're saying, "Hey, do I want to work for a company that cares more about a pizza than they do about my safety?"

Ultimately, we've got to say that they're in charge of their safety. If they say, "I'm not comfortable delivering to that area." Hey, let's evaluate that. I'm not comfortable delivering, because the weather's too bad. All right, not a problem, let's pull you off the road.

Brad: That's very good. We got lots of questions that have come in while we've been chatting here. I'm going to start going through a few of these. Hopefully, we'll have time to get to a number of them. This one's for you, Mary. Kay, have you had any issues with locations that do not follow the hiring and training guidelines that you put forth?

Mary Kay: I have not and I can't speak for all. I think that... We have not, no.

Brad: Okay. Gabe, same question to you, have you had any locations where you've had to maybe provide some additional coaching and guidance?

Gabe: Absolutely. It's tough, the franchising relationship is an interesting one. In that, it's their business, but it's our brand. We hope that the franchisees take training as seriously as we'd like them to, but it's not always the case. So, it's a conversation. Hopefully, it's a conversation that goes well, but we also want to be careful in that the employees are their employees, that they're not our employees. We want to make sure that we don't cross that line.

But we do want to make sure that everybody's getting the tools that they need, so they represent the brand well. We approach it from that angle, in terms of are there things that are going on that maybe have a negative impact on the brand? If so, let's address those, but we're not going to dive into their hiring decisions or their personnel decisions. That's for them to decide it on their own. But we hopefully can have a conversation that's productive in terms of them understanding the importance of training, and doing things in the right way.

Brad: I've got a question. Go ahead Mary Kay.

Mary Kay: I just wanted to add a little bit to that one, because thinking about that question is, yes, when it comes to that, yes, we have. Like Gabe said, we don't tell them how to manage their employees. But when stuff comes up, we do have guidelines for them and tools, especially with social guidelines, we've had to contact a location that may have had an employee #pizzafactory on, they may not have put it on our Facebook page, but on their Facebook page. We have had to reach out to our franchisees in regards to keeping brand standards in place.

Brad: The next question was actually asked in a couple of different ways, so it must be a good one. I'll read the question from John here. It says, with joint employer legislation in place, franchisees are often looking for help from corporate to assist in hiring strategies. Do you have any familiarity with companies like TalentReef, which is used by Shakey's, Capriottis, and Yum in providing a recommended tool to address some of these pains. Gabe, do you have any tools that you're using in your organization to help with the hiring?

Gabe: We use Snagajob to help with hiring and we have talked to our franchisees about it. We don't mandate that they use Snagajob. Out of our 14 franchise stores, I want to say eight of them use Snagajob, six do not. We don't mandate that they use it, we recommend it. We say it's something that we use and it's helpful to us in terms of recruiting and identifying potentially good hires, but we don't mandate it.

Brad: Okay. Same question for you, Mary Kay, do you have any tools that you use internally in order to help to improve the recruiting part and the hiring part of your business?

Mary Kay: We don't use any companies like Gabe had mentioned. Obviously, I mentioned earlier some of the people that we put in at our conventions and our webinars to assist with that, but we don't have a particular company that we recommend and use. Our franchisees may, but we do not.

Brad: This is a question for both of you, and I can imagine that the in-store... In restaurants in general as everyone knows, there's almost always this front of house, back of house rivalry that can take place. In the pizza world, we have drivers and we have in-store. Is there jealousy or are there complaints about how tips are handled or split between those two groups? Let's start with you, Gabe.

Gabe: No, not that I can think of, not that I know off the top of my head. I think our teams do a pretty good job of working together as a team. I think that they have realistic expectations. A lot of times our in-stores know that they're busting their asses making 100 Pizza order that a driver is going to take, and he's going to get a big tip. But what we try to make sure that our drivers know is that when they're in the store, they need to be working harder than everybody else, because they're going to take that delivery, and they're going to benefit from that tip.

When they're in the store, they need to be there to support the in-stores to say, "Hey, what can I do for you?" Because of that, we like to cross train our drivers so that when they're in the store, they're able to help out on phones, help out at the front counter, or help out on the make line, and they're not just standing in the back checking their Instagram while everybody else is really busy.

That's a goal is to really have that teamwork mentality. It's interesting, while we don't require it, a lot of times when drivers do have those big orders, he or she might come back and tip out the in-stores if they get a really big tip on it. We don't mandate that, but it's pretty encouraging when you see it because it really fosters that teamwork mentality.

Brad: Great. Mary Kay, how do you keep track of performance achievements, career pathing, promotion, pay raise? Do you use a system to do that? Is it done on spreadsheets? How do you keep track of all of those pieces?

Mary Kay: We don't keep track of them on a spreadsheet.

Brad: Okay.

Mary Kay:  Can you say your question again?

Brad: No, that's okay, I'll read it exactly as a task to make sure that I don't editorialize it here. How do you actively keep track of performance achievements, career pathing, promotion, pay raise programs that you have in place?

Mary Kay: For me, I'm just speaking for myself and my story, we set goals in place, and they meet them and achieve them. That is how I keep track of them. I'm not sure how other... I think a lot of our stores, probably talk amongst themselves of how they do that, but that is how I do it.

Brad: Okay. Gabe, how about for your organization? What do you do in order to keep track of those milestones that people have?

Gabe: Yeah, we have a pretty outdated system of using Google Docs, spreadsheets, as a way to track people's progress. Michelle in our office is responsible for... At the beginning of every month, she sends managers their list of which employees are up for reviews. If they are 30 day review, or they're six month review. Then they post in there, once it's done, so that you can see that those reviews are completed. Then they're also posting when people are trained in the new positions, or move from an in-store into an assistant manager position, it's all tracked in Google Docs.

Brad: I'm going to ask you a question here, and I'm not meaning to turn this into a political question at all. But Jeremy has a question from our audience here. He wants to know, how do you feel about the minimum wage increase? Mary Kay, you alluded to it before, that the minimum wage increase took away some of the opportunities to perhaps reward people because now suddenly, you have this mandatory increase. Is that posing a problem for you at the store level, or are you finding that people are happier as a result of the increases that they're getting?

Mary Kay: Obviously, employees are happy with the increases they're getting. I think it poses a challenge for us as employers, because all of a sudden our high school employees are just getting hired and now almost making as much as our managers were making. The gap is closing in on that, because they're getting as much wage starting as we would start a manager out, and then it gets us to have to increase our pay wages for a manager which becomes sometimes an issue.

Brad: Got it. How about for you, Gabe, what are you seeing in your area?

Gabe: I'm not a fan of a federal minimum wage, especially when it's $15 an hour. I think that areas are so different, and what somebody needs to make in Kokomo, Indiana is very different than somebody in New York, or Chicago or LA. I think that first and foremost matters. Plus, as Mary Kay said, where are somebody at in their life? Are they a high school student? Are they out of school? Is this and career? Is this just a part time job?

I like paying more than minimum wage. But when minimum wage keeps increasing, then we're in a position of, it makes it tough for us. When minimum wage used to be $5.50 an hour, we started off at $6.50 an hour, and we had a little bit of a competitive advantage. Then minimum wage increased to $7.25, which meant we had to increase, just to stay even. It took away the competitive advantage that we had at the time.

We just put together wage windows of where everybody should be, and I sent it out to all of our managers and said, "Hey, do me a favor, go through your current roster and check this and see, how does this match up with where everybody currently is?" Because what I don't want to do is underpay people to the point that they say, "I feel I can go somewhere else and start off at more than I make here, and I've been here for six months or seven months."

We want to be able to recognize people by increasing their pay, but a $15 minimum wage makes that really challenging. Then we have to look at in terms of do we need to get rid of people and do more with less, or do we raise our prices? But if we're doing that, all we're doing is just creating inflation. If people are making more, but they're spending more on everything that they buy, then what good do minimum wage increases really do?

Brad: Yeah. The money has to come from somewhere. At the end of the day, the pile of the money that comes in has to be split up, and if there isn't enough, then we have to figure out how to get more and that often entails raising prices. Very good questions. Thank you to the audience for those really, really good. That's all the time we have. I want to again, thank Mary Kay Haas from Pizza Factory and Gabe Connell from HotBox pizza. Thank you for your insights and explaining to us how your business works and how you candidly deal with some of the challenges that face us all every day, as we work in this industry.

Again, thank you to Pizza Marketplace for hosting this. My name is Brad Brooks, I'm with SpeedLine Solutions, thank you again. Bye now.





Posted on Mon, Mar 15, 2021 @ 08:03 AM.
Updated on March 31, 2021 @ 9:58 PM PST.

Tags: Employee Management, Employee Turnover, Webinar

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