[Webinar] Doing More with Less: Dealing with a Labor Shortage

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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Recently, I spoke with Greg Thomas, the owner of Mama Roni's Pizza in Colorado about how he makes his restaurant more efficient. Lately, restaurants have been dealing with increased wages and a labor shortage, and restaurant efficiency is one way to reduce your costs and stay competitive.




Webinar Transcript

Brian: Hello interweb world. People who live in the Internet. I'm Brian Hernandez. We are here with PMQ in the webinar series. I’ve got a couple of great guests today. We're going to give about one more minute for the stragglers to come on in, and then I'll introduce the guests, although I guess you can see their names on your screen anyway.

We have Brad Brooks of SpeedLine and Greg Thomas of Mama Roni's in Fort Collins, CO. We're going to be touching on a very hot topic today that I think everybody should actually be tuning into and paying attention to. So, seems like people are coming in. I think that I have stalled quite enough. I don't want to punish you guys for being on time. So, if they're late, they're late. So, without further ado, here we go guys.

Hello and welcome to the PMQ webinar series. I'm your host, Brian Hernandez, and I'd like to thank all of you for joining us. Today, we're going to tackle a topic that is hitting operators across the nation right now, and that's finding a quality labor force. Now that we're bouncing back from the pandemic, we are faced with a new obstacle in finding and keeping quality employees. Now, our guests today will talk about how you can make your operation more efficient, and ways to manage your labor costs and needs in the post-lockdown market.

And as always, you guys can submit a question anytime during the presentation and we'll get them answered at the end. Just look for the questions tab in your dashboard, which is either on the left or right, and you can submit them there. I'll moderate them and we'll get them answered at the very end.

So, without further ado, guys, I'd like to introduce our speakers today. Today, we have Greg Thomas, owner of Mama Roni's in Fort Collins, CO, and Brad Brooks, the VP of sales and marketing with SpeedLine Solutions. Take it away, gentlemen.

Brad: Great. Brian. Thanks again for bringing us in like that. Greg, terrific to speak with you today. Maybe just start off by telling us a little bit of how you got involved in the pizza industry, and then maybe what Mama Roni's is all about.

Greg: Well, I've owned Mama Roni's for 17 years now, and I actually started working for the founders four years previous to that. I actually left in between there, before I bought it, but I was young and dumb and worked in restaurants since day one. I have family in the industry and I started washing dishes, fry cook, stuff like that. My favorite job in the restaurant industry was delivering pizzas. My oldest brother actually did that for 20-something years. I used to go ride with him and I'm a car guy. I love being in a car, listening to my music without my boss breathing down my neck. And the money, it was up to me to make the money, how fast I was, how good I was, how much I worked, stuff like that.

So, that's what got me into pizza really. Well, that and my love for pizza, of course. But the opportunity came to buy Mama Roni's, so we did. I have another brother who I'm partners with, and we bought it. So, like I said, 17 years. We started with one location, delivery/carry out only, with probably more than 25% of our sales at the time were school lunch programs or catering, and that was more of a crutch to get us going. We kind of bought a less than successful pizzeria, but we knew what we could do to it. We knew we had a great product. It just wasn't being run right.

So, opened a second one. About 2004 we bought the first one. 2009, January, we opened our second one, and that one has a little bit of casual seating that we're actually getting rid of as we speak. I think that might come up in discussions later. And then opened our third one this last August, in Longmont, CO, which is about 35 minutes away, and that's strict delivery/carry out.

Brad: Great. So, tell us about the concept. What kind of crusts do you have? What makes you special?

Greg: Well, the one thing that sets us apart the most, and it's not as rare as it used to be, is our sandwiches and our pizza rolls. When we first started making pizza rolls, nobody made pizza rolls. The good thing over the years is that, as other people have started offering them, they're kind of like mini-calzones or stromboli, but no sauce inside, no ricotta or anything like that. The good thing about that is everybody that does offer them now, Pizza Hut was doing it for a while, I don't know if they still have them, is that ours were still always the best.

We make our dough every day to use it the next day. We retard it for a day. We just do a nice hand-tossed crust where we do a hand-tossed thin. The sandwiches, like I said, are different. They're what we call our take on a panini. It's hot-pressed pizza dough. We've been doing those for 20 years almost, and Papa John's kind of makes the Papadilla now. I don't know if I can say those words on here, but...

Brad: You can.

Greg: But they've always been different. Those are the two minor things that have always been different that are just phenomenal, that bring people back. I give a lot of people those for free the first time, just to try them. Because they don't know what they are, even if you show them a picture. They don't know how good they are. But we do pizzas, wings, calzones, our panini sandwiches, salads. The menu is big and gigantic in some years and it's been shrunken quite a bit in the last few years, which will probably be brought up in this [crosstalk 00:05:46]

Brad: Yeah. Yeah, we'll certainly talk about that. So, based in Colorado. Tell us what you're facing in terms of labor. Are you seeing big challenges to find good people?

Greg: Yeah. I think in our little niche, we're extremely fortunate. We're in delivery, so COVID did not affect us the way it affects most. So, I don't know who's going to watch this, who the attendees are, but if they have sit-downs and bars and stuff like that, and alcohol, it's going to be completely different. They're just catching around to getting beat up.

We've been extremely fortunate, for one, not to have to shut down like everybody or minimize, because we're not having staff, a lot of people at once. I did open a store last year in August and it was bad then. There was a lot of extra unemployment that kept people from choosing us, I should say. I don't think it kept them from working, but I think they wanted to hold out for whatever they might have been wanting to go back to, instead of a new job.

But now, it just seems that there's next to nobody. But like I said, we're fortunate we haven't had to cut 50% of our staff and had to refill 50%. But now, I'm building a store that I opened a year ago. So, we are getting busier, and we are having to hire, and I am not finding people, essentially. It's something else. It's something I've never seen before.

Brad: So, let's jump into some of the things that you've done in order to improve this, and make things better and faster. Because the reality is I think all of us are being put into a position where we need to do more with less. Where we don't have the number of employees that we would typically have full staff, yet demands on the business. We're facing it in our business, in my sales team, and on my marketing team. It's difficult to find great people and they're a good cultural fit, bring them in.

So, maybe we can talk a bit about, you talked about some of the things that you're offering. Your menu, for example. Are you offering different combos or specials now, than you did before?

Greg: A little bit. I think a lot of it has to do with me in a new market at this new store. That's motivated me to do different things. I don't know if it's because of shortages and efficiencies and stuff. But as far as the menu goes, we've shrunken our menu to make it easier, and the goal is not just to make it easier but to make sure we could succeed and make everything better, or 100%.


Why have 100 [menu] items if you can't be proud of 100 items? - Greg Thomas, owner of Mama Roni's Pizza


Why have 100 items if you can't be proud of 100 items? So, we've shrunken some things. We used to have baked pasta. We got rid of those a few years back, about two years ago. That was a whole product that's gone. But we also shrunk things like sandwiches. We used to have 8-10 different sandwiches. Well, we've knocked it down to four, and I make sure that we nail it. And the same with salads. Keeping it simple, easier to make, for people to choose what they want to get, and we can almost ensure that we can make them better because it's easier to train. It's not overwhelming for current employees when it's busy or new employees when you're training them, stuff like that.

Brad: Yeah. One of the areas where we've seen some interest is in people changing their menus, not just the contents of them, but also the way that they appear. We've found people saying things like, "I changed my menu to make it easier to read. I put something at the front counter so it was easier." Have you done anything like that, in order to improve the customer experience, and speed up the ordering process?

Greg: Yeah. Pictures work great. My partner and I differ on what we want. He would prefer no pictures. He likes more clean. To give a good example, he would prefer a nice chalkboard menu as opposed to I would want to print something with pictures on there. They also look less corporate and look more local and stuff. And I don't disagree with wanting that, but it's harder to run the business, in my opinion. I've kind of had some freedom to try some things at this newer store and make some decisions. So, I've been using pictures and color pictures, as one of our stores still had black and white chalkboards. The chalkboards look great. The handwriting and it's really an ink chalk, they look phenomenal. But I think pictures, a picture's worth 1000 words.

Also, like you said, kind of shrinking things down, descriptions and stuff. You always want to say, "Try our delicious homemade this and that." You talk about how the dough rests for a day. You want to say something fancy.

Brad: You're going to romance the food a little bit.

Greg: Yeah. I now kind of rely on myself to do that, which it's not the best because I can't be at three stores. I can't be there and it gets hard to train managers to do it. But at the same time...

Brad: Oh, looks like we lost you there. I just can't quite hear you there. Lost your audio.

Brian: It does look like that.

Brad: Just while you're getting that fixed, one of the things that have come up, we've talked to a lot of restaurant operators, and they've been telling us that they have changed the way that their point of sale unit is configured so that it's faster to enter orders into. And also to make sure that those items are being put into the right place. So, those are some of the things. Greg, do we have you back on audio yet? Nope. Cannot hear you yet.

Brian: Looks like he might have switched over from his... I'm not sure why it would hiccup like that. All right, Brad. Why don't you go ahead and continue there right quick.

Brad: Sure. Yeah. A couple of other ideas, while...

Greg: About now?

Brian: Now we can hear you. We're good, yes.

Greg: Okay.

Brad: Have you done anything with line busting at all? Where you're able to take payment in line? Have you experimented at all with that?

Greg: No, we don't have much of a line. We don't have people. We still have the carryout, so. But what I have done is encourage paying online, on our website, on the app. And even during COVID, we were not offering cash as a form of payment. So, it was encouraging to be pre-paid, and I think just in general, being 2021, post-COVID if we can call it that, people are loving to do that. They're loving to do it over the phone as well when they order ahead of time.

If that was something we had, before COVID, I think I mentioned we're going to be getting rid of a lot of seating in our store, and focus more on delivery and carryout. If we were to continue doing that, I absolutely, it has been on the list somewhere, especially with the app now. We basically just got an app, essentially. We would push that, absolutely. We would look for resources, see what they might have for us, and stuff like that. But yeah, anything to speed things up not only is great for us, but it’s great for the customer, too.


Anything to speed things up not only is great for us, but it’s great for the customer, too. - Greg Thomas, owner of Mama Roni's Pizz


Brad: Let's talk a little about standardizing procedures. You brought up an interesting point, which is that you rely on yourself to do that romancing of the food, and talk about what makes you special, what makes you stand out. Have you standardized those processes, so that you have a standard? It's hard to do this without feeling corporate, and I'm sensitive to the fact that you don't want to feel like a corporate business, but at the same time, you want to have some things that create a consistent experience without losing that homey feel. How do you do that?

Greg: It's hard. I mean, it's hard to actually execute it and get legs with things. But having three locations, it has been necessary. Recipes. Recipe cards. Making sure that those recipes are easier to do. Sometimes you might measure something by volume, but weight might be more accurate. You have to kind of decide what's important and what's going to come across better with training the employees and making sure it actually hits the line properly made. 

But yeah, absolutely, standardizing processes, that's something we always felt like we failed at, but we know we're doing an okay job. We have a lot of employees at all of our locations that have come from other pizzerias and other places, and they tell us, "Oh, wow, that's great compared to the last two places I worked at." It's a constant struggle, but I would like to be corporate in that sense, you know what I mean?

Brad: Right. There are things we want to adopt from the larger corporations, but we don't want to lose that, "I'm in touch with the customer," feel. Things like opening and closing procedures come to mind. We've had a lot of customers ask us for cash-out procedures, so they can speed up that cash out at the end of the night. Those types of things that, it doesn't sound like a lot, but if you can knock 15 minutes off the end of your night, and you can send two people home faster, that's a half an hour you don't have to pay them, and you can reallocate that somewhere else. So, those are all very helpful.

Greg: I think one of the most valuable things I've done, or at least watch and make sure it gets done, is the opening procedures. I try to train these guys to do all those jobs, whether it's unlock the door, put the carpets down, chairs, make sure things are wiped, they were done properly last night, make line set up properly. In the wintertime, we sell a lot less salads than what we do in the summer. Well, the salad cooler is something they might skip to get ahead on other things.

I try to drill it into them and show the importance of getting it done in the morning before you move to the next step of prepping or whatever it might be. Or start making orders, because we would much rather, this is what I say. We would much rather do these things on our own time where we're not getting our butts kicked with sales than when it's necessary. Like, if you don't set up the salad cooler and something's not stocked, the first salad you go to make and there's not pepperoni or lettuce or whatever, you have to go run and get it. That's going to slow down that order and the next order and all that other stuff.

So, that's the big thing I say, is I would rather do these things on my own time than later on, on ticket time, when you're running behind. And it's frustrating and all that stuff. It's smarter. Sometimes, when things are tight and you're looking at saving labor and food and all this other stuff. "Oh, well, if I bring them on 15 minutes or a half-hour later to start the day, can we skip that?" You might look at it as an expense. Every day, they're going to have to come in 15 minutes to do this process, it's worth it in the end. Better service, better products, orders out faster, happier customers, more returning customers.

Brad: Yeah, we've done an analysis on ticket times. And it often comes down to them not bringing people in early enough if they have late ticket times, because they didn't prep those things. One of my colleagues, Elizabeth, who set up the webinar for us today, she was talking about doing prep in a restaurant that she worked at, and it was important that they prepped in the right order, because it reduced the amount of cleaning they had to do with the equipment. So, if you're able to prep two things rather than prepping one, and avoid having to do a massive cleanup, you can just do a quick rinse and then move on, and so forth.

Let's talk about reducing the steps. You've kind of talked a little about this, and I think, in terms of physical steps, and you've even talked about this. We're having to run back to pick up something in the middle of an order, and doing it on order time as opposed to doing it on your time. I like that phrase. Have you reorganized your storage over the years, in order to optimize it?

Greg: Oh yeah.

Brad: Yeah? Okay, tell me about that.

Greg: All the time. Yeah, that's almost a constant thing. I've come to realize that even my best managers might not see that stuff the way I see it. I can walk in, now, opening this third restaurant, I've been down there primarily, so I can walk into these other stores that I'm not in as much, and stuff's glaring to me.

Like, "Why isn't it like this?" "Well, I don't know." They'll say, "I don't know. That's how you had it two years ago, or a year ago." And so, it would work much better this way. Yeah, absolutely, organizing, changing things. I buy shelves and get rid of shelves. I do that stuff all the time. Maybe not all the time, but I always challenge myself to what can make the rush more efficient. And it all, for me, the delivery/carry out majority, it's all dinner, and it's Thursday through Sunday if you really had to boil it down.

What makes that run the best? And we stored soup cups or portion cups or whatever you want, dressing cups. We store those for ten years, up in the back, on a shelf for ten years. All it took was two hours to go to Home Depot or the restaurant supply warehouse and buy another shelf. And screw it up on the wall, caulk it or whatever, to put it right above where we actually used the cups. But that makes sense. Not only from a standpoint of when you're busy on, let's say, Friday night. You're getting your butts kicked, run out of cups. You don't have to run around to the back of the store to get them. You can just reach up and grab them, and restock them within seconds.

Not only that, it has added benefits that, and maybe I think too much about this, but now, a new employee will know where the cups are. They're going to see them right there. They don't have to be trained or told or shown, or whatever, that they're back in dry storage or whatever that may be.


We stored soup cups or portion cups or whatever you want, dressing cups. We store those for ten years, up in the back, on a shelf for ten years. All it took was two hours to go to Home Depot or the restaurant supply warehouse and buy another shelf. And screw it up on the wall, caulk it or whatever, to put it right above where we actually used the cups. But that makes sense. Not only from a standpoint of when you're busy on, let's say, Friday night. You're getting your butts kicked, run out of cups. You don't have to run around to the back of the store to get them. You can just reach up and grab them, and restock them within seconds. - Greg Thomas, owner of Mama Roni's Pizza


Brad: That's interesting.

Greg: I try to do that with a lot of stuff. Pizza boxes. All of our pizzas go out in a box. We don't serve them on plates or pizza pans in the store anymore. So, I've reorganized the way we backstock all the boxes. If that doesn't make a big difference when you have to run 20 feet to get them as opposed to five or two? Not really, but every little bit counts. Every little bit is time. Every little bit is money.

Brad: You talked about some of the prep that you do with letting your dough rest for a day before you prepare it for the customer. Is there anything that you're doing in terms of have you changed the way that you buy your vegetables, for example? Have you moved to pre-sliced and pre-cut vegetables at all? I know it's a sensitive topic because we don't want to talk about it because we want to have this pride of, "Well, we do it all ourselves," but the fact of the matter is there's very little difference for most people between green pepper that comes in sliced and green pepper that I have to slice myself.

Greg: We have. And a lot of this is not just because of what's going on today. A lot of it, here in Colorado, the minimum wage went up pretty fast and a lot. It went from, what was it? I think it was eight-something dollars up to $12.30 in a span of...

Brad: 50%.

Greg: It was a four-year span. It went up like $.90 a year, every January 1st, which at the end of the year, if we run the same business, it's close to $50,000 with the two stores, not even including the third one. So, there was a lot of scrambling for those years, and still. But one of our things was labor, unfortunately. Cutting labor. We wanted to ensure that we could be successful. If we were going to run our stores with less people, we wanted to be viable and open more locations and hire more people. And we're actually doing it.

But yes, we looked at, for years, we trimmed, marinated, cooked, and cut our own chicken, and that was solely for pizza topping. I think we had a sandwich, but it was just to dice it for pizzas. It was better than anything you can buy pre-made, but how much better was it? Was it worth all that time? I mean, it was days for a chicken topping. We ultimately decided it wasn't. We found a good enough chicken pre-done, where you just open a bag and it's there.


For years, we trimmed, marinated, cooked, and cut our own chicken, and that was solely for pizza topping. It was better than anything you can buy pre-made, but how much better was it? Was it worth all that time? I mean, it was days for a chicken topping. We ultimately decided it wasn't. We found a good enough chicken pre-done, where you just open a bag and it's there. - Greg Thomas, owner of Mama Roni's Pizza


So, we've done that with chicken. I hate to say it, but with sausage. We were buying our sausage in bulk raw. And we kind of prided ourselves on it, how good it was, and I decided to get a sample of their pre-cooked and crumble, and in blind taste tests and with myself, my partner, employees, and then I can't remember if it was friends or customers, and nobody could tell the difference. My brother and I could tell, based on the texture. It tasted identical, and it was a really hard one to say no to, but we did it.

And we have had, I would have to ask him again, but we've had zero complaints. I was afraid people were going to say, "What are these rabbit turds," or whatever they want to call them. But it's great. The product is just as good. It's the same. And if somebody were to say something, I would tell them it's identical to what we were doing. We're just paying somebody else to cook it.

Brad: I think a lot of restaurants are really struggling with that, particularly because of some of the pressure that companies like Domino's, Papa John's, and Pizza Hut, with their specials, are putting on the pizza industry in general. It's very hard for independent operators and smaller chains to come in and say, and to educate every customer, in terms of what's important when they go and they get this flyer from one of the big three, and it has ridiculously low prices. So low that you literally can't make food at home for less money, right?

And so, now you're faced with how to compete with that. I know we talked a lot about competition in the past. I want to talk about, maybe come back to this training idea. You talked about it, and I think it was interesting. You said, "I don't need to train people where the cups are because now they're right in front of them." What a simple concept. What else have you done that with, in order to improve your training process?

Greg: Well, sitting here on a SpeedLine webinar, I think SpeedLine's probably the most important. Designing that menu to flow, to be intuitive. That's a huge one. I mean, you're always going to have to train in-depth on everything, but I think the biggest hiccups are when you have people poorly taking orders on the phone, making mistakes on the phone, that just are totally avoidable. Whether it's teaching them how to do half and half pizzas correctly or making sure they repeat the order back to the customer. But that's SpeedLine.


I think SpeedLine's probably the most important [training tool]. Designing that menu to flow, to be intuitive. That's a huge one. I mean, you're always going to have to train in-depth on everything, but I think the biggest hiccups are when you have people poorly taking orders on the phone, making mistakes on the phone, that just are totally avoidable. Whether it's teaching them how to do half and half pizzas correctly or making sure they repeat the order back to the customer. But that's SpeedLine. - Greg Thomas, owner of Mama Roni's Pizza


We spent years, when we bought Mama Roni's it was handwritten tickets that would stick to the pizza boxes. We spent years going to the pizza expo in Las Vegas, solely to look at POS systems. It was something we knew we could not afford, but we also knew we could not afford not to get one. So, we spent years. My brother is the analytical numbers guy, and I'm the functional guy. I'm the trainer. I'm the people person. I would walk up to those and start playing with them. I did not want SpeedLine to talk to me, I didn't want whoever the other guy was to talk to me. I wanted to see how their system worked by me walking up and using it. And SpeedLine, by far, still, to this day, is the easiest, best way to use. The way the buttons are, the way you can set them up.

Some things on SpeedLine are a little more in-depth than some of the other ones, which might be easier to use in general. But they don't work properly. 

Brad: That's good to hear. That's good to hear, and I will point out we don't ask any of our guests ever to endorse our product when we do these webinars. We want to hear what you're doing. I appreciate that. Now, are you using the red topping indicator? The little topping indicator that tells you what's on there? I have to think that, when you can see, you touch a supreme pizza or one of your specialty pizzas, and you see all the toppings there, and you have a new employee, and the customer says, "Are there onions on that?" And the employee can say immediately yes or no, without having to look at anything else, that's got to help.

Greg: Yeah, absolutely. I wear all the hats. I'm a jack of all trades. I've only opened two stores, and so, going to open this one last year, you think you know everything. This'll be a breeze. There's a lot of stuff you forget. I hadn't been training in a while. Blah, blah, blah. So, yeah, the first employee that said, "Hey, what's on a supreme pizza?" It's like, "Oh, it's right there. You don't need to ask me that." I forgot to train them it was the little dots right there. So, yeah, it's part of training now. But yeah, I haven't heard it since with all the new employees at that store. But yeah, it's great.

Brad: So, one of the things we're seeing is that other industries are siphoning off employees who would have typically been in the pizza world. And so, we're seeing them go to, not necessarily other restaurants, but they're going outside of the industry. Are you finding that you need to adjust your pay scale in order to compete with those other industries, to bring people in?

Greg: I think we're there. I think we're there. I haven't been too pressed on it. Like I said, we've kind of been fully staffed the whole time. We haven't been having to fill large gaps of employees. But I know the talk out there. I'm on Facebook. We just opened a new store in a new town, so I joined all the groups. I have joined all the Longmont groups, to get to know what these people are talking about. And one of them is solely on dogging on restaurants and service industry, and saying how dare.

So, the minimum wage here is $12.32 now. And they're giving people guff for putting up posts about trying to hire people at $14, $15 an hour. So, it's here for me. I'm kind of leery on what I'm going to be posting out there. I don't want people to give me guff. But clearly, if that's what they're talking about, that's what the sentiment is with everybody. My biggest problem is I'm going to be hiring people at a higher dollar than people that are already working for me. So, I have to essentially raise everybody up. I'm not against that. It is what it is. We just have to figure out how the heck we're going to pay for it. But that's what this webinar is, and it's efficiency. Where to find it and stuff like that. Absolutely. Minimum wage $12.32 right now, I don't see myself hiring anybody at that unless they're a 15-year-old kid. So.

Brad: Yeah. We talked to you a bit about menu and ingredients. We talked about your pre-cut. Pre-shredded cheese? Do you use pre-shredded cheese at all?

Greg: We do. And we've always used it because we didn't have the tool. When you buy a place or inherit a place or work for a place and then take it over, you just kind of do what you've done. And that's what they were doing before. They didn't have a shredder. They didn't have a hook mixer. When we bought it, I had a BCM mixer. I don't know if everybody knows what those are. It's like a Cuisinart, essentially. It just really fast. You can make dough really fast in it, but it can go bad real quick. It's not really consistent.

So, we do have hooks now. We have hook mixers. We have big Hobarts, but we've never made the jump to cheese. It's always been on a list. What if we could save money or this and that, but the last four, five, six years with minimum wage going up, we've been looking at getting away from prep process.

Brad: As much as you can. Yeah.

Greg: Kind of a big one. I'm definitely not against it. At some point, if I ever have time, I'll sit down and do the math. I'd rather put money in employees' pockets than in, say, Saputo’s pocket. You know what I mean? So, if we could, if it was right, I'd rather put it into labor than the product.

Brad: How do you manage your inventory and ordering that? What are you doing in order to make that as smooth as possible, so you don't run out of things?

Greg: Probably about half as much as we really should.

Brad: Okay. That is an honest answer, right? I think that's how we all feel. I know all the flaws in my business.

Greg: Like I said earlier, there's a lot of stuff we do that we feel we could do way better at, and we're kind of proven wrong. When we think we're failing at it, we're kind of proven wrong when people come in and say, "Wow, you're doing great. That's awesome. That's so easy."

So, I'm hoping that's one of them. We don't count everything in the store as often as we should. We count criticals. If you can count the stuff that really matters. There's few things that would classify criticals for me. Obviously, the high-cost things, the things you spend a ton of money on, cheese. Not only is it high cost itself, but you go through a lot of it, and it's very easy to go through too much or too little.

And then, the critical items, that's a critical item because that's the money. That's why we're doing it. Are you spending too much money? But also, items that are easier to count, so, say, like pizza boxes, because then the employees know, "Oh, yeah, they do know exactly how many pizzas are going out the door." Do I? No, but I have a better idea than if I didn't.

But they're easier for them to count, and I think it makes an impression on them that we're counting every single thing that goes out the door, essentially. So, I have a friend that does more criticals than I do. He goes down the entire line every night, and he has them put everything from the make line back in the walk-in. And I think that's more of an impression thing for the employees, too, I believe. I don't think he puts it up against the variants every night. But yeah, if anybody out there has help for me on that, I think it's more motivation.

Brad: Yeah, we've got a question from Bob on this topic, and I just want to maybe address this. He's asking a question. The question says, "Freehand?" I'm betting it has to do with portioning. Are you portioning freehand, or are you portioning using a cup and a scale?

Greg: We're portioning using a cup on scales, and it's a never-ending battle. Employees don't like to do it. I kind of get why on rushes. I get it. But they never get good at it if they're not doing it when it's slow. But yeah, we portion. We saw, I think, we had an aha moment probably 13, 14 years ago at the pizza expo. I think it was Big Babe Ostrander, and he did the math. And we were just like, "Whoa."

And so, I know that, when I'm not there and it's Friday night, and we're getting absolutely crushed, I know they're free handing. But I also know that, when they're using the cups the other six days out of the week, or let's say the rest of the day, when it's not slammed, they know what a pizza's supposed to look like. Is it going to be perfect when they free-hand it? No. But at least there's been some training and they're not just brought in and say, "Here, put cheese on there."

So, they know what they're supposed to look like. But yeah, it feels like it's a never-ending battle with the employees. I want to say I don't know why, but I guess I know why. It slows them down. But money matters at the end of the day, you can't dispute it. I train all my employees at some point. Our pizza rolls are the best example. We put one ounce of cheese in them. So, I say, "What do you think one ounce of cheese looks like?" And they put it out, and it's never right. It's usually over. And so, I show them an ounce of cheese and I say, "Well, this is what an ounce of cheese costs today. This is the highest I've ever seen cheese cost for an ounce. This is the lowest."

And I say, "When you're making a 16" extra-large pizza, do you think you would notice one extra ounce of cheese?" And they're going to say, "No, probably not." And I say, "What about two?" And they say, "Oh, maybe." I'd say, "Well, you won't. Trust me." But for the sake of simplicity, let's say you put an extra ounce of cheese on every pizza, and we sell 200 pizzas tonight. How much money is that?" They look at me and they say, "I can't do the math." So, you do it on a calculator. And so I show them what that would be for the night, how much extra money that would cost us. And I say, "Look, nobody is realizing the extra cheese. The customer is never going to know. They're not going to be happy and say, "Oh, thanks for the extra cheese. This is a better pizza. They'll never notice it."

I'm realizing it by losing money. But I usually take that number and I say, "Well, we make, let's say, 100 pizzas. We'll say average it up there throughout the week. Say we sell 100 pizzas today. We put one ounce of extra cheese on there. We usually put two, but just to be nice, I'll say one. And you multiply that by 365 days out of the year, because we're open probably 360 days a year, and show them that number. They'll say, "Oh, that's a lot of money." When I show them, well, cheese during COVID was this expensive. This is the most I've ever seen it. This is what it will be if the market was bad right now.


I usually take that number and I say, "Well, we make, let's say, 100 pizzas. We'll say average it up there throughout the week. Say we sell 100 pizzas today. We put one ounce of extra cheese on there. We usually put two, but just to be nice, I'll say one. And you multiply that by 365 days out of the year, because we're open probably 360 days a year, and show them that number. They'll say, "Oh, that's a lot of money." When I show them, well, cheese during COVID was this expensive. This is the most I've ever seen it. This is what it will be if the market was bad right now. - Greg Thomas, owner of Mama Roni's Pizza


"Oh, wow, that's a lot." And then I say, "Well, now I own three stores, so if they do it at all three stores, this is how much money I'm losing at the end of the year. And if it was two ounces, you can double that. You're up in the 20, 40, 60000 dollars. Real money. That's just cheese. Just cheese. That's not any other toppings. That's not the pizzas we messed up and threw away. That's not the messed-up delivery we had to remake. It's not the free pizza you give to your friend. That is you standing right here, measuring cheese in a cup. That's it." So, that's how helpful.

Brad: I have a similar story where I had a restaurant where we were really struggling in food cost of this one location. And so, I took a couple of the lead managers who didn't seem to understand the impact of that. I walked them into the cooler and I said, "This week, what I'd like to do is I'd like to start off by you just pick $400 worth of food off the shelf and we're going to throw it away at the beginning of the week, rather than waiting until the end."

And they were, "What do you mean?" And I go, "Well, that's how much money we're either over portioning or wasting every single week." And all of a sudden, the lights go on, and there's a little more. Now, it doesn't work with everybody, but you're looking for those B+, A-players that say, "I care. I care about what I'm doing."

Let's talk about technology. I know we talked a little bit about it before. Do you have kitchen display systems in your locations? Or are you using kitchen printers?

Greg: We have both. We've always used printers. This new store, I'm using displays and printers and labels for my pizza boxes.

Brad: And how are you finding that?

Greg: It is night and day phenomenal.

Brad: Good.

Greg: We are in the process of putting together the other stores with monitors and labels. I was extremely scared because I'd been doing the same thing for 20+ years. Well, we've had SpeedLines since 2006, so 15 years, I guess. And the same way, I was deathly afraid. I have some friends in the industry and they were like, "You have to do it, and we'll support you. Call me when you're pulling your hair out. Come up to our stores."

And I absolutely hated it the first couple of weeks, and I don't think it was just because it was displays. I was doing it with displays, which was new. Also in a new store with new employees. So, I had a lot going on. But it's happening at our other stores. I'm not waiting. In the past, I would always say, "Oh, man, that's going to cost us $1000 for this, another $1000 for these monitors and this service fee. And blah, blah blah, blah blah. How could we justify that?"

That's going to pay for itself in efficiency. Pizza's out the door very, very fast. We are killing delivery times and pickup times at the new store that I never thought capable at my other stores, and it's a no-brainer for me, anyways. And if somebody out there were to hear that and make the change, and you need support, call me.

Brad: That's good to hear.

Greg: Yeah.

Brad: And you talked to us, you've got online ordering. We've talked a little about that. You mentioned very quickly, earlier in this call, that you have just launched your app. What kind of response are you getting on the app?

Greg: Honestly, I have not been able to decipher exact numbers, but it's been great so far. People are naturally getting it. I put it on one marketing piece at one store. We've had an app that we had built a few years before. Never worked very well, never had the time to work with the developer on it. And it was just a waste of money that made me so mad that I just ignored it. We just finally hopped on with SpeedDine. Had them do the app, and it was quick and painless. It's awesome.

Brad: Good to hear.

Greg: People are naturally just getting it. I put it on one of our, we did door hangers recently, and I've only put out, I think, we just started last week and I think we've got like 4000 door hangers out. There's tons of orders coming in on that. It's what people want right now. People need it. That's why I had the original one designed, but it was a bad deal all around.

Brad: No, sometimes you need to go down a road where you make a mistake the first time, and then you discover, "Okay, well, here's how it should work."

Greg: Yeah.

Brad: I know. It's always hard. 

Greg: I should have fixed that. I should have fixed that problem years ago, but we were in a contract. It was bad. That was a bad example of being a good operator. That's for sure.

Brad: Well, here's something that I've taken away from our conversation today. You are someone who is certainly thinking in terms of how do I continually improve my operations. And going in with a keen eye, looking for places. Everything you said. So often, people set up their shelves, for instance, and it's a one and done. They never revisit that thought. You talked about being able to move stuff around so that you're less busy during your move time. You've talked about being able to change out your sausage, for example, and doing it reluctantly. It was a sense of pride for you, and you changed it up because, for the customer, it didn't deteriorate the customer experience at all, and you put that first.

I keep hearing that same sort of continuous improvement throughout the thread, moving through this. You have CallerID in your locations, correct? So, when a customer calls in, you can see who they are, and it pops up on the screen?

Greg: Yeah.

Brad: Over COVID, we had a number of customers who came to us, and they've said, "I've been on pen and paper for the last 15 years, 20 years since the business started. I'm ready to make a move now." And almost without exception, they have said the biggest difference is CallerID. Being able to see the last order that came in from that customer, and being able to say, "Did you want to order the same thing as last time?" All of those pieces seem to really help improve both the experience of the customer, but also the speed of ordering.

Greg: Yeah. I remember taking handwritten tickets, but realistically I don't. When we opened our store in 2009, we were kind of crazy. 2008 was when we took over this space and started building it, and the economy was garbage. And then this one, we just opened during COVID. So, we're a little weird. But we got about half the funding we had planned on getting because of the economy, we'll say.

And so, the first thing we said, "Man, the biggest saver to get this store open is the POS system." So, we did not get SpeedLine right away at that store. We know how to do handwritten tickets. We'll get it running, we'll get some money coming in, and we'll get them right away." Man, was that a disaster. More mistakes, missed items, because you would have to add it up by hand. You couldn't teach people how to add things by hand while they're on the phone anymore. Kids don't. They're used to calculators, computers, phones, and all that stuff.

It would never happen again. It was the biggest mistake we made with that store, for sure. We called SpeedLine and had that ordered. We already had the quote and stuff. We had it lined up. We had that order, I don't even think it was months. We were just like, "Yeah, we got to get this." The handwritten stuff is terrible. You miss things when you go out on deliveries. You forgot extras, two liters, sides. They could take an order, forgets to add it up in the total, so you're losing money right off the bat. There are all kinds of reasons.

Phone calls, like you said, if you're good like I've been doing this a long time. If it's a regular, I could take an order in less than 30 seconds. As for a handwritten ticket, even with the regular, it's going to be minutes. So, it's night and day. Yeah.

Brad: And when you're busy, things become illegible. You don't have to worry about that. All of it, there's a ton of little tiny details. I wanted to come back to something Bob was asking about before when we were asking about the cheese. He was asking if they were doing it freehand or if it was pre-portioned. Just a follow-up comment on that. He's moved to pre-portioning in the morning so that he doesn't have to pay someone. "I've gone to pre-portioning our cheese for pizza, and someone doing prep in the morning to do that, as opposed to doing it during the rush. Have you moved to pre-portion your cheese at all?"

Greg: I have not. I've tried it myself, kind of one day here. Like, "Oh, I'm going to try this." And I don't think I've ever done it successfully because I've always been too afraid that I have four different sized pizzas, then I have calzones, and then I have pizza rolls. What if they get extra cheese? What if they get light cheese?

Now, sitting here on this webinar, talking about it, that seems silly to not try something because of that. You can figure out different size cups, or whatever, different color cups. But I'm kind of glad he said that because that is something now that it's on my brain to develop it. 

Because just like I said earlier, what he's doing, he's doing it on his own time. And he knows exactly what that's costing him. He might have somebody at a lower wage being able to do that instead of, we'll say, a high-dollar pizza maker, if he has a chef or something like that. I've always been afraid of not having enough room for when I need them. But I suppose we spend the time weighing it on a Friday night. That time you're saving, you can go and grab a pan out of the walk-in, and it'll still be faster. So, I'm glad he brought that up.

Brad: Yeah, it's pretty good.

Greg: I've never successfully been able to do it. Well, this new store, it's given me more motivation. It has all new equipment and just thought out better, and thought out from other people that are smarter than me. I've seen the benefits of all this stuff, having things organized in the right places, that we're going to be gutting both of our other stores. It's in our blood, as operators and as small guys, it's in our blood to make that pizza oven last 30 years, and keep it running good. But sometimes, it's just smarter to, if you can, get a loan or write the check. Get something better and move on with your life instead of worrying about that motor going out in that oven.

Or we're going to get all new make lines because just the way the new ones are set up, is probably worth spending the money or getting rid of the old ones. The old ones run fine, but if we can get through Friday nights with 30-minute deliveries, we're trying to get volume out of our stores right now. If we can get 30-minute deliveries out instead of, one of our stores is consistently an hour or so, and people are, for the most part, willing to wait for it, but that's not acceptable to me.

If we can fix that by just laying things out differently with a different cooler, I think spending a couple grand is going to pay itself off real quick.

Brad: I had another question on technology come in asking about third-party. Do you do third-party delivery at your locations? You wish you didn't? Do you have it integrated or do you have a series of tablets that you're using?

Greg: We have a little bit of everything.

Brad: Do you have some of them integrated?

Greg: Yes. My two older stores, we have those integrated. We were on GrubHub, I don't know how long ago. When they first came out. Essentially, it was just an order-taking service, and we would do the deliveries. We still do the deliveries for GrubHub. As things were changing, getting bigger, they're charging more, making us more angry, my goal in life, this was before the minimum wage was putting pressure on me, my goal in life was to get off of those platforms. That's when I started on my app. I said, "What do I not have that they have?" Well, the app is the biggest thing.

I'm never going to be able to compete with them out there, marketing, getting people on there, but if I were to get as many tools as I need, what do I need? Well, app, number one. That's when I started building that app. Because then we'd be on your phone, on your desktop, whenever. "Oh, yeah. Let's order Mama Roni's."

In the time it took for that thing to be developed, it became very apparent to me that they were not going anywhere, and that we needed to have a seat at the table. We were losing out on so much. So, we decided, "How do we embrace this without losing our you know whats?"

Some of them we deliver ourselves to keep the lower rate. It also helps feed our employees. It gets them out on the road. Gets them tips. But yeah, we are integrated. We've used Chowly. Chowly I think started with SpeedLine. I think that's where they were born. Now, we're having problems that I opened the new store. Had them call me to set up the integration, and they tell me that they are currently not integrating with SpeedLine for the time being. Sounds like they're not going to be doing it ever, but they're trying to make it sound like, "Oh, they might."

So, we're still using them in Fort Collins, at our other two stores. We have no integration at Longmont. Those are tablets. But there are other companies out there.

Brad: ItsaCheckmate, for example.

Greg: ItsaCheckmate. We're going to approach them real soon. Tablets, usually, if somebody approaches me and wants me to use their platform, we'll work a deal percentage-wise that I'm comfortable with. Usually, it's a no-go until I get it integrated. I do not want tablets.

Brad: That makes sense.

Greg: The hassle. I don't want the wires. I don't want my employees messing with them, entering them wrong, wasting their time. But we kind of got forced into that in Longmont because I had already gotten the platforms up and running because Chowly was supposed to do it. But then I was told in our appointment of actually setting them up, "Oh, you have SpeedLine? Yeah, we're not working on that right now."

Brad: Well, we're out of time, but we've been speaking today with Greg Thomas of Mama Roni's Pizza. Greg, fantastic to have you on, sharing your thoughts and talking about how you've been able to optimize your operation. I know that this is an area where nearly every restaurant operator in the country is challenged right now, trying to find enough people. You sharing your thoughts and being as candid as you have, I really like that. So, that's very good.

Brad: So, thank you for that. And thank you to all of the audience who participated. And the questions that came in, I really appreciate that as well. Excellent to talk to you, Greg.

Greg: I want to thank you, but I also want to say, for finding employees, go as many places as you can, signs in the windows. I hate to say it, but possibly even Craigslist. Indeed, we use TalentReef. TalentReef costs money, but it's worth it. It's putting it out there. Facebook, friends, all that stuff. Because the bigger pool you have, the better. I'm sure you guys all know that, but they're all important.

Brad: We all need to be reminded, though. And even as you were talking, I've been reminded of things that we can do to optimize our business, so that's very good. Anyway, thank you, Greg. Appreciate that. And thanks to PMQ for setting this up, and thank you, Elizabeth, for organizing this. All right, bye now.

Greg: Bye.



Posted on Mon, Jul 12, 2021 @ 11:07 AM.
Updated on July 12, 2021 @ 6:49 PM PST.

Tags: Employee Turnover, Restaurant Operations, Webinar

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