Canadian Pizza Magazine

Adolescent Angst

Stacy Bradshaw   

Features Business and Operations Staffing

Taking teenage employees from ‘Whatever’ to ‘Whatever it

When mistakes are made in the pizzeria, the typical
owner/operator response usually begins with a quick dash to the kitchen
followed by that dreaded phrase, “who made this?” It comes as no
surprise that teenage employees don’t respond well to this kind of

Taking teenage employees from ‘Whatever’ to ‘Whatever it takes’

There is nothing more unequal than the equal treatment of unequal people.
– Thomas Jefferson

When mistakes are made in the pizzeria, the typical owner/operator response usually begins with a quick dash to the kitchen followed by that dreaded phrase, “who made this?” It comes as no surprise that teenage employees don’t respond well to this kind of tactic.


But, if you don’t point out their mistakes, how will they ever learn, right?

“Wrong,” according to T.J. Schier, president of Incentivize Solutions, a consulting agency geared toward retaining employees through better training and incentives. At the 2006 International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, Schier provided pizzeria operators with some crucial insights into teen culture that could help break the employer/ employee gridlock.

It’s important not to forget that teenagers and food service are a good fit. Statistics Canada reports that from 1997 to 2004, 61,000 new jobs for teenagers were added to the Canadian labour force. The majority of these teens work in food and drinking establishments.

According to the Perspectives on Labour and Market report, turnover is generally high in these occupations, since many leave for higher-paying opportunities. The jobs require relatively little experience and work hours are often evening, weekend and holidays. All of these characteristics lend themselves well to the needs of student teenagers.

So, if it’s such a good fit, why do they continually seem to fight it with poor work performance? Research suggests that only 30 per cent of quick-service employees remember to say “please” and “thank you” on a regular basis.

During the educational seminar, Schier was rather unforgiving when it came to the employees he calls “bad weeds.”  He told pizzeria operators they should be spending more time on making their good employees better than wasting it on the bad.

Schier said as much as society wants to believe people will do the right thing, teens especially are dramatically influenced by their peers. Employers need to create an environment that rewards excellence and improvement, so that it gets repeated.

“What happens when an employee comes in late?” asked Schier. You write them up, right? Then what happens? They do it again.
Pizzeria operators need to take a dramatically different approach.

Change the tide a bit, he suggests. Be sure to thank the employees that did come in on schedule and give them a ‘get out of side work,’ card, leaving the clean-up jobs for the tardy teen.

Schier said this approach helps to change the mentality of teenage workers. It’s human nature to talk about the things that people do wrong, he admitted. But if you want someone to care about the outcome, you have to give them a vested interest.

Contests are Schier’s favourite incentive tool. He said effective games help employees improve their performance and enhance service levels and sales, quite simply, because it gives them a reason to try harder.

Offer employees points that can be traded in for awards.

“Sell more than 10 per cent of pizzas with extra cheese, get a point. … highest average cheque, get a point … offer a point for every hour the staff gets all the orders right, etc.”

Schier offered the extra cheese incentive to employees when he worked for Chucky Cheese, and the number of pizzas sold with extra cheese went up from an average of 10 per cent to over 20 per cent.

At one pizzeria, the employee who gained the most points in one month was awarded a gift certificate for, where they could design their own personalized pair of running shoes. In the end, every employee who got a gift certificate designed their free sneakers in the pizzeria’s colours: black, white and yellow.

To motivate this generation, you have to think like them. This tech-savvy group will better respond to free downloads, mp3s and ring tones for their cell phones then they will an employee-of-the-month plaque. Ask them what they’re interested in.

Offering incentives isn’t bribery, said Schier. It’s a new mentality.

“Because a raise doesn’t guarantee performance will change.”

Offering a teenager more money does not give them a vested interest in the outcome of their work performance. Schier said you have to teach them to think like an owner.

“Tell them how much things cost.” If your food costs are becoming a problem, offer the kitchen staff a gift certificate to a CD store if they lower the food costs back down to normal. Offer them a five per cent bonus if they get costs down to 10 per cent less than normal.

This “knowledge is power” approach will have operators seeing their loyalty to employees returned back to them. And service levels will go up.

Schier also said you need to eliminate those working for you who are in the red zone. Otherwise, like weeds, they’ll pressure the good employees down to their level.

But in the end, teenagers and pizza are a good fit. So whether offering awards to give the ‘superstars’ a lift, or contests to try and uproot the weeds, Schier said to remember that mandatory recognition is not recognition.

“If you or your managers are doing this just because you have to, don’t bother doing it at all,” he said.•

 What is podTraining?
 Today’s generation learns dramatically different than any other. VHS, DVD and e-learning have great potential in the initial training and testing of new employees. Ongoing training, however, can be effectively delivered on Apple Computer’s hottest portable device – a handheld video/audio player called the iPod.
By using the tool of today’s generation, the video iPod, training can be implemented where it’s needed most – on the front line. T.J Schier, president and owner of Incentivize Solutions, has created an ‘i-learning’ program that customizes training programs for the client and puts them into short video/audio clips to be viewed on a video iPod.

By identifying the “mission critical” data for each job position, management and training techniques (as outlined by Incentivise Solutions’) can be shown in short video clips.

Content is delivered in short bursts and “playlists” to allow better retention of information.

Watch a short clip and practice the skill vs. watching long, drawn-out videos. Managers can have the iPod with them and use it to correct behaviours or skills right at the point of opportunity.

The handheld device is easily updated, meaning podTraining content is always current by ‘podcasting’ out new or replacement information.
For more information, visit or call (972) 691-7378.

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