Canadian Pizza Magazine

pizza on fire: A family affair

By Tom Stankiewicz   

Features Business and Operations Staffing

If you’ve ever employed a family member, you probably know the familiar confusion that arises about exactly who owns the place.

If you’ve ever employed a family member, you probably know the familiar confusion that arises about exactly who owns the place. This is just one of a few key problems that can arise when pizza becomes a family affair. If you’ve been in the position of hiring relatives, it’s usually immediate family members who offer their help and earn a few dollars at the same time. For someone who always needs a minimum number of people to run the business, it seems logical to hire family and count on their support. From your point of view, you are happy that you are doing what you can to help them. It feels like an unspoken rule that if you have unemployed family members you are obliged to ask if they would like to work for you. Some will say no, but some will gladly take you up on your offer. The rule is especially true in the pizza business, where family members can be trained easily to do simple tasks like food prep.

Every family is different and that means that all of us who have hired a family member at some point have different stories to tell. I spoke with some of my fellow pizzaiolos and came to a conclusion that no matter how hard you try to avoid them, there are certain things that all of our family members will try to get away with while working for us. 

Most business owners I talk to complain that the employed family members act like they’re owners of the business just because they are related to the boss. As you can imagine, this creates unnecessary and uncomfortable situations that put additional stress on you. Now you have to spend valuable time explaining who is responsible for what. This is a perfect example of what will create confusion for your other employees. You will notice that things that you have asked to be done in a specific way haven’t been done. Certain tasks, which have been done regularly, may simply be skipped.


Any veteran business owner will give you the following advice. When you hire family members to work for you, make sure you tell them exactly what is expected from them. Outline their duties and responsibilities, and do not be afraid to let them know that you are the boss and even the smallest changes to the operation of the business have to be approved by you. It’s a big mistake to just wait and see what happens and hope that the “new boss” will take a back seat. It will cause unnecessary disruption in your business and affect your customer service. I’m sure it will be awkward if, for example, you have to have this talk with your father, but at the end of the day, you have to look at the big picture; that is, keeping your business profitable. 

The second biggest problem is that family members tend to believe that standard employee rules do not apply to them. Again, you are dealing with the  “I’m related to the boss” phenomenon. You will find yourself constantly asking him or her to wear a hat or follow all pizza recipes to a T. If you happen to employ an immediate family member, then be prepared for him or her to potentially challenge you in front of other employees. Those arguments can get pretty heated at times. This is not something you should allow to continue; otherwise, it will create low morale at the pizzeria. And you definitely don’t want your customers to witness such a scene. The best solution is to have a private chat with your family employee to explain why the rules exist. However, many pizzaiolos have said to me that after many private chats they saw no improvement and they finally had to let the family member go for the sake of their business. 

Our family members probably think that somehow their behaviour is in the best interest of our business. They see things from a different perspective and they truly want to make things better for everyone by behaving the way they do. We, the business owners, are on the other side of the fence trying to understand why they are acting this way. I believe that they all have good intentions but simply don’t understand what it means to run a business from A to Z. As you know yourselves, it is rather difficult to explain it to the uninitiated. It’s about more than just making a good pizza.

On the other hand, there are thousands of successful businesses that survive because families run them, so don’t automatically disqualify your family members as prospective employees. Give them a chance but make sure that you set proper expectations, especially because they are closely related to you. The goal is for them to work with you and not against you. If they are the right person for the job, then their contributions should help your business succeed further. As business owners, we should understand as well that not every person is cut out to work in a pizzeria environment. Even though they are family members, it’s sometimes best to let them know that this just isn’t the best fit for them. You will be doing them a favour by giving them a chance to look for something they truly enjoy. Most importantly, you will be putting your business back on the path to great success. •

Tom Stankiewicz has been in the pizza business for more than 15 years. He has been the proprietor of Bondi’s Pizza in London, Ont., since 2000 and is president of the Canadian Pizza Team.

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