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Pizza on fire: What’s your employee plan B?


August 30, 2011
By Tom Stankiewicz

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Everyone’s been faced with being crazy busy and not having enough staff to keep up with the pace.

Everyone’s been faced with being crazy busy and not having enough staff to keep up with the pace. Sometimes it’s because someone called in sick or is stuck in traffic and can’t make it on time. Other times, pizza orders are piling up too fast and you’re simply caught by surprise. Whatever the reason, it’s important that you have a solid back-up plan to keep such situations under control. This plan should clearly outline how to get additional staff to come in for emergency situations.

It all begins with treating your employees with fairness and respect. After all, who would be willing to help you if they felt unappreciated? Most business owners already know from experience that you have to treat your employees with respect and motivate them to keep them loyal to you. Sometimes all it takes is a small gesture to let them know they’re appreciated. For example, on a hot, humid day you could offer to buy ice cream for everyone. It’s nothing fancy or costly but it’s a thought that counts. It lets them know that you understand what they are going through.

If you expect someone to come to work at the last minute with barely 10 minutes’ notice, then you need to be flexible whenever possible as well. Otherwise, you will be met with absolute refusal every time you need someone to cover a shift at the last minute. For instance, your student employees always need extra time off to study for exams. Let them know that if they tell you ahead of time, you are willing to adjust their regular working hours to alleviate some stress and help them out. Students are often the most flexible when it comes to working hours, as their commitments elsewhere are usually minimal.

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It’s not a bad idea to ask your employees who is looking for extra hours, as they would be the ones to keep at the top of your list to call when you need them. On one hand you’ll have a happy employee and at the other you’ll have your business needs quickly covered. This also becomes very handy when one of your employees gets sick and is unable to work for a few days. That doesn’t mean that your business stops running as well; however, if you’re not prepared for such a disruption, it may create unnecessary stress in the workplace.

Depending on the number of employees you have working, you might consider a more permanent program that would show employees that you value their commitment to your business. Some bigger companies promote annual employee appreciation week. This usually involves five straight days of various celebrations such as free games, social outings and free meals. Some smaller businesses find it much easier to designate one day a month as an employee appreciation day. It could also be as simple as buying coffee and dessert for all of your staff. It doesn’t have to be anything set in stone as long as every once in a while you recognize your staff for their hard work.

It’s definitely tougher for smaller independent businesses to allow for flexibility of hours yet get additional help at the last minute. You can’t really compare a restaurant with 40 employees to one that has no more than 10 staff. There are fewer people you can reach out to; however, it doesn’t mean that you’re at a huge disadvantage. If you are creative and have loyal employees who are flexible, then you’re OK. The number doesn’t really mean that much because all you need is to have one or two people who are flexible enough to be on call.

The best advice that I can give is to prepare in advance as much as possible. This means being aware of what is going on in your community. For example, during various festivals does your business experience more traffic and consequently an increase in pizza orders? If yes, then create a schedule involving a higher number of staff. It’s always easier to send them home, than ask them to come in at the last minute. Keep a record of the busiest days in a year for your business. This will allow you to plan ahead and eliminate the surprise factor. It’s different for everybody, as it depends on your location. Although you might be super busy, a pizzeria at the other end of town might be experiencing the slowest sales day ever.

I think it helps to know that even though we try our best, we can’t control everything that happens. Sometimes, even with the best plan, you will be caught by surprise and you will have to let some pizza orders be delivered late. I think our customers understand when the situation is explained to them. Your responsibility is to have a plan to be able to reach employees at the last minute. That plan includes frequent review of the names you have on your list because things change all the time. As well, remember that if you treat your employees with respect and you are willing to compromise sometimes, they will help you out when you need them the most.


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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