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Save time on your line

When the going gets crazy, streamline your line for speedy delivery


June 29, 2011
By Jim Chliboyko

Topics

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s duel with his state unions earlier
this year had unintended consequences for a little pizzeria.

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s duel with his state unions earlier this year had unintended consequences for a little pizzeria.

 ians-lineup 
Photo credit: Ian’s Pizza


 

Ian’s Pizza in downtown Madison, Wis., formerly locally famous for offerings like its Mac and Cheese pie, became the mess tent for demonstrating state workers protesting Walker’s budget repair bill. Located just down the street from the state Capitol building, Ian’s Pizza quickly became one of the more unusual stories in the anti-Walker campaign, attracting international media attention and big donations from sympathetic sources. People called in from all over the world (including places as far flung as Kenya and McMurdo Station, Antarctica) with pledges to pay for pies from Ian’s for thousands of protestors.

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“It was totally extreme,” says manager Staci Fritz. “We’re a busy place, but it’s not generally 12 hours a day, line out the door, day after day and needing people staffing the phones like a telethon . . . . It was basically Halloween for two weeks.”

The avalanche of business led to big changes in the way they did things at the restaurant. For one, in order to accommodate the strikers’ appetites, management decided to temporarily do away with the salad bar.

“We did shut down our salad bar for a time during the heyday of feeding the protesters,” Fritz says. “We had no time to prep our salad ingredients and didn’t really have the time to make and serve salads. Our salad bar is set up so customers can see and order specific mix-ins while we do the actual making of the salad. It’s common practice for us to take down the salad bar every night around 10 p.m. so we can focus on faster service for our pizza by the slice, which is mainly what people are interested in at 2 am anyway.”

The protests ended up fuelling a strong month for the business, but, says Fritz, it presented some unique stressors. With a focus on fresh food, Ian’s Pizza doesn’t even have a freezer. Demand was so overwhelming even their delivery service took a hit.

“For our normal delivery, we had to figure something out for those couple of weeks and run them out of our other restaurant. We shut down delivery for eight days [at the downtown store] other than taking the protest pizzas to the Capitol.”

But there are other ways to streamline the line, and your operation in general, without taking an editing pen to the menu or grabbing the car keys from the hook. Richard Ames, who runs Daddio’s Pizza in Grande Prairie, Alta., takes his cues from the various places he’s worked as a delivery driver, including Boston Pizza.

The secret to speed is a well-organized kitchen.

“One of the things Boston Pizza did was assign positions on the line,” says Ames, who has been running Daddio’s since 2005. “It seemed to be the most efficient way of doing things.”

 “The staff used to hopscotch,” Ames says. “I found there were more mistakes that way. In general, it was not as efficient and it cost me money.”

“One of the main things is that when it’s busy we assign positions on the line and the person that presses the dough out is the person that calls the shots on the line and we turn it into an assembly line. The first person does dough and sauce, turns it over to the next person on the line, on to the meat, veg and cheese stations.

“Typically, we can get a pizza in the oven in 60 to 90 seconds. Probably the key is everyone knowing what their job is. And having one person run the show.”

Speeding up the operation can mean different things for a take-out place, than for a sit-down, full-service restaurant. For full service, there’s the question of how timing affects table turnaround. And for delivery-heavy businesses, especially ones with time guarantees, shaving off a few minutes can give you a nice cushion.

“Let’s say you can cut five minutes off the cook time. That means two things,” says business consultant Hugh Johnston. “There’s less free [pizza], and the delivery driver can make another drop.”

“The margin on the pizza is not that great. If it’s fresh and good quality, how can I get that out to the consumer faster? If your cook time in the rest of the kitchen is 12 minutes then your pizza cook time better be 12 minutes.”
Johnston says there’s an important question managers must ask themselves, especially those who gain a reputation for having a quick turnaround.

“Who are you speeding up for? The worst thing you can do is take a regular customer who orders every two weeks, and piss them off on Halloween. You’ve got to take care of your best customers first.”

There are other tricky spots, including business inspired by the recent coupon craze and out-of-the-blue party orders, Johnston says. “One-time party orders will kill your business.”

Fritz agrees. A few months after demonstrators returned home, things at Ian’s Pizza are back to normal and the salad bar has been reinstated. Things are still busy, just not crazy-busy like they were during the protests. The slower pace has given Fritz time to reflect on the restaurant’s unexpected rise to international fame.

“It got really tricky; we needed to figure out a strategy to keep everybody happy, and keep our current customers from getting irritated with us,” Fritz says. “It was great that thousands of people loved us, but that love is fleeting.”


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