Business and Operations
The pizza Chef: July-August 2015
Maximum wage, minimum effort
By now we must all be feeling the pinch on our bank accounts because of the rise of minimum wage across the country. Here in Manitoba, we’re at $10.70 an hour. For the record, I’ve always paid my best staff more than minimum wage. In fact, most of my best staff were already earning $10.70 an hour.
But last October, when minimum wage increased again, suddenly, overnight, my best staff were earning the same hourly wage as green staff.
It wouldn’t be so outrageous if my company hadn’t already invested an enormous amount of paid training hours for the stars to become stars. These individuals, who invested in themselves and applied the knowledge from their training, were rewarded with a higher wage.
I know what you’re thinking: life’s not fair, as we veterans of the food industry know all too well. But what of these young, impressionable individuals who make up the majority of our workforce? They’ve grown up in a school system where they get a ribbon just for participating or a certificate just for showing up. Somewhere down the line, the focus changed from instilling pride in working for and attaining a goal to preventing feelings of loss among all who participated. Perhaps no one knew what harm this would cause, but in actuality it took away the thrill of victory and the pain of defeat. It took away the purpose of aiming high, since the bar is now so low.
So what’s become of the winners whose extra efforts are now marginalized with the “also showed up”? What happens to my star staff who excelled above the rest because they want to do their best, no matter what it is they’re doing? I’ll tell you what happens: they feel unappreciated and defeated because all their hard work and advancement now earns them the same as a new hire.
I’ve noticed for some time now that the basic skill set of new hires has declined. It used to be that you hired a 16-year-old and they knew how to wash dishes, sweep a floor, mop a floor and make eye contact with a customer. They knew the basics because their home life included household chores. They instinctively knew to be polite to each other, to their managers and to customers. They knew that having a job meant doing the work, not just showing up when they felt like it.
Nowadays we no longer assume a new hire has any of these basic skills. I have witnessed more than one new staff member run cold water over a dirty container for 10 minutes and then put it on the shelf to dry. Not long ago, I had to show a new hire how to fill up a mop pail with hot soapy water so they could mop the floor. Then I had to show them how to mop the floor; they just stood there, frozen. I think they expected the mop to magically do the job by itself. How is it possible that a 17-year-old has never washed a floor? Or properly washed dishes?
Schools have adopted this misguided mentality for grading. I recently read an article about how many schools are no longer failing students because they are afraid of hurting their self-esteem. They’re worried about how students will feel if they don’t move forward with their peers. This has been going on for several years, so it’s no wonder the majority of our new hires have difficulty with basic math.
But now, what about the teenager who after three weeks of training still doesn’t meet our minimum expectations? And when I say minimum expectations, I mean basic food-handling procedures. You just can’t cut corners where food-handling is concerned. Someone is going to get sick, and it’s your reputation that will suffer the most. Will this be the first time he’ll ever be told he’ll have to do better?
What’s worse, he won’t understand why he has to be let go. Technically, he did show up. Technically he did wash the dishes and the floor, although someone else had to redo his work. But in his mind, he must wonder why he can’t just have the ribbon? Will I be called a hard taskmaster and a terrible boss? Will this be the first blow to his self-esteem? Am I to keep this employee on my payroll indefinitely because I am afraid to hurt his feelings? Not likely. I don’t treat teenagers like toddlers.
My generation went to a different school, and if these kids want to be employed by my company long term, they must complete the tasks of their job to my satisfaction. The restaurant business is not a business of one, and, personally I am tired of hiring teenagers who say they need a job yet don’t put any effort into the work or don’t even show up for shifts. It’s my experience that doing a job well always builds self-esteem.
I’ve always felt my employees are an investment, and that in order for my company to make great pizza, we need great people. But an ever-increasing minimum wage makes it difficult for a one-shop operator to find and bring out the best in its people. Maybe I will start handing out ribbons.
Diana Cline is a two-time Canadian Pizza Chef of the Year champion, internationally recognized gourmet pizzaiolo, owner of Diana’s Cucina & Lounge in Winnipeg and a director for the CRFA (now Restaurants Canada) from 2009-13. In addition to creating award-winning recipes, Diana is also a consultant to other pizzeria owner/operators in menu development, creating systems to run a pizzeria on autopilot, along with marketing and positioning to help operators grow their business effectively and strategically. She is available for consulting on a limited basis, for more information contact her at email@example.com.