Business and Operations
The Pizza Chef: Who’s the boss?
By Diana Cline
Back in the ’80s there was a popular sitcom starring Tony Danza and Judith Light called “Who’s The Boss?”
If you’re old enough to remember the show, then you know it was popular during a time when it was unusual, but not unheard of, for the woman to be both the main breadwinner and the head of the household.
Over the two-and-a-half decades I’ve been in the pizza industry, I can say that I’ve met a great number of people who got into the pizza business because they didn’t like having a boss, or they didn’t like the boss they had at their last job. They wanted to be their own boss.
I can empathize with this mentality. Before opening my own concept, my then-husband and I worked at a pizza chain, under the lure of becoming successful franchisees. We each worked 90 plus hours a week for very little money; our salaries actually worked out to less than minimum wage, given the hours we were putting in. After yet another delay from the franchisor, we started talking about the idea of opening our own pizzeria, and working for ourselves. I can remember my then-husband saying, “If I’m going to work a hundred hours a week and make no money, I might as well work for myself.”
The idea caught on like a wildfire, and in a few short months we were doing just that: working 100 hours a week for no money. It’s interesting how our thoughts become our reality. We had done it – we had realized our dream of owning our own business. Only at this stage of our dream we had all the woes of the pizzeria owner: equipment breakdowns, staff shortages, supplier delivery issues, not to mention dealing directly with all the company legal requirements and business day to day. Some days it definitely seemed like a waking nightmare rather than living our dream. I know many of you can empathize.
I also see this with many of my consulting clients. They got into this business because they wanted to escape the corporate life. They hated the boss. Unfortunately, at some point there is a realization that someone has to be the boss. Someone has to be the one who handles those difficult situations, like giving an awkward employee review, hoping the staff member “steps up,” so you don’t have to let them go, or demanding a credit from your vendor rep for a damaged delivered product. These situations of conflict are ever present in the day-to-day life of any business owner, and they’re very uncomfortable if you’ve not had a lot of experience with them. Heck, even when you have had a lot of experience, like me, it’s still not bound to be your favourite thing.
And I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but be fond of my team members, even the ones that aren’t my aces. Even the ones who bellyache that they have no money, and need a ton of hours, so you stack the schedule with hours for them, only to watch them give away all but two shifts.
The issues can become mountains if you’re the boss but are in a state of avoiding these uncomfortable situations with mild conflict. I’ve seen restaurants where the owner is “such a nice guy,” and because he is not comfortable with conflict, the staff are running rampant, akin to the inmates running the asylum. One well-meaning owner/operator had a server who was dictating their own schedule and pay, and even convinced him to pay them in cash. As time went on, their demands became even crazier. When he contacted me for coaching, he was burnt out, fed up and ready for change. Within a few short weeks, we’d set up support systems for him and a plan where he took back command of his business.
It takes a great deal of skill to manage both the numbers and the staff of a restaurant. There are hundreds of moving parts that are in a constant state of change. Some owners are pretty good at one area, but lacking in another. It’s OK: I believe we’re all capable of learning and growing, and gaining new skills.
But when you’re the boss, it’s sometimes difficult to know where you can go for help. Good news, if you’ve read this entire article, you’re already in the right place.
Diana Cline is a two-time Canadian Pizza magazine Chef of the Year, three-time winner of “Canada’s Best Pizza Chef” at international pizza competitions, a judge for international pizza culinary competitions in Las Vegas, Italy and France, and a partner with Diana’s Cucina & Lounge in Winnipeg. In addition to creating award-winning recipes, Diana is 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 firstname.lastname@example.org