How to open a pizzeria on a shoestring: 11. Staff

Posted on Wednesday, April 21, 2021 by Alan Pizzaiolo TribeNo comments

Staff are the core of every company, even more so in a customer facing role. Food is only one of the reasons why people will choose your restaurant and not always the most important one. Service and the experience in general are very important factors. So choose your staff carefully and make sure they align with your culture and the idea of service you want to offer.

  

Part 11

Your Staff

 

Pizzaiolo

Unless you are the owner and the pizzaiolo, you will need a pizzaiolo. I can’t over emphasize how important this decision is. You need a professional, but also someone that you and your team can ultimately work with. Someone that shares your vision.

Before Brexit one could get a pizza chef pretty easily. You just needed to place a post on a Facebook group or on our website pizzaiolotribe.com to get 20 or 30 candidates (mostly from Italy) willing to pack up and make the journey. Nowadays it’s harder. You need to offer a very competitive salary, good work life balance and have a good reputation. You also need to post on multiple channels and think outside the box. Read our blog on salaries and how to attract pizza chefs.

Even if you have a pizza chef or your business partner is the pizza chef, I strongly suggest you learn how to make pizza. You don’t need to become proficient, but you need an idea of how to prepare the dough, stretch it, and cook it. This is for 3 simple reasons:

  1. In a worst case scenario you can jump in and either give a hand or run the restaurant at reduce capacity if needed.
  2. You don’t want to be taken for a fool by your pizza chef, and with a little knowledge you will have a stronger standing ground if you want to question why things are done in a certain way and why processes can’t be changed (say you want to change the dough to incorporate less refined flours or you want to offer gluten free pizza).
  3. You don’t want to be kept at ransom by a person that is key to your whole business.

To be a successful restaurateur you always need a contingency plan, and your restaurant being able to operate without your pizza chef must be the first one you put in place.

 

Waiting Staff

You can have the best pizza in the world, but if service is poor, then people won’t return. One of my favourite quotes is:

“They won’t remember what you said or what you did, but they will remember how you made them feel”

By now you should know what I am going to say: find your staff locally. I am a firm believer that one of the indicators on which to measure your restaurant’s success is whether your staff use your restaurant on their time off and they are proud to take friends and family to eat in. So by hiring local staff, you automatically get more customers too. Win-win!

A quick post on your town’s Facebook Page will bring you a ton of applications for waiting staff. There are plenty of 16 to 18 years old looking for part time and weekend work. Many of them won’t have much experience unfortunately, but I believe this is something we can work on. You must select on personality and attitude. Unfortunately a trial shift won’t tell you very much about someone that’s got no experience at all. Prepare some questions and then look for people you “could” work on and work with. Unless they are absolutely terrible, give them a week to familiarise with your restaurant. Look for traits like punctuality, honesty, attitude, willingness to learn and to take criticism as well as guest interaction.

Last year when I wanted to recruit a new waiting staff, I received more than 80 applications in a couple of days. I knew it would be a popular position so I set up a couple of interview stages. In my initial Facebook post I asked applicants to reply via email to the following questions:

  1. What was your best experience when dining out (excluding this restaurant)
  2. What does hospitality mean to you?
  3. The phone is ringing, a table asked for extra water and a customer is at the counter to pick up his/her takeaway. Who do you serve first and why?
  4. Why do you think people come to this restaurant?
  5. Who is your role model?

After I had reduced the numbers to about 30 I sent another email out with the following questions

  1. Can you tell me about a time when you relied on your creativity to solve a problem?
  2. What has been your biggest success so far?
  3. What sort of things irritate you the most and what do you do if someone gets on your nerves? 

Find some questions that give you an insight on their way of thinking and personality. Eventually I picked the best 10 and asked them to come in for an interview.

This approach is slightly long winded, but it’s fair and candidates and the wider community appreciate this. It also allows you to look at more candidates.

When I first opened I thought that because the job was so simple it will be easier to train someone (anyone), as long as they had a good attitude. Nowadays I like to be a little more selective and I make it clear in the interview stages that things may not work out, and if they don’t, to not take this personally.

 

To attract good people is important to pay a decent salary. You want people to be happy at work. Your pizza chef will obviously be the highest paid staff in your team. It’s possible then when you first open it will earn more than you! For a good pizza chef I would consider a generous bonus scheme or a share of profits. Something easy to understand and to measure.

For your waiting staff, pay more than the minimum wage. For instance the minimum wage for under 18s, at the time of writing, is £4.62. I refuse to pay someone that little, if they are doing a good job they should be paid an adult’s wage. Share your tips fairly and transparently. This will help you to attract and retain good staff. A pizza at the end of the shift goes a long way.

 

Payroll

If your team is very small, you can run your own payroll (and pension scheme). I use the government Basic Paye Tool. If you have a larger team or want to save time, your bookkeeper or accountant may help with this.

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