Is automation the way forward?

Posted on Wednesday, July 7, 2021 by Alan Pizzaiolo TribeNo comments

All this talk about salaries, the shortage of pizza chefs and endless posts on Facebook on how even £15/h salaries are not competitive is becoming frankly boring but also frustrating.

The reality is a lot of pizza places outside large cities will always struggle to find pizza chefs, no matter what.

Yesterday I read on the BBC News app that some places in the Lake District had to shut or work on very reduced hours due to the lack of personnel. We heard on the Pizzaioli in the UK Facebook group that similar things happened all around the country.

We talked at length about pizza chefs salaries. We asked ourselves questions like: “what’s a just salary?” and “is there anything else, apart from raising salaries, that we can do to attract good talent?”

We also discussed what part of making pizza is “art” and what part is simple “mechanics” (in other words it can be replicated to a very good standard). A friend of mine working for a pizza equipment supplier told me sales of pizza presses and dough ball makers have increased dramatically since Brexit took effect, I can imagine they are only going up now.

Some companies have changed all their ovens to rotating base/cooking deck to make it easier to operate with fewer pizzaioli. Some other companies are training whomever they can get their hands on to get as many pizza chefs as possible trained to at least a basic level.

With the government not budging on working visa (not that in Europe there are many more pizza chefs available anyway) and many UK youngsters unwilling to think about a career in hospitality as a desirable option, it looks like the only routes left are automation, simplification and standardisation.

If you are an employer and still think “things will work out” or “I’ll just offer more and I will find a chef”... you are doomed. You will be left behind.

I often ponder whether in the past a similar shortage of skills has occurred and whether we can learn from history. Was there a time were a comparable profession has disappeared? Can we possibly use the example of shoe makers during the industrial revolution? Or any other artisanal profession were human labour was replaced with machines?

For instance we can still find handmade shoes. Prices are very high as it takes a lot of time and skill to make a pair. Could this be the future of pizza? A few amazingly good pizzaioli, very high prices, fewer covers, maybe no takeaways?

Is this what happened to sushi? It takes years of training and a lot of discipline to become a sushi master. Good sushi must be eaten straightaway and of course can’t be delivered. As nobody can produce high numbers in a small amount of time, it is not uncommon to hear of high end sushi restaurants that just open for a few hours in the evening and just accommodate a handful of patrons.

 

I often ask myself how I would replace a pizza chef or scale a business using fewer pizza chefs. Let’s think about some aspects of pizza making for the two main styles of pizza and how they can be replaced:

 

Thin crust

Neapolitan

Doing the prep (slicing/chopping)

Anyone

Anyone

Making the dough

3 attempts with supervision, then following a formula/recipe

Fairly difficult if using high hydrations

Balling the dough

1 week training for a young switched on person. Or using dough dividers

Very hard for high hydrations

Stretching the dough

This takes a fair amount of time to do well. Stretching a round pizza with even thickness distribution. There are now a few good dough presses on the market

If you use the “slapping method”, I think that’s impossible to replicate. Can you get a good “cornicione” crust with a dough press? No. Can you get something close? I doubt it

Putting toppings on a pizza

Anyone with a bit of training if pizzas are simple enough(speed, consistency and food cost may be an issue)

Anyone with a bit of training if pizzas are simple enough(speed, consistency and food cost may be an issue)

Launching a pizza into the oven

Anyone with a bit of training if pizzas are simple enough(speed may be an issue)

 

Anyone with training if pizzas are simple enough(speed may be an issue)

Cooking a pizza

Rotating ovens/ conveyor ovens with stone base?

Rotating ovens make the job easier

 

What are your thoughts?

Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash
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