Man on the Street: Undercover as pizza chain delivery driver

stack of pizza boxesAfter my fifth sub-$1 tip, I decided to stop keeping track altogether. I wasn’t doing this for the money, but if I were I would have been horribly disappointed. I was delivering pizzas for one of the Big Three national chains. Despite being a huge fan of all things pizza, I had never actually worked in a pizzeria — so last winter I initiated a long-term project of working a variety of jobs within the industry. First, I worked the line at a neighborhood pizzeria on a busy Saturday night. Then I slung slices at a New York pizzeria during the lunch shift. But the job that surprised me the most had little to do with food. Over the course of three weeks I experienced the ins and outs that come with being the pizza industry’s unsung hero –– the delivery driver.

My first shock was that I was being paid more than the folks who actually made the pizza. As I got to know my coworkers, I realized that older staff members were making deliveries, while students and other part-timers with fewer bills were in the kitchen. This sent a clear message that delivery was important to this company. With most orders being placed via mobile devices and online, the delivery driver was often the pizzeria’s only direct point of contact with a customer. What I always thought of as a menial position was turning out to be far more valuable than I anticipated.

The financial benefit of my gig quickly decreased when I realized how much of the money I was making would end up going into auto maintenance, but some unexpected responsibilities arose as I worked more shifts. Customers would ask questions normally directed toward an in-store manager, but since I was flying solo in the delivery car I was forced into a crucial position.

There were several instances in which my limited training left me unprepared to tackle problems, and the worst time to seek guidance from my superiors was on those busy Friday nights when I needed them the most. Management may have thought I was just a delivery boy, but in reality I was the company’s sole representative on the doorstep of every customer.

The stereotypical disheveled pizza delivery boy I’d always seen in movies driving a beat-up car with candy bar wrappers on the floor who couldn’t care less about the three large pies and two bottles of soda he’s dragging across town was far from the reality of my job. As much as the pizza snob in me hates to admit it, I even felt a sense of pride while wearing my uniform. It made me feel like part of a team, rather than a lowly messenger.

A delivery driver is not only part of your team, but in many ways the most crucial position when it comes to non-kitchen staff. Do as much as possible to prepare them to represent you out on the road and the benefits will be felt throughout your business — especially in the driver’s tip cup.

Scott Wiener owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City.