PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
Running a pizzeria is more than a labor of love — for many operators, it’s also a family affair. Working with family can be the perfect arrangement for your business, but it also comes with its share of challenges. As many veteran family-owned pizzeria operators and human resource experts will agree, it’s important to set some guidelines when working with relatives.
Managing a pizzeria with family members has a different set of advantages and challenges as opposed to hiring a relative as an employee. In both cases, everyone involved has to understand that the business will affect your relationship as family members in some way. Although it’s best to keep work and family separate, it’s difficult to do in a family-owned business.
“When you make the decision to work with family, you’ve signed on for the accelerated program and you need to know that going in,” advises Sylvia LaFair, president of Creative Energy Options (CEO Inc.) and author of Don’t Take It to Work. “Have a clear set of agreements of how you’re going to work together — who is leadership, who reports to whom, what time should everyone be there, etc. Don’t just assume. Think it through first.”
As managers or co-operators, you want to sit down as a management team and determine everyone’s role in the business so that clear-cut responsibilities are set from the beginning. Brothers Danny, Franky and Gaspare Maniscalchi, co-owners of Leo’s Pizza, with three locations in upstate New York, successfully used this strategy when they took over the operation from their father, Leo. “My brother, Danny, does the bookkeeping, my brother, Franky, runs the kitchens, and I run the front of house — the managers and wait staff,” Gaspare said. He added that each brother has his own area of responsibility but have to cover the other areas when one of the brothers is off. This sometimes leads to clashes, as each has his own management style, but Maniscalchi says they’re able to work out their differences. They meet every other week — sometimes with staff, sometimes just as a management team — to discuss their goals for each month and long-term plans for their operation.
If you’re hiring a family member as an employee, as a manager your job is to divide the workload evenly and avoid special treatment — everyone needs to carry their own weight and be responsible for keeping the operation running smoothly. It’s a lesson John Guglielmo of Eddie’s Gourmet Pizza in New York’s Hudson Valley can’t emphasize enough. He’s employed various family members over the years, and said his sister put things into better perspective when she felt she was being singled out and given the harder work that he wasn’t giving to the other employees. “It was a challenge,” he says. “At first it was a problem, but the longer we worked together, it got better. You really have to be fair and equal — at the end of the day, they’re still your family member. You have to see them on the holidays.”
Running a business is a 24/7 operation, and it’s easy to overlook the fact that you’re family first. Set aside some time every week to be family first. Even though you see each other seven days a week, most of your discussions might focus on the business. When not on the clock, keep conversations on the family side of your relationship like the DeMaio family, whose Hellertown, Pennsylvania-based operation DeMaio’s Family Ristorante and Pizzeria recently celebrated 25 years in business. Sisters Anna, Rose and Daniela, and their mother, Maria DeMaio, use Sundays as their family day. “We’re closed Sunday so that’s our ‘family day,’ ” Maria says. “At Sunday dinner we don’t talk about work — that’s our day for us. And any other time, we try to take care of any problems at the pizzeria.” The DeMaios agree that it’s important to respect each other’s function in the business, which has helped their operation’s longevity.
Sometimes business problems do come up that don’t have an easy fix. If you manage your operation with family, call a staff meeting and try to work out a solution. If the problem at hand is a family member’s work performance, handle the problem directly, but work out your approach beforehand. It’s also important to keep any issues contained to those family members directly involved with the business. Known in HR circles as “splitting,” this is when a third party (usually another relative) gets pulled into the issue. “The person in charge is often seen as a ‘bully’ and the other person is seen as a victim, and the mediator or ‘rescuer’ will run to the victim. This is where it gets ugly and family members often don’t talk to each other, sometimes for years,” LaFair says.
Family members’ work performances are just as important as other employees, and they need to be accountable for any declines. “It’s the same qualities as any other employee — not showing up, not carrying their weight, not doing their work. We do tend to give our family members a longer rope because we don’t want dissention,” explains LaFair.
In most situations, termination is a last resort, but it may be the only option. If this is the case, plan your strategy carefully. “The key is to inform others in the family of what’s going on,” LaFair says. “I believe the best way to do this is in a paper trail, such as a well-crafted letter to the other family members. This is not to get them involved but just so that there’s clarity,” LaFair says. She also strongly suggests having a third-party witness present at the time of termination for everyone’s protection and keep “he said/she said” dynamics to a minimum, since there are bound to be hard feelings. “So much of what’s said will be misconstrued and used against you. Know that some people will be so angry, they won’t talk for awhile. Don’t go into it thinking everything will be easy and forgotten in a short time — it won’t be.” A cooling- off period might help to ease some of the tension. This might mean skipping a few family gatherings, but it might be worth it to keep the peace among the relatives. u
Sara Hodon is a freelance writer based in Northeast Pennsylvania. She specializes in lifestyle and human interest features.
5 TIPS FOR WORKING WITH FAMILY
HR experts agree that running a successful family business can be an extremely satisfying and positive undertaking—when a strong foundation is in place. James Sinclair of OnSite Consulting and Sylvia LaFair, President and CEO of Creative Energy Options, Inc., offer these five tips for building a strong family-owned pizzeria operation:
1. Set yourself up for success or failure from the beginning. A family-owned operation takes a lot of forethought in the form of “what if?” scenarios and plans for effective damage control should conflicts come up.
2. Understand your exit strategy. Depending on your role in the business, how will the structure change should you decide to leave? What are your options for terminating your role in a partnership?
3. Have a clear understanding of job duties. “It is when the ‘job description and requirements’ are hazy that it creates the most tension,” Sinclair says. Everyone should have clearly-defined roles and responsibilities in the operation.
4. Understand what happens when life changes. “At first someone can work 18 hours, but what happens when someone gets married or wants to have a family and wants to be home by 6 p.m.? How will this impact your business? People often forget that life changes—what can happen to a happy relationship is often just life,” Sinclair says.
5. Agree on things like hours, vacations, and bonus structure. “These are things that you would do with any employee, but we tend to get a little lax if it’s a family member. There has to be a family member who’s in charge,” LaFair says.
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