2010 January: Cross Training

Delivery drivers are as valuable an asset as any other worker, and yet many pizzeria operators fail to make maximum use of this resource. Sure, they may have drivers fold boxes or do minor prep work when not out delivering, but there’s more these employees could contribute. Cross-training them on key tasks throughout your operation would enable them to step in and assist in meaningful ways and benefit your entire business, says consultant Annette Fazio.

“It’s as good for the driver as it is for the restaurant,” says Fazio, who consults with businesses across the country. “It results in more ownership and more connection to the operation and to the customers. Cross-training counteracts boredom and makes employees feel like they have a place in your business, which can also reduce turnover.”

True, this doesn’t make sense for every restaurant. Tom Kess, owner of Angelo’s Pizza in Lakewood, Ohio, says delivery makes up 33 percent of his business. During a busy shift his drivers (there are usually 10 per peak-time shift) spend 95 percent of their time delivering. Consequently, he wants them focused on driving. Also, adds Kess (who crosstrains his other staff), for many customers the delivery driver is the face of the restaurant — and he wants them looking clean and professional. Having drivers do dirty, greasy work like dishes, cooking or cleaning would jeopardize this image, he says. He’d rather send them home if it’s slow.

For other restaurants, however, cross-training drivers can be a good business move. Tim Kostelnik, director of operations for Colada’s Pizza in Valparasio, Indiana, cross-trains drivers (and every employee) on all positions. His 10 drivers — there are usually four per shift on weekends — typically spend 40 percent of their time delivering and the rest on other tasks: cooking, cashiering, answering phones, prepping, dishwashing, bussing tables, etc.

“My belief is to cross-train from the very start,” says Kostelnik, who hires only experienced drivers. “This allows for greater scheduling flexibility, saves money and is a better use of staff. Plus, this gives you more well-rounded employees.”

On a busy weekend, Atza Pizza drivers generally spend around 25 percent of their time on deliveries and the rest pitching in elsewhere, says Carolyn VanCattenburci, owner of the Boise, Idaho restaurant. Among other things, their two drivers — she and her husband also deliver when necessary — fill in as cooks, run the counter, take phone orders, serve alcohol, clean and prep. They can also open and close the restaurant (all employees are cross-trained).

“One advantage is payroll management,” she says. “When it’s dead we can send someone home and the people left can fill in. It also helps when people call in sick.”

Cross-training fosters a sense of teamwork among their employees, VanCattenburci continues, and instills self-confidence. It also shows they trust them, she adds, and can open the door to hidden talents and interests, helping to identify future managers.

Fazio says that in order to avoid employee resistance, operators should make cross-training a condition of hire, an approach taken by Kostelnik and VanCattenburci
. Jeff Miller, owner of three California Bay-area Extreme Pizza franchises, handles it slightly different.

“We lay out the job description during the interview process. Although the main focus is on driving, we look for people who are willing to go above and beyond. We don’t force people to cross-train, but we definitely schedule accordingly,” says Miller.

During a busy shift, where there could be up to 10 drivers, 60 percent of their time might be spent delivering. To fi ll in downtime, some drivers cook, others take orders, roll out dough, clear tables and so on. Miller’s attitude is that if they’re not driving, they should be doing something (he posts a driver’s checklist of what they can do when they have the time).

When it comes to cross-training, Fazio believes a formal approach works best, although this depends on the operation. “You may want to bring them in for a day, or have them come in two hours before their shift,” she says, adding this should be with pay. “Trying to jam in training between deliveries can send the message that the tasks are incidental.”

With up to 65 employees during busy season, Kostelnik’s cross-training is regimented. New drivers spend two days learning the kitchen, two days cashiering/ taking orders, one day on BOH prep and dish washing, then one day on FOH duties. Only when they complete this training do they start delivering.

VanCattenburci utilizes a watch-and-learn strategy. “We start in the back and have the drivers watch what we do and when they feel comfortable, we watch them,” she explains, adding that they make “lots of lists” for guidance.

Extreme Pizza’s drivers spend their first few weeks on the job driving, demonstrating competency in this area. Prep work is a part of their job description, so they do this also. Then, during down periods, they start training on other tasks.

“Drivers want to make deliveries,” says Miller, whose drivers make an hourly wage, plus delivery fee and tips. “So their attitude is that anything they can do to help get the order out is better for them.”

Making it Work

There are few disadvantages to cross-training drivers, says business coach Annette Fazio. Still, there are cautions. Depending on a driver to perform key tasks, like closing, could interrupt the workflow if that employee is called out on a last-minute delivery. Fazio suggests checking in with the staff to see what happens when a driver steps away. She also advises:
? Making priorities clear. A driver’s main responsibility is delivering.
? If just now considering cross-training, assure employees this isn’t to eliminate jobs but to enhance operations and teamwork. Gain buying by talking up the advantages and soliciting input.
? Be specific about what you want them to learn. Make a contract/list. Have them check off what they’re comfortable doing.
? Don’t use money as a cross-training motivator (Kostelnik pays based on performance, not on cross-training; VanCattenburci hires in at cooks wages and lets drivers keep tips). Stress the value instead.

? Pamela Mills-Senn is a freelancer specializing in writing on topics of interest to all manner of businesses. She is based in Long Beach, California.