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Thursday, March 03, 2005

Jobs, Part I

This will be the first in the two-part Epth Nation Blog exclusive series on the topic of "In what manner have my employers gone completely insane". First up, Papa John's.

I have worked for this numchuck-weilding pizza chain for 3 years, and thus can speak fairly authoritatively on the reasons why Pizza Hut and Dominos are kicking our butts. A lot of this is going to sound like issues of policy and company direction, as they come up with insane and harmful solutions to small problems. But it's really a problem of company structure and the fact that they put more value in the insane rantings of the people high up in home office than the people who actually serve the pizza. And it's not even's the fact that nobody questions anything for fear of being fired that's the real problem. With that in mind, I will now tell the story of the last year of the John's.

About a year ago Papa John's corporation made the decision (despite the stagnant economy) that their price per ticket was too low. To fix this problem, they stopped offering specials on anything less than 2 large pizzas. Long-time customers were now finding no coupons for just one pizza, and subsequently were paying $17 for the same pizza they had previously been paying 12 or 13 bucks for. Well, I wouldn't say they were paying it, since most of them hung up and got familiar with our competiton. We basically cut our customer base in half, and therefore our number of orders in half. Price per order was up, but only slightly, and not nearly what it needed to be.

Papa John's then decided that promotions were the way to increase business, as they sold basketballs(!) during March Madness last year (oh, did I say sold? I meant "were forced to give away" after like 3 people bought them -- those suckers) . That didn't go so well, but then they got these great deals on DVDs. Their plan was still to get people to pay full price for a large pizza, but now they had these DVDs to entice people. Their plans were foiled when the customers realized the DVDs sucked (I mean, by far the most popular one was Weekend at Bernie's, a throwaway comedy released in the mid-1980's). Then they got new DVDs, but those sucked too. Nothing they tried was working. Could it be that people don't want to pay 19 bucks for a pizza? Hmm...

Four months into this disastrous policy the "stockholders" and the people who watch them decided that this plan was insane and they went back to the way things were before. It was a time of great falling on our knees and asking our old customers for forgiveness publicly, but privately most of the higher-ups at Papa John's (by which I mean those above store level, or those who don't have to deal with actual customers) cursed the stores, the stockholders, and the customers for not believing with their whole heart in this insane business plan. What a bunch of idiots. Our Area Manager, Man Bob Bill, was an unabashed fan of this stupid full-price pizza plan, saying, "Well, California Pizza Kitchen charged $20 a pizza just because they're 'gourmet', and who's to say that we're not 'gourmet'?"

The customers, that's who. Idiot!

So we go back to normal specials, but our customer base has been decimated by the bad planning, and it takes them a while to come back (we're still nowhere near where we were before Bad Business Plan). It is at this point that management loses their mind completely. How do you get business back? Good service, right? I mean, you want to coddle the customers and give them a reason to try you again and again, right? Wrong, according to Upper Management. They became obsessed with labor costs, and made people cut their schedules. But that didn't last long, since they became upset at the crappy service numbers we had, and ordered less concentration on labor and more on service. What they should have done is forgotten about labor for a year or so and just gotten our customers back. But after only a couple of weeks of the high labor costs, they were freaking out and back to making people reach their labor numbers. It's this constant shifting focus that is driving all the good managers crazy. All the bad managers couldn't care less, because they're just there to do what they're told and collect a paycheck. So you're rewarding Just Following Orders and punishing Independant Thought. This is the way things are run at the Papa.

Over the past 2 weeks they have done some things that are totally insane and that no restaurant in their right mind would try. But stores just have to be quiet and take it. First, the directive came down that "Shift" Managers (i.e., hourly ones) could no longer open the store. Why, you ask? Because they have a tendency to work through dinner rush and that puts them there 9-10 hours during a day, wasting precious labor. Of course, they could have been like every other company and just said, "don't let your Shift Managers work overtime" and let the Store Managers figure out how to make it happen. It's like somebody at Corporate is overthinking things in an attempt to justify their existence with the company, and nobody is smart enough to shoot the ideas down.

This week, the directive came down from above that since a few stores were closing early and quoting 2 hour delivery times in the last hour of operation in an attempt to scare off late customers, all stores would have a Last Hour Sales Goal that they have to meet. If they don't meet it, they stay open up to an hour longer or until they do meet it.

Now, putting aside for a second how little the Papa values its closing employees (morale seems to be a dirty word), this flatly contradicts that whole "labor savings" thing, doesn't it? Staying open an hour after close when you haven't gotten any business the hour before close is...well, there's a reason why you've never heard of anyone doing this before. I'll use this word again -- insane. It's like burning money. Not only that, it rewards the stores who were closing early before because all they have to do is pick up the phone and deliver those orders, and they make the Sales Goal. It's the other stores, the good stores, that will get punished by having to stay open. Does that friendly Papa John we see on the commercials know about this mess? Did he come up with this idea? Does he have some monkey rubber-stamp every idea that crosses his desk?

This should tell you something: Even Man Bob Bill says it's crazy, and he's the dude who told our store manager Guy this month that he would be fired if he didn't make certain labor and food cost goals, causing Guy to do what any manager would do in that situation -- take steps to insure that won't happen. My point is, MBB is an evil moron company puppet, and even he can't get on board with this. My head a splode. At times like this, I wish the Bobs from Office Space would show up. If anyone ever needed a banner that says, "Is this good for the company?", it's Papa John's Corporate Office.

In addition to insanity above us we can't control, there's the everyday insanity of working in this particular Papa John's. Our store manager is not a leader -- he's just concerned with not confronting anyone and not getting fired. When those two goals conflict with each other, he'll gladly throw his underlings under the bus to make himself look better. He takes 3 smoke breaks an hour and gives everybody the same review -- perfectly average -- no matter how good or bad they are. He only seems to hire potheads and old men.

The other drivers aren't scared of anyone confronting them, so they just take whatever deliveries they can get their pot-stained hands on. I have given up pointing this out, because nothing comes of it. Business is slow, and I'm making about half the tips I was when I started. They expanded our delivery area to get more business, but it's far away and chock full of ghettoized apartments where the people don't tip.

Oh, I almost forgot -- two Papa John's whose delivery areas were adjacent to ours closed in the past year, so two huge areas no longer could get Papa's delivered. The people in those areas would always call us and get mad when they were told this, too. Are we big time? I think not.

I'm sure there's more, but that's all I can think of right now. Thanks.


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