The Delivery Chronicles, Part 1: Introduction to Delivery

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So, you want to deliver pizza, do you?  Think it will just be a good way to pick up some extra cash, maybe as a second job, or just a gap filler while you’re between ‘real jobs’?  Boy, are you in for a rude awakening.

I see it all the time in my restaurant.  Newbs come in thinking it’s a tit job, no sweat involved.  They’ve seen every stereotype of the pizza delivery guy.  The slacker, the stoner, the musician waiting for his big break, the hapless lifer who couldn’t put it together.  They smugly look down and think, they got this… and then, they don’t.

They spend 5 minutes fumbling with their GPS unit in the parking lot trying to locate an address.  They don’t know the shortest route, time-wise, between multiple drops, or how to route themselves to avoid long traffic lights and heavily-congested areas.  They don’t know how the numbers run on the blocks, don’t know some of the quirkier instructions some of our repeat customers have given other drivers and end up missing that mailbox or landmark.  In a high-volume store every mistake is a time murderer, and for every minute wasted, that is money flying out of your pocket in both lost deliveries and wasted gas.

Some people get it quickly.  I was one of those people.  This is my fifteenth year delivering pizza and this is going to be my story.  It will also be an in-depth insight into the business as a whole, and how other issues outside of the restaurant itself can affect what we do.

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I was working at Wal-Mart in November of 1999 when I realized I wanted something different.  I was about to turn 27 and I had been working in retail stores my entire working life.  I didn’t mind Wal-Mart but the pay was abysmal and the hours were not really ideal.  I wanted out.  The town I lived in had a few small mom & pop pizzerias (M&P henceforth) and one of them was this place called Carmelo’s.  On a whim one day, I went in and spoke to the manager after seeing a “drivers wanted” sign in the window.  He hired me and I started that weekend.  I quit Wal-Mart without much notice, but they were unwilling to flex my schedule and Carmelo’s wanted me to start right away.  I left Wally World with zero regrets.

I started on a rainy Friday evening in late November.  My first delivery was a stiff.  I’m actually glad it happened that way, because it steeled me for the many more that were to come over the years.  One thing I will reiterate throughout this series is that every tip you earn should never be taken for granted, these few extra dollars can be difficult to come by and if you’re expecting to roll in tip money every night, you’re in for some disappointment.  Anyway, back to my first night.  I didn’t do a ride-along, but a more experienced driver did sort of show me the ropes.  He explained the map and legend to me, gave me a general layout of the town and where our delivery zone ended.  For the rest of the night I was on my own.

I got lost once or twice.  The rain made it harder to read street signs in the dark.  I hadn’t thought to buy a flashlight.  I did the next day.  Over the next few days I got a better idea of the area and even had a few repeat customers.  A month later and I knew the town like the back of my hand.  It always amazed me thereafter, and still today, when people who have lived in a place their whole life don’t know where some streets are.  I guess those years I spent in my youth drawing maps by hand and studying cartography came in handy.  And by youth, I’m talking middle school.  Oh yeah, I was a hit in social circles.

A few months in, I realized that I liked my job.  I couldn’t figure out why that was, since I was always told that delivering pizza wasn’t a real job, and that I must be poor and struggling and desperate to reduce myself to such an occupation.  I don’t know, I get to spend all day doing something I like- driving- and listening to music or talk radio, not being under the watchful eye of the boss all the time, and I have money in my pocket every night at the end of my shift, which tends to go by quickly especially if you’re busy?  What’s not to like?  I can remember when I was 21 or 22 and my friend had a job delivering for Pizza Hut and I was jealous of him.  Jealous!  I didn’t have a car at the time, but I would hear his tales and think, wow, there’s a job I would like to have, not the crappy retail-hell store jobs I was stuck in.  Who could guess that a few years later I would get that wish and still be doing it to this day?

Over the years at Carmelo’s I also learned the art of making pizza and I am a half-decent pizzaiolo still.  Carmelo’s brother Giuseppe improved my skills considerably after I learned the basics from the store manager.  But as much as I like slinging pies, I like delivering more.  That job also gave me time off when I needed it to tour with my then-band, and I always had that job to return to once tour was over.  In the end, that job prepared me for working at Papa John’s and then later, at the place I work now… which shall remain nameless just in case I have to say something they may not like.

As I begin year 15 of Pizza Wrangling, I am seeing a lot of things I wish were different, or that hadn’t changed over the years.  This will all be explained in future entries.  I will share stories both positive and not-so-positive from my time in the trenches.  I will also impart valuable advice to those who are new to the vocation or who are thinking about doing it for whatever reason.  Thanks for reading this far.  Hope you’re not face-down in a puddle of drool snoring away.

Always tip your delivery driver, no excuses.

Cheers!

Matti Frost

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