While restaurants are scrambling to pivot to off-premise as the coronavirus health crisis worsens, Washington, D.C.-based, fast-casual pizza chain, &pizza, has released a game plan that aims to protect employees (or tribe members, as CEO Michael Lastoria calls them), just as much as customers.
Like many other companies, the 40-unit pizza chain is going takeout and delivery-only and offering expanded paid sick leave for employees. For at least the next 30 days, the usual wait time for full health benefits will be waived for new employees and sick and/or quarantined employees will get a 14-day health and safety paycheck. However, &pizza is going beyond just the emergency paid sick leave measures that most of the industry is implementing to offer other benefits like free pizza for employees and their families, increasing the hourly wages for all store-level employees by $1, and partnering with Lyft to offer $5 rides to work so employees can avoid public transportation.
“Once we sent out the list of new benefits to employees via text we had over 100 tribe members sign up for the Lyft service within 45 minutes,” &pizza COO Andy Hooper said. “We feel responsible if we’re asking our tribe members to be here serving our guests. We want them to feel safe working out of the pizza shops.”
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Some of these new benefits are just an extension of what &pizza already offers. For example, &pizza already offered discounted Lyft rides for those working late-night shifts for safety purposes. Hooper also said that his team had already been working on most of the emergency benefits package as a “normal” benefits package extension that was set to go into effect at a later date, like the pay raises, but they decided to move up the timeline.
“We think if we were going to do these things anyway over the next several months, why wouldn’t we implement them now so we can get maximum benefit out of it?” Hooper said. “For a lot of businesses, the plans they had for August may be irrelevant because there might not be an August.”
One operational change that absolutely was not in the original plan? Shutting down headquarters and having all corporate and executive-level employees work instead on the ground at store-level positions in order to meet the growing demand (and employee shortage) that the health crisis situation has created. For example, Hooper is working currently at &pizza’s original 8th Street location in Washington, D.C. While some corporate employees are making pizzas, others are helping to solve in-store logistical issues like how to maintain social distancing inside the shops.
Most of the restaurant industry is worried about wavering or plummeting profits during this period of quarantines and uncertainty, but &pizza is taking advantage of its delivery-heavy business to be able to pay for these new benefits for employees.
“We have supportive shareholders and a solid balance sheet,” Hooper said. “This is the time to be bold in investing in our brand, not fearful. Pizza is a high-delivery item anyway so we’re leaning hard on our structural strength. We can be profitable at about one-third our usual volume, which is a huge advantage at this time.”
On the customer side, &pizza is offering free, contactless delivery to all customers and will also be delivering free pies to hospital workers.
Contact Joanna Fantozzi at [email protected]
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