The Oven is King

A Manual for Owners of
Pizza Delivery Stores

This manual is based on my experience as shift manager, driver, order taker, and ordinary peon in four different pizza delivery restaurants over the course of 20 years.

Before I begin, let me emphasize that it is the ego of the restaurant owner that keeps the profits from pouring in. In the process of protecting his pet ideas from assault by new information, the restaurant owner cuts his own throat daily. The bulk of the information in this manual came from the only restaurant I have worked at where the pizza delivery was being done smoothly and consistently, and where the owner rarely had any reason to show his face. He was 42 years old and essentially retired. He owned one (1) pizza restaurant. He drove the local Domino’s out of business and Round Table got nowhere near the amount of business he got, and yet his pizza WASN’T THAT GREAT!


Enough blathering. Let’s get to work. Pretend you have no pet ideas to protect and listen to someone else for a change.

The Oven Person. There is one job in a pizza delivery business that turns anyone into an ogre within minutes, and that is the oven person. The table where he works: that is the Jekyll and Hyde table. There are several reasons for this. First, he sees all the mistakes; second, he is in charge of so much and has to rely on every other person in the kitchen to listen to every word he says and obey instantly the first time.

Unfortunately most pizza managers have been recently hired or may not even have any experience in the pizza delivery business, and they don’t understand the importance of this position, so the oven is either left to whoever happens to notice that there are 20 random pizzas in the oven and no one knows why or what to do about it, or else the job is given to someone who has no idea what the intricacies of his job are, or doesn’t care.

In the “oven is king” system (the one that will make you pizza restaurant owners rich), it is quite normal for the highest ranking and/or most experienced kitchen person to be Ovenking. This is not a status symbol, in fact it is dreaded by many. This is where, for example, one of the managers (or THE manager) belongs during the rush. Things can get loose when it’s slow, but during the rush there is no excuse for the managers to be on the phone or at the cash register.

WHAT!!! By all the cows that are sacred, do I have the vaguest idea what I’m talking about?

Yes, I do. I have seen it work, and I have seen it not work. Right now I work for a restaurant where it isn’t working, and will never work, because the managers are on the phone and at the cash register, and no one is running the kitchen but the goofs who no one has had time to train, the hacks who don’t care, and the leftover employees who refuse to answer the phone because they think it’s too scary.

Get those managers off the phone and keep them off.

Get rid of those three computers up front, and bring one of them into the kitchen where it can be used by the people who need to know what is going on. Customers who wait in line at one till know they are at a popular restaurant. But customers who walk in and see three empty tills and managers who won’t let the lackeys wait on customers, well they think they’ve walked into a place staffed by incompetents who aren’t trusted to deal with the public.

What blasphemy is this, expecting customers to stand in line?

It’s very simple. Either you expect to get rich delivering pizza to lazy people who don’t feel like cooking, or you expect to lollygag till everyone gets bored with you and you go broke. The customers on the phone must not be made to wait for an available manager to take their call. The manager must not be out of the kitchen tied up on the phone. The computer with the delivery screen must not be 20 feet away from the Oven where it cannot be used by the one person in the kitchen who has to know exactly what is going on at all times: Ovenking!

Delivery tags.

No, not those slimed things hanging on the oven with raw sausage, olive oil, and pizza sauce all over them. DELIVERY TAGS! Every delivery order needs two tags printed up: the kitchen tag so we know what to make and who to make it for, and the delivery tag, which the Ovenking keeps clean and gives to the driver when the order is ready to go out the door.

But the cleanliness and readability of the tag is only the most obvious reason to have two tags. There is this thing called the Oven. The Oven is king. The oven is where drivers pick up their deliveries. If there are 20 orders in the oven and the Ovenking doesn’t have the big picture, then the orders are going to be made in a random order. What? You mean the orders should not be made in the order they come in? What’s random about just making orders as they come in?

Plenty. The customer is now running your store. But the customer doesn’t know how to run your store. And if you are making pizzas as they are ordered and sticking them in the oven and expecting your oven person to dispatch deliveries effectively, then it is the CUSTOMER who is going to suffer. Your delivery times will be way out there because drivers will be taking one pizza at a time when they could have taken two or three on logical routes or even to the same street. Your restaurant will have the reputation of delivering cold pizzas or taking over an hour to get them out. You will lose business because you do not understand that the Oven is King.

Here is the big reason for two tags. It’s the magic word in pizza delivery: DOUBLES. Which includes triples and quads.

If you are sending out one pizza per driver during your rush, then you are so incredibly callous to your customers and your drivers that you deserve to go broke, and you will. In the time it takes for a driver to return to the store for another order, he could be delivering two more orders. Customers almost never complain about pizza just because it doesn’t burn their tongue. But they do complain constantly about long waits for their delivery. They have ovens, and it takes five minutes or less to make that thing too hot to eat again. They do not have magic wands to give restaurant managers new brains.

Enough said on that topic. If you don’t get it, you are not in the top ten and you will never get big and you don’t deserve the information I am trying to shove down your throat. From here on out, it is our presumed thesis that pizza orders must be taken out of the store two or more at a time whenever possible. The single delivery is the exception during the rush, and any delivery driver with any real experience in a busy, successful, organized, smoothly-run store will back me up on that.

Back to TWO TAGS: the kitchen tag follows the order from the time the order is made to the time the pizza goes into the oven. It goes on a spindle when the pizza goes in the oven, usually not needed again, but in case of confusion it is there in order and can be referred to. The delivery tag is in the dispatch area, which is where the pizzas come out of the oven and where the Ovenking works. Never mind where YOUR staging area is; I’m referring to where the staging area SHOULD be. The staging area is where deliveries are dispatched. The Ovenking stands virtually in one place. At the Jekyll/Hyde table.

It is important WHERE the tags are printed. In these days of miraculous scientific inventions, the location of the tag printer can be changed by the ingenious restaurant owner with the mere addition of a length of cord. What fool keeps their tag printer 20 feet away from the dough table where it must first be used? Next to the cash register???!!! Give me a break! The kitchen tag must print out where doughboy can grab it and hang it in its proper order. Pickups and to-go’s and dine-in’s come first, obviously, deliveries next. Everyone knows that. But what we don’t seem to realize is that the person on the phone cannot carry a tag to the person who needs to see it first. The printer cord does that FOR FREE; the printer cord is not being paid minimum wage, and the printer cord is not busy on the phone.

The delivery tag will never be touched by anyone except Ovenking and the driver. The delivery tags print at the dispatch area and are hung in the approximate order that they print out, with this important addition: once they are hung that way, the Ovenking stands back and looks at ALL of the delivery tags, like he has a brain in his head, he looks at the MAP which is right there on the dispatch area wall, and with these two resources available to him (map and brain), Ovenking dispenses with the exact order in which the tags were printed and takes charge of the situation!

Doubles, triples and quads are thus determined by Ovenking at the first moment that the pizza is ordered, as soon as the tag prints out. If a tags comes up for an order that could make a good double with an order that came in five or ten minutes ago, then so be it! Ovenking calls across the room to doughboy, instructing him to bump up that new order so it can go with that other order. Kitchen tag order is changed according to Ovenking’s instruction, and the pizzas will then be made in an order that is logical according to the order in which the orders must be cooked: doubles are going to be put into the oven together, which will be easy to do because the orders will be made side by side and it will be like they belong together throughout their entire short lives.

The delivery tags, which hang in the dispatch area within a few feet or closer of the Jekyll/Hyde table, are kept together as per doubles, triples, etc., in this high tech fashion: they are hung overlappingly. In approximate order that they came in. Pens and pencils are not needed or used or desirable for assigning doubles; the less reading we have to do, the better, and it would mess up our nice clean tags and add information we don’t need. “Togetherness” is a simple concept. So keep it simple. Overlapping two tags means the orders get made together, go in the oven together, cook together, get taken out of the oven together, get boxed together, and get delivered together. The delivery tag gets tucked into the box if the order is stacked on the oven to wait for an available driver, otherwise if a driver is already there the tag is handed to the driver with the order and out it goes.

All boxes are marked with order numbers without exception, BEFORE the pizza is taken out of the oven. Ovenking knows what the pizza is before it is boxed. Doubles are kept together. Delivery orders are not referred to by customer name or street name, because it is asking for trouble and confusion in case two Joneses order at the same time or two deliveries to Smith Avenue come in near the same time. If a driver has to put two small orders in one insulated bag and the boxes aren’t numbered, he may have to open the box once he arrives at the house, letting out that essential final puff of steam that makes the customer think his pizza is “hot” when it arrives. In the winter, opening a cooling pizza outdoors five minutes before it’s even going to be eaten could ruin someone’s expensive dinner. All boxes must be marked. It cuts down on many chances for error and many openings of boxes by a variety of employees all along the way.

It is time to re-iterate: Ovenking never answers a phone. Never stands at the cash register. Never goes to the walk-in. Never makes a pizza. Funny thing: if it’s not busy, no Ovenking is needed. But when he is needed he is king. Nothing works right during the rush if the oven is tended by “whoever.”

Here’s another reason why Ovenking is often a senior employee or manager: everybody must listen to everything he says, and not converse with him about unrelated topics. Two pizza makers can make small snatches of conversation without too much trouble during all but the heaviest rushes. Ovenking is off limits for small talk. Anyone who tries to join in the fun while tending the oven during the rush is not suitable for the job because they just don’t care. If the newer employees and the ones with a work ethic (a conscience, a sense of duty or responsibility) are slightly afraid to speak to Ovenking while Ovenking is busy, it is a sign of intelligence and understanding of the Jekyll/Hyde principle.

Pizzas cannot go into the oven an inch apart. It makes Ovenking’s job impossible and causes pizzas to be undercooked and overcooked during a severe rush. Some pizzas have to be taken out early, or shoved back in to cook some more, either because the customer wants it BROWN or because it just didn’t cook enough or because those wings were frozen hard when they were put in the oven and have to be cooked 1-1/2 times, or because those breadsticks were put in too far and have to cook some more…the point is, if pizzas are loaded into the oven right next to each other, it removes the flexibility that Ovenking needs in order to treat each cooked object as an individual gourmet event.

That’s why, during every dinner rush, both ovens must be turned on and used equally. A pizza kitchen that lacks two ovens is set up to stay small and probably will.

This brings up the topic of: when does a pizza get cooked, and who decides?

Ladies and gentlemen, there are two ends to a pizza oven, and Ovenking is king of BOTH ENDS! During the rush, nothing goes into the oven until Ovenking says to put it in! When it’s time for an order to be cooked, Ovenking asks a specific individual (anyone who’s smart enough to make pizza) to insert Order No. 234 and Order No. 236 into the oven TOGETHER! That’s called a “double.” Those two tags hung together overlappingly at the dispatch station ever since they were printed. When the pizzas were made, all the pizzas comprising any given order were put next to each other on the rack (does your restaurant have racks? And a place to put them?) so they’d be easy to find. The person who is asked to put pizzas in the oven stops making pizzas and does what he is told immediately, and hangs the tags on the oven in the same order in which he puts the pizzas in, and on the same oven in which they were put. These greasy tags covered with fingerprints will never go to a customer’s house. That is what delivery tags are for.

When an order starts out the cooked end of the oven, Ovenking determines which tag goes with the pizza and takes it off the oven, and numbers all the appropriate boxes for that order, and leaves the tag with the boxes. When the order is all out of the oven, taken out by Ovenking and Ovenking alone (unless he requests specific limited assistance from a specific person), then Ovenking spears the tag on the spindle and places the delivery tag with the pizzas either on the oven or in the dispatch area (a separate table, not the pizza cutting/boxing table) for a driver to bag up and take out the door. DRIVERS are responsible for double-checking that all orders are correct, all extras are the driver’s responsibility from breadsticks sauce to salad dressing to soda to menus and parmesan packets. Any driver who consistently fails to remember this or tries to say it was someone else’s job to prevent his omission is subject to 50 lashes with a wet noodle or expulsion from the premises. An understanding of the nature of the Jekyll/Hyde table is necessary for most employees to keep their job, and their head. Spontaneous beheadings near the Jekyll/Hyde table are quite common.

It can and must be reiterated that Ovenking is the person who catches most of the mistakes that are made, and this person must command the respect of those who are going to hear about it. A cool head would be nice but unfortunately it is not always possible. All employees must be listening for “Remake a large pepperoni and olive and put it in the oven NOW!” because Ovenking does not have time to say it twice, and does not have enough patience left after an hour of constant assault by hot pizzas and whining drivers to say anything in a nicey nice tone of voice.


It will lead to an argument every time. EVERY time.

Ovenking is an inside person who does not regularly deliver pizza; preferably a manager, shift manager, or at the very least, an experienced employee who KNOWS THE AREA and can read a map quickly.

New employees do not tend the oven. They are forbidden to remove pizzas from the oven during a rush. They must prove themselves to the company before attempting to be trained at the Jekyll/Hyde table. Drivers who try to remove pizzas from the oven must be taken out back and spanked. At the restaurant where I currently work (whose owner would be rich and retired if he listened to me instead of his prideful pet ideas), arguments at the oven are a daily occurrence because managers are missing-in-action: on the phone!

Taking orders is something almost anyone can do. Everyone is computer literate and everyone knows how to use a telephone. Anyone who can make a pizza can be taught how to operate a hold button, the difference between the light that says “pick up this line and talk” and the light that says, “leave this line alone because someone is one it.” And almost everyone who walks into a new job is terrified of picking up the phone. So there is only one time to teach EVERY EMPLOYEE the skill of order-taking: on their first or second or third day. After that they think they’ve acquired some kind of special immunity and will never have to do it. I’ve seen extremely well-spoken and intelligent employees refuse to learn how to take phone orders simply because it was not expected of them during their first week. But I can state with total confidence that even shy people will ENJOY taking phone orders, will RUN for the phone, will try to beat others to the phone, once they have learned the routine. Why? Because it’s a break from the assembly line grind and a break from multi-tasking! It’s fun compared to making pizza because you are only doing one thing at a time, you are playing host to a hungry person who wants to put money in your pocket, and and and…I know what I am talking about. I would not speak till I was in the second grade, and I am more terrified than most people when I start a new job. But once I know how, I like it.

Over and over I have seen the mistake made by an uptight restaurant owner who thinks his pizza makers are of such limited intelligence, sophistication, and socialization that they should not be allowed to speak with customers on the telephone. This is a case of letting one’s insecurities prevent him from getting rich. Yes it’s true, kids these days aren’t as polite as they should be, they don’t remember to say thank you enough. It can all be taught. Don’t forget that pizza is fast food. Customers are used to being served by inexperienced kids who lack social skills and have only had a few prior jobs. They just want to be waited on. They want to eat SOON. What a manager is going to convey over a telephone is tension, fear, uptightness, anger, distraughtness…the Jekyll/Hyde syndrome is REAL! Managers must be very very hesitant to go to the telephone! Customers order pizza to get happy and relax, not to talk to someone who has way too much on his mind and should be running the kitchen, instead of doing the EASIEST job in the whole restaurant. A manager should be way too busy to answer phones, and if not then something’s wrong. I am trying to break this to you as gently as possible, because I want you to get rich! Get your peons on the telephone, drivers and all. Drivers are the best order takers because they know how to get good delivery instructions, whereas many other order takers are extremely lackadaisical about getting good landmarks (3rd house on the left, dark brown with white garage door…), especially managers because they can’t see the forest for the trees: when they’re on the phone, they’re in a hurry, and the customer can sense that. A peon on the phone feels happy and relaxed because he feels like he’s getting a break from the real work, and the customer can sense that.

The trouble with restaurant owners is that it has been way too long since they actually did all this stuff, and they have gotten bogged down in pet opinions that have no relation to the way things really work.

Salads and sandwiches. It is the dough table’s responsibility to call out for salads to be made, complete with what kind of dressing and the order number. It is someone else’s job to say, “OK I’m making that tossed with ranch for order number 56.” If no one says they’re going to make the salad, the doughboy should be more assertive and his employees should be slightly more afraid of ignoring him. This can only suggest one thing: dough table is also staffed by management and experienced personnel. One person or two side by side will stand in one spot, will ask peons to bring more dough trays when needed, and will stay off the phone! Doughboy and Ovenking are in communication with each other and any real rush will stop any real attempts at casual conversation among any employees who care about their job.

If an employee is walking past a ringing phone he MUST pick it up and put it on hold even if he “can’t” take the order. AND he must holler out, “LINE ONE IS ON HOLD!” and another employee must stop what he is doing and go to the line that’s on hold.

Back to the physical arrangement of the facility.

One till, one line of customers. Once they’re in line they will almost never leave because of a long wait. A customer on the phone, on hold, is different. They hang up all the time. Because there aren’t enough managers to answer the phone. Get your managers off the phone.

Three computers up front during a rush will destroy the kitchen staff because three employees who should be making pizza will be sacrificed to save two minutes for a few customers who are already here and are not going anywhere till they get their pizza or make their order. A lot of pizza could get made by those two employees at those two extra computers up front. One computer up front, one till. The other two computers and any indication that there should be three lines of customers must be removed from the premises. Put up a big glass wall and let them stand there and watch the peons sweat in the kitchen.

Computer number one: at the till. Computer number two: in the office, where a manager counts the driver’s money, with both employees sitting down together, TOGETHER, after the rush or at the end of the driver’s shift. If it’s slow enough to send a driver home, it’s slow enough for a manager to sit down with the driver in the office and go over the money. The money goes in the safe, it does not go in the till and it is not left lying around while the manager struts around acting important, answering phones and micromanaging people who don’t need to be told how to operate when the rush is over. Get in the office, take a load off and count money, get drivers out FAST, one after the other, or they will stand around bleeding the clock pretending to work. These people have incredibly fun jobs and make twice as much money as the inside people, so they are loath to work when the rush is over and only the one or two closing drivers should still be on the clock ½ hour after the rush is over.

Computer number three is the all-important, frequently lacking, Dispatch Central. This computer is located at the dispatch area. It is on the delivery screen at all times and Ovenking always knows how many deliveries are up, who’s where and when they left and what they took, thus when they should be back. Ovenking without a delivery screen is CRIPPLED! FATALLY! I am not making this up! I’ve done it both ways and I know what I’m talking about! The Jekyll/Hyde table without a computer is the Hyde/Hyde table. Just forget about the pizza business if you can afford three computers for the front and none for the kitchen! Get a job! You’re going to go broke.

It is the dispatch computer (computer number three, Ovenking’s computer) that the drivers use to assign themselves to an order and return themselves when they get back. NOBODY is allowed to do this for a driver unless the driver forgets! Drivers are responsible for their own money and it is assigning themselves to pizzas that helps them to organize their thoughts, know where they’re going, etc. Busybodies who do this for the driver are out of place, meddling, in the way, and have better things to do. It is a nuisance and interruption of one’s natural thought process to have someone else tell the computer what you are doing. The exception is that a driver can be assigned by Ovenking and Ovenking alone on the computer if he forgets to assign himself before he leaves. Assigning and returning himself on the computer is part of his routine and he will consistently do it the same way unless he has learned that someone else (may or may not) do it for him. The money is in the driver’s pocket, it is his responsibility, and it is inexcusable for anyone to ever assign an order to the wrong driver, but when people meddle in someone else’s business they make more mistakes than when they are minding their own.

I left the Dispatch Computer for last not because it was least important. It is the MOST important tool for Ovenking to protect his sanity and make it possible for him to do his job. IT’S ALL ABOUT DOUBLES, TRIPLES AND QUADS, otherwise you will spend all your money on labor, drivers will be tripping over each other, squabbling over orders, making boxes that aren’t needed, wasting time between orders instead of coming in and going right back out…you don’t need 7 drivers, you need 4 or 5. You don’t need 10 drivers, you need 6 or 7. You don’t need 5 drivers, you need 2 or 3. It’s all about getting rich and retiring young.

Luther Robertson
48-year-old pizza dude, 2004

The author was fired for taking a pizza to a customer across the street on his way to another delivery when he was the only driver in the store, the pizza was ready, and he had been forbidden to take any doubles because the inexperienced manager didn't like being told what to do by experienced drivers twice his age. This document had already been emailed to the owner of the franchise; the whole thing was a setup. It was one of those emailings that was followed by, "...ooops, I pushed SEND, didn't I..." But never fear, he was rehired by a former employer at a different store in the same company within the hour.

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