If your operation struggles at the point of delivery dispatch, you're not alone. Even crews at the most successful pizzerias make mistakes now and again.

At one-unit Pizza Shuttle, where a daily average of 500 delivery orders will push 2005 sales near $5 million, it's a wonder mess-ups doesn't occur more frequently, said co-owner Mark Gold.

"It's a small percentage of all our orders, actually, but when you consider the volume we're doing, the numbers add up," said Gold, whose pizzeria is in Milwaukee. If he could, Gold would redesign his store to streamline dispatch procedures. "One thing I know I'd do is have the drivers locked in a room until I needed them. My dispatcher would have the whole order ready, the orders would be bagged and all the driver has to do is pick them up."

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Presently, Shuttle's dispatcher/expediter hands drivers tickets that direct them to retrieve items to complete each order. It's at that stage, Gold said, where errors are made. "Our statistics show that it's not customers (ordering incorrectly) or phone people making the most mistakes, it's the drivers. They're going too fast or they're not reading the ticket."

Freddie Wehbe franchises five of the busiest stores in Domino's Pizza's U.S. system, and like Gold, he cites poor store dispatch area design as one cause of delivery mistakes.

"If the dispatch area is too small, sometimes you've got drivers running into each other," said Wehbe. "They don't have enough space to operate properly."

Human nature — particularly the traits of forgetfulness and selfishness — is also an issue, he added, "when drivers dispatch themselves. It's like a zoo with the animals loose. They simply take the order they feel will get a better tip. That's not fair and it's not the best for the customer."

Operators know no system is perfect, but providers to the pizza industry are working on making delivery dispatch better at multiple levels. Technology, especially, is changing to improve the process, from POS systems that remind drivers to get extra salad dressing or drop their cash before making another run to satellite tracking systems that keep store managers aware of every driver's location on the road. The result, operators said, could be fewer mistakes and speedier delivery.

Don't forget!

According to Laura Gaudin, director of sales for Houston-based POS software maker Revention, nearly every time she asks pizza operators to point out operational trouble spots, delivery dispatch is among the first mentioned. Like Wehbe's crew, her customers say when drivers are rushed, they don't read the order ticket as closely as they should. So to assist with the process, Revention added a feature called Delivery Reminders to its software.

"What happens is when an order is dispatched, a Delivery Reminders pop-up window comes up, and that has to be acknowledged before the driver leaves," Gaudin said. "The pop-up lists all the products that go with that order, like salad dressing or a 2-liter — things that don't come from the hot area." Of course, the complete order is on the printed ticket for drivers to read, but Gaudin said having an on-screen reminder is another level of reinforcement. "It literally says, 'Don't forget ... the drinks or dressing.' Every reminder they get helps."

Forgetting order elements not only equates to lost productivity, Gold said it hurts staff morale. Drivers who aren't responsible for a mistake but are told to deliver the missed elements to waiting customers keeps them from getting the next order. That's frustrating to them and Gold, who has to pay the back-up driver for the run.

"The drivers who don't make mistakes want me to start charging those drivers who forget stuff," he said. "We haven't gotten around to doing it, but I really think it's a good idea. If they start paying for their mistakes, you can bet they'll start improving."

Wehbe likens dispatch mistakes to dropping a crucial pass in a big football game. Domino's reputation is besmirched by the error and it puts additional stress on the rest of the staff.

"I always tell them, 'We can have the best pizza in the world and be the nicest people on the phones, but if you're not making sure your order's prompt, we're going to lose that customer,'" he said. Though it's tempting to bust a driver's chops for such blunders, Wehbe said yelling and screaming don't advance the overall cause. "Like a successful head coach, you have to be a leader and criticize in private and in a way they learn from it. I ask them, 'What did you learn from this so you can be sure it doesn't happen again? We have a system to check things like this, what's yours? You're responsible to execute.'"

Gold and Wehbe said self-dispatch of orders often is a breeding ground for driver selfishness. Some like to pick and choose orders from customers they know tip the best, or they grab orders they know are closest to the store. Some simply take more orders than they should, which threatens product quality because of delayed delivery times.

According to Gaudin, Revention's software allows operators to set a maximum number of orders each driver can take per run. If a driver attempts to exceed the limit, the POS won't let him take any orders.

A newly developed product called the PiMobile Pizza Delivery System (read also Flawless delivery) contains a feature which may reduce the selfishness quotient. Called Next Driver Up, the feature dictates which driver makes the next run based on the rate at which each driver returns from a run. Using satellite tracking, the system tells the POS system in the store the precise location and estimated time of arrival for every driver in the field. The entire process is visible on a computer screen.

"Since the system tells them which driver is coming back next, it allows a manager or dispatcher to have the order completely ready — even to the point of walking it out to a driver's car when they come back," said Patrick Moldt, chief software architect for Pi Star Communications in Louisville, Ky. Similar Pi Star systems are already in use as fleet-management tools for other over-the-road companies, but PiMobile will get its first real-world pizza pilot this spring. "Computer-aided dispatch allows for better management of orders going out because it takes the decision of which order goes next out of the drivers' hands."

Knowing when drivers will return also allows operators to time cooking cycles better, Moldt added. Rather than just putting a pizza in the oven as soon as the order is called in, and then letting it sit in the warmer until an available driver arrives, a manager could delay the bake time a few minutes so that it leaves the oven closer to the time the driver is able to take it.

Wehbe said he's dreamed of such a system for years, and he's delighted to know it exists. "(To) have a map like those you saw in the old James Bond movies, where you can pinpoint where every driver is and how long before they get back so you can route accordingly to that ... I cannot wait for that to become a reality."

And just to be sure such managers don't turn into traffic controllers staring at the driver tracking screen, Moldt said Pi Star is working on a feature that alerts them to when a driver is near the store. "We thought about having a feature that would pop up on the POS screen, make a bell ring or go to a pager — anything that could say, 'The next driver up will arrive in approximately 2 minutes. Our whole system is about increasing efficiency."

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