Jim Moran is a pizza and restaurant industry veteran, and an industry consultant and speaker with Restaurant Trainers, Inc. and a contributing editor to PizzaMarketplace.

Now that an exceptionally crazy hurricane season is behind us, pizza operators have winter storms to think about. It's a good time, therefore, to think about how your store handles situations where the weather affects the level of business.

One thing

Jim Moran

is clear. Some restaurants consistently have trouble handling weather, while other restaurants do a great job capitalizing on those challenges it presents.

Probably the best example I can think of is one about manager-owner John Caputo's determination to turn bad weather into a great opportunity for his business.

Several years ago, Caputo, a Domino's Pizza store manager in Reston, Va., got married, honeymooned on St. Martin, fell in love with the place and decided the island needed a Domino's.

His business in paradise did not start off as well as he had hoped; sales were sluggish. Then a terrible hurricane hit the island and power was knocked out everywhere — except for Caputo's Domino's store.

You see, John Caputo had invested in a generator, and for a couple of days, he had the only opportunity for hot food on the island. The local residents who had never bothered to try his pizza soon learned it tasted great!

The new business helped him to become part of the community, and he got involved in many activities including the local Crime Solvers chapter. All of a sudden he had a relationship with the local paper, which treated him as a hero. Long after business returned to normal, John continued feeding the paper's editorial staff with stories involving his business.

The one thing that never returned to normal, however, was his sales. They remained strong enough to make him the Domino's Pizza International Manager of the Year.

Weather or not

Even if you operate in an area that does not suffer severe weather, or owning a generator does not make practical sense, John Caputo's story should still send a clear message. Instead of feeling defeated by the bad weather, he viewed the challenge as an opportunity, not an obstacle.

Isn't that the attitude you would take?

When it rains or snows in your area, do you merely hope to survive, or is it an opportunity for you to thrive?

When I managed Domino's Pizza stores, I welcomed bad weather, because I knew I would receive a certain amount of calls from my competition's regular customers. It always seemed like they had trouble handling the extra business and some of those customers would give me a try. I knew that if I could capitalize on that opportunity with great products and great service, I could win that customer over for life.

That reward alone should be enough to convince any manager that bad weather is an opportunity, not a bummer.

I also made sure my drivers understood what a great opportunity foul weather presented us. The more customers we have, the more deliveries we have, the more money they made. Drivers also know that tips are always better when it is raining or snowing outside

How did we excel in bad weather? Two ways:

First, I always gave approximate delivery times. Customers can tolerate higher delivery times in terrible weather as long as they are told on the phone about when to expect their food.

I remember one particular snowstorm when we were the only store delivering anything. We told everyone on the phone, "We are asking our drivers to drive extra carefully out there. We know that everyone else is closed and we want to make sure everyone gets hot meals. It is just going to take about 45 minutes instead of our usual 25 minutes." Normally customers would be irate at 45-minute delivery times, but in this case they were happy with it and drivers were averaging about $5 a tip.

The second reason I did well with bad weather is that those approximate delivery times never got out of hand because I never had to call in extra staff. When the rain or snow came down, any insider not scheduled to work would call and ask if they were needed. Those drivers did not need to call in.

One of my fondest memories was during a rainstorm in which my supervisor had come by to see how I was handling the business. There was a driver named John, who had only been working for me for a few weeks, waiting for a pizza to come out. When my driver trainer, Dimitry, came in, John said, "Hey Dimitry, I thought you were off on Thursdays?"

Dimitry replied, "Look outside John, it's raining."

Then my supervisor said to Dimitry, "So Jim called you in to work? That's good thinking."

Dimitry smiled and said, "Let me get this straight. At your other stores when it starts raining, the manager needs to start calling drivers? Wouldn't it be better if the drivers knew that they needed to come in and the manager could just worry about handling the rush?"

Dimitry was always a great driver (and would eventually be manager of that store), but he never made me prouder than that day.

You see, I knew that at that very moment, I was delivering great product and service while my competition was answering angry phone calls. Dimitry knew that those people would eventually be calling us and that those tips would be going in his pocket.

Bring on the bad weather!

Other articles by Jim Moran ...
* OPERATIONS: Pizza-centered school fundraisers pay dividends for all
* OPERATIONS: Pricing and perceived value
* OPERATIONS: In the pizza business, your telephone line is your lifeline
* OPERATIONS: Top five operational trends for 2004
* OPERATIONS: Top five client mistakes of 2003
* OPERATIONS: Protect your investment and people with store safety policies
* OPERATIONS: Take pride in your product
* OPERATIONS: Monaghan's maxim was never to put the cart before the horse
* OPERATIONS: Rule #1 in pizza is, 'The customer is always right'
* OPERATIONS: Doorhanging is for drivers, not for kids
* OPERATIONS: Everyone wins on the 'one per run' delivery system
* OPERATIONS: Cross-training lowers labor cost, boosts morale
* OPERATIONS: The secrets of running low labor

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