Redlining — restricting delivery areas by marking off a map with red lines — is always a contentious and controversial topic in the pizza industry. Operators often base refusals to deliver on safety concerns or non-payment problems, but redlined customers and civil liberties groups commonly claim such operators are racist. The ensuing debate often winds up in court.

What's an operator to do?

For the most part, companies like 106-store Pizza Outlet rely on the judgment of their drivers and store managers to decide what to do in questionable situations.

"This is one decision that's left up to the drivers and the general manager of the store," said Pizza Outlet president and CEO, Varal Ablak. "If there are security issues, we allow the drivers and the general manager to say, 'We don't deliver there at a certain period of time,' or 'We don't deliver there at all.' But there have to be facts behind it."

Common advice of safety experts and lawyers echo Ablak's claim that facts are necessary. Compiling them begins with a detailed history of any problem encountered by drivers when delivering to troublesome neighborhoods. If an incident occurs, drivers should be required to document it and submit that to a manager or owner. If the event necessitates a police report, it's wise to retrieve a copy of the report and keep it on file.

Operators can be proactive as well by collecting crime reports for dangerous areas either at a police station or from newspapers. If, over time, a pattern of violence and crime is clear, then an operator has firmer ground to stand on if a delivery refusal is contested by a customer.

Even with such information, pizza customer Rick Roll believes operators misinterpret much of the data given them about driver safety. Roll encountered redlining in his Fort Wayne, Ind., neighborhood. Many businesses, including newspapers, carpet cleaners and florists, in addition to pizza stores, refused delivery to that area.

Roll said redlining has more to do with the perception of danger than an actual threat.

Ablak said he's sympathetic to residents in redlined neighborhoods, because crimes typically are perpetrated by a very small percentage of the area's residents, and not its general populace.

"Most people are law-abiding citizens," he said, "and I can't blame them for being upset."

Safety first, then delivery

Ultimately, denying pizza delivery to any customer impacts the bottom line negatively. But operators agree that safety always comes first, and that even a small risk is too large when it comes to an employee's well-being. Driver safety measures such as using cell phones, curbside service mandates, deployment of driver teams, etc., are simple, low-cost methods of protection.

In the end, though, delivering to high-crime neighborhoods often is viewed as a necessary challenge that, if handled wisely, can benefit both operators and customers.

"We want to deliver a pizza to everybody — we're in the business to sell pizza," said Holly Ryan, public relations manager for Domino's Pizza. "It does not help us to not go to an area."

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