As race riots ripped apart Los Angeles' neighborhoods in April of 1992, Rodney King called a press conference.

King, a black plaintiff in a police brutality trial whose surprise verdict (against King) consequently sparked the riots, asked the gathered press an innocent but silly question: "Can't we just all get along?"

My own answers to his question came easily: "Well, Rodney, if we all drove around blind drunk like you did, then no. And if every authority, such as the L.A. Police Dept., used absurdly excessive force to control recidivists like you, then no, again."

Steve Coomes, Editor

Sure, in a perfect world, we'd all get along, but in the real world, countries go to war, CEOs steal investors blind, Anna Nicole Smith gets a TV show and platform shoes come back in style.

Were the world truly perfect, the wide divide between pizzeria operators and their delivery drivers wouldn't exist. But the constant squabbling between these two camps is proof that life in the pizza world is far from utopian.

Reality meets exaggeration

We've all heard both sides' arguments:

* Drivers say their auto use reimbursements should be increased, but operators say they can't afford it.

* Drivers say operating and maintaining their own cars is terribly expensive, but operators say drivers' tips and wages more than cover the costs.

* Drivers say operators could generate the revenue necessary to increase their reimbursement rate by charging for delivery and/or increasing food prices. Operators, however, believe their customers will then buy from the operator who neither charges for delivery nor raises prices.

And that's just the short list.

In case the planets align and both groups would ever get the notion to work together on a solution, here's what I suggest both sides do, starting with operators.

Raise reimbursement rates: Admit it operators, this is your business, and you're responsible for all the equipment necessary to put your products into customers' hands. If you want to deliver, then you provide the vehicles.

When you calculate what it costs to purchase, fuel, insure and maintain any vehicle (See Pizza Hut memo warns of cut in driver reimbursements, hints at sales declines and Gas price spike = driver rate hike?), be it a Mazda or a Mercedes, you know full well that 50 cents per run is inadequate.

You should no more ask a driver to use his own auto to deliver your pizza than you would require a pizza maker to bring his own oven to bake it.

Don't rely on tips to cover the costs: Operators, you get paid in full for food delivered, but whether the driver gets a tip is another story.

Yes, I know that on average, most everyone tips, even well enough to make delivering a decent part-time job. But drivers aren't salesmen who can move the price of a product up or down to suit the customer and still make a favorable commission. They are food couriers who deliver the goods at a pre-determined rate, and who depend on customer generosity.

Charge for delivery: When I was a kid, doctors didn't make house calls, but the drugstores delivered. Now, however, with the exception of midnight dashes to the shores of Florida or across the Rio Grande, that service has disappeared in the U.S. Why? It cost too much.

Factor in the outrageous cost of delivery liability insurance, and pizza delivery costs too much today as well.

Based on my informal poll of friends and family -- economically challenged folks like me -- a delivery charge wouldn't bother them a bit. When they're home from work and the kids are doing homework or out on the soccer field, they say it's worth $1.50 to $2 -- plus tip -- to have a pizza brought to the door.

OK, drivers, now it's your turn.

Your financial security is not your boss's responsibility. Drivers, you're paid the market rate, like it or not. If you think it's too low, consider the plight of teachers and nurses, people who've earned advanced degrees to make far too little but receive all the market will bear.

If you still don't think you're paid enough, then either lower your lifestyle or find a job that pays better.

Pizza delivery should never be viewed as a long-term job. Any driver who envisions herself earning enough money delivering pizzas to afford a nice home and comfortable retirement is dreaming. Not gonna happen -- regardless of whether you think it should.

Pizza delivery is a stepping-stone job that pays pretty well for the effort expended in the time required.

Sure, in a perfect world, we'd all get along, but in the real world, countries go to war, CEOs steal investors blind, Anna Nichole Smith gets a TV show and platform shoes come back in style.

In my opinion, it's a low-stress occupation ideal for people with their minds on college or who need a second job to pay their bills.

If you don't like it, quit! I've listened to and read the comments of too many drivers whining that their bosses and customers are cheap and take advantage of them.

My advice to you is to find another job, one in which the employers and customers are more generous, or a job that is so fulfilling that you don't mind working for low pay.

Like many of you, I griped way too much about restaurant bosses who worked me like a dog for minimum wage (which was $3.35 an hour back then, sonny), and customers who left me 45 cents for great service on a $48 check.

But over the many years since, I've looked back and viewed things a little objectively. I worked as long as I did for miserable wages because the work and my coworkers were fun. I also knew I wanted to be a food writer, and that was the price I paid for a hands-on education.

When I waited tables for tips, I failed too often to remember the generous folks greatly outnumbered the cheapskates. And when I tallied my tips and hourly wage over weeks and months, I regularly made $12 an hour working part-time in 1990, a rate I later wouldn't top for a while working overtime as a journalist.

Get real!

Operators, you have got to do some soul searching. It's wrong to pay drivers so little to use their vehicles to move your product. You're entitled to object (e-mail me at stevec@networldalliance.com), but you'll be hard pressed to convince me otherwise.

And drivers, if you like the work well enough, do it as best you can until you find a better job.

Don't expect pizza delivery to meet your financial goals or fulfill your career aspirations. If it covers your tuition, rent, car payment and provides some fun money for 20 or 30 hours of effort each week, then you've got nothing to complain about.

Ultimately, both sides need to work together to ensure customers are happy. If they are, I've got a strong feeling they won't complain about delivery charges or higher prices, which will help ensure everyone profits.

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