Pizza Express gives power to its people
14 March, 2011
The ongoing evolution of Pizza Express’ brand is as much about its people as its restaurants, HR director Julie MacDonald tells HR magazine.
It takes a look at Pizza Express’ living lab restaurant in Richmond, elements of which are to be rolled out to the rest of the chain. McDonald says that while the refit of restaurants is crucial, so too is Pizza Express’ new investment in its staff. “The change in feel can’t be brought alive without our people.”
MacDonald says the rule book was “completely thrown out” ahead of the Richmond re-opening, and suggests the chain is putting a new emphasis on personality when it comes to hiring. “We have redesigned our recruitment process around whether all new people who join are great at making conversation. It is also about how they listen and engage with customers—personality over qualifications if you like.”
Existing staff as well as new members have gone through the same assessment, she adds, with those who did not pass receiving extra training. But there are no hard and fast rules around the new-style service. “It is overwhelmingly about creating friendships with customers… about empowering staff to say what they like without fear of reprimand.”
The new Richmond restaurant attracted more than 2,000 applicants for just 45 posts—and the rigorous assessment process there is the shape of things to come. “Lots of businesses fail to put enough effort into their customer-facing staff; we now believe this is where all our effort is needed.” It seems to be paying off. “There is no doubting our level of service has gone up.”
HR also traces MacDonald’s rise up the ranks of Pizza Express, which she joined as a waitress in 1994. “I’m an operator at heart. I’ve had my fair share of stress being a waitress, dealing with difficult and sometimes abusive customers. It is a tough job, and I know what it’s like to do. But it means I know what ‘great’ looks like, and how to ensure that standards don't slip.”
For the full story, see Pizza to go.