How do major chains make pizza?
April 19, 2011 8:38 AM   Subscribe

How is pizza made at a major chain pizza restaurant?

How is pizza prepared at the major pizza restaurant chains? (Such as Dominos, Pizza Hut, Papa Johns, etc.)

This might seem like an obvious question, but searching for details about the whole process turns up little info and/or random YouTube videos showing how "fast" an employee can throw toppings into a metal ring cover and move down a food prep line.

I wanted to know what is actually made in-house, and what comes pre-made, packaged, frozen, etc? What food prep is involved? How do the ovens work to bake a pizza in a short time? I assume all the major outlets have streamlined this process as much as possible (as all food chains have) -- what is that process? Do delivery drivers also make pizza? How are new employees taught the basics, and how do regular employees learn to make "new" pizza/food items in a constantly evolving and test marketed pizza chain menu?

Can anyone who has worked in this industry share their experiences with this?
posted by jca to Food & Drink (50 answers total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
Why don't you just go to one and ask if you can watch? If you're friendly with the manager they probably won't mind (remember that franchises are often very much not rigid corporate environments).
posted by hermitosis at 8:44 AM on April 19, 2011

Best answer: I used to work at Little Caesars. The sauce came in cans. The dough was made fresh every morning. We actually had two dough recipes, for "rounds" and "squares", the latter of which needed to be "aged" in big round balls in the cooler for a few hours. We had a machine which would flatten these big round balls so you could pop them into pans.

Meats came frozen, onions and green peppers came fresh and we had to smash them in a chopper--this wasn't very fun when it came to onions, it was like getting tear gassed. Olives and so forth came in cans. Cheese came fresh and already grated (speaking of which, the two important things I learned in the pizza business is that cheese is the most expensive ingredient and the one most closely tracked with respect to costs; the other is that they never give you double cheese, there is only extra cheese). There was a truck that would pull up maybe once weekly and drop all this stuff off and perishables would get loaded into the cooler.

The oven cooks quickly because it's extremely hot. You've got somebody popping pizzas in one end and a conveyor belt takes them through the oven in (I think) eight minutes. At the other end, you've got somebody retrieving the pizzas and cutting and packaging them.

Generally, you'd get all your prep done in the morning. Then you'd have one person making pizzas, one person doing random stuff like flattening dough and answering the phone and maybe the counter, and one person cutting and bagging pizzas. Training was usually somebody taking fifteen minutes to show you a new station, though there were occasional regional training events for which you got a star sticker to put on your name tag. Likewise, new recipes were introduced rather informally, though I'm sure there was some official procedure for that on paper, because there were official procedures for everything. There were also laminated signs on the walls telling you about proper pepperoni placement and how to cut certain sized and shaped pizzas.
posted by Nahum Tate at 8:52 AM on April 19, 2011 [12 favorites]

Response by poster: Nahum Tate, thanks -- really appreciate the info. How was "Crazy Bread" prepared/made when you worked at Little Caesars?
posted by jca at 8:57 AM on April 19, 2011

Best answer: Crazy Bread was regular dough. You'd only put it through the "flattener" once to make it oblong (the pizza dough was usually run through twice, the second time perpendicular to the original flattening axis), then you'd run it through the oven. After it came out, you'd brush garlic butter on it and give it a shaking of a cheese mix which I think was parmesan with a little additional salt--I'm almost certain that's the recipe but it sounds insane to me now to add salt to parmesan.
posted by Nahum Tate at 9:00 AM on April 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Short answer: it depends on the chain. For most of them, dough comes premixed dry. It's mixed on-site and prepped daily. Sauce comes in cans, premade. Toppings are fresh, but usually come pre-prepped. (sliced, diced, whatever). Pizza ovens have a large conveyor belt in them. You put raw pizzas in one end, you get cooked pizza out the other. How many pizzas you move out the door is mostly limited by the size of your oven.
posted by cosmicbandito at 9:04 AM on April 19, 2011

Response by poster: Nahum Tate, since Little Ceaser's was/is primarily a carry-out pizza chain, what happened to pizzas that were never picked up or claimed from that day at store closing time? Was there a corporate policy on that?
posted by jca at 9:05 AM on April 19, 2011

Best answer: Here's the process at a full-sized Pizza Hut in Upstate NY as of 2006:

1.) A driver has to do "prep" chores. The most common is prepping the dough, which comes in frozen disks about 1/8" thick. Some pizzas use store-mixed dough, but the standard SM/M/L/XL Pizza Hut dough is frozen (note:I'm only kinda sure about this, I haven't worked there in over 5 years now). The driver has to squirt a certain amount of veggie oil into the pan depending on what size the pizza is. They then drop the disk into the pan and toss a lid on it. Usually we'd do about 40-80 of each size, each night, unless lunch was going to be busy. I'm pretty sure the lunch drivers had to do this too.

2.) About 2 hours before it's needed, the prepped pans get moved from the freezer to the proofer. It's a big metal box kept at about 85 degrees. The dough grows approx. 4× in 1½ hours. After the proofer, we'd put the dough underneath the pizza station.

3.) Orders would pop up on a shitty dot-matrix printer above the pizza station. Basically, you bust out the correct sized blank dough, throw a color-coded ring onto it to ensure a nice, round crust. Each size has a color-coded sauce ladle, a color-coded cheese cup, and color-coded meat/veggie cups. After a while nobody actually uses these.

4.) Everything goes through the pizza oven. Wings, pasta, breadsticks. Everything. Ours was set at around 850 degrees and 6½ minutes. Wings would go through twice.

5.) Pizza gets to the cutting table. We used a double-handed round knife to cut. Most pizzas get 4 cuts to make 8 slices. XL got 5 to make 10.


All meats come in frozen. Cheese comes in frozen. All veggies that aren't canned come in frozen. There is literally no fresh food prep. Our manager bought anchovies out of his own pocket. We'd get an order for anchovies maybe once a week and it was always the worst. The sauce came in cans, if I remember correctly.


The driver makes most of the pizzas during off-peak hours. In NYS a driver has to be at least 18 y/o. During lunch or dinner they usually have a poor high-school kid frantically cranking out pizza. On really slow nights, I'd be making, cutting, and driving all of the pizzas. If your pizza takes more than an hour or so on a Tuesday night, that's why.

The driver gets the delivery charge, tips, and minimum wage. Drivers will fight over the big deliveries and the quick deliveries. Older drivers have all sorts of weird tricks to get the deliveries that they want.

To learn the new stuff there were these little laminated cards they put up everywhere. Usually the manager would just show the morning people how to do it, and they'd explain how it actually worked to me. Needless to say, these never lasted long, so we never really got good at making them. Nobody seemed to care.

I remember our manager had to make fresh dough for something, but I can't for the life of me remember what it was. I don't think it was the regular deep-dish dough, but I could be wrong.

We weren't actually supposed to hand-toss the hand-tossed pizza. We were supposed to stretch it out on the screen with our fingers. Everybody tossed it.

All the food there is fucking COVERED in spray oil.

The back half of the store—at every pizzeria I've worked at, chain or otherwise—smells like weed all the time.

Unclaimed pizzas go to the crew.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:10 AM on April 19, 2011 [12 favorites]

OH WAIT. I totally misremembered the oven temp. I'm pretty sure it was around 650 or so.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:13 AM on April 19, 2011

Take a look at this Serious Eats post on the Domino's dough factory.
posted by veggieboy at 9:13 AM on April 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Godfather's Pizza, Charlotte, NC, mid 80s. Nahum Tate's experience was closer to mine--fresh dough (the Hobart!), fresh cheese, everything else canned. Big laminated signs above every station, including one at the end of the conveyor-belt oven to show what a properly cooked pizza looked like (the cheese should be lightly toasted). We were instructed to skimp on everything except cheese, and pepperoni on a pepperoni-only pizza. Unclaimed pizzas to the crew, plus we got to make ourselves personal pizzas on every shift. We had a few sandwiches on the menu at the time, but no crazy bread or stuffed crusts or anything. And, yes, anchovies were the worst (and I like anchovies).

OH, those conveyor-belt ovens. Open on both ends. The pizza-cutting guy would take a pizza out, turn around, then cut it on a large board, meaning he was never more than a foot or two away from the non-closing door of an 850-degree oven. It was the easiest, but crappiest, assignment, in my opinion.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:19 AM on April 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

OH, those conveyor-belt ovens. Open on both ends...

Cutting was alright in the winter (we had to wear our uniform T-shirt, and the store would get really cold), but it was hell in the summer. Except for the manager, everybody would hang out in the back until we'd get an order.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:25 AM on April 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Never worked at a pizza place, but my roommate in college did and he would "suggest" we call in pizzas about half an hour prior to closing and not pick up. Miraculously, he would come home with the very two types of pizza we had called in. Every time. Only did it about once every two or three weeks.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:25 AM on April 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: JohnnyGunn, the reason I asked about Little Caesars policy on unclaimed orders is that when I was in high school we would stop by Little Caesars just before closing time and pay for an order of Crazy Bread and they would give us whatever pizza had not been picked up. I was under the impression it was headed for the garage because all the employees had long grown tired of taking home leftovers.
posted by jca at 9:31 AM on April 19, 2011

Mod note: This is a response from an anonymous commenter.
I work for Domino's!

Pizza dough is shipped to us from the supplier in trays of pre-formed blobs of different sizes -- small through extra large. We let it "proof" or rise a little and store it in the walk-in refrigerator along with all the other food. The pizza toppings are shipped to us as well, and every morning food prep involves pouring the fresh toppings into the little containers for the pizza makeline. Pretty much everything is shipped cold or nearly-frozen. Cheese comes pre-shredded, mushrooms come pre-sliced, sausage and beef come in those little nubbins. Green peppers, onions, banana peppers, pineapple, and a few other toppings I can't think of come fresh but in bags, already chopped, so there's no need to chop them ourselves. Pizza sauce comes in plastic bags, concentrated, and must be mixed with water very precisely so as not to make watery or too-thick sauce. Anchovies come in little boxes with foil inside.

When an order is placed over the phone, we follow a script. "Thank you for choosing Domino's, this is [Name], how can I help you?" The computer interface is pretty simple to learn. When they're done, always try to upsell with chicken wings, breadsticks, drinks, dessert. Then labels pop out of a laser printer, each item with its own label and details of what's on or in it. At the same time, the details pop up on the order screen for the people making the pizza. The person in front will put the labels on boxes and set them up facing the oven.

The employee making the pizza will hand-toss a blob of dough of whatever size pizza is wanted, then spread it on the appropriately-sized pizza tray, add the sauce, cheese, toppings, etc. according to the topping distribution charts we have. Like if it's just a pepperoni pizza, you get 40 slices of pepperoni, but if it's pepperoni and something else, you get a little less pepperoni to make room for the other topping(s). Then they slide the tray into the opening of the oven. The oven is set at 440 degrees and the pizza goes through on the conveyor belt in about six to eight minutes. Somebody keeps an eye on it in case a bubble forms in the dough, and reaches in with a long pokey thing to pop them if they do. When it comes out, somebody adds a drizzle of garlic oil on the crust, cuts it (double-handed round knife, cut with a rocking motion into eight slices), and boxes it.

Thin-crust and deep dish pizza dough comes premade, so there's no tossing or shaping necessary, just toppings and putting it in the oven. Thin-crust is cut into squares rather than slices.

Basically the drivers do everything except actually make the pizza, but do food prep, phones, cleaning, washing dishes, manning the ovens, and everything else. Insiders do everything except delivery.

Breadsticks, Cinnastix, and Cheesy Bread are regular dough that's rolled out into a different shape, run through with a wheel cutter that "perforates" it so it can be pulled into pieces, and sent through the oven just like a pizza (with cheese on top if it's Cheesy Bread). When it comes out, butter and garlic seasoning or cinnamon sugar are added, along with whatever dipping cup(s) the customer ordered.

Chicken wings are prepped on foil with a little butter spray to keep them from sticking. Four drumsticks on the bottom, four wings on top (sometimes 3 and 5 if there's an overabundance of one or the other). The wings are carefully examined so we don't stick somebody with tiny wings, or anything with bone sticking out. The foil is folded up tightly and they're placed in the cooler until needed, then the foil is opened up and the wings spread out and they're sent through the oven like everything else, plain. Sauce is drizzled on them when they come out, and whatever dipping cup(s) they wanted are stuck in the box. Boneless chicken is prepped on foil but without the butter spray, eight pieces, same examination for size.

If somebody orders a pizza with special instructions, like they want it well-done or they want ten slices instead of eight, or don't want the garlic oil, the person who took the order will put a plastic fork in the box. This tells the person manning the oven "Hey, check the label, there's something special about this pizza" so they don't mess up the pizza. If it does get messed up, they call for a remake, and the mistake pizza is usually set aside for the employees to eat, but you don't get away with this very often and if you make a habit of it (or any other repeated screwups) you're likely to get your hours cut. If a customer never picks up their pizza, or isn't home when we try to deliver, those are up for grabs as well.

We also make oven-baked sandwiches -- the bread comes fresh, but we have to hand-slice each loaf ourselves. We usually slice 24 of them at a time, about every other day or so, so it doesn't sit around too long. The sandwiches are made by placing the bread on waxy parchment paper, cut sides up, with toppings and a fold of paper over the top half, then sent through the oven like everything else and cut in half when it comes out.

We also make pasta in breadbowls. The pasta is ordinary pre-cooked nearly-frozen pasta, which is prepped by hand sorting it into 4-ounce baggies and kept in the walk-in. The dough is ordinary pizza dough shaped into a bowl, with the pasta and whatever sauce inside. Bread bowls go through the oven and then are pushed back in a little ways for an extra minute or two of cooking, then garlic oil is put around the edge like a pizza before boxing.

Everything is learned by standing around watching and eventually doing it yourself. Drivers have to go on five ride-alongs with another driver before they can drive alone. We charge $1.99 per delivery, but $5.00 to the really way-out places of our delivery area. All cash, credit card slips, checks, and gift certificates are placed in a lockbox with your name on it when you get back from a delivery, so that you never carry more than $20.00 at a time. Drivers are reimbursed 26 cents per mile every day -- you write down your starting mileage at the start of your shift, and give the manager your ending mileage when you're cashing out. The mileage reimbursement is tax-free, doesn't show up anywhere on your pay stubs, it's basically taken out of whatever you "owe" the store at the end of your shift. Of course you keep all tips. While driving, you make $4.25 and hour, but while in the store you make normal minimum wage. Doesn't matter how long you've been there, every driver is paid the same. Drivers are timed, clocking out on each delivery and clocking back in when the get back. You take turns with deliveries, no exceptions, no fighting about who gets the big orders. Last one to clock in is the last one to go back out, period. If you're efficient and get your deliveries done fast, you'll be able to deliver more, and you're rewarded with more hours. The manager posts reports periodically on how well the drivers are doing with regard to delivery time. Everybody knows who the best and worst drivers are.

Working at a pizza place is a lot more hard work than most people probably think, especially if you have a good work ethic and care about keeping things clean and doing a good job. It's a ton of fun, though.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:36 AM on April 19, 2011 [114 favorites]

Anonymous commenter describes the exact process of pizza preparation at Papa John's when I worked at one a little less than a decade ago.

The only skill requirement of employees that approaching anything close to cooking technique was the ability to hand-toss the dough.
posted by schroedinger at 9:39 AM on April 19, 2011

Worked for a Mr. Gotti's chain store in the mid-90's. We made our own dough (although from a prepared mix). This was a pain, having to get there at 6 or 7 in the morning to start the mixing in what is essentially a gigantic Kitchen-Aid.
posted by kuanes at 9:56 AM on April 19, 2011

I worked at a Domino's in college, my experience was similar to mr annymouse, except:

* Our sauce came in cans, no additional mixing required
* We bought our veggies and beef from the local grocery store, did the chopping in-house.
* We often ran out of dough-blobs before our next delivery, and the store owner/manager would often send us on hour long drives to the next nearest town's store that had extra they were willing to sell us.
* Depending on how busy a shift was, I might only be a driver for the day, or I might drive and make pies, everyone answered phones.
posted by nomisxid at 9:59 AM on April 19, 2011

The back half of the store—at every pizzeria I've worked at, chain or otherwise—smells like weed all the time.

I can confirm this due to many high school weeknights spent with Pizza Gnomes.
posted by The Whelk at 9:59 AM on April 19, 2011

I worked at a Papa John's in the mid 90s. The only real difference from what I remember and the detailed Domino's post above was that PJ's sauce can canned and we added a 5 lb spice pack to a few cans dumped into a 5 gallon paint bucket and mixed it with a power drill. The spice pack looked like a huge bag of pot, but it was really mostly sugar, with some oregano. The drivers there were a lot less organized, we didn't clock in/out for each trip or anything like that. We didn't get mileage directly, we got a percentage of our deliveries paid to us as "mileage."

And every driver that had been there a while knew exactly who tipped well, and who didn't. And it absolutely affected your service. If you were those 2 stoner kids that called every Saturday night around midnight and never, ever tipped the driver, it even affected the ingredients in your pizza.

What I'm saying is don't fuck with the pizza delivery guy. He will win, every time.
posted by COD at 10:32 AM on April 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I won't comment on how it is made, but I will comment on some mechanics and how fast it happens. The pace of a high-volume pizza place is insane, especially to someone who has never experienced a "rush".

I worked in a Hungry Howies during college and the two guys who owned it had 15 years each in the business. They taught me how to work VERY fast.

A few examples:

1) Doug Prep - We would cut, weigh, and roll our own dough portions to then be placed on trays in the walk-in. If you were an expert, you could cut out small, medium, and large portions with 1-2 cuts and weighing it was hardly necessary. It was all feel. You would then roll 2 dough balls at a time, one in each hand to double your output. This actually took a lot of skill but if you learned the correct technique you could bang out a huge batch of dough in minutes.

2) Sheeting - We had a machine that would take the dough balls and flatten them out to then be slapped out to stretch it to fit in the pans ( tossing is a horrible technique ). If you were good, you could feed one dough ball in the top of the sheeter while simulataneously catching the dough ball coming out of the bottom with your other hand. The difference between an expert and a new trainee is ridiculous. We are talking like 10x as efficient.

3) Topping - The "pie board" was were everyone wanted to be. If there is a totem pole in the back of a pizza joint, the pie board is it. Once you mastered everything else, you could become the second man on the pie board. Depending on how busy you were, you could have 1, 2, or 3 guys on the pie board. How it worked was the main guy would sauce and cheese first. Like everything else, it is amazing how fast you can really do this. My boss taught me this trick which took weeks to learn on how to apply diced cheese to a pizza. Instead of sprinkling it on with a measured cup, you essentailly poured the cheese from the cup into your opposite hand and flicked your wrist. If you did it right, you would spread the cheese over the pizza in a split second. If was yoda type shit. Only a few people ever mastered it, and if you did, you got to be the lead man on the pie board. If it wasn't too busy, you could work the pie board yourself. You are supposed to weigh all your toppings, but if you did it enough, you could do it by feel. The manager chose based on skill who got to skip the scales. It was like a right of passage. Either way, you cannot believe how fast really good pizza makers can top a pizza. It was not uncommon to have a 20-30 order backlog. It would get to the point where you would beg the manager to take the phones off the hook. Usually, in a bad rush, head guy sauces and cheeses, second guy puts on the 'counted' toppings ( pepperoni, ham ), and a third guy put on the veg, sausage, etc.

4) Cut and box - If you work in a conveyor oven configuration, shit gets real hectic in the rush at this station. If you are busy, there are no gaps on the conveyor, and you may have two conveyors or more going at once. Usually one guy handled this station and no one fucked with him. This took a lot of communication, concentration, because you had to match the pizza coming out with the boxes / tickets as well as check that the pie board didn't screw up. Then you had to get the pizzas out of the pan, and get them cut and boxed. When you have 40 orders on deck, you can imagine how fast you have to go. If you were good you could cut a large pizza, which took 6 cuts, in about 4 seconds.

If you want granular detail, send me a Mefi Mail.
posted by jasondigitized at 10:36 AM on April 19, 2011 [16 favorites]

Pizza Making has a lot of these. Here's a Pizza Hut guy describing the process, including just how much "food release" they spray on everything.
posted by milkrate at 10:37 AM on April 19, 2011

Response by poster: If you want granular detail, send me a Mefi Mail.

jasondigitized, thanks, appreciate the offer. If you would like, would love for you to share any more "granular details" (that you are comfortable doing so publicly) in this thread -- that's what AskMeFi is for. ;)
posted by jca at 10:44 AM on April 19, 2011

My experience as a Little Caesar's employee in the late eighties matches Nahum Tate's pretty closely. I only ever worked evenings, and I remember having to clean the giant dough-mixing machine that the day crew had left dirty. It always made me mad that I had to clean it, but experienced none of the joy of operating what looked like a pretty fun contraption. But I definitely remember that horrible vegetable chopper.

I spent a lot of time as a new employee running doughballs through the flattener. The joke was to ask the new guy to go in the cooler to get a "dough patch" when a dough disc came out with a hole in it.

It seemed like there was some stuff (maybe the Crazy Bread?) that was run only halfway through the oven. There was a window in the side that you could open to slide something in for a shortnened cooking time.
posted by Shohn at 10:58 AM on April 19, 2011

FWIW, a lot of the newer (or recently remodeled) Costcos have a big glass window that looks into the pizza prep area where you can watch the process from dough ball to baked 'za which includes seeing the really cool semi-automated dough press machines in action.
posted by jamaro at 10:58 AM on April 19, 2011

I worked as a driver at a DoubleDave's a number of years ago, and my experience was very nearly exactly the same as the anonymous Domino's persons, with a couple of exceptions.

- We had a huge dough-mixer and made our own dough every morning, and then separated it into the various-sized blobs (the drivers never opened so I wasn't directly involved in that process, but that was quite a machine (something like this and almost as tall as me.)

- We made our sauce as well, from canned tomato paste and pre-mixed spice packets. Likewise we chopped our own vegetables. Everything got made not too far ahead of time, and stored in the huge walk-in freezer until it was moved to the food prep area.

- The pay scale was a little different - the drivers got paid minimum wage all the time, unless we worked a shift where we were specifically not drivers. (Then we got waitstaff wages - we had a walk-in restaurant with a buffet. That was much, much less lucrative.)

- We got reimbursed $1 per delivery rather than mileage.

- I worked in two different stores - one had the fancy box-label printer and one still used handwritten order slips. This was 2003-ish.

Anyway, hope that helps.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:24 AM on April 19, 2011

I worked at a pizza place in high school. It was not a chain, so this doesn't speak directly to your question, but it's good pizza and is still open today, some 18 years later. We made the dough fresh every morning and hand tossed it and all of that. We got fresh produce delivered daily for some things (peppers and tomatoes for sure, maybe some others) and other things delivered twice weekly (celery, carrots, onions) and we cut them all fresh twice a day; once in the morning for the dine in crowd and once in the afternoon for the night delivery business. That was the ebb and flow of the business incidentally: dine-in for lunch and delivery or carryout in the evening. The pepperoni came frozen and already sliced. All of the different sausage and hamburger meats we used we prepared once a week and froze for reuse the rest of the week. The canadian bacon we sliced ourselves. The cheese we shredded over the pizza when it was ordered. It never came frozen or preshredded. So basically, we did everything just like the chains do, only opposite.
posted by holdkris99 at 11:37 AM on April 19, 2011

jca, my brother is a manager at Little Caesar's and the policy at his store, anyway, is to first offer un-picked up orders at a substantial discount (like $2 for a large pizza w/toppings) to other customers. If there are no takers, he brings them home (or calls me up and asks "Are you guys hungry? Wanna free pizza?")
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:48 AM on April 19, 2011

I worked at a couple of smaller places in the 1980s/90s, and the major difference was that we mixed up ingredients on-site instead of getting them from a warehouse.

Dough was made the day before and proofed overnight in the walk-in cooler. Sauce was mixed up from endless cans of tomatoes plus fistfuls of spices (and stirred up by a small, bearded dude who stuck his whole arm into a 20-gallon plastic tub and allllmost got his armpit hair into the stufff *gag*). Some toppings came in footlocker-sized boxes from Sysco (fresh mushrooms), while other things were bought whole and chopped up by the glum, mustachioed prep cook in the basement kitchen. The spinach-garlic-butter mixture was the grossest to see made, but it tasted divine; I still mix this up at home once in a while.

The automatic oven was cool. We did a food festival one summer where we rented a stack of gas ovens, and the drunk/hungover manager turned them up to 800 degrees while preheating them. It was 104 one of the three days, where I stood cutting deep-dish pizzas for hour after hour in front of the 800-degree oven, and I am pretty sure I lost considerable weight despite eating as much pizza and bartered-for iced coffe as I could fit in my mouth. Ah, those were the days.

I got to cut pizzas sometimes when I was driving. We had a knife that looked like the industrial cutter from a print shop: it was a blade two feet long with a full handle at one end and a welded-on grip at the other. You could probbaly split wood with it, but we just hacked up pizzas.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:00 PM on April 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A little bit of minutae:

- To prevent bubbles when pizzas go through the oven, you perforate the crust before applying the sauce with a rolling perforator.

- Someone spends a lot of time folding boxes. When you are selling 400 pizzas a night, it is a near full-time job to take a stack of unfolded pizza boxes and fold them into shape. Finding the space to store all of these is important when you are planning store layout.

- Store layout is very important if you are striving for efficiency. Everything should flow from dough prep, sheeting, pie board, cut & box, dispatch.

- Operators hate delivery but it is a necessary evil. Insurance and logistics are a pain in the ass. It is far easier to have customers pick-up their pizzas and smart operators will get very creative in incentivizing pick-ups.

- Throwing / Tossing pizzas is way to slow in high-volume. You typically use a sheeter which flattens out a dough ball. You then slap it, which is basically like throwing it back and forth between your two open hands. It actually takes some practice. Once you slap it, you place it in the right sized pan, and then let it proof before you sauce and cheese it.

- If you are anticipating being really busy, you will sauce and cheese a shit load of pizzas before your rush.

- Superbowl is the busiest day of the year. If you are a smart operator, you know your trends and can analyze the shit out of your data to determine demand.

- Keeping your labor costs tight is all about understanding your trends. You ramp up staff during rush, and cut aggressively when you start getting slow. This is a fine art. If you cut aggressively you better hope you don't get an unexpected slam. Really good operators can work with a skeleton crew, get slammed, and have the place clean and locked up within 15 minutes of closing your doors.

- Cheese is your number one cost. Fortunes have been made and lost based on the cheese market. Measuring the amount of cheese you put on a pizza is very important in controlling food cost.

- You eat a shit load of pizza when you work in the business. If you work on the pie board, you also snack on toppings all day long. God damn I ate alot of yellow pepper rings.

- When you sauce and cheese on pizza as fast as we did, you put rings on the pan which prevent you from spilling sauce on the edges. It is kind of like a guide.

I could go on for hours. It is a fascinating little business. Not much to it really, but it is a multi-billion dollar market. Once your learn operations, it becomes quite repetitive and mundane. Staying sane requires you to focus on marketing / expansion.
posted by jasondigitized at 12:46 PM on April 19, 2011 [8 favorites]

You know, one big difference in my pizza-making experience is that we didn't deliver. This was mid-80s, and Dominoes was about the only place that did that. We had a few pickup orders, but mostly it was order-at-the-counter-then-wait-while-having-a-beer sort of thing, which drastically cut down on the busy-ness of the kitchen. Folks expect to wait a bit for a meal in a sit-down restaurant, so the kitchen was actually a fun, almost casual place with loud music and much horseplay. We never pre-sauced pizzas or even pre-folded boxes.

Hell, at least that's how I remember it. This was a long time ago. Rose-colored glasses and all...
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:06 PM on April 19, 2011

Not sure if Anonymous Domino's Guy is still around in this thread, but I'd really like to know how their online ordering system and the online pizza tracker work, from the store side. How are the web orders received in the store and how different is it from phone orders? How is the Domino's system integrated down to the individual store so that the messages "Rakeem has just put your pizza in the oven" and "Jesus has just left the shop with your order" are visible on the web? Is every pizza logged throughout the process, and every employee that touches it "checks in" somehow? It's a pretty interesting system (and through it I found out that a Domino's shop I sometimes order from when I'm in Burlington, MA is basically 100% staffed with fellow Brazilians).
posted by falameufilho at 1:18 PM on April 19, 2011

As a pizza consumer, I find this very interesting.
I would like to know if the drivers or any of those in the back smoking weed ever wash their hands?
posted by Drasher at 1:44 PM on April 19, 2011

As a pizza consumer, I find this very interesting.
I would like to know if the drivers or any of those in the back smoking weed ever wash their hands?

Honestly? Usually only after using the bathroom. Everything goes through a 600+ degree oven. I'm sure food safety is a much bigger deal depending on where you live, how old the franchise is, etc. I don't even remember there being any rubber gloves at our franchise.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 1:55 PM on April 19, 2011

I've driven for two places, Marco's and The Back Room in Ann Arbor.

At Marco's, it was pretty much like the Little Skeezers description above, except that we made the dough fresh from a mix every morning. I became a pizza box ninja.

At Back Room everything was made from scratch for a while, then new owners took over and started buying ingredients from GFS. Backroom's walk-in business meant that it didn't matter that hand-tossing was slower, because the oven was always full to capacity all the time anyway, so you were always just tossing more pizzas.

If I might ask, why so curious? It might jog my memory to get specifics, since most of what I remember unprompted isn't recipes as much as shenanigins.
posted by klangklangston at 3:15 PM on April 19, 2011

Isn't there anyone to chime in from Round Table? That's my favourite and I'd love to read how they work pizza.
posted by deborah at 8:36 PM on April 19, 2011

At a (the) large Pizza Hut franchisee, they started using frozen dough around 12 years ago and never looked back. They even went so far as to sell all the mixers. Toppings come in a box from the same warehouse the dough does. At one time in the past, store managers were free to source veggies from local suppliers, but that went away a few years back.

So basically you prep everything but pan by taking the frozen puck, tossing it on the appropriate pan (thin crust has holes in it), spray the outside of the puck of dough with food release, put a lid on top, and stack. Once you've prepped the appropriate amount of dough, it goes in the proofer for a while. Pan is the same, but with a bunch of oil in the pan. 2 white squirts for medium, 3 blue for large, IIRC.

After the time in the proofer is up, the dough goes in the walk-in. It's good for about a day before it has to be tossed.

Breadsticks are the same as pan dough, just in a square pan instead of round.

To make the pizza, if it's thin or hand tossed, you roll the spiky thing over the dough, then throw a ring on it (to keep the toppings off the "crust"), ladle the sauce with the ladle sized for the given pizza size, and spread it out. Next you put the bottom cheese on with the appropriate size cup. Next you put "bottom" toppings on, which IIRC is most everything but pepperoni, using the nifty little pictures as a guide. Then you use the correct sized cheese cup for the size of the pizza to measure the top cheese and spread it out on the pizza. Then you put the pepperoni on, if the order calls for it. I forget the exact count, but there is an exact count.

Once the pizza is assembled, you put in the forced-air oven, which cooks for about 7 minutes, but that and the temperature varies depending on the specific store's oven. Certain non-pizza products get tossed in the little window in the side of the oven for a half trip instead of a full trip through.

Once it reaches the end of the belt, you pull it off, possible put sprinkles or something on it, depending on the particular product, cut it, box it, and throw it in a hot bag with the ticket. At some point, a driver comes along and takes the pizza out the door in the bag or the customer comes along and asks for their pizza.

Note: I've never worked there, I've just helped out friends. ;)
posted by wierdo at 9:12 PM on April 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

My experience working at Domino's was slightly different, though that may be due to the fact it was very recently (2010) and in New Zealand.

All the dough we used was made in-store in the mornings and pre-flattened into pans and left to proof instore for a while, then wheeled into the walk in refrigerator on a big trolley.

Also the order system was computerized, meaning that once the order was taken on the computer it went to another screen above the make bench (where all the toppings and sauces were), showing all the custom adjustments (if there were any). Once the pizza had been made and the order "bumped" (cleared) off the screen the receipt would print and put in the pile of receipts of orders to be cut.

My main memories of working there were the crazy Saturday nights we would get with about 13 people working in a very small store for the rush period, and then later on in the night the drunk people coming in and getting outrageous pizzas, and giving outrageous tips too.

Yep, don't miss it a bit..
posted by midnightbarber at 3:57 AM on April 20, 2011

...I'd really like to know how their online ordering system and the online pizza tracker work, from the store side.

I drove for Domino's in the late '90s when this system was first introduced. I hope for Anonymous's sake they have a better system now. Back then, when someone placed the order online they system called you and gave a recorded message with the appropriate toppings and you entered it in the register just like any other order. It was AWFUL. You couldn't put it on hold, so picture this: All six lines are in use. You're halfway through an order on line 1 when you realize the last line has lit back up with a new caller and it has rung 5 or six times. You ask the person you're currently talking to to hold for a couple seconds, your goal being to switch over just to say, "Thank you for choosing Domino's, please hold," because otherwise they're going to hang up and probably complain to someone that no one took their call. You switch over and say, "Thank y-" and that automated message starts playing and your heart sinks, because now your options are to either let the recording play out and upset your line 1 caller, or switch and completely screw the online orderer because if you hang up on the recording it won't call back!

I'm sure they've fixed it by now. I mean, they're still in business.
posted by solotoro at 6:20 AM on April 20, 2011

you roll the spiky thing over the dough
The spiky thing is a docker; the process you describe is docking.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:37 AM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mod note: This is a followup from that same anonymous commenter.
The connection between the Domino's online ordering system and the "pizza tracker" is tenuous, but the thing to keep in mind is that almost everything we do is timed and tracked in the computer for reports. Like how long you spend on the phone taking each order -- you have to "clock in" on the computer when you answer the phone and take the order, and click "Finish" when the order's finished, and the computer records that it was you and how long you took. Usually, if possible, somebody else has looked over your shoulder at your computer screen and already started making the pizza while you talk to the customer, so as to cut the time down as much as possible. For Internet orders, a loud chime sounds throughout the store letting the insiders know the order's on the makeline screen, and the labels print out automatically.

Once you click "Finish" or an Internet order comes through, the order goes to the makeline screen, and when the pizza is done being made the maker hits "enter" on that keyboard, and the computer notes the time between when the phone or Internet order was taken to the time the other employee cleared it off the makeline screen. There's no way to really know which person made the pizza, as the insiders don't clock in at the makeline, but there's usually only two insiders in the store anyway, tops.

Anyway, at the same time the maker cleared the order on the makeline and stuck it in the oven, the order pops up on the dispatch screen for the drivers, with a ticking timer next to each order indicating how long it's been since the order was initially placed. Once the pizza comes out of the oven and is cut and boxed, the driver puts it in a hot bag and "clocks out," announcing out loud the time since the order was placed: "Driver out at 10:12" or however many minutes it has been (ten to fifteen being the ideal; after 15 minutes it's considered "late"). This is the "out the door" time. All these little punches of the clock are noted in the computer, which is vaguely connected to the main Domino's pizza tracker, but it doesn't seem to always update in exact realtime, and once the driver's out the door, that's the end of any real tracking anyway. The computer estimates an approximate delivery time when the customer places an order, whether online or by phone, but it's usually WAY off. Especially because we're encouraged to learn shortcuts in the area, avoid traffic lights at all costs, etc. I delivered to one house where they were completely unprepared for my knock at the door because they were watching the tracker and it said the order was still in the oven and they thought it would take twenty more minutes to deliver.

Regarding delivery versus carryout, we are strongly encouraged to get people to take deliveries; in fact, in the phone script we are to "assume" the order is for delivery unless the customer says otherwise: "And what's your delivery address?" or "And will this be going to 1234 Main Street, #34?" If they want carryout, they have to say so. For one thing, as I said before, drivers are paid more while they're hanging around the store not driving, so it's more cost-effective to have them out on the road as much as possible. Also, for the most part, only a small amount of the $1.99/$5.00 delivery fees are needed to compensate the drivers for their mileage, so the rest is profit to the store. (Speaking of the mileage compensation, it always more than pays for the gas I burn over the course of the day, even when I have a bunch of way-out-there deliveries. If gas prices go up much farther, that may change, though.)

When there's downtime (usually between about one and four in the afternoon), employees will top and fold boxes. Topping means taking the flat pizza boxes and gluing a flyer or menu to the top of each one. One person will hold a stack of boxes up with one hand and apply a dab of glue with the other, while the other person slaps a flyer on it, one box at a time. Once they're all topped they can be folded, which is boring but you can do it with your eyes shut once you learn how.

During the evening rush on weekends, we do make a small number of "floats" -- pre-tossed and sauced pizzas which are placed on a rack above the makeline, so as to cut down on processing time during the high-volume times when lots of people just want a single pepperoni pizza. No full pizzas are ever pre-made, though.

jasondigitized is absolutely right about cheese being the number one cost. We've had several sharp notes from the owner scribbled on weekly cost reports telling us to weigh the pizzas and be more careful about too much cheese being used.

At least where I work, nobody smokes weed in or around the store. In fact, the only one who smokes on the job at all is the GM, who goes out the back door for cigarette breaks. Our store owner makes frequent visits, and we have absolutely no way of knowing when he's going to pop in.

We're all very good about washing our hands or at least frequently using the hand sanitizer that is stationed at dispensers all over the store. One reason being that cameras are stationed all over the store and the manager and owner are known to keep an eye on us and will reprimand us if we're caught being gross. The makeline, oven, and cutting areas can be seen from the lobby, too.

When pizzas are being made, naturally a lot of spare cheese and other toppings fall off the edges because they're being made so fast. None of those topping are wasted, though, because they fall through a grid into a shallow tray on the makeline, and when the insiders have time, they pull out the trays and carefully put all the extra toppings and loose cheese back into their containers. Nobody ever snacks on toppings, because, again, cameras.

Corn flour gets everywhere. A big bowl of it is kept at the head of the makeline, and each pizza dough is plopped into the bowl before tossing (I forgot to mention that part above), and the flour is spread on the counter as well, and it gets absolutely everywhere and we all end up tracking it all over the store.

We open at eleven in the morning, with one day manager and two drivers. Lunch rush is usually brief but hectic, and usually more drivers don't start coming in until 4:30 for the dinner rush. Closing shift is weird, it can get really insanely busy after ten or eleven o'clock (we close at midnight, and 1AM on weekends). Typically only two drivers are kept for the night shift, and they're responsible for sweeping, mopping, taking out the trash (lots), washing all the dishes, scrubbing pizza debris off the oven conveyor belts, and wiping down and sanitizing everything. The process usually starts around nine or ten. By 10:30, if things seem slow, one driver will be let go. The one remaining driver will often have to take some double deliveries for the late night rush (doubles are frowned upon, at least at my store, but sometimes they're necessary when there just aren't enough drivers to handle the load). At this point the night manager, who is the only other one left in the store, will start stretching out the estimated delivery time on phone orders. Tips are really good in the late night shift. When we close, the driver goes with the manager to the bank to make the night deposit together, then they can go home.

We don't get free pizza, though opening and closing drivers are entitled to a free order of breadsticks for an "on the clock" meal. I used to wait until the end of my shift and take mine home with me, but apparently some people complained and I'm not allowed to do that anymore. We do get 30% off the menu price of everything but drinks if we want to order anything.

When I applied for this job, the application consisted of a little form asking for my name, address, and shift availability times. Even in the interview, no questions were asked about my previous job experience. I honestly believe I got in on charm and presentation alone. However, it was made clear that efficiency is the one thing that lets us hold onto our jobs. There's no seniority -- my co-worker who's been with Domino's for ten years gets no special treatment (and in fact got punished with cut hours recently for some minor issue of some sort). All that matters to them is whether you can do the job quickly, efficiently, and well.

I love my job. I get to make people happy all day, they're always glad to see me, and I come home smelling like pizza. And it pays pretty well, when you get right down to it.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:51 AM on April 20, 2011 [6 favorites]

doubles are frowned upon, at least at my store, but sometimes they're necessary when there just aren't enough drivers to handle the load

Wow, anonymous's experiences up until that line sounded just like an updated version of mine with only slight variations. But at our store getting as many tickets as you could on a single run was the whole game; that's why it paid to know every address without having to look at the map. You could run down the screen and say "Well, the oldest order that hasn't been assigned yet is going to 513 Longwood, and 36 P St NW are on the loop back to the store." But you had to balance geographic proximity against whether that third order (which might be 6th, 7th, 10th, whatever on the list) would hold up the pie that needs to get out the door right now, or whether even though order 4 (I think the most I ever took on one run was 5) is on your way back it'd get there faster if you left it for the next guy who was also going to probably pass it based on the one(s) you're skipping. Like restless_nomad we got a dollar a ticket so only having one ticket per run would have seriously decreased what I made.
posted by solotoro at 1:09 PM on April 20, 2011 [4 favorites]

I worked as a delivery driver for Domino's for a year, and Anonymous's description is so similar to my experience that I have to wonder if we worked at the same shop. At our shop, double and triple deliveries were nearly standard, and on crazy nights when the shop was crashing I would at times take up to five deliveries in a run. We had more insiders, so there was less prep for the drivers. I think the insiders and managers did just about all the cleaning. Aside from driving (where you get to relax in the car, no matter what's going on in the shop) my favorite role was working the cut table, sorting items from the oven into boxes and collating orders to go out. Folding boxes did get really boring, but you could have races. This was a job for drivers, and since most of the staff was more comfortable in Spanish than English, the constant call for more boxes to be folded was "Cajas, cajas!"

There were a lot of dead pizzas floating around, and I usually had dinner at work. You could make a lot of money on a busy shift, but you had to drive your own car and the job put a lot of miles on it. I drove a car that my parents gave me for a graduation present; I never kept track of the numbers, but chances are that wear and tear and depreciation on the car made it a losing game. Certainly the drivers who were middle-aged and supporting themselves with the job were driving beaters; to a certain extent drivers who use up their nice cars at work add up to a big subsidy for the company.
posted by lostburner at 1:09 PM on April 20, 2011

I've worked at Pizza Hut (inside) and Domino's (delivery), and I can confirm anonymous' statements. Pizza Hut does things almost exactly the same way, with some slight variations in the details. The worst job to have is cleaning the sauce pot at the end of the night, and you can't ever get the smell of the place out of your clothes. Working inside the store was pretty horrible (grease all over your body, that smell, tedious monotonous work, lousy pay), but being a driver is great (hang out in your car listening to music, great money, get to meet all kinds of people). At the store I worked in, we got multiple free pizzas pretty much daily because there were always orders not picked up, screw ups, etc. At Pizza Hut, we also used to get a free Personal Pan on break when working a full shift.
posted by nzero at 2:32 PM on April 20, 2011

This is all very interesting. None of the pizza shops I know around here are run with this level of, how can I put it, maximization. But I will say this: (Australian) Domino's is not the epitome of pie.
posted by flippant at 4:48 PM on April 20, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great responses -- marked a few "best answers", but a lot of great comments/details in the entire thread from everyone.
posted by jca at 10:47 AM on April 21, 2011

I also work at Dominos.

Our anchovies arrive in little tins, and we do have to cut the pre-packaged chicken. We don't put plastic forks into boxes if there's a special order, but I'll mention this to management tomorrow. We don't have a laser printer for labels; it's thermal, proven by the fact that labels left in my hot car in summer tend to blacken. Other than these things, I can largely confirm what anonymous says.

There is one major difference between our store and anonymous' statements. We don't do mileage, instead, $1.99 is charged to the customer and we drivers get a flat $1.25 per run. This is fairly low since this is a rural area and we certainly get less than the 26 cents per mile stated. I might be able to use this thread as evidence in negotiations to try to get us drivers a better mileage allowance....

Working at a pizza place is a lot more hard work than most people probably think, especially if you have a good work ethic and care about keeping things clean and doing a good job. It's a ton of fun, though.

Agree on all of this excepting the "ton of fun" part. That might just be me though. The fun factor varies greatly according to who you work with. At the moment we have some pretty good guys driving and insiding so it's not bad.
posted by JHarris at 1:25 PM on April 21, 2011

I worked at a very popular independent "gourmet" type pizza joint in College in Indianapolis in 2002.

This thread is already filled with great info on the chains. Here are some anecdotes from an independent "gourmet" pie joint:

• No conveyor belt. We had giant "reach-in" style pizza ovens. The horrible part was we were a "thin-crust" place. The dough was originally stretched onto metal, mesh screens. They were then sauced, cheesed and topped and slid into the oven with the screens. When there was about 2 minutes left in the cooking process, the "oven-guy" had to reach into the 800 degree oven with the pizza peel, slide the pizza off the screen and directly onto the floor of the oven, and then remove the screen. This was called "bricking the pie," because the floor of the oven was made of bricks. This often caused you to burn the LIVING SHIT out of your forearms at least once per shift.

• Employees snacked ALL SHIFT LONG. Especially if you were on the pie line. I swear I must have eaten at least 50 pepperonis every shift. We also had fancy stuff like barbecue chicken, shrimp, buffalo mozzerella, etc. This was fun to eat.

• Pizza kitchens are MESSY. Flour, oil, cheese EVERYWHERE. I found it fascinating that every station was on wheels, so you could pull the dough sheeter, or the pie board completely away from the wall to clean. This was done every night.

• No one wore gloves. The oven was so hot that the gloves would melt to your hand if you were on oven duty. If you were on pie-board, topping pies, the gloves got in the way of efficiency. Most people were *fairly* cognizant of this and did their best to wash hands and such.

• Unclaimed pies went to the staff. Also, we made pies at the beginning and end of the dinner shift to be eaten by the staff as a sort of "on-the-clock" meal.

• Lastly, if it was a good night, and the manager felt everyone hustled, we got to take a six-pack of beer home each.

• My hands smelled of sausage ALL THE TIME.
posted by teriyaki_tornado at 12:19 PM on April 25, 2011

Back when I was in college, I used to work at a Contadina tomato cannery during the summers. If I was lucky, I would get picked to go work in a smaller warehouse (away from the micromanaging foreman!) and stack boxes of gallon tomato sauce cans onto pallets, as they came off the line.

In 1984 I stacked an assload of Domino's Pizza sauce, (6 cans per box) onto pallets. It was work and paid better than minimum wage (Teamster's union!), but was boring as hell. Maybe some of those cans are the same ones that nomisxid mentions...not sure if Domino's still buys industrial-sized truckloads of canned tomato sauce this way.

Anyway, speaking of pizza ingredients, if you don't want to know how sausage is made, you certainly don't want to know how tomato sauce gets "remanufactured"...
posted by UhOhChongo! at 10:54 PM on April 28, 2011

Isn't there anyone to chime in from Round Table? That's my favourite and I'd love to read how they work pizza.

I worked at RT, Dominos, and a local joint (ha!) over ten years ago in college. The process for all three was pretty much exactly as described above for Dominoes, with the exception that at RT everything was REALLY fresh. Most veggies did arrive in bags, but if you had the slightest inkling that something was off-quality or reaching the end of it's shelf life (regardless of dates on bags/boxes) it was tossed. The ground beef and sausage at RT is probably the biggest difference, because it was raw and came in chubs. You had to weigh out the amount you needed and then get to work tearing little chunks off and placing them on the pizza. They had a metric that you were supposed to be able to make a large combination in 3.25 minutes. Sounds easy except everything had to be weighed and the sausage/ground beef would slow things way down. Also the dough was made daily, and proofed overnight.
posted by Big_B at 10:34 AM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Chiming in as another Little Caesar's person to say that everything I've read is true, and that if you're nice, we'll make you off-menu items. I used to make stuffed crust pizzas when Pizza Hut started doing them, and when I worked in one with a deep fryer I'd make fried dough all the time. We'd have races to see who could fold the boxes the fastest, and the traditional new-guy hazing consisted of trying to convince them that the corn meal we dusted the pans with was the tastiest thing in the world and then watching the shock on their faces after the spoonful of it they tried to eat sucked up every drop of moisture in their mouths.
posted by chickygrrl at 6:22 AM on May 18, 2011

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