Volume 39, Issue 9, September  2004


Business to Business
Some Problems Are the Same in Any Industry
by Andy Gum

Recently, my wife and I went out to our favorite local pizza joint (which will remain nameless) and upon entering I noticed a new sign on the door. I was used to the “No shoes, no shirt, no service,” but I was a bit taken back that they had added “No Architects. No Exceptions.” Not actually, personally knowing an architect, I was curious beyond description as to what could possibly provoke such a policy. I couldn’t help it … I had to ask. Our waiter informed me that I would have to talk to the owner, as the staff wasn’t allowed to talk about it. Man, this must be bad. I had to talk to the owner.

The owner was a friendly chap and after our introductions he asked me if I was an architect. I chuckled and explained that I was not but that I did work in the construction business. He sat down, motioned for some coffee and started to tell me his experience. 

So the Story Goes
His name was Gino Cappagrecco and he was a second-generation pizza maker. Gino was old school and he liked to make his pizza and run his business the old fashioned way—great food, great price. 

He began his story by saying that one evening he got a strange feeling when he spotted a bright red Mini Cooper parked in front of his store with a license plate that read NOTMYPROB. He said that, for some reason, Mini Coopers had always freaked him out and that having the owner of one in his restaurant made him uneasy. He quickly scanned the crowd to try and determine who the owner was, and noticed a small man with John Lennon-style glasses expressing his displeasure to the waitress because cream soda and crazy straws were unavailable (he also happened to be an architect). The waitress, Gino told me, explained that there was very little demand for those products, but that she would be happy to send someone to the convenience store across the street to see if they could meet his needs. The restaurant was packed with people waiting to be seated, and no one really had the time to spend on a treasure hunt, but someone did so anyway. The waitress returned with the cream soda and crazy straw, and prior to opening the can explained that there would be an up charge since they had incurred additional costs. The man was outraged that he would be expected to pay a premium charge for the cream soda and sternly indicated that he had had problems with this particular brand in the past. Finally, he said he would be fine with tap water and a regular straw and hoped she understood. 

Price Conscious 

By this time Gino was pretty certain this man was the Cooper driver, and he wanted to get his pizza out quickly and him out of his restaurant even quicker. Gino headed to the kitchen to check out his order and was taken back by his request for a 9-inch pepperoni pizza. Gino offered 10-, 12- and 14-inch pizzas, but not 9-inch. He asked the waitress about the unique order, and she informed him that the man had also asked for a credit to go toward the 9-inch pie. She explained that the man said a 9-inch pizza was all he required and since fewer materials would be used, he wanted a credit from the 10-inch price. Gino normally sold his 10-inch pizza for $9.99 but to keep this customer happy, he agreed to accommodate his need for a 9-inch pizza and would give him a 50-cent credit. 

Gino himself delivered the 9-inch pizza, along with his bill. The gentlemen immediately insisted on speaking with the owner. After Gino explained that he was the owner, the man said that there was a problem with his bill. He had ordered a 9-inch pizza in lieu of the 10-inch and since his order had 10-percent fewer materials than the 10-inch pizza, he should get a $1 credit. Gino agreed that 10-percent fewer materials were used, but that his labor to produce the pizza was the same. The man did not agree that his labor could possibly be the same and said he could not justify the 50-cent credit, but that he would be willing to split the difference. Gino reluctantly agreed to the 75-cent credit and promptly made the appropriate adjustment to his bill.

You Can’t Please Everyone
After the man had completely devoured all of his 9-inch pepperoni pizza, Gino felt it was best if he completed the transaction. He asked the man if there was anything else he could get him and the man asked if he could see an ingredient list for the pizza. Gino had never been asked this question before. He explained that he did not have a list but that he could explain each ingredient to him from memory. He went over the basic ingredients in the dough, he explained the types of cheeses and pepperoni as well as the ingredients in the pizza sauce. Gino was very proud that he grew all of his tomatoes himself and explained the process in detail. 

“Tomatoes? Tomatoes? What do you mean tomatoes?” the man screamed. “I’m allergic to tomatoes. You didn’t tell me that your sauce had tomatoes!”

Gino, now having been pushed over the edge, yelled back, “What do you mean I didn’t tell you? Everyone knows that pizza sauce is made from tomatoes. If it’s so important why didn’t you ask?”

“It’s not my responsibility to ask; it’s your responsibility to tell me,” the man yelled back. He angrily slapped $4.50 on the table and began walking out. 

“Where is the rest of my money? “ yelled Gino. The man responded back that since there’s a chance he could have an allergic reaction, he was only going to pay half now. If it turns out that he doesn’t have a reaction, he would be back toward the end of the week to make his final payment. 

Gino, having told his horror story, was visibly shaken and the experience had left him questioning his future in the pizza business. I consoled him the best I could, and explained that things could have been a lot worse. 

“As glaziers, we regularly provide free consulting services and it’s not uncommon to have high-maintenance, low-profit customers tie up our capacity,” I said to him. I also told him that customers expecting unrealistic credits were a regular occurrence in the glazing business and I thought he did pretty well negotiating a 50-percent settlement. I couldn’t help him out on the tomato issue though … I thought he had blown that one. I explained that he really should have done a better job at determining the man’s intent and gotten him to sign off before he delivered his pizza to the table. 

I did have an idea for Gino, though.

“Why don’t you put your terms and conditions on the back of your credit card receipt, which will relieve you of any responsibility you may have for your actions and decisions. Then get your customers to sign the ticket before they get their pizza.”

Gino said he couldn’t do that, as it would be shifting his responsibilities and duties to other people. 
“Don’t sweat it,” I said. “In the contract glazing business we have to sign a liability release just for the opportunity to be considered; they call this a proposal. Then we have to sign another release before we start the job; they call this a subcontract. Then we have to sign another release every time we get paid; they call this a waiver. Cheer up,” I continued, “things could always be worse. You could have a pizza shop full of these guys … like I do.” 


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