De-skilling the American Workforce: Saturday Night at Shakey’s Pizza

This happened about a year ago.

One evening, my partner and I were craving the flavors of our youth more intensely than usual, so we set out to find a Shakey’s Pizza*. MoJo Potatoes on our minds, we entered the restaurant about 8pm. A tad later than our usual suppertime, but we weren’t the only ones with similar plans or eating schedules.

A familiar, mostly jubilant, racket burst forth from the entertainment corner, where kids were trying to best the ski-ball game, exchanging real currency for fake in the hopes of amassing enough to purchase the latest in disposable doodads. A few small groups of adults sat eating and chatting. The smells were wonderful, the floors predictably sticky. We made our decision and approached the counter.

There were three, maybe four people working the closing shift that night. One of them was busy cooking, and another rushed over from minding the soda station to take our order before dashing off to attend to another of their many duties.

We settled at a table and waited for our order, talking mostly of how many MOJOs we thought we could eat. A little while into our wait, an employee came to inform us that they had run out of dough to make the large pizza we had ordered. Apparently, Shakey’s restaurants receive shipments of pre-cut dough, an allotted number for each pizza size. Unable to make more dough of the appropriate size, the employee offered to make us two medium pizzas instead. A generous offer (and a little too much pizza, but we aren’t ones to refuse the prospect of leftovers). In due time, the employee returned with two steaming pies and we dug in. Only on our way home did I begin thinking about what had led to our one pizza transmogrifying into two.

In telling us why there were no more large pizzas, the employee had revealed the company’s business model, which seems to place more faith in market research than in the overworked people left minding the store. Instead of providing restaurants with lump sums (heh) of dough or, here’s a thought, the ingredients to make dough, Shakey’s thinks it best to rely on predictions of how many pizzas of each size will be sold and provide pre-cut dough produced off-site. Had they more faith in their workforce, they might trust their employees to cut (or even make) the dough themselves. There would be no running out of sizes, just running out of dough.

But no. Shakey’s denies their employees the agency needed to improvise. By providing pre-portioned ingredients, the company removes the need for its restaurant employees to have or develop culinary skills. I wonder how easily the person in charge of cooking that night would be able to do so in a different pizza establishment. Are all chain pizza places so proprietary in their ingredients & processes that the people assigned to carry out the warming of the food have knowledge specific to that particular pizza place? Inquiring minds want to know…also I’d like the recipe for MOJO Potatoes, please.

Personal anecdote alert: I worked at Starbucks for a while, and I can’t operate an actual espresso machine because we pushed a button to “pull” shots. The transferable skills I learned there had more to do with customer service and pastry arrangement than making lattes (okay, I can also steam milk pretty well).

I know many of you must have similar experiences–of skills so specific to certain companies that making a horizontal career move means at least feeling as though we’re starting at the bottom again. With so many corporate chains employing so many people, I wonder if it’s becoming more difficult to transition from one service job to another because of the specialized knowledge we learn in order to succeed at each company.

What do you think?

—–

*Yes, some of them still exist!

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4 Comments

Filed under Contemporary, Power

4 responses to “De-skilling the American Workforce: Saturday Night at Shakey’s Pizza

  1. readyrachel

    Once I was at some chain restaurant and I ordered mashed potatoes and they said “sorry, were out of mashed potatoes, do you want a baked potato instead?” I asked where their mashed potatoes come from and they said “probably Idaho” which is one of my favourite accurate lines a server has ever delivered. Apparently the mashed potato came from a powder and all they had left was pre-baked potato.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. While I do not go to fast food chains, I get your well written offering. I also get the no or few skill sets necessary. Perhaps makes training for new ones fast, like the food and easier to replace the people who get bored out of their minds from the lack of challenge and leave the job.

    Like

  3. Pingback: Technically, you *can* eat your dog… – Rachel Sona Reed

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