The Sharp End: Very fast food indeed

Dave Waller joins the world's speediest pizza-maker in Basingstoke.

by Dave Waller
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

I'm off to taste a slice of life at Domino's Pizza. Let's hope the day's crust is stuffed with success, with a side order of not crashing my scooter and ending up under a topping of delivery boxes.

It's a fine day for a takeaway, if not for delivering it: out of the train window I can see a liberal coating of snow on the rooftops all the way to Basingstoke. I'm joined by Georgina Wald, Domino's PR chief, who's busy telling me how this isn't your typical franchise business.

'If you want to be a franchisee, you have to be a Dominoid,' she says. This term apparently applies to anyone happy to patrol the town in a Spiderman costume, or to share the fun of 'wobble-boarding'. I'm not sure what any of this means, but George emits the manic joy of a cult member so I'm not arguing.

We arrive at the store, driving past a chubby guy hunched behind a Domino's sign in the snow, smiling even as tears freeze on his cheeks. That'll be wobble-boarding then. Next I meet Pali Grewal, a young bearded whirlwind of a man who, along with his two brothers, is Domino's largest UK franchisee. Together they own 76 stores nationwide, his brothers having started off in Slough when Pali was just 13.

Pali takes me round the store, sharing his palpable passion for the business. Standing on the make-line, he waxes lyrical about his new discovery: if they replace the tubs of ingredients with twice as many smaller tubs, it'll shave valuable seconds off the process. The look in his eye spells one word: Dominoid.

The attention to detail reminds me of Simon Lotion, Viz's comic-strip time and motion man, who drove his family insane by constantly tweaking the efficiency of the tea-making process. It works: Pali is down to one minute to prepare a pizza, six minutes to bake it and, on average, 23 minutes for delivery.

The obsessive-compulsive traits go further. Stores are assessed on the number of steps it takes to get from each part of the line to the next; and workers follow the creed of heightened time awareness (HTA), shouting the times when they complete their bit of the chain to see where rogue seconds can be shaved. They even put a stopwatch on delivery drivers, clocking the time between removing their seatbelt and clicking it back in for their next delivery. Target: one minute.

We stop for lunch. It's pizza - delivery time seven minutes. As we eat, Pali suddenly gives the story a spicy twist: it turns out he's the world's fastest pizza-maker. After years of dedicated training in his own custom make-line, working out, and watching videos of himself hundreds of times, he took the official record this summer in Las Vegas in front of 5,000 whooping Americans. His time? Thirty-nine seconds to make three pizzas - a pepperoni, a mushroom and a classic margherita (tomato, basil, mozzarella).

It's all part of his credo of leading by example. 'I have to be the best driver, the best maker, the best phone guy,' he says. With his stores now shutting as late as 5am - or even not at all - he needs people to enjoy their work. How else could each store churn out 400 pizzas on a busy day?

Best not give me a job, though. My attempt at making a Mighty Meaty pizza is decidedly sub-standard. Despite the close encouragement of store-manager (and Pali's coach) Sathnam, it takes me 15 minutes. 'Treat your dough like you treat a woman,' Pali says. I ladle on the sauce quizzically. There's a surprising amount to it, including diagrams of exactly where to put the meat. But, while I won't be winning any prizes for speed, it tastes bloody good.

As Friday afternoon turns to Friday night, more bodies appear on the line. These aren't disaffected youths dragging their sorry souls through a day of minimum-wage drudgery either - everyone is geared right up and having a good time.

Orders are soon flying in and I'm flying out - on a delivery in a little red hatchback. The roads are lethal. We make a couple of drops to snowed-in homes, bringers of emergency sustenance to those in wintry need. Fast-food St Bernards with a £10 float.

Car to door: 10 paces. Wait: 15 seconds. Transaction time: 45 seconds. Eight paces back ...

I think I'm getting the hang of this.

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