Want a pizza me? Restaurant chain trains its staff to flirt

Everyone likes a charming waiter. But for Pizza Express staff, flirting will soon be mandatory.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 22 Oct 2010
When MT sits down to a pizza, sparkling repartee isn’t usually at the forefront of its mind – but Pizza Express is planning to change that, by transforming its restaurants into hubs of verbal sophistication. The company has brought in ‘classically trained’ (and slightly upward inflection-inclined) actor and theatre director, Karl James, to teach its staff the art of good conversation, educating them on such techniques as ‘how to flirt’ and ‘the art of chit-chat’. Let's just hope they don't go too far, or the question 'Would you like extra cheese with that' will take on a whole new meaning...

It’s all part of Pizza Express’ ‘Living Lab’ project, a Richmond-based restaurant that will experiment with ‘just about everything, from design and acoustics to service and food’. The idea is to update the company’s brand by testing out new ideas on a select group of customers who - importantly - know what they’re in for. James, whose business, the Dialogue Project, has trained the likes of Unilever and the BBC in the art of witty banter, says the staff are an essential part of creating an ‘amazing’ atmosphere through their conversation.

The company has also hired Sergio Luzzi, a professor of acoustics, Mumsnet founder Carrie Longton and Xfm DJ Nick Luscombe, who is described on the website as a ‘radio titan’ (whatever that may be) to help it update its image. Sounds like a strange idea – but given Gap’s embarrassingly bungled attempt to do something as straightforward as changing its logo this week (it executed a hasty U-turn after customers gave it the thumbs-down), we suppose it's worth a try.

Of course, teaching staff to flirt is all well and good, as long as it is the subtle injection of wit their employers intended. As Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development engagement adviser Angela Baron points out in the Evening Standard: ‘If they mean flirting in the sense of: 'what are you doing later when the kids are in bed?', that’s not a good idea’. Quite. Especially when there's a steaming Sloppy Giuseppe waiting to be eaten.

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