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Wednesday, February 1, 2006 - Page updated at 12:18 AM

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Pizza crews train for Sunday

The Wall Street Journal

Jeff Dufficy leads pep rallies for his employees in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Stores in Pittsburgh, Tacoma, Detroit and other cities are setting up television sets in the back to help employees anticipate orders. Some stores in Philadelphia, for the first time, are outfitting their drivers with rented satellite radios so they, too, can stay abreast of the action.

Super Bowl XL will, of course, be a make-or-break opportunity for the Seattle Seahawks and Pittsburgh Steelers — but also for pizza-delivery people around the country.

The Super Bowl is the biggest revenue-generating day of the year for many pizza shops, from chains such as Pizza Hut and Papa John's to the independent pizzerias that dot every city. Some stores go to unusual lengths to get ready for the big day, a custom that is particularly entrenched at Domino's, which has the biggest slice of the pizza-delivery business.

Dufficy, who owns 12 Domino's franchises, leads weekly pep rallies for his employees, starting at the beginning of the football season. Sporting Domino's shirts and hats, they gather in the front of the store, where Dufficy launches into a rousing call-and-response.

"Who are we?" he asks. "Domino's pizza!" they yell back.

"What are we?" he says. "No. 1," they respond.

To cap it off, everyone high-fives each other and shouts "Domino's" before running out to the parking lot and banging out 25 jumping jacks and 10 to 20 push-ups. "People driving by the store laugh, but we get extra attention, and it helps our sales," Dufficy says.

Other stores have their own pregame rituals. Pizza orders typically surge during commercials and at halftime, which is where the in-store TV sets can help. Some Domino's stores in Philadelphia will have their drivers tuning into XM Satellite Radio, which will air the game.

And it isn't only the football players who will be watching film this week. In an effort to get Papa John's stores fired up for the game, managers and assistant managers from 20 outlets in Jacksonville, Fla., will gather to see a video of a successful delivery last year of a single order of 650 pizzas. "We'll get everybody pumped up," says Bob Simms, operating partner for the stores.

On Super Bowl Sundays, many Domino's stores sell double the number of pizzas than they would on a normal Sunday, and some end up selling four times as many.

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Because of this surge in demand, pizza managers typically require all their employees to suit up on game day, but it can be hard to enforce that. In order to fill out his roster, Dan Shanahan, who owns two Domino's stores in Wisconsin, a rabid football state, had to pay all his employees double-time rates in 1997 and 1998, when the Green Bay Packers were in the Super Bowl. That is on top of giving drivers twice their usual commission per delivery.

To keep up with the volume of orders, which some store owners say can exceed 200 pizzas an hour during the Super Bowl, Domino's employees each are assigned an unusually narrow task: Some do nothing but put order slips on the pizza boxes. For others, the sole job is to keep drivers well-stocked with small bills. The best pizza cutters slice pizza, while the most logistically inclined are put in charge of matching orders with drivers in the most efficient way possible.

Because millions of people will be watching the Super Bowl from the couch, there will be much less traffic on the streets. Still, pizza-delivery people face a host of other obstacles, from drawbridges and passing trains that keep them pinned in car lines to snow and ice.

For them, the payoff is far more generous tips than they usually would get. Drivers can clear $125 or $150 for the night, compared with about $50 in tips on a normal, nonfootball Sunday.

The added cash isn't always enough. Shanahan, the store owner, remembers when he was a Domino's driver in Chicago in 1986, and the hometown Bears were in the Super Bowl. He hadn't missed a single play all season. "I called in sick," he said.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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