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Dough balls and endless vouchers: What it’s like working at Pizza Express

2 for 1s all day, every day

For three and a half years I worked at the beloved chain Pizza Express. Mopping up spilt Peroni, having my notepad stolen by toddlers, balancing five plates in two hands, and typing in voucher code after voucher code, in the hope someone might give me a £2 tip to make the £5.78/hour wages worth it.

Yesterday, everyone went into meltdown over the prospect of a future devoid of Pollo Ad Astras and dough balls. There were articles dedicated to the chain's history, tweets from people proving just how humble they are that they too ate in a Pizza Express once (when they were too late for their pre-theatre reservation at The Ivy) and so many bloody unfunny jokes about "Calzone Express" (I worked there when calzones were still on the menu).


I hate to break it to you, but I can say with certainty that your 2for1 vouchers and 40 per cent discount codes are the reason for Pizza Express' financial crash.

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Get those Tesco vouchers ready lads

I can't blame all the people who came into the restaurant and ordered a pizza (making sure it was covered by the £5 mains voucher they had raring to go on their phones), requesting no drink because a jug of tap water will do. I'm a student, I can't remember the last time I went into a restaurant without consulting the UniDays app first.

Of course, it's the fault of the company for giving out so many offers. At the start of the shift I'd check the folder at the front of the restaurant to see what offers were on that day, versing myself in the full terms and conditions for the day's discounts.

But it's also the fault of the consumer for their attitude towards these vouchers. Paying for your four person three course meal with Tesco vouchers, spending £2.40 on one token Coca Cola and leaving a 60p tip in pennies was the downfall of the chain, and the bane of my existence between the ages of 16 and 19, working 16 hours a week whilst at college.

I loved serving a table of 14-year-old girls who'd come in caked in foundation two shades dark, sporting older sister's crop tops, armed with their mum's Tesco vouchers they'd use to buy two margaritas and a plate of dough balls between them. Sure, having a table taken up in my section by a group of people not yet versed in tipping was upsetting for my post-work drink in Spoons, but the couple on the next table who had actual incomes were using the same vouchers, and they weren't tipping either.

People would be shown to their table and before I could even ask if they've had a good day they would ask what offers are on. I once had a guy spit in my face in anger as I told him no sir I cannot let you use 2for1 vouchers, your birthday offer of a free bottle of prosecco, and Tesco vouchers together. Another woman stormed out of the restaurant after I told her I couldn't swap the child's dessert for an adult one and take the £1.95 off. She'd already eaten her starters and mains.

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On some days, when I'd have sold £800 worth of food and drink, £600 of it was in Tesco vouchers. I'd cash out after a eight hour shift having only taken two actual cash payments.

Christmas bookings meant giving out warnings in early October that no we can't split your group bill twenty four ways, and vouchers will only work on a certain number of guests. This of course, was forgotten when the group turned up late; changed their pre-order; and seemed to forget this and led to myself and my manager taking individual payments of £18.50 from each drunk customer, with the last person having to pay for the forgotten limoncello shots and extra tiramisu.

You can't run a restaurant on the premise that nothing is ever full price. You can't eat in a restaurant expecting to pay 30 per cent of the price list. You can't disrespect waitresses when they tell you they cannot override the system.

I am sad that Pizza Express could be no more. It was my first "proper job" which allowed me to order monthly ASOS hauls and buy tins of cider for field parties with friends who had much cooler jobs in cocktail bars and Topshop. It gave me plenty of laughs as I animatedly told the kitchen porter all about table 12 and their bickering over who gets the last slice of bruschetta.

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