It was the World Series. Then Brexit. Then the US presidential election. Then the Super Bowl. But of all the shocking upsets that have rocked my world, the Great Office Pizza Contest of 2017 is the one that stands out the most.

Of the two great pizzerias in Atlanta – Antico’s and Varasano’s – it was Varasano’s that was the obvious favorite to win. It has more prestige, you know.

But it was not to be. Antico’s won 17 to 9 in the office poll following the most fun office party I’ve ever attended.

Here is how the whole thing began.

Some new people were in town, and FEE’s Richard Lorenc casually posted the following in the company Slack: “Because there are many new faces in the office, I must take it upon myself to reiterate that Antico’s Pizza is the finest pizza joint in Atlanta.”

Then disaster struck for Team Varasano’s: the pizzas did not show up on time.To which I responded: “Because there are many new faces in the office, I must take it upon myself to reiterate that Varasano’s Pizza is the finest pizza joint in Atlanta.”

Thus did it begin, the Great Pizza Competition of Summer 2017. Seven pizzas from each place would be delivered to the office and the staff would vote in secret ballot.

The date and time were set, and you could feel the tension in the office growing. There was a Team Varasano’s and a Team Antico’s. As the date approached, the excitement intensified.

Team Varasano’s brought in wine as a special gift to the event, pointing out that there was clearly nothing in this action that was designed to influence the outcome of the vote. Meanwhile, Team Antico’s just so happened to show up 15 minutes before the appointed time, filling the room with the scent of its pizzas. I was assured that this action had nothing to do with attempting to influence the outcome of the vote.

Then disaster struck for Team Varasano’s: the pizzas did not show up on time. I called and called. Finally, 15 minutes after the appointed start time, the truck arrived. Incredibly, it was being driven by the owner of the place. It turns out that he is a huge FEE fan and a graduate in economics from Yale University. He decided to attend the competition personally, thus adding to the credibility of the brand and slightly making up for the delayed start time.

Before the tasting began, Richard and I both made stump speeches. I emphasized the special crust of Varasano’s, which takes five days to make, and the carefully chosen flavor palettes of each pie. Richard emphasized the delight of Antico’s and the way the chefs seem to have perfected every element of the pizza experience.

The eating began, with gusto. It wasn’t even 15 minutes into the competition before the pizza was all gone. Then the ballots were filled, 26 in total.

Chanelle, our intern from Perth, Australia, was chosen as the official counter and announcer of the votes, based on her reputation for impartiality.

I didn’t know anyone who voted for Antico’s. How could it win?The moment arrived and the shock came: Varasano’s had decidedly lost the competition.

I couldn’t understand it. I didn’t know anyone who voted for Antico’s. I briefly wondered if there had been some Russian meddling (or maybe Australian meddling?) in the election. It took time for me to fully process what had happened. As the evening drew on, I finally did discover some Antico’s fans who had voted so implausibly. They reported to me – I’m just reporting, not defending – that they actually like the thicker crust and more conventional toppings of Antico’s.

The executive director of FEE said of this: “De gustibus non est disputandum.” I, on the other hand, sought an accounting for taste. I concluded that while it might be true that Antico’s has perfected conventional pizza, Varasano’s asks us to rethink the whole idea of pizza so that it is closer to the Roman ideal. I wouldn’t exactly call it a market failure. But even the customer base needs time to become educated.

What did we learn from the experience?

  1. Competition is fun. Most office parties just have food. People sit around eating, just as they do at home or in a restaurant. This added the fire of competition, which made it so much better. In a sense, nobody lost. Both restaurants enjoyed the promotion and were happy to be paired in a competition for the best.

  2. Competition can be intense even without many players. Government bureaucrats like to specify an exact number of market players to achieve perfect competition. But actually an environment can be super intense even with only two. In a real market setting with free entry, even one dominant player can be highly competitive in the form of striving for excellence to stay on top.

  3. Competition is really about service. Sure, the two producers of pizza were opposing each other, but to what end? To delight the consumer more than the other one. This is not war but a struggle to achieve greatness.

  4. Competitors can be friends. As it turns out, the owner of Varasano’s was not devastated that he lost. In fact, he welcomed the chance to taste the competitor’s pizza, which he got to do for the first time. He was pleased to see that everyone cared so much. And maybe he took back with him a new passion for making great pizza. As for me and Richard, better friends than ever.

  5. Office parties can be wonderful! Adding that crucial element of a rivalry over something that empowers people to make a choice and make a difference takes the staff out of the usual grind, and reveals a core truth about the world: we are all competing for our customers’ attention. We can never rest in the struggle to achieve excellence in the service of others.

It was all so fun and wonderful that when I proposed a rematch, most everyone agreed it has to be done – right after the Great Fried Chicken Competition, the Barbecue Competition, the Cheese Competition…

Update: Even now that the competition is over and done, people in the office are still discussing the merits of each pizza. It is the new “politics” conversation for us, and so much the better!

 

Posted by Brittany Elisa on Tuesday, June 27, 2017

This article originally appeared on FEE.org.