My sentiments of the annual International Pizza Expo can be summed up by JFK: “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” Expo is all about taking the lead in our industry by learning through seeing, hearing and doing. This past March, these are the three most enduring lessons I learned at International Pizza Expo 2011:
Neapolitan pizza is hot! I don’t see this as a fad, but as a staple of the industry. It embraces the trends we see in the industry while addressing the needs of operators. The realization for healthier eating is fulfilled with a ‘less is more’ attitude. This pie is made with fresh, healthy ingredients containing anti-carcinogens. Usage of fewer ingredients gives the operator a lower food cost on an item with a high-perceived value. With this style of pizza, flavors pop and customers experience the true taste and texture of our great dish. The classic Neapolitan pizza has been around since the Middle Ages, which gives you a story and a great marketing tool.
Chef Glenn Cybulski anticipates the growth of this concept in suburbia. He recommends utilizing local press and having a presence at culinary and local events for promotion. From his personal experience, customers are timid to try this style of pizza — but once they taste the difference, the word of mouth is incredible.
People make a difference.
We are the industry and many times we are our best marketing tool. Networking at Expo has introduced me to people that really “break bread” with the community and put the intimacy and hospitality back in the business. During the keynote addresses by Sean Brauser of Romeo’s Pizza and Joe Fugere of Seattle’s Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria, I couldn’t help but notice how many times they said “thank you” to the people in the background. Their humility and interest in others positioned them for success.
A typical reaction I saw was that many came away from Expo with a renewed desire to be a people person and not just a “numbers guy.” Richard Ames of Daddio’s Pizzeria in Ontario, Canada, says: “I noticed many of the presenters had taken on a cause in their market. This solidified the perception I have about the people in this industry. I find, for the most part, pizza people are very charitable. I was drawn to the sessions that were geared toward local marketing and social media marketing. In both areas I noticed a common thread. If you participate in your community your results are better when it comes to advertising.”
We are in the hospitality industry. “Hospitality is making your guests feel at home, even though you wish they were.” You want to market on a shoestring budget and give customers an experience. Throughout Expo educational sessions, this point was underscored. Are your front of the house people trained to connect with customers? Can they have a dialogue and not just a scripted monologue? I cringe when a server parrots “Have a great day.” It’s much more intimate to say “Enjoy your caprese salad.” or “Tell your wife, Cheryl, I said ‘hello.’ ” Simply acknowledging their order or a family member shows personal interest. I use my POS system to help me with this and people respond by remembering me.
Scott Anthony is a Fox’s Pizza Den franchisee in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. He is a monthly contributor to Pizza Today and a frequent guest speaker at Pizza Expo.