Photo by Pizza Today Staff
I was blessed to train and develop many talented pizza delivery drivers over the years. What they found is that customers prefer to do repeat business with friendly people. They also found that they could earn tips three times their hourly wage by going the extra mile for our customers. In this day and age, just showing up and delivering food is not enough. You need to strive to be extraordinary.
My drivers were just that. Below are some of the things that made them stand out. I’ve written about these services before. But these ideas were so successful that it only seemed appropriate to bring them up again.
❖ Be uniform! Uniforms command attention and shout professionalism. You choose what is right for you. Think UPS/FedEx/Chauffeur. I have a client in Miami who has his drivers wear tuxedo shirts and bow ties with black slacks. He buys them for a few bucks apiece from the tux rental service when they get that “not quite new” look.
❖ Always have a small sandwich baggie with two or three dog biscuits for Fido. He’s usually the fi rst one to the door. Ask permission of the owner before treating the dog. Buy the bulk size bags at the discount store. Have your drivers make the baggies up assembly line style by the hundred. Keep them in a box near the back door so that it’s easy to reload them when necessary.
❖ My drivers offered to replace burned out porch light bulbs. They purchased them out of their own pockets. Believe me, they did not lose money on this service.
❖ Drivers always had a baggie with small pizza dough for the kiddies in the house. We made the baggies a dough prep function.
❖ When time allowed, drivers offered to do small repair and maintenance tasks that were obvious: lube the storm door; tighten the screws, etc. This brought them in huge tips, goodwill and positive word of mouth. We even nailed and screwed new house numbers that were visible from the street when we noticed customers that needed them. In October, we offered to replace batteries in smoke detectors.
❖ Offer driving directions to out-of-towners when making motel deliveries.
❖ Every time a delivery was made to a non-domicile (motel, school, office, etc.) a Motel Pack was offered. This would be hand-made by the hundred and consisted of two nine-inch Styrofoam plates, two forks, two wet-wipes and napkins. We invented these beauties for the motels but soon used them for all customers that didn’t usually have the basics to enjoy the pizza. Almost every idea to enhance the customer’s experience came from my staff. The ideas regarding porch lights, house numbers and batteries came from my firefighting experience. Promote TLC (think like a customer) and watch the ideas pour in. Don’t just be in the pizza business, make sure you’re in the extraordinary service business.
Big Dave Ostrander owned a highly successful independent pizzeria before becoming a consultant, speaker and internationally sought-after trainer. He is a monthly contributor to Pizza Today and leads seminars on operational topics for the family of Pizza Expo tradeshows.
Q: We make a cheese steak sub with pressed steak. We cook the meat, usually with a bit of oil, then add salt and pepper during the cooking process. Lastly, we add the cheese. We toast the roll, then add lettuce and tomato. It is good, but I am going for that “Man, that’s good!” reaction. Suggestions?
A: If you want a ‘Wow’ product, you must to start with ‘Wow’ ingredients. I used to sell tons of steak a year in my shops. I used real shaved steak. Always weigh it before it hits the grill. I added my own seasoned salt. We would kind of shred the steak apart some more while cooking it. For all of my subs, the customer added whatever they wanted. We would list all the free ingredients and spreads as well as extras like grilled peppers, onions or mushrooms. If your bread is fresh and soft enough, toasting is not necessary.
I serve only two pastas –– spaghetti and lasagna. I keep the pasta servings in the cooler until we need them and then microwave the serving. Is this the right way to handle pasta?
You can also heat your portioned spaghetti in boiling water for 15 seconds, making sure you drain it well before plating it. Try to create several different pasta dishes with ingredients already in your store. That will jazz up your menu and really pique customers’ curiosity and will get them to think of you as a legitimate pasta house. Adding Alfredo will also give you more pasta dishes for your guests to choose from.
I have tried using Ciabatta bread, foccacia bread, hoagie rolls, pitas and flatbreads. I don’t know what works best with which meats or what type of sandwiches. What bread works best in what cooking method, with what ingredients?
I’ve been through the same in my experimentations with different breads. Here is my conclusion: If you have a really great sub roll, a wrap, a nice fl at bread for paninis and gyros, and perhaps a whole wheat choice, that’s all you need! Consider making your own sub rolls. I do that every day in my Italian restaurant now. You can really separate yourself from your competitors when you bake your sub rolls. Make sure you can handle it well, keeping up with the volume before you make the switch!
We use a Greek flatbread for our paninis and it has great flavor. I want to introduce Hot Wraps. Can I use the same product? You really need to use a tortilla for a wrap. A 12-inch wrap is suitable for sandwiches. You must be careful that you don’t have too much moisture inside the wrap or it will make it too soggy and fall apart. You can also use the tortilla for a nice, grilled, folded quesadilla. That makes a great starter or even a kiddie meal.
Jeffrey Freehof, owner of The Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia, is Pizza Today’s resident expert. Send your questions to: Ask Chef Jeff, c/o Pizza Today, 908 South Eighth Street, Suite 200, Louisville, Kentucky, 40203.
Photo by Josh Keown
Who doesn’t need a good night of rest? Hass Aslami, founder of Pizza 9 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, sleeps peacefully. You won’t find him waking in a cold sweat worrying that one of the drivers at the company’s four franchise stores has been in a crash that caused injuries that could financially ruin one of the stores.
As part of the company’s franchise agreement, operators are required to get non-owner automobile liability insurance. “It’s not cheap, but it’s well worth it,” Aslami says.
When drivers use their own vehicles for deliveries, pizzeria owners and insurance experts agree that having non-owner automobile insurance is crucial to operations — and to the business’ survival. Experts estimate it costs anywhere from $500 to $10,000 a year, usually depending on the amount of business the pizzeria generates from deliveries.
“If you don’t do delivery then you may not know about non-owner automobile insurance,” says Georgianna Stump, senior director for Risk Services Corp., a company based in Louisville, Kentucky, that provides insurance to the restaurant industry. “You may not know that there’s huge exposure to a business when a driver delivers a product. There have been multi-million dollar claims” against pizzerias.
One does not have to look back too far in history to recall some major claims. Domino’s dropped its “30-minute Guarantee” in the 1980s after people filed lawsuits charging that they had been struck by drivers allegedly speeding to make their deliveries. In 1992, the company paid $2.8 million to the family of a woman who was killed by a Domino’s driver. A year later, a jury awarded nearly $80 million in damages to a woman left a quadriplegic after being hit by a Domino’s driver who had run a red light. The suit was settled by Domino’s for an amount in the seven figures.
“Domino’s suffered huge losses because it was said that they were encouraging their drivers to drive fast and not be safe,” Stump says.
Pizzeria owners who believe their employees’ insurance will cover them if a driver is involved in a major accident would be well-advised to read the fine print on the driver’s policy, but few do. It is not uncommon, for instance, for insurance companies to put an exclusion in a policy stating that it will not cover a driver involved in an accident while delivering food or a pizza product.
Gabe Connell, owner of Hot Box Pizza in Indianapolis, says he has seen these exclusions in drivers’ policies.
“We’ve had drivers not approved for hiring because their insurance policy had an exclusion,” says Connell, whose company uses both company-owned and driver-owned cars for deliveries.
Even if a driver does not have such an exclusion in his policy, he may not carry enough in liability to cover a costly accident. Laws vary, but in Kentucky, where Risk Services is located, the minimum amount of coverage required for drivers is $25,000 –– not enough to cover a large accident.
“Fender benders will probably fall within (the driver’s) liability limit, but major accidents will not,” says Cheryl Downey, senior vice president of Willis HRH Insurance Service which provides insurance to the restaurant industry. “Non-owner claims are rare, but when they happen they can be very big.”
Downey and Stump agree that pizzeria operators carrying non-owned insurance should have at least $1 million in liability coverage.
“The most important thing is to buy a high limit,” Downey said. “If you don’t carry enough of a limit they can go after you personally.” David Orberson, director of claims for Papa John’s, says his company requires franchisees to purchase $1 million in liability from an A-rated company.
“The vast majority of losses are going to fall below that limit,” he says. “But it is there to make sure that one loss won’t put a franchise out of business. I can’t imagine any business that has a delivery component not making sure they have robust limits. The driver is going to have the primary insurance, but if there’s a serious accident the pizzeria may be responsible.”
Before purchasing a policy, Downey says it is important to know what warranties it includes because those could void the contract. She advises: “Be sure to ask the agent, ‘Is there a warranty and can you explain it to me?’ ”
A warranty might require a business owner to run checks on drivers through the state’s motor vehicle department or put a limit on the number of moving violations a driver can have.
“It might state that you can’t hire a driver with more than three moving violations in the last three years,” says Downey. “But one night, a manager could hire a friend to fi ll in for one night and not know that the driver has four violations. If there’s an accident, the business owner would not be covered.”
She recommends avoiding policies with warrantees and also said pizzeria owners should not have to pay a deductible on non-owner auto insurance.
Both Downey and Stump also advise doing regular inspections of drivers’ vehicles and instilling a safety culture in the workplace.
“Constantly preach, ‘Be safe. Drive slow, especially in inclement weather,” Stump says.
Connell maintains non-owner auto liability insurance for driver-owned cars. He also talks to drivers about being safe rather than rushing to deliver a pizza.
“I’d rather give a customer a free pizza and an apology than risk having a driver getting injured or injuring someone else,” he says.
Saving money and being more environmentally friendly were two reasons Glass Nickel Pizza Co. in Madison, Wisconsin, purchased six company owned cars five years ago that, along with 23 vehicles owned by drivers, are used to make deliveries.
“We decided to make our own fuel from veggie oil,” says Brian Glassel, co-owner of Glass Nickel. “That helped us along in making the decision to buy our own cars.”
Glassel pays to insure his company cars, and pays for non-owner automobile liability insurance for his drivers’ cars. He says the savings from making their own fuel covers the costs related to the company-owned cars.
“They pay for themselves,” he says. Nonetheless, Cheryl Downey, senior vice president of Willis HRH Insurance Service, says the trend is to rely on driver owned cars for delivery. Although she did not have any statistics, she says her company sees more restaurants using driver-owned cars for deliveries than 15 or 20 years ago.
“The majority of our clients use employee-owned vehicles, it’s more cost effective,” she says.
There are other advantages to driver owned vehicles, according to Downey. “Generally, drivers take better care of their own vehicles,” she says. “They don’t take that same care with a company owned car.”
Glassel might dispute that, however. He says his company cars are more reliable that driver-owned cars.
“They’re always going to be running,” he says. “They’re always taken care of. Some drivers let things go until they have to be fixed.”
His company-owned fleet, which includes a 1981 Volkswagon Diesel Rabbit and 2005 Jetta Diesels, is used to market Glass Nickel and send a message that the company cares about the environment.
Annemarie Mannion is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today.
Photos by Josh Keown
When Scott Gittrich founded Toppers Pizza in Champaign, Illinois, in 1991, he didn’t look for prime locations for his shop. After all, in the early 1990’s, 95 percent of his stores’ sales were delivery. But as his pizzerias became more popular and expanded into several states, he started rethinking how Toppers interacted with its customers.
“Back in the ‘80’s, we used to open locations in sort of hole-in-the-wall places,” Gittrich explains. “But as we’ve become more successful, we’ve decided to open Toppers in more prominent locations.” This geographical change also meant changes for his customer interactions. Rather than being 95 percent delivery, Toppers now attributes 30 percent of its sales to carryout. And a big part of a customer’s in-store experience is spent at the counter.
The counter is the “point-of-purchase” spot, usually shortened to POP. And if all you’re using your POP counter for is your register, you’re missing out on a powerful way to increase your bottom line and better connect with your customers.
If you’re already making a pizza sale, is adding on a few cents here and there at the checkout really that big of a deal? Gittrich says it can be. He recently relocated one of his stores only six blocks from where the old store sat. But that short move took it from an area with almost no pedestrian traffic to a spot that had a lot of people walk by. “That store saw an 18 to 20 percent sales increase that can be attributed directly to the move,” he says. “The sales boost has all been at the counter.”
The natural inclination for store owners is to place only high-margin “impulse purchase” items at the POP counter. But this isn’t always the most effective use of this prime store space. In fact, Gittrich says he doesn’t really worry about the profi t margin of the items at Toppers’ POP counters, because “it’s all gravy,” he says.
“We have priced our pizzas so if they’re there to buy a pizza, we’re already making a profit,” he says. “So even if they just buy a few sodas, which aren’t a high-margin item, that’s still basically pure profit for me.”
Even though you shouldn’t necessarily worry about the margins on every item at your POP counter, do try to limit your space for things that either make money directly or boost your brand presence. If possible, leave the pick-up items like napkins, pepper packets and utensils in a sidebar area.
Izzy Ginzberg, CEO of Monetized Intellect, a business and marketing strategy firm, says he advises clients to run a few retail experiments to make sure they’re matching their POP items with what their customer base wants. He recommends choosing an assortment of items items. Then watch. “For one week, keep track of what sells in the space each hour. You may find in the mornings you should have high-volume items, then during the afternoons, you should switch to some high-margin items.”
Ginzberg recommends having someone –– it could be just a trusted friend or an employee –– sit in the store and monitor your clientele and what they buy. It may be time-consuming, but it will give you a better idea of your clientele and what they buy. “You may discover the three corporate clients who order by phone are the only ones who buy soda,” he says. “Then you know you can move those to a fridge in the back and use that space in front more effectively.”
It makes business sense to have those impulse purchase items like sodas, brownies and mints at your POP counter. But you should also consider using the space for promotional items. Gittrich places material at the register that informs customers about specials with Toppers’ add-ons. After all, you can’t really stick piles of bread sticks or hot wings at the cash register, but you can still sell them at the POP counter.
“We train our people to suggest the add-ons and point to the promotional material there at the counter,” Gittrich says. He likes to have his items photographed nicely and reproduced well to appeal to hungry buyers picking up pizza. “We even have a contest for team members to encourage them to sell the add-ons,” he says. “We’re doing a lot of business that way at the POS counter.”
And don’t be afraid to get creative and leverage local or regional popularity. Consider creating new trademark items for the counter. If you have a popular brand, try creating t-shirts or bumper stickers. Or begin selling jars of your pizza or spaghetti sauce. “You might just fi nd that ‘our exclusive pizza sauce’ sold by-the bottle for $10 a jar translates into an extra $2,000 a month in profit,” Ginzberg says. And in doing this, you’re not just building your bank account — you’re building your brand, and business, as well.
Creative ways to use your POP space
There’s nothing wrong with offering sodas, candy or plastic-wrapped baked goods at your counter. But that isn’t the only way to make a few extra bucks in that space. Here are a few creative ways to use your point-of-purchase area:
❖ If you have a popular local brand, consider selling t-shirts with your logo and/or slogan prominently displayed. Don’t go too cheap creating them, though — stylish and witty are always plusses.
❖ You can also sell bumper stickers, or even give them away with orders at a certain price point. They’re cheap to create, are free advertising, and build brand loyalty.
❖ Do people die for your spaghetti sauce or breadstick dip? Don’t just sell them in those tiny packets. Offer them by-the-jar at your counter.
❖ Create a “pizza club” — have people sign up and give you demographic information, then reward them with email coupons throughout the year. Consider offering a drawing for a free specialty pizza among club members each month.
Alyson McNutt English is an award-winning freelance writer specializing in home, health, family, and green topics. She is based in Huntsville, Alabama.
I haven’t been to my “favorite restaurant” in several months. I used to go once a week. In the past year I’ve been no more than six or seven times. Why? Contrary to what one may assume, it has nothing to do with the economy and everything to do with the fact that the sparkling restaurant no longer qualifi es as my “favorite.” I still dine out as frequently as I can — I simply choose to dine elsewhere now.
The reason for this particular Italian pizzeria’s fall from grace? Quality. Or, to be more precise, a gradual lack thereof. It all started several years ago when the eatery replaced its remarkable bread with a less-than stellar substitution. Then came frozen eggplant that was cold in the middle when served. Then came runny, milky Alfredo that was nothing like the rich concoction of old. I bent a lot before I broke, but there came a point where I simply couldn’t take it anymore and stopped visiting.
As I was thinking about my once favored spot’s decline recently, Pizza Today managing editor Mandy Detwiler told me about a pizzeria that has been a longtime favorite of her family. She was disturbed and saddened when their most recent order didn’t live up to expectations. She couldn’t quite put her fi nger on it at fi rst, then she fi gured it out: the pizza parlor had downgraded to a lower-quality cheese in a cost-cutting move.
Major mistake, in my book. If you are going to make changes to your core product (not a recommended move), they darn well better be for the better. No one is going to be impressed with a lower-quality pizza. Go down that road and you may as well take out a full-page, color advertisement in your local paper with the headline screaming: “Worse Pizza, Same Price!” Think that would bring people through your door?
Bottom line: There are lots of ways to improve the bottom line, but slashing quality isn’t one of them. Avoid the temptation. You’ll most likely regret it if you don’t.
Jeremy White, editor-in-chief
Photos by Josh Keown
Delivery drivers are as valuable an asset as any other worker, and yet many pizzeria operators fail to make maximum use of this resource. Sure, they may have drivers fold boxes or do minor prep work when not out delivering, but there’s more these employees could contribute. Cross-training them on key tasks throughout your operation would enable them to step in and assist in meaningful ways and benefit your entire business, says consultant Annette Fazio.
“It’s as good for the driver as it is for the restaurant,” says Fazio, who consults with businesses across the country. “It results in more ownership and more connection to the operation and to the customers. Cross-training counteracts boredom and makes employees feel like they have a place in your business, which can also reduce turnover.”
True, this doesn’t make sense for every restaurant. Tom Kess, owner of Angelo’s Pizza in Lakewood, Ohio, says delivery makes up 33 percent of his business. During a busy shift his drivers (there are usually 10 per peak-time shift) spend 95 percent of their time delivering. Consequently, he wants them focused on driving. Also, adds Kess (who crosstrains his other staff), for many customers the delivery driver is the face of the restaurant — and he wants them looking clean and professional. Having drivers do dirty, greasy work like dishes, cooking or cleaning would jeopardize this image, he says. He’d rather send them home if it’s slow.
For other restaurants, however, cross-training drivers can be a good business move. Tim Kostelnik, director of operations for Colada’s Pizza in Valparasio, Indiana, cross-trains drivers (and every employee) on all positions. His 10 drivers — there are usually four per shift on weekends — typically spend 40 percent of their time delivering and the rest on other tasks: cooking, cashiering, answering phones, prepping, dishwashing, bussing tables, etc.
“My belief is to cross-train from the very start,” says Kostelnik, who hires only experienced drivers. “This allows for greater scheduling flexibility, saves money and is a better use of staff. Plus, this gives you more well-rounded employees.”
On a busy weekend, Atza Pizza drivers generally spend around 25 percent of their time on deliveries and the rest pitching in elsewhere, says Carolyn VanCattenburci, owner of the Boise, Idaho restaurant. Among other things, their two drivers — she and her husband also deliver when necessary — fill in as cooks, run the counter, take phone orders, serve alcohol, clean and prep. They can also open and close the restaurant (all employees are cross-trained).
“One advantage is payroll management,” she says. “When it’s dead we can send someone home and the people left can fill in. It also helps when people call in sick.”
Cross-training fosters a sense of teamwork among their employees, VanCattenburci continues, and instills self-confidence. It also shows they trust them, she adds, and can open the door to hidden talents and interests, helping to identify future managers.
Fazio says that in order to avoid employee resistance, operators should make cross-training a condition of hire, an approach taken by Kostelnik and VanCattenburci. Jeff Miller, owner of three California Bay-area Extreme Pizza franchises, handles it slightly different.
“We lay out the job description during the interview process. Although the main focus is on driving, we look for people who are willing to go above and beyond. We don’t force people to cross-train, but we definitely schedule accordingly,” says Miller.
During a busy shift, where there could be up to 10 drivers, 60 percent of their time might be spent delivering. To fi ll in downtime, some drivers cook, others take orders, roll out dough, clear tables and so on. Miller’s attitude is that if they’re not driving, they should be doing something (he posts a driver’s checklist of what they can do when they have the time).
When it comes to cross-training, Fazio believes a formal approach works best, although this depends on the operation. “You may want to bring them in for a day, or have them come in two hours before their shift,” she says, adding this should be with pay. “Trying to jam in training between deliveries can send the message that the tasks are incidental.”
With up to 65 employees during busy season, Kostelnik’s cross-training is regimented. New drivers spend two days learning the kitchen, two days cashiering/ taking orders, one day on BOH prep and dish washing, then one day on FOH duties. Only when they complete this training do they start delivering.
VanCattenburci utilizes a watch-and-learn strategy. “We start in the back and have the drivers watch what we do and when they feel comfortable, we watch them,” she explains, adding that they make “lots of lists” for guidance.
Extreme Pizza’s drivers spend their first few weeks on the job driving, demonstrating competency in this area. Prep work is a part of their job description, so they do this also. Then, during down periods, they start training on other tasks.
“Drivers want to make deliveries,” says Miller, whose drivers make an hourly wage, plus delivery fee and tips. “So their attitude is that anything they can do to help get the order out is better for them.”
Making it Work
There are few disadvantages to cross-training drivers, says business coach Annette Fazio. Still, there are cautions. Depending on a driver to perform key tasks, like closing, could interrupt the workflow if that employee is called out on a last-minute delivery. Fazio suggests checking in with the staff to see what happens when a driver steps away. She also advises:
❖ Making priorities clear. A driver’s main responsibility is delivering.
❖ If just now considering cross-training, assure employees this isn’t to eliminate jobs but to enhance operations and teamwork. Gain buying by talking up the advantages and soliciting input.
❖ Be specific about what you want them to learn. Make a contract/list. Have them check off what they’re comfortable doing.
❖ Don’t use money as a cross-training motivator (Kostelnik pays based on performance, not on cross-training; VanCattenburci hires in at cooks wages and lets drivers keep tips). Stress the value instead.
❖ Pamela Mills-Senn is a freelancer specializing in writing on topics of interest to all manner of businesses. She is based in Long Beach, California.
According to Pizza Today Web poll, 39 percent of pizzerias update their menu on a quarterly bases.
410 Pine Street NE
Salem, Oregon 97301
Online food bloggers rave about the no-frills dining at Padington’s in Salem, Oregon. This awardwinning, family owned pizzeria has two locations with a kitschy Western décor including stained glass lamps, antique chandeliers, and Western memorabilia and photos. The menu keeps with the theme: customers love to rustle up a Humdinger, which features salami, pepperoni, mushrooms, olives and lean beef.
1905 Glenview Rd.
Glenview, Illinois 60025
Yes, we know Chicago is a Mecca of pizzerias, but not all are created equal. At upscale Viccino’s, with fi ve locations in the North Shore district, you’ll fi nd thin crust, a fl aky Roma, stuffed and the quintessential Chicago pan-style. Bread is baked in-house, including that for the Panini menu. These oversized grilled sandwiches could feed two at lunch. We especially like the gourmet Viccino’s Club, which is piled high with turkey breast, lettuce, onion, tomato, cheese and a “schmear” of mayonnaise. Wrap it up for delivery, takeout or dine in!
420 Main St.
P.O. Box 1276
New London, New Hampshire 03257
Great name aside, we’re impressed at the down-home freshness of this campus staple — from the oversized calzones to the crisp salads and wholesome toppings. Sure, the pizza here is traditional, but we especially like the TBG, which features tomato slices, basil and garlic. How’s that for returning to your roots? And there’s a twist on the classic garlic knots – they’re called Forget- Me-Knots!
Photos by Josh Keown
I have been thinking about adding take-and bake pizza to my menu. Can I use my regular dough, or do I need a special dough?
Making take-and-bake pizza can be a pretty simple proposition, or it can be a bit more in depth, requiring a specialized dough. The easiest way to make take-and-bake pizza is to modify your existing dough formula and procedure. Begin by adjusting the sugar content of your dough to 5 percent of the fl our weight. This will ensure that the crust will brown nicely in the consumer’s home oven. If you feel that the added sweetness of the finished crust is detrimental to the flavor of the pizza, you can add 6 to 8 percent sweet dairy whey (available from most bakery ingredient suppliers). Just add the whey into the fl our and disperse it by jogging the mixer agitator a couple times, then add the water, and you’re ready to begin mixing. After the dough has been mixed, take it directly to the bench for scaling and balling.
Manage the dough through the cooler overnight in the conventional manner. Then, first thing on the following day, remove the dough from the cooler and allow it to sit at room temperature for about 4 minutes, or until the dough can be easily opened into skins. Place each pizza skin onto a wire screen, take it to the cooler and place it into a wire tree rack for cooling. Allow the dough skins to cool for about 45 minutes, then remove the dough from the screen and stack on a metal tray or cardboard pizza circle about five high, with a piece of parchment paper between each crust. These can be conveniently stored in the reach-in cooler under the prep table. When an order is received for a take and- bake pizza, a prepared dough skin is removed from the stack, placed into an ovenable paperboard tray and lightly oiled to prevent moisture to migrate into the dough. The sauce can now be applied, and the pizza dressed to order. To finish the pizza, wrap it with stretch or shrink wrap and apply a label with all of the appropriate information (such as keep refrigerated, do not freeze, remove plastic over-wrap before baking, complete baking instructions, and a use-by date). If your business will be based on take-and-bake pizza only, you may want to have a more specialized dough for making your pizzas. In addition to the changes recommended above, a coated leavening system should also be included in the dough formulation. This basically consists of a blend of baking soda and sodium aluminum phosphate — which has been encapsulated in fat, allowing it to react as a baking powder during baking rather than during the pre-bake storage period. The reason for including this ingredient is to ensure that the dough/crust will always rise during baking, even if the dough is mishandled by the consumer.
What can you tell me about the “fake” mozzarella cheese I’ve heard of lately?
These are soy-based cheese analogs. They have been around for a good many years now. The first ones that we saw were pretty rough around the edges. The cheese either didn’t melt or, when it did melt, it looked like a blob of melted plastic. Times have changed a bit. Today, we have cheese analogs that actually have a pretty decent flavor as well as melting and stringing properties. These analog cheeses can be used by themselves to provide a 100 percent cholesterol-free topping, or it can be combined with your regular mozzarella or provolone cheese to make a reduced cholesterol cheese topping. This may appeal to extremely health-conscious consumers.
Do you have any ideas for pizzas that might improve business during the slower summer months?
As a matter of fact, I do. As a growing trend, consumers are increasingly looking at locally grown produce as being fresher and better for their families. Why not take advantage of this by offering seasonal pizzas made with locally grown produce? For example, this past summer I demonstrated what I call “pizza primavera.” This is a seasonal pizza made with fresh tomato slices in place of the traditional sauce. Lightly oil the dough skin, then apply some diced garlic, followed by several fresh, green basil leaves. Top with sliced tomato (one large tomato will provide enough slices for a 12-inch pizza), then apply toppings such as zucchini squash, eggplant, yellow squash, sweet banana peppers and/ or bell peppers. Follow with a light application of flavorful whole milk mozzarella cheese and a sprinkling of shredded Parmesan cheese.
This makes for a very attractive pizza that bursts with summer flavors. Maybe it’s your next seasonal-special hit.
Tom Lehmann is a director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas.
This year we’re pulling out all the stops to make sure International Pizza Expo 2010® is the biggest and best show ever. We’re expanding our educational program to include more than 70 business-boosting seminars and demonstrations. We’ve also added several new industry speakers who will address the hot issues facing pizzeria operators today.
In the current economic environment, it’s more important than ever to discover new, innovative ways to boost profi ts and improve effi ciencies. What are you doing to increase sales and reduce costs? Do you have cash fl ow issues? How are you dealing with the effects of increased wages and benefi ts. At this year’s Pizza Expo, you’ll fi nd solutions to these problems and more.
Designed for pizzeria owners and operators, there’s something for everyone at Pizza Expo, whether you’re an industry veteran or just opening your fi rst store. Can you imagine a show fl oor larger than four football fields with nothing but pizza related goods, equipment and services? International Pizza Expo, the “Show of Shows” for the pizza industry, is THE place to do business, learn, network and deal.
Do you feel the need to compete? I know you think your pizza is the best … here’s your chance to prove it by competing in the International Pizza Challenge™. This year we’ll have competitions for both traditional and non-traditional pizzas, as well as a final bake-off to determine the “Pizzaiolo of the Year”. Better yet, we’ll have nearly $50,000 in cash and prizes up for grabs. Each division winner will take home bragging rights to “World’s Best Pizza” and the $10,000 grand prize. If you’re interested, don’t delay — only the fi rst 60 entries will be accepted in each division. And that’s not all, energy and excitement will abound when the World Pizza Champions™ and the World Pizza Games® take center stage. Contestants will be able to compete in up to five events, which include freestyle acrobatics, fastest dough, largest stretch, box folding or our newest event, longest spin. Each event winner will take home $1,000.
Last but not least, at the close of the show on Thursday, March 4, one lucky pizzeria owner will walk away with $20,000 in cold, hard cash by participating in the $20,000 MEGA BUCKS Giveaway™! Remember, you can’t win if you don’t enter — and you won’t win if you’re not present.
If you haven’t already registered to attend, then you should stop reading this now and call (800) 489-8324. Or, better yet, pre-register online at www.PizzaExpo.com and save $10. Please take a few minutes now to review the attendee brochure (see outsert), or visit www.PizzaExpo.com for more information. See you in Las Vegas!
Executive Vice President
Peppers Pizzeria was founded in 1997 as a counter service operation with a simple menu. Today, the company has three upscale operations as well as separate bars adjacent to two of its restaurants.
Q. You have an eclectic menu that refl ects Louisiana’s unique culture. How do items like the Jambalaya Pizza and Gambino’s Muffaletta Pizza sell?
A: They sell well. I fi nd that, typically, when it comes to family dining, families go for traditional pizzas, whether it be Italian sausage or pepperoni. But, I think some of those unique offerings is where our differentiation is versus a regional or national chain. Some of those offerings ... are unique to our establishments and they do well for us. It gives our brand some unique identity by having those on the menu.
Q. The Piazza Bar opened in 2000 and was an immediate success. Does this separate bar cut into your restaurants’ beverage sales?
A: I find that having a separate bar or a bar that’s secluded from the dining room increases sales not only in the bar but in the restaurant as well. It’s certainly a separate area and when it comes to family dining or dining for adults, I think those two crowds typically don’t mix too well. Having a separate area certainly is an asset. Our parents still enjoy a cocktail or one of our beers on tap in the dining room.
Q. How does the bar business affect overall sales in the pizzeria? Do you offer extended hours to accommodate the entertainment crowd?
A: At one of our locations, our food side stays open until 3 a.m. … We have a tremendous amount of sales between ten o’clock and three in the morning. It’s either people who have been at some type of social event and have missed the normal restaurant hours around town or people who have been out in the bars and want to grab a bite to eat before going home.
Q. Being on the gulf, how were you affected by Hurricane Katrina?
A: It’s one of those things that it’s been a blessing, but it’s something that we’ve had to work through. It’s brought economic boost to the region. There’s been a lot of money that’s come into this region in the last fi ve years not only from Katrina but also the storms we had last year. We were pretty much Ground Zero for Gustav. We have one location that’s been affected by (the storms) because there are people moving out of that low-lying area where that location is. It did phenomenal in the months after the storm was over with all the insurance money and all the extra people in the community doing repair work, but the contractors have kind of moved out. Now, there’s a slump.
Q. Any future plans for growth?
A: We are actually opening another restaurant concept here in Thibodaux, and we’re going to get a little more diversity in our company and we’re going to do more catering. Catering is a business I’ve been in for a lot of years and it’s something we’re going to get back into. We have this new facility here with 11,000 square feet to use for banquet space and catering. … Right now I guess you could say we’re being conservative aggressive.
Photos by Rick Daugherty
Corfu, New York-based Pizza Pantry isn’t your typical pizzeria set amidst a strip mall in a bustling suburb. Being one of just a handful of restaurants in the area, having a captive audience affords the pizzeria annual sales many single-unit operators only dream of. And with a recent move to a larger building, it’s safe to say that business is looking up for owner Bev Snider.
Bev Snider and Adam Kahabka, Pizza Pantry's general manager
Snider started the company with her mother and sister in 1983 in the middle of the village of Corfu, having bought the take-out shop on the cheap. “The woman who owned it, she said, ‘Sundays are your good days. I made $34 Sunday.’ That’s what we grew from.”
In 2000, Snider’s sister left the business and she took it over full time. Three years ago, they gutted an empty bowling alley turned bar and grill nearby and converted it into a 120-seat freestanding restaurant that afforded them much needed additional parking. “I’ve always wanted a dine-in place, but we just didn’t have room for it,” Snider says. An additional conference room seats 40.
The move seems to have worked. Sales sit at over $1 million annually –– impressive since “we live off our local people, mostly,” Snider says. “We do fine in the winter. A lot of the little businesses, they rely on Darien Lake … there’s a theme park that’s just two miles up the road. We do get a ton of business from them in the summer, but we do fine with our local people.”
With no other pizzeria in the area and only a diner serving dine-in, Pizza Pantry has little to no competition. “There never was since the day we opened,” Snider says. “You go to a lot of small towns around here and they have two or three (pizzerias) in a small town just like this. I don’t know why.”
Despite being in a small town of just 200 homes, Pizza Pantry has succeeded by enlarging their delivery radius to other nearby villages. “We have a 10-mile radius, at least,” says Adam Kahabka, Pizza Pantry’s general manager.
“For them to drive there and back, it’s going to take half an hour,” Snider says. “That’s why we have to put out more drivers here (at the new location). We used to run with just one. We’ve got two or three or more that we’re sending out on weekends just for that reason. They go farther. It’s not just running around the corner.”
Sales are admittedly hit-and-miss during the day when the theme park is closed, but in the summers it’s a constant stream of diners all day. Carryout and delivery comprise the greatest majority of sales at about 70 percent, Kahabka says (although in the summer dine-in is twice as busy).
Rather than offering the industry’s standard of beer and wine, Pizza Pantry has a full bar, but Snider says the emphasis is not on alcohol but rather on the food and remaining a family-friendly restaurant.
“We just wanted it to be a classier bar and not so much like a local dive,” Kahabka says. Alcohol accounts for five to eight percent of sales, but it depends on the season. “We do quite well when our football team and our hockey team are playing,” he adds.
While Pizza Pantry is obviously billed as a pizzeria (60 percent of sales based in pizza), the menu here is diverse, ranging from onion rings and breaded cheese platters to turkey subs, pizza logs, antipasto salads and chicken dinners. “It gives them more choices than pizza, subs and wings,” Snider says. “Salads are very popular. I’m almost surprised at how much people like them.” They are so popular that several more were added, including the Pasta Crab Salad (penne pasta tossed with sliced black olives, mixed vegetables, tomatoes atop lettuce and capped with crab meat for $6.29).
A small menu of specialty pizzas showcases some surprising varieties. The Broccoli Cheddar pizza features creamy cheddar cheese broccoli, sliced chicken breast and mozzarella and the Chicken Finger Pizza includes bleu cheese, spicy hot chicken fingers and mozzarella cheese. Of the specialty pizzas, the Taco Pizza (seasoned taco meat, shredded lettuce, tomato slices and cheddar cheese) is the top seller.
Dough is made in-house, but cheese is sliced rather than shredded. “I just like the way it cooks on there better,” Snider says. “And that’s the way we started. Usually, whatever we started with, there are main things that we refuse to change. That’s just how we built the business. I’m not going to switch to shredded cheese just because it’s easier or faster. It does take longer because we have to slice it and it takes longer to make a pizza because we have to count it out. But, it melts better. It just makes a nicer looking pizza.”
Affordability is key here –– a deal priced at $19.99 is popular. It includes a large pepperoni pizza, 24 chicken wings and a pitcher of Pepsi. A large specialty pizza is priced at $14.59.
Kahabka and Snider say they reevaluate their menu annually and keep close tabs on what is selling and what isn’t. “We’re trying to cut the waste down,” Kahabka says. “We’re trying to make sure nobody’s nibbling or taking free food.”
Snider says they are working on getting employees to weigh and measure, but she admits “it’s tough when you’re busy. … We kind of had to watch that a lot more.”
In an area of the country that measures snow in feet, we had to ask how inclement weather affected sales. “Actually, it is better for us,” Snider explains. “We’re on a snowmobile trail which ends right in the back parking lot. In the winter, we’re better off if we get a lot of snow. We get a lot of snowmobilers and most of the local people won’t go anywhere. If it’s a Saturday night and it’s snowing, they’re not going to drive out of the area to go out to eat. Usually, bad weather is better for us.”
Still, they don’t require their delivery drivers to go out if they’re not comfortable.
In the summer, they staff up to 35 employees and 25 in the off-season. Typically, three to four cooks man the counter during peak times. “There are some people who can do all the counters in terms of cross-training,” Kahabka says. “That’s something I’d like to get to. It’s kind of tough.”
Snider says the nearby theme park tends to suck a majority of people out of the existing labor pool in the summers, which is also Pizza Pantry’s busiest time. “When they close, you get a lot more people looking for work in the winter time, which is our slower time,” Snider explains.
Kahabka said they did consider opening a second location a few years ago, but ultimately decided against it. “That’s a lot of work, and there are times when we are stuck in the kitchen,” Snider adds. “I don’t think you can run a place if you’re stuck in the kitchen. If you could get to the point to where you could just run the place, then it would seem like it would be easier to take care of. It’s still so much work. I wouldn’t want to take (another) on. I want to run one place and run it well.” ❖
Mandy Wolf Detwiler is managing editor at Pizza Today.
Photos by Josh Keown
Wilson’s Pizza Shop is one of those storied institutions –– the kind with a history and deeply planted roots in the local community of Newfane, New York. Al and Roz Wilson opened shop in 1963 in a small house on Main Street in what used to be Al’s barbershop.
(Owners Allen and Wendy Wilson and founder Al Wilson)
“My in-laws had a bar in Lockport, and they sold pizzas,” Al recalls. “We were up there on a New Year’s Eve and after everybody was gone, we were sitting around and my mother-in-law says, ‘Well, you’ve got that room on the side now where you took the barber shop out, why don’t you make pizzas?’ ” So he bought an electric oven, put a counter in and opened shop. “It’s never stopped,” Al says.
It was here that high school kids came to socialize, where families celebrated events and the Wilsons, along with brother Sam and his wife, Betty, sold a 16- inch pizza for just $1.99.
Fast-forward 47 years, and the Wilsons’ son, Allen, and his wife, Wendy, now man the helm of this venerable institution. (His father’s barber shop is still in business down the street.) The family has watched the town change –– several large corporations have left the area and, consequently, some local residents. Still, business is good. “This year has actually been a very busy year considering there’s a recession,” Wendy says. Consumers aren’t dining out as much, she adds, “and they can feed a whole family very reasonably from our place.”
Customer service is a key to the company’s longevity, says Allen. “You don’t have to make your buck on the fi rst pizza you sell,” he explains. “Repeat customers is the thing and making people happy when they get your product. Make them want to get your product.” Either Wendy or Allen is on site at all times. “People want to see you here,” Allen says.
Adds Wendy: “It’s a small town. We know everybody’s names. We know the cars they drive. We’re very close to our customers and they’re very loyal to us.”
With a small dining room, 85 percent of the restaurant’s business is carryout. “Delivery isn’t as big as it was 5-10 years ago,” Allen says. “I think now, with the way the economy is, delivery has declined a little bit. At one point, delivery could have been one third of the business. Now it’s not.”
Wendy says more people are stopping on their way home from work to pick up a pizza to take home to the family rather than paying a delivery charge and a tip to a driver. “When gas was high, it seems that was really the way it was,” she adds.
The majority of dine-in occurs at lunch with pizza slices displayed in a case for that purpose.
Despite a limited market, the Wilsons don’t want to become complacent. Branding has been a focus in recent years. They have a recognizable logo, and have t-shirts and boxes printed with it.
“We don’t spend any on the newspaper or yellow pages, but we have a Web site that we’ve actually just redone,” Wendy adds.
They didn’t have imprinted pizza boxes until a year ago. “A pizza box goes everywhere,” Wendy says. “It sits out by the road on garbage day. When it goes to school, everybody sees it.”
Still, the Wilsons don’t refute the importance of word-of-mouth. “We’re on our fourth and fi fth generation of pizza customers,” Wendy says. “It’s been passed down from generation to generation.”
Adds Allen: “I’d say there are very few people in this town who don’t know (our) telephone number.”
When it comes to the food, pizza is king here, comprising 70 percent of sales. The Barbecue Chicken Pizza (red sauce or garlic butter topped with barbecued chicken tenders and a blend of cheeses) and the White Pizza (garlic butter, spices, broccoli, black olives, tomatoes and mozzarella) are favorites. Pizza is available with either a crispy crust or a thick crust.
Other items ranging from an antipasto salad to fried fi sh lend diversity to the menu. “We have a burger that we named after Al,” Wendy says. “It’s called the Big Al Burger.” (The sandwich is a quarterpounder topped with cheese and dressed with tomato, onion, lettuce, pickle and Miracle Whip for $3.50.)
The Steak Sub is also popular, and the restaurant beef on weck –– rare, thin-cut roast beef on a kummelweck roll that is hand-topped with coarse salt and caraway seeds. a bakery in Buffalo just for them. For both sandwiches, the meat is cooked and sliced in-house. “People who move away, they come back here and they just can’t wait to get a beef on weck because you can’t get them anywhere else,” Wendy says.
And while they don’t have a liquor license, they haven’t found it to be a problem since the majority of their sales are steeped in carryout. They also want to be family friendly. “For the fi rst 25 years after the place opened, there were a ton of kids around because there was no place in town for them to go,” Allen says. “After a basketball game, there’d be 50 people in here and another hundred outside waiting to get in.”
Surprisingly, Wilson’s has a small deli counter. They added it after the local grocery store closed down. Allen says they already used the meats on their menu, so it wasn’t difficult to add. Customers would ask if they could buy a pound of ham while in the shop, and the Wilsons did it to help keep community dollars local and make it easier for their customers.
Eventually, Wendy hopes to add more baked goods to the business as well. From 1993 to 1997, the Wilsons ran a seasonal slice location on Lake Ontario but closed it to focus on raising their small children and running the original location. They’re content operating the shop day-to-day and look forward to new industries like Yahoo! moving into the area and reviving the communities around them. Local wineries and fishing are drawing new business –– and new customers –– as well.
In the end, this is home for the Wilsons, both literally and figuratively. Wendy and Allen used to live in the upstairs apartment, and Al and Roz just moved back into it. Says Wendy: “Someday we’ll be living back upstairs, too.”
❖ Mandy Wolf Detwiler is managing editor at Pizza Today. serves a regional specialty, The bread is sourced from
Photos by Rick Daugherty
It’s 6 a.m. on a Saturday, and loaves of artisan bread are pouring from the mouth of the impinger oven at Avalanche Pizza in Athens, Ohio.
Yes, artisan breads. Fifteen types ranging from classic ciabatta, Afghani na’an, fougasse stuffed with cheese and vegetables, whole wheat couronne studded with berries, and pizza al taglio laced with white anchovies and roasted cherry tomatoes.
Out of an impinger oven. “Pretty cool, isn’t it?” asks Avalanche owner John Gutekanst, smiling at the irony. “Nobody thinks you can get loaves like that from an impinger oven. Not supposed to happen.”
But Gutekanst does it every weekend. He leapt into artisan bread baking after tasting the low-quality bread sold at the town’s farmers market. Though Athens is a largely sleepy town of 22,000 (its population swells by 30,000 each fall as students return to Ohio University), its farmers market is one of the nation’s top rated. Today, the year round outdoor affair will see Gutekanst outside for several hours hawking loaves in the February deep freeze.
“It’s cold as hell out there, but people still come, and they’ll buy everything I have,” he says, motioning toward 300 loaves he’ll sell for $5 to $6 each. The production effort required is tremendous, but the revenue makes it worthwhile. “It’s very lucrative, about $2,000 in sales each time. Do that four times a month and you’ve almost added an extra week’s sales to your month.”
To develop his dough’s’ flavor, Gutekanst builds a pre-ferment (or biga) every Thursday from day-old pizza dough, flour, water and yeast. While the mixture rests 24 hours until Friday night’s forming, he chooses his toppings.
“The stipulation for this market is you use all local products,” he says. Foraging for those ingredients is time consuming, while other toppings and fillings, such as olives, sausage and white anchovies, come off his makeline. “My clientele knows what I bring is different. Okay, sometimes a little weird. They look at me thinking: ‘I don’t know about eating a bacon, cashew and green olive bread, but the sample tastes … good, so I’ll get it.’”
When Avalanche’s Friday night rush eases, Gutekanst gets his turn at the oven. He bakes throughout the night with the help of an assistant who joins him in the predawn hours. He adjusts the oven temperature to between 470 F and 480 F to get the proper browning on the highly hydrated dough, but not so low that it would change his pizzas’ character — Avalanche is open until 4 a.m. on weekends, so Gutekanst has to be able to make room for a pizza order when he’s baking the breads.
The high-rising doughs have taught Gutekanst to move carefully inside the oven. More than once his ciabattas have risen and fused themselves to the fingers inside the impinger. The cleanup is frustrating — and ultimately costly if he has to shut down the oven.
Since the impinger is highly adjustable, top bake isn’t a problem, but bottom bake is challenging since non-perforated pans must be used to contain the nearly gelatinous dough. Over the three years he’s baked and sold bread, Gutekanst has found that hard anodized aluminum pans brown best, and currently he’s working with a manufacturer on pans with pinhole perforations to allow air flow.
Given the time required to produce so much bread that isn’t sold at Avalanche, one wonders how the shop benefits. Gutekanst says it’s mostly sales, and since his tent at the farmers market has Avalanche signage, he gets some local marketing out of the venture as well. Above all that, though, the pizzeria owner says making the bread is a labor of love for him.
“Bread making is very cathartic for me,” he begins. “I get a lot of pride from the stuff I’m doing, and people really do appreciate it. Plus, I like to challenge myself as a chef to do new things. So, if you can do that and make money at it, why not, right?”
The Pizza Guy’s Ciabatta
18 ounces of day-old dough
7 ounces or 1½ cups high-gluten fl our
1½ cups warm water
Dredge dough ball in fl our and chop dough into quarter-sized pieces. Place in a large plastic bucket with the fl our and the water. Using hands, squeeze mixture through fingers to achieve texture of thick, lumpy soup. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rest 24 hours in a 70-80 F spot. Mixture will bubble and double in size.
4 cups (18 ounces) high-gluten fl our
½ tablespoon yeast
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon salt
1½ to 2 cups water
Add biga to mixer. Add fl our, oil, salt and water and mix slowly 6-8 minutes, until dough no longer sticks to sides. If sticking, add a bit more fl our and work gently until releasing from bowl. Dough should be soft and tacky. Remove to workbench.
First Fold and Proof
With floured hands, fold dough over itself like an envelope, then stretch and fold upon itself 3 more times. Transfer to lightly oiled large bowl and let rest 30 minutes. Lightly oil the top.
Place parchment paper on hard anodized sheet pans. Flour or wet hands in cold water and cut and weigh 15-ounce dough balls. Dust each with fl our and let rest 30 minutes.
Form each dough ball into oblong loaf by gently stretching to a length equal to the width of sheet pan. If it won’t stay stretched, let rest until the gluten relaxes. Place only four loafs on each tray. Dust loaves with fl our and dock with fingers to form dough (as it rests, it will rise again slightly). Place panned dough near oven; proof 45 minutes to an hour at 70 to 75 degrees. It will swell noticeably.
Heat oven to 475 F. To create classic crust, mist each loaf with water within first 1 to 2 minutes of baking. Remove loaves, still on pan, and mist each loaf lightly and quickly. Midway through oven chamber, rotate loaves on pan to ensure even baking. Bake ciabatta total of 10 to 12 minutes. When loaves are golden brown and hard when tapped, they are done. Coming directly from the oven, they will be very hard and crusty, but will soften some when cooling. Cool on rack 1 hour before serving.
Steve Coomes is a former Pizza Today editor and a freelance writer living in Louisville, Kentucky.
Photo by Rick Daugherty
AOL built an empire. Google blindsided Microsoft. YouTube (a company that never earned a penny) commanded a $1.65 billion price tag. What is the secret behind these and countless other unfathomable success stories? In a word: “Free.”
AOL sent millions and millions of free CDs offering a free trial of their service. Once people got on board, they stayed. Google allows anyone to use their software to search the internet –– free. They monetize the whole thing with ads. YouTube encouraged people to upload their videos and share them with the world for “free.” They built a herd of traffi c and then sold those eyeballs to Google.
There’s certainly more than one way to skin the “free” cat. Offer something free with a purchase. Then there’s free altogether or free for a limited time.
Free with purchase: Papa John’s Pizza gives you free garlic dipping sauce and pepperoncinis. Domino’s exploded onto the scene with free delivery. These companies have used “free” as a signifi cant hook in driving traffi c. Would it make sense for you to offer (and become known for) a lowfood- cost item free with every pizza purchase? Say a bag of garlic knots, or a loaf of cheesebread? Think “Olive Garden.”
Free all the time: One of my clients has a pizzeria right next to the train station where a lot of commuters disembark on their way home from work. He offers anyone a free small slice they can grab and go with. No strings attached … just one small free slice. Sure some people grab one and never buy a pizza, but most people buy extra slices or pick up pizzas several times a month to take home. He says the good will and the numbers “more than work out” to his advantage.
Free for a limited time: I was stunned beyond belief the day I offered “free” lunch at my pizzeria as a way of introducing it to the local business community. Well-dressed businessmen and women packed the building and formed a line outside to get two free slices, a salad and a soda. Personally, I would have kept on driving had I seen a mob like that. But that day close to 300 people decided to not only wait in line, but to then squeeze themselves into the pizzeria for a free lunch. I got amazing traction by randomly dropping off free pizzas at area businesses, too.
At an outdoor event, we offered two free bottles of water with every pizza. The lines at our booth were crushing. One of the reasons was the exorbitant price others charged for water (average $3). So, we made out like bandits on pizza sales by giving away water we’d bought on the cheap at Costco. The sub sandwich booth next to us actually complained that we were being unfair by giving away free water. “Free” can be monetized. In fact, I’m enjoying free wi-fi as I write this –– with my $4 coffee.
Kamron Karington owned a highly successful independent pizzeria before becoming a consultant, speaker and author of The Black Book: Your Complete Guide to Creating Staggering Profi ts in Your Pizza Business. He is a monthly contributor to Pizza Today.
Photo by Josh Keown
At Mangia Pizza, more than half of the orders entering three Austin, Texas locations request delivery or carryout. That fact in hand, owner Jeff Sayers, a 21-year veteran of the pizzeria business, takes no chances.
“It’s simply too significant a chunk of my business not to pay attention,” Sayers says of his delivery and carryout offerings and the packaging they sit in.
Though often relegated to the background, an operation’s delivery and carryout packaging influences both product integrity and consumer perception. Packaging, specifically the pizza box, must both protect the product’s quality and communicate one’s brand message.
“The pizza box is one part art and advertising and one part quality control,” Sayers says. “It’s a real reflection of your pizzeria and your product.”
Just 50 years ago, pizza delivery and carryout comprised a small slice of the pizzeria world. No more. Carryout now accounts for 36 percent of all pizzeria orders, while delivery claims a 31 percent chunk of business. In many ways, one’s pizza box is akin to a home’s curb appeal — fair or not, the principal component that shapes consumer perception.
“As far as the guy answering the door is concerned, that pizza box is your storefront,” says Brian Dickmann, owner of Spokane-based Pizza Rita.
Given the consistent rise of delivery and carryout, packaging has received increased scrutiny. Pizzerias’ diversified menu offerings, including movement into sandwiches, pastas, wings and desserts, has sparked additional attention. Items once placed in bags, such as sandwiches or wings, have been moved into corrugated boxes for heat retention, better quality control and stronger presentation.
“Operators are motivated to drive more sales … and that’s led to more diverse menus and a movement to improve the brand image with packaging,” says Tim Barry of Chicago-based packaging manufacturer Smurfit-Stone.
Amid the plethora of responsibilities handled by an operator, having the right mix of delivery and carryout packaging readily available stands a key task.
While a minimum one week’s supply of soup containers, sandwiches boxes and condiment containers must be on hand, the pizza box leads the must-have list. When looking for a box manufacturer, Sayers listed accessibility as a top priority. He wanted his supply of logo-carrying pizza boxes to run deep and, when needed, be replenished in quick time.
“If we run out of our custom box, then we’ve missed an opportunity to brand our product with the consumer,” he says.
Like many industries, foodservice packaging continues evolving. New production mechanisms arrive, new innovations intrigue and new designs impress. Most changes are driven by end-service users, either operators or dining customers.
Unlike the traditional brown box, which is often viewed as “more natural,” white boxes have gained ground, particularly for those seeking a bolder, sleeker presentation. The graphics on Papa John’s white boxes, for instance, pop with color and style.
“The white boxes have a clean look and present a bolder branding opportunity,” says Barry, predicting that independents will look to mimic Papa John’s style.
In Europe, a trend for lightweight liners and paper with high-performance characteristics has taken hold. It’s a trend filtering into America.
“These trends are totally being driven by the manufacturing process and looking at the most economical ways to benefit the customer with the best available solutions,” says Bob Ford, vice president of ARVCO Containers, a Michigan-based foodservice packaging manufacturer. And lest we forget the unrelenting “Green” movement.
While a litany of upstarts have carried the Green banner and attempted to displace the standard pizza box as the supreme delivery method, most have been dogged by health questions and a tacky appearance. Yet, it is the financial argument that keeps the traditional — and still recyclable — pizza box as the standard.
“You hear everybody talking about ‘Green,’ but at the end of the day it still comes down to dollars and cents and the bottom line,” Ford says.
A significant line item in the books, operators increasingly analyzed packaging costs last year, particularly as food prices climbed.
Prompted by space and freight savings, some operators have dropped the b-fl ute box for an e-flute. While 500 boxes fit in a 60-inch stack of b-flute boxes, the same-sized stack fits 900 sheets of e-flute and 1,300 sheets of f-flute, an emerging option for thin-crust pizzas.
“In switching the flute, the savings can be considerable,” Ford says. “You owe it to your operation to at least investigate other options.”
Sayers found another money-saving method, though one he acknowledges carries a calculated risk. Though he has branded his three top-selling box sizes (10, 12, and 14-inch), he elected not to touch Mangia’s 16-inch box, confident that the extra cost for dye and graphics wasn’t worth the expense for the pizzeria’s least popular size.
With non-pizza products, many operators elect to use clear plastic packaging, a financially volatile product given its petroleum content, yet one seen as “safer” and “classier” than Styrofoam. To get the best deal and to ensure a well-stocked backroom, Sayers suggests ordering up to a month’s supply at one time.
“So long as you have the room, ordering in bulk saves cash and creates a strong back stock,” he says. “It’s a win-win.”
Other operators examine invoices, asking questions of suppliers when an item’s price rises and inquiring about other cash-saving options. That dialogue with a supplier begins with a sincere relationship. Dickmann currently pays 34 cents for his 12-inch boxes, a competitive deal bolstered by the relationship he shares with the supplier.
“Establish a partnership with the supplier and be low maintenance,” Dickman says. “You’ll see that you’ll get paid back with better service and price when you need to be.”
Now and well into the future, Ford says operators should challenge their packaging supplier to discover creative new options.
“New products are out there to help your business,” Ford assures. “Tell (your provider) you want to know about them. That’s a sure-fire way to make sure your packaging needs are being met and that you’re putting your pizzeria’s best foot forward.” ❖
Chicago-based writer Daniel P. Smith has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers and magazines.
Photos by Josh Keown
Delivering pizza doesn’t pose much of a problem. Delivering food other than pizza can be a problem –– unless, of course, you know the ins and outs and outs and ins of what I like to call the perfect delivery.
You have to know what works and what doesn’t work. Your food looks great when it is plated in your restaurant and is put on the table. Now imagine that same dish, and imagine how it will look when it is set down on the kitchen table of that customer. OK, so maybe that is not a fair comparison, but at least give it a shot.
When it comes to “perfect delivery” I have one word for you: Plastic. Yes, plastic. The container, the dish, whatever is being used to transport the food from Point A (your restaurant) to Point B (the customer) is as important to perfect delivery as the good food that goes in it.
I order in Chinese a couple times a month. I like the food that this place makes, but I like it even better that the restaurant uses sturdy plastic containers to transport its food. I have never had a container leak. The tops seal tight, and the food stays reasonably hot, because that plastic top seals tightly to the plastic bottom. I am not too concerned about the outer packaging –– a shopping bag, a brown bag –– as long as it is sturdy enough to not fall apart. A few pennies spent in better containers will return big bucks in customer satisfaction and repeat business. There are literally thousands of containers of every shape, size and weight for delivery of food. It all depends on your needs — the foods to be delivered and the portion size. Obviously, you can use a lighter weight container for delivering salads. But for a heavier dish –– baked ziti, for example — you will need something sturdier. If a sauce is involved, the need for a tight seal is very important.
What delivers well is always the big question. In Chicago, where I live, there are delivery operations that handle 20 or 30 restaurants. And in many instances, you can order the full menu from any of those restaurants. That’s a bit tricky, but it can be done. The advantage to offering delivery on most of your menu is that it gives the customer a better understanding of what you have to offer, but it just might get them to try some dishes that they hadn’t considered (read: bigger check average).
On the other hand, if you are just getting started with delivery or are rethinking the whole process, you need to know these facts:
Seafood does not travel well, so avoid it as much as possible.
Anything deep-fried –– calamari, for example –– will get there lukewarm and soggy. Shellfish (mussels, clams) would be a disaster.
Shrimp? Maybe, depending on what it would be paired up with. But why take a chance when there are so many other possibilities?
Some of the best dishes for delivery? Appetizers: wings (extra sauce packed separately), salads (dressing separate). Some sandwiches, like subs, travel well. Also, Italian sausage sandwiches, meatball sandwiches, chicken sandwiches (grilled chicken with pesto is a sure winner). Most pasta dishes, especially baked pasta dishes (baked ziti, baked mostaccioli, lasagne), travel well. Ravioli is good to go, but I would avoid linguine with clam sauce. Red sauces on pasta are good, but white sauces can be a problem. Keep in mind that the customer might wish to reheat the order. Some foods reheat fine; others don’t.
Baked Ziti with Sausage
This pasta dish travels with ease and eats like a dream. Obviously, a big batch can be made ahead, portioned, and finished off with hot marinara sauce, just before it goes out the door for delivery. And it reheats well.
Yield: About 8 servings (scale up in direct proportion)
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup coarsely chopped onion
1 pound Italian sausage, casing removed
4 cups all-purpose ground tomatoes
2 teaspoons each dried oregano and dried basil
8 ounces ricotta cheese
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup chopped fl at-leaf parsley
¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound ziti, mostaccioli, or penne
½ pound mozzarella, shredded (about 2 cups)
In a large skillet or saute pan, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Add the onion and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the sausage. Cook and stir for 5 minutes, or until the sausage is cooked through. Remove from the heat and drain off excess grease. Add the tomatoes, oregano and basil. Cook the sauce at a steady simmer while prepping the rest.
In a large bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, salt, parsley and Parmesan.
In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until it is not quite al dente. Drain it well and add it to the ricotta cheese mixture.
Take the sauce off the heat and allow it to cool for 5 minutes. Add the sauce to the pasta and ricotta mixture and combine well.
Pour the pasta mixture into a 4- to 5-quart ovenproof baking dish. Level the top with the back of a spoon or spatula. Spread the mozzarella evenly over the pasta and bake until the cheese starts to brown and the sauce bubbles along the edge of the pan. Let stand for about 10 minutes before portioning. If necessary, reheat, sauce, and serve to order.
Pat Bruno is Pizza Today’s resident chef and a regular contributor. He is the former owner and operator of a prominent Italian cooking school in Chicago and is a food critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.
Photo by Josh Keown
White pizza is the hot new trend in fi ne dining Italian restaurants. For example, a fi ne-dining restaurant here in Chicago recently switched cuisines mid-bite –– it went from contemporary American to Italian –– and one of its featured dishes is a white pizza. The trend toward white pizza seems to grow a bit year by year. A couple of the more well known white pizzas include the clam pie served at Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana and the potato pie served at Sally’s Apizza, both in New Haven, Connecticut.
Simply put, a white pizza is a pizza without a pizza sauce, or at least that smear of red that tops 99 percent of the pizzas made around the world. Is a white pizza for you? I say, quite emphatically, yes! Unless you try something new you will come across as being old and tired. You can even add some drama to your menu by using white pizzas as signature pies. Yes, I know that sausage and pepperoni with sauce and mozzarella will always be the customers’ No. 1 choice, but if you introduce a couple of white pies, you just might be surprised at how eager your customers are to give one a try.
When it comes to white pizza, really sock the fl avor to it. For example, even though you might not be buying fresh herbs, consider bringing in a couple. The two I am thinking about are thyme and rosemary. These two fresh herbs will add a ton of fl avor to a potato pizza (recipe follows).
Use extra-virgin olive oil (a little goes a long way) instead of virgin olive oil. The fruity and up-flavor of extra virgin olive oil provides an elegant final touch to a white pizza.
If you’re using garlic, make sure it’s good and fresh. Old garlic tastes, well, old, and has a musty, off taste that can ruin not only a white pizza, but any other dish in which you use garlic. (Note: if you see a green “thread” in the center of a garlic clove, this means that the garlic is actually trying to root and that the clove is getting old. You can still use that clove, but take out the green root.)
Pancetta and Potato Pizza Pie
Yield: one 14-inch pizza (scale up in direct proportion)
1 14-inch pizza shell
¼ pound lean pancetta (aka baby pancetta), chopped*
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large redskin potato (about ¾ pound), peeled and sliced almost paper-thin
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons hot red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
In a small sauté pan over medium high heat, cook the pancetta until it starts to render its fat. Add the garlic. Stir and cook until the pancetta is crisp, about 7 minutes. Reserve in the pan.
Brush the crust with some of the oil from the sauté pan. Arrange the potatoes over the crust, up to the border, overlapping them if necessary. Sprinkle on the rosemary, thyme, and red pepper flakes.
Pour the reserved pancetta, including the fat in the pan, evenly over the pizza. Sprinkle on the Parmesan. Bake.
* If pancetta is not available, use bacon.
Chef’s Note: You can create a white clam pie by simply replacing the potatoes with chopped canned clams, using some clam juice to enhance the flavor.
Pat Bruno is Pizza Today’s resident chef and a regular contributor. He is the former owner and operator of a prominent Italian cooking school in Chicago and is a food critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.
Thin is In
Thin-crust pizza is popular –– and subjective. From fl at and crispy to chewy and oversized, thin-crust pizza certainly has its fair share of versions. Dough Doctor Tom Lehmann says a high protein, high gluten content fl our will produce the greatest potential for crispiness in the oven. He suggests tempering protein content down to 12 to 13 percent. Water content plays a part as well, but not by reducing it; instead, by increasing the water content, the dough can become softer and expand in the oven. Test different dough formulas until you hit the perfect thin-crust dough.
If you’ve got sandwiches on your menu, why not take them a step further and offer paninis? A panini press can be a great addition to your kitchen and can take your sandwiches beyond the lunch menu. Most restaurants look for a panini grill that envelops the sandwich and grills both sides at once to speed up the cooking process. Some versions even heat the top and the bottoms of the sandwiches at different temperatures –– perfect if the sandwich has cheese on only one side. And don’t cheapen your panini product by serving it with plain old bagged chips. Consider a premium pasta salad or a crispy fruit salad for a perfect panini plate!
When the weather turns cold, customers tend to belly up to the bar for entertainment. Over serving your guests is hazardous to both your customers and your business. The National Restaurant Association Education Foundation offers these tips to safely serve your customers: ❖ Train servers to track how many drinks customers have had, including the alcohol content of different drinks. ❖ Check IDs. Although some restaurants card if a patron looks under 30, don’t stop there –– train your servers to card anyway if they’re unsure. ❖ While training can be effective, establish a written policy and put it in the employees’ handbooks. Consider posting it for patrons to see. ❖ Coordinate with a local taxi cab company for reduced rates in return for gift certifi cates or food. By having a policy in place, and with proper training, you’re protecting your patrons and your business.
BLTs meet pizza
If you’re going to offer a BLT pizza, you’re going to need to improvise a bit to get the necessary fl avor –– after all, lettuce and the oven don’t walk hand-in-hand. Instead, consider making a salad-like pizza. Chop lettuce –– iceberg, leaf, romaine and even spinach –– and tomatoes and mix with mayonnaise in a bowl. Bake dough topped with mozzarella and chopped bacon. Top with the lettuce mixture before serving. If you want to mix it up a bit, consider using pancetta, or substituting a light ranch dressing in place of the mayonnaise. Try it out as a limited time offer fi rst and make changes as needed.
Photos by Rick Daugherty & Josh Keown
A first generation Italian-American, John Picarazzi, grew up in a traditional Italian family where he often enjoyed fresh sun-dried tomatoes. Picarazzi’s relatives brought the custom over from Italy where Italians often dried fresh tomatoes on tile roofs to preserve them throughout winter when tomatoes are out of season. The concentrated tomato flavor memory carried with Picarazzi into adulthood. “I particularly remember my Uncle Armando’s dried, fresh tomatoes from his backyard garden that he cured in jars with extra virgin olive oil,” he says.
In 1996 when Picarazzi, along with Steve Koch, opened Pizza Mondo in Bend, Oregon, there was no doubt that sun-dried tomatoes would appear on the menu. “I felt strongly about utilizing them,” says Picarazzi.
After experimenting with different ingredient combinations and flavor profiles Picarazzi found that the sweet flavor and chewy texture of sun-dried tomatoes paired best with slightly acidic ingredients like Kalamata olives and artichoke hearts. Enter the Mount Olympus pizza, which is topped with tomato sauce, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, Kalamata olives, garlic, feta, mozzarella, Parmesan, roasted red onion, basil and oregano. “It was one of our first specialty pizzas and became a bestselling pie,” says Picarazzi, who estimates an 18-inch pie has a $5 to $6 food cost.
Picarazzi also features sun-dried tomatoes on the pesto portabella pizza, which displays grilled portabella mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, garlic, mozzarella and Parmesan atop basil pesto tomato sauce. Picarazzi estimates an 18-inch pie has a $6 to $7 food cost, and he notes that customers frequently request sun-dried tomatoes as a build-your-own pizza topping.
Now considered a gourmet ingredient, sundried tomatoes weren’t always so popular. David Bernard, owner of Sono Italiano Corp., a sun-dried tomato manufacturer based in Arlington, Texas, recalled hearing food trade show attendees say they “never saw peppers look like that before” during the 1980s. It was in the early ‘90s, Bernard says, that sun-dried tomatoes appeal grew. They evolved from a whole product into a halved, then julienned product. “The julienned product blew the industry wide open since it saved prep time and widened the use of the product,” says Bernard.
Now sun-dried tomatoes are also available chopped, making it versatile for breads and dough. “There’s such a wide range of uses for sun-dried tomatoes. It enhances the flavor in cooking all the way from breads to pasta sauce,” Bernard adds.
Daniel Richer, chef/owner of Arturo’s Osteria and Pizzeria in Maplewood, New Jersey, enjoys sun-dried tomatoes for their year-round availability, long shelve-life and intense, natural tomato flavor. He purchases packaged sun-dried tomatoes and reconstitutes them for 30 minutes in warm water. Then he seasons them with kosher salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil. “At first they look like shriveled raisins,” he says. “Depending on the dish, sun-dried tomatoes take on different flavors.”
Richer places them in grilled chicken penne, where he sautés the tomatoes in extra virgin olive oil. “Sautéing them turns the oil reddish/orange and really brings out the tomato’s bold flavor. It’s a super popular dish,” he says.
He creates a sun-dried tomato pesto by grinding up reconstituted sun-dried tomatoes with garlic, basil and water in a food processor. Then he thins it with olive oil and adds salt and pepper. “You can use the sun-dried tomato pesto in so many ways,” says Richer. He spreads it across sandwiches and pizza crust or tosses it with pasta. The sun-dried tomato pesto enhances a salad built with mixed greens, toasted pine nuts, gorgonzola and house balsamic vinaigrette. “The sun-dried tomatoes have a lot of acidity. That acidity picks up the salad’s flavors by cutting through the murky gorgonzola and nutty pine nuts to really brighten the salad,” he says.
Darren Carbary, co-owner of Serioz Denver Style Pizzeria in Denver, and a franchisee owner of Pasquini’s Pizzeria, a fi ve-unit Denver-based operation, has utilized packaged sun-dried tomatoes since opening. “Sun-dried tomatoes are a highpriced item, but the cost averages out since you don’t need to use much — just enough to bring out the taste and flavor of the other ingredients,” he says.
Sun-dried tomatoes turn up in Carbary’s chicken pesto calzone, which is also filled with artichoke hearts, housemade pesto, fresh mozzarella and chicken. “It’s our No. 1 selling calzone,” says Carbary, who estimates the calzone has a $3.25 food cost. Similar ingredients emerge on the top-selling chicken pesto pizza, which Carbary estimates has a $2.50 food cost. “Sun-dried tomatoes really give a dish pizzazz, and they are a no-brainer to work with,” he says.
Although, Picarazzi cautions that sun-dried tomatoes char quickly in hot commercial ovens if placed last on a raw pizza. “We lay our sundried tomatoes down prior to most of our other ingredients,” he says.
With its bold flavor, ease of use and long shelf life, sun-dried tomatoes continue to be a favorite ingredient among operators. “Sun-dried tomatoes have greatly contributed to our success. We feel passionately about the ingredient,” says Picarazzi.
Sun-dried Tomato Snapshot
Sun-dried tomatoes are made from sun drying, oven drying or dehydration. They are sold drypacked in cellophane or oil-packed. To use oil-packed, simply drain the tomatoes. Recover unused tomatoes with oil. Reconstitute dry-packed tomatoes in water, broth, wine or oil. Don’t over soak or they will become mushy and flavorless. Once reconstituted, use within several days or pack in olive oil and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Place unopened product in cool, dry storage.
Chicken Pesto Pizza
Yield: One 16-inch pizza
2 pound dough ball
3-4 ounces pesto
1½ ounces sun-dried tomatoes
6 ounces mozzarella
4 ounces artichoke hearts
6 ounces fresh, Roma tomatoes, sliced
4 ounces of Italian spiced marinated chicken breast, cubed
2 ounces roasted red peppers
Roll out dough. Coat pizza with pesto. Layer sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella, artichoke hearts, tomato and chicken. Top with peppers. Bake for 10 minutes in a 400 F oven. Recipe courtesy of Darren Carbary, co-owner, Serioz Denver Style Pizzeria, Denver
Melanie Wolkoff Wachsman is a freelance writer in Louisville, Kentucky. She covers food, business and lifestyle trends.
Photos by Rick Daugherty & Josh Keown
“I ordered a pizza and it took two hours to get to us,” shares Texas resident Heather McBride. “I kept calling the restaurant to find out where it was and they kept telling me it was on the way. I had ordered from this place before. But, needless to say, I never ordered from them again.” A botched delivery can end a loyal customer relationship; but, when you’re trying to deliver dozens of meals to customers all over town, errors are bound to occur. It’s important to remember that how you handle a mistake can mean the difference between keeping or losing a valuable customer.
There are several steps that you can take to appease a frustrated delivery customer. First, make it easy for them to communicate and resolve their issue. At LaRosa’s Pizzeria, headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, they’ve instituted a simple way for customers to get immediate results. Even with 62 locations and up to 30,000 deliveries a week, LaRosa’s allows customers to quickly reach a supervisor with the touch of one button. Executive VP of Marketing, Pete Buscani, explains: “What we’ve done to expedite any issues is when a customer calls to report that we forgot something, the customer is able to go right to the supervisor, just by pressing 2. It’s a very short phone tree.” Then the supervisor can look at the order, see what happened and handle the issue.
Second, stay calm and apologetic. The old adage, “the customer is always right” is doubly true when the customer is stuck at home with an incomplete or inaccurate order. Munish Narula, owner of Tiffi n Etc., an Indian-style pizzeria in Philadelphia, has trained his staff to handle these scenarios. “First, if a mistake does happen, we make sure that we take responsibility and apologize,” he says.
Third, correct the mistake. “If they forgot a dish and (say), ‘I paid for it, I want it.’ Go get it. No questions asked,” says Craig Laban, food and restaurant critic for The Philadelphia Inquirer.
At LaRosa’s, “if something is forgotten, our first response is to just have the driver bring it out,” explains Buscani.
A particularly tricky situation arises if an order is sent to the wrong customer. Giuseppe Borruso, director of operations and research and development for Abitino’s Pizzerias in New York City, relates. “If we send a chicken Parmesan to somebody who ordered a different entrée, that would be an extreme problem,” he says. “Then, of course, one customer’s happy because he got more food — but the other customer didn’t get it. So, we have to please the second customer. So, we’ll bring out the right order. The first customer got a big meal on us –– we’re not going to recall it. Leave the food with the customer and send a new fresh one to the other customer.”
But what if correcting a mistake is not possible or not enough? Laban explains: “The problem is, you’re all sitting down to eat and it’s a convenience food and then you’re totally inconvenienced. So what I really think people need to do is make some gesture like a credit to your account or a gift certificate. You want to make people feel like you value their business.
And there are all kinds of gestures restaurants can make. Good restaurants go out of their way to make amends.”
Adds Buscani: “Let’s say the customer is a business and they were eating lunch and they can’t wait 30 minutes to get the item that’s missing Then we move to a credit. We value the credit to what was forgotten or what happened.”
At Tiffi n Etc., they have several options. “When we bring a missing item, we’ll bring a complimentary item as well,” says Narula. “But that is not always best. Option Two is to offer a complimentary main course with their next order. This does a few things. It tells the customer we care, they feel like they’ve been compensated with something of better value, and it ensures they will come back and place another order.”
Coupons help ease the ache of mistakes at Abitino’s, where they’ll send a $5 or $20 coupon to the customer. Borruso says on some occasions, they’ll send a ‘Be My Guest’ card inviting a second guest to the dining room for free. “We are always trying to show appreciation to a customer whose order has been a little mishandled,” Borruso says.
These overtures go a long way to retaining a temporarily frustrated customer. “The little money you spend to make a gesture will come back exponentially in devoted business,” Laban declares.
In New York City, customer Julie Marie shares this enlightening story: “I remember once I ordered dinner from a restaurant and they forgot my salad. When I called to tell them, they sent it over without question along with a slice of pie. I thought that was very considerate and went a long way to ease my frustration. I don’t remember them as the place that messed up my order. I remember them as the place that sent me blackberry pie.”
There are many ways to minimize delivery mistakes. The first step is receiving the order correctly, so consider having employees dedicated solely to taking phone orders. This minimizes errors from distractions and multi-tasking.
Online ordering can also help. “The thing our guests like about online ordering is that they feel like they’re in complete control,” says Pete Buscani, executive vice president of marketing at LaRosa’s Pizzeria in Cincinnati.
You can also maintain quality control by checking and double-checking the order. At LaRosa’s, a dispatcher checks the order, packages it and gets it ready for the driver, who checks it again before leaving.
Labels are also very helpful. At Tiffi n Etc., “everything is labeled, from main courses to bread to sauces” says owner Munish Narula. “Once the pizza box is closed, you don’t want to keep opening it. Also, a lot of our sauces look similar, so it makes it easier. When we are checking the food, labels make it easy.”
Mary Byrne Lamb is a freelance writer focused on issues in business, marketing and food service. She lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
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