Submit your questions via e-mail to Jeremy White (firstname.lastname@example.org) — make sure to put “Ask Big Dave” in the subject line.
We’ll pass the best questions on to Dave each month for his highly sought-after advice.
Dave, I just opened my first pizzeria a couple of months ago. Labor has consistently been running
between 20-22 percent. At times, I feel short-staffed, but I really can’t afford to hire new help right now until I get sales higher. Do you have any suggestions for me? Is my labor where it should be?
Davie P’s Pizza
The industry average pushes 30 percent of gross sales. If you are computing wages, salaries and benefits correctly, you are running a phenomenal operation. Since new operations generally are not well-oiled machines, they will often run labor in the high 30s. By the way, to clear up a common misconception, labor cost is not what the computer says in its on-the-fly report. Most POS systems are fantastic time clocks that can keep a running total of clocked-in employees to the minute. Divide that amount into the sales (less sales tax) and you get a labor report.
Most accountants worth their fees will describe labor costs as the sum of:
1. Hourly wages
2. Salaried managers
3. Workers’ comp insurance premiums
4. Unemployment contributions
5. Medicare and Social Security matching fees
6. Any paid vacation or medical insurance charges
8. Basically, any cost associated with providing a job for someone
You are to be congratulated on your 20 to 22 percent labor. Please ask your financial person to compute in accordance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and get back to me. I believe you are working your guts out with a fair amount of in-training crew.
If you feel like your customers aren’t receiving extraordinary guest service at every step of the hospitality process, you are doomed.
My drivers are complaining about doing extra work during non-peak times, such as cleaning and answering phones. But I don’t have enough delivery orders for them to do nothing but deliver. What should I cross-train them to do?
A&K’s Pizza Pub
Your problem started at the time of hire. As the owner, you have failed to make job descriptions crystal clear. I developed an employee handbook as well as a power point presentation that new hires had to watch. Afterwards, they were tested to make sure they understood the material.
I’ll assume that you accidently hired a couple of ‘prima donnas’ and they are resisting doing the dirty work. If you think you can turn them around, take them back to square one. If you know they are not going to adapt, help them with a career change. And get to work on that employee handbook! u
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.
Photos by Josh Keown
Did you know that a 14-inch pizza actually has nearly twice the surface area of a 10-inch pizza? It’s true, and all it takes to show customers that fact is a little simple math. Let’s turn back the clock to your school days, where we’re sure you learned in math class that “pie” equals 3.14.
To determine the area of a pizza, you take pie (3.14) and multiply it by the radius (which is half of the diameter) squared.
It’s easier than we just made it sound:
The radius of a 10-inch pizza is five (remember, radius is half the diameter). Five squared is 25. Twenty-five multiplied by 3.14 is 78.5. So the area of a 10-inch pizza is 78.5 square inches.
By contrast, the area of a 14-inch pizza is 154 square inches.
Since your 14-inch pizza is practically double the size of your 10-inch pizza, you’re presumably using twice the sauce, twice the cheese, twice the pepperoni, etc. to make your 14-inch pizza. But are you charging double? Probably not.
Let’s look at another popular size, the 16-inch. It is 201 square inches — approximately 31 percent larger than a 14-inch. Does this mean your 16-inch pizza should be priced 31 percent higher than your 14-inch pizza? Probably so. If a 14-inch cheese pizza is priced at $8.99, for example, then a 16-inch should be priced at $11.75.
Unfortunately, some customers aren’t willing to pay $11.75 for a cheese pizza when they can get one loaded with toppings from a major chain for under $10. That’s okay — you don’t want those customers to start with!
Ultimately, the best method for
determining the final price of your
pizza would be to figure your food costs, then find an acceptable markup from there. You likely won’t make as much per pie on your larger pizzas, but you won’t alienate your customers, either.
Finally, if you are resigning yourself to making more profit on a small pizza than a large, there’s no need to fret. Push your smaller pies as part of a bundle that includes appetizers, dessert, drinks, etc. That will allow you to increase ticket averages while increasing sales of the more profitable pizzas.
Today. In the meantime, let me just say that this show never ceases to amaze me. I’ve been immersed in this industry for more than a decade now, and I still learn something new every time I hit the Expo show floor. Here are five things I learned in Las Vegas this year (in no particular order):
1. Operators recognize the need to raise prices due to commodity increases, but they are scared to do it. It’s a Catch-22: “I’m afraid not to raise prices, but I’m also afraid to raise them” was a common sentiment at the Beer & Bull Idea Exchange. The time is now, people. Do it.
2. Ricotta is probably the most versatile cheese a pizzeria can have in its arsenal. It can be used in pizza, pas-ta, calzones, sandwiches, salads and desserts alike. As Chef Jeff aptly demonstrated, there is no reason ricotta shouldn’t be in your ingredient inventory.
3. Your customers want a nutritional analysis of your products to be made readily available to them. Despite what you’ve heard from lobbyists who want said information hidden, it is not overly difficult or expensive to provide that information. It’s the right thing to do, so do it!
4. Understanding your P&L is really just the beginning of figuring out the financial health of your pizza business. While you don’t need to become an accounting expert, it behooves you to get as close as you can to being one. Simply making great pizza isn’t enough anymore — it hasn’t been for years.
5. The recession is over, but recovery is slow. That said, this industry’s passion hasn’t waned despite the eco-nomic times. The state of the pizza industry is becoming stronger by the day.
What did you learn at International Pizza Expo 2011? What do you hope to learn at next year’s show? E-mail me [email@example.com] and let me know.
ON ANOTHER NOTE: It is with regret that we must say good-bye to a pair of long-time Pizza Today and In-ternational Pizza Expo staff members. Following International Pizza Expo 2011, Pat Cravens and Linda Keith both
announced their retirements.
Pat, our editorial coordinator, has been the glue that holds this magazine together for a decade. Before that, she served Pizza Today in other capacities. She will be sorely missed by the entire staff of Pizza Today.
Linda, vice president of meetings and conferences, has worked tirelessly for years to make sure the educa-tional seminars and other meeting components at International Pizza Expo operate on a world-class level. Her contributions to the Expo have been monumental and she, too, will be sorely missed.
I wish both of these ladies nothing but the best in their retirements.
Jeremy White, editor-in-chief
Photos by Josh Keown
Last month, I discussed a few of the ins and outs of making great thin- and thick-crust pizzas. This month, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss some of the ways to manage thick-crust pizzas.
The greatest management problem with deep-dish stems from the fact that these pizzas need to be proofed (allowed to rise) for a period of time between panning and baking. The most popular method is to allow the dough to rise in the pan until it reaches a prescribed height. Once that is reached, it is then taken to the cooler where the dough stabilizes. When determining how much to let the dough rise before taking it to the cooler, keep in mind that it will continue to rise in the cooler until it reaches an internal temperature of about 45 F. This means that you will need to allow the dough to rise to something close to half of the desired proofed height before taking it to the cooler. After allowing the dough sufficient time to cool, the pans can be wrapped or placed into containers to prevent the dough from drying out. Once stabilized, the dough can usually be held in the cooler for up to 24 hours.
To use the dough, just remove from the cooler, unwrap, dress the order and bake. It must be noted that these chilled doughs will require a different bake time and temperature than pizzas made with warm, proofed dough. We have found that deep-dish pizzas baked with pre-proofed, refrigerated dough typically require a longer bake at a slightly lower temperature than you would bake the same pizza with a freshly made, non pre-proofed, refrigerated dough. When baking in a deck or stone hearth oven, be mindful that, due to the longer baking time, you may need to place a screen under the deep-dish pans to prevent the bottom of the pizzas from getting excessively dark or over baked.
As you can see, there is a lot of subjectivity in this process. To remove some of it, you can mark the pizza pans with a reference mark (slight indentation) to show the targeted dough height before taking the dough to the cooler. Or, you might consider purchasing a dough proofer with temperature and humidity controls. With a dough proofer, all you need to do is keep your finished dough temperatures to within a couple degrees of each other, then set the controls to provide approximately 95 to 100 F temperature with 70 to 75 percent relative humidity. From that point on, the rising time will be quite consistent from dough to dough, resulting in a faster transition from the proofing stage to the cooler.
Now, let’s take a look at thin-crust pizza dough. Taking cold, thin crust dough directly to the oven will normally result in someone getting a lot of practice with the bubble popper. Even when heavily docked with a dough docker, the dough still exhibits a penchant to bubble almost uncontrollably. To counter this, you should plan on pulling the thin crust dough balls out of the cooler 90 to 120 minutes before you anticipate using them to make dough skins. By allowing the dough balls to temper for this period of time, you will significantly reduce the dough’s tendency to bubble during baking.
Once the dough balls have been tempered, they may be left at room temperature (covered to prevent drying) for up to an additional three hours. Or, if you are so moved, you can also begin opening the dough balls and flattening them after the requisite tempering period. If you do this, place the dough skins onto mesh screens and immediately take them to the cooler. Place them on a wire tree rack and allow them to cool for about an hour. Once cooled, cover the rack with a plastic bag or rack cover to prevent any drying. The dough skins can be stored in the cooler in this manner for 24 to 36 hours without loss of quality.
To use the dough skins, however, it will still be necessary to let them sit at room temperature for a bit before using them. But because the skins are so thin, they will temper in 20 to 30 minutes. When using these refrigerated skins, I like to lift them off of the screen and manually touch them up a little, bringing them out to full size if necessary. Next, lightly dock the dough before dressing the order.
As was mentioned with the thick crust, pre-proofed dough, it may be necessary to make some slight adjustments to the oven temperature and baking time to accommodate the colder temperature of this dough. Test the dough first using your normal baking times and temperature to see if any changes are needed. If they are, the
direction will be to lower the temperature slightly and extend the baking time by about a minute. u
Tom Lehmann is a director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas.
BY BILL OAKLEY, EXECUTIVE V.P.
I want to personally thank all the pizza professionals that attended this year’s International Pizza Expo®. The 2011 show was undoubtedly one of the biggest and best industry events ever held, with a show floor the size of nearly 5 football fields, 450 exhibiting companies and 930-plus booths, all devoted to America’s favorite food – pizza!
You could feel the excitement and electricity coming from our contest and demonstration areas, where the World Pizza Games® and the International Pizza Challenge™ had a record nine World Titles up for grabs. Throw in the $20,000 Mega Bucks Giveaway and the New Exhibitor Treasure Hunt, and we had nearly $60,000 in total prize money awarded this year. If you couldn’t attend this year’s show and were wondering who walked away with the hardware, cash and bragging rights, please make sure to read the Expo wrap-up article in the May issue of Pizza Today.
The great thing about Pizza Expo is that no matter how many times you’ve attended past shows, there’s always something new you can learn or implement that will help improve your pizzeria. In fact, I know it seems a long way off right now, but it’s never too early to start making plans to attend next year’s Expo, which is scheduled for March 13-15 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. There’s no telling what we’ll come up with to top this year’s show, but I’m sure we’ll plan several exciting new twists for 2011. This year we offered more than 80 seminars, workshops and demonstrations. Next year I hope to have 100.
As always, we want you to know that we are committed to improving and increasing the number and quality of exhibits, demonstrations, events and seminars at our trade shows. You’ll see this commitment now more than ever through the pages of Pizza Today, NAPO and our e-newsletters.
When deciding which trade shows to attend, remember that general foodservice shows are precisely that … general (even if they claim to have a pizza pavilion, contests and a few pizza exhibitors). Remember, if you’re looking for new pizza products, suppliers, networking opportunities or just a few ideas on how to improve your pizzeria, then International Pizza Expo® is the only show for you!
For more information on Pizza Expo, please feel free to give us a call at (800) 489-8324.
It’s all pizza and it’s all for you!
Executive Vice President
Photos by Josh Keown
In our experience, there are a few necessities that make a winning pizzeria. There’s personality, of course, and great food. There’s a good business model and experience to back it up. Finally, it takes gumption to tie them all together, and that’s precisely what Kelvin and Mandy Slater have done. Their company, Blue Moon Pizza, has two locations in the
Atlanta area, and brings in a combined $3.2 million annually. We had to see for ourselves what made Blue Moon so successful, and it did not take long to figure out that the Slaters are the operation’s heart and soul.
The husband and wife team have a natural give and take that began when the pair met while working for a fast casual restaurant chain in Florida. They have experience in several corporate brands, and “we bring a lot of that to this concept –– the structure, and the training and the staffing,” says Mandy. “But, we’re also kind of mom-and-popish in that we have a small staff (and) we’re closed on Sundays –– we’re a nice little mix of both.”
The original Blue Moon Pizza opened in 2003, with the second three years later in a mixed-use facility that includes homes and businesses. Why pizza, especially with the couple’s background in corporate cuisine? “We felt that you didn’t have to introduce it,” Kelvin says. “When you think about other concepts, not everybody eats those things. Everybody loves pizza.”
When coming up with their own concept, the Slaters wanted a place that was inviting and would appeal to many different demographics. The two locations are polar opposites when it comes to day parts –– one is surrounded by businesses and does a better lunch, while the other caters more to the dinner crowd. Dine-in accounts for about 40 percent of business, with delivery about 30 percent. They deliver within a three-mile radius. How does the Smyrna location, which is surrounded by homes and other restaurants, manage with so much competition? “We’re the only pizza place,” Mandy says. “Everybody’s a little bit different. There’s a tavern, there’s Mexican, there’s sushi –– there’s one of everything. We do have a lot of regulars who live in the complex. But the tavern does a great bar business, while we close at 11. We’re just different.”
Blue Moon has its deck ovens front of the house, allowing guests to watch as their pizzas are created and baked. “People like to see the ovens,” Mandy says. “They’re attractive. (People) want to see the guys cooking … Our line guys, they have a lot of fun. We try to include our guests in some of that fun as well. It is an entertainment factor.” On a busy Friday or Saturday night, the ovens –– manned by seven or eight employees –– can pump out more than 200 pizzas. “I can cook 20 large 18-inch pizzas every 8 minutes. I can do 24 mediums and probably 40 personals,” Kelvin says.
Both locations have full liquor licenses, and alcohol accounts for about 10 percent of sales. “We have a nice list of specialty martinis, and we do a Martini Night and different drink specials every day,” Mandy says. “People do tend to gravitate towards beer and wine here, although we do have some higher-end beers on tap and also by the bottle. … We don’t just have the regular, average beers. We try to offer something for the connoisseur as well.”
That same philosophy applies to the food menu as well. Blue Moon offers appetizers, salads, calzones and stromboli sandwiches, pizza and desserts. While traditional pizza is available, a line of specialty pizzas sell well. At the beginning of their business, “we started
asking our friends what was an absolute must –– what’s the best part? Is it the sauce? The cheese? The dough?” Mandy says. “Hands down, everybody said the dough.”
The Slaters put their own signature touches on traditional toppings, lending a unique spin to their eclectic pizza menu. For instance, the bestselling Classic uses red onions over white and tri-colored peppers instead of the more traditional green. Their barbecue sauce is a blend of sauces they liked, they season their own chicken and they flavor their bacon with brown sugar. It’s labor intensive –– the staff starts prep at 9 a.m. –– but it’s what makes Blue Moon unique. “We make our own meatballs –– it’s actually Mandy’s grandmother’s recipe –– we make our own mozzarella sticks (and) chicken Parmesan. Everything that we have, we season,” Kelvin says. “We want the flavor, not just the ingredients.”
Kelvin says that while many pizzerias limit the size of their gourmet pizzas, Blue Moon offers theirs up to 18 inches. They also offer a Grandma’s Pizza, a 16-inch Sicilian-style topped with cheese, EVOO, hand-crushed plum tomatoes and fresh basil.
To keep food costs down, the company orders daily and “we have a good understanding of what we need day in and day out so we don’t over-order,” Mandy says. “As far as keeping food costs down goes, we measure cheese to some degree. … We cut portion size and we make sure the cuts are right. But, that’s the corporate side of us. Measuring is nice for two reasons –– of course, you want to cut costs, but you want people to get the same pizza every time. … Your regular customers notice the big differences there.”
They also try to use ingredients across the menu to avoid waste. “We use our pizza dough for anything we can –– sandwiches, rolls, appetizers, salads … anything,” Mandy says.
For many pizzerias, opening a second location is often the hardest, as restaurateurs struggle with operations and management issues. Now that the Slaters have two stores under their belt, are there more Blue Moons in the future? Kelvin says they have three leases in the works and plan to utilize managing partners in future corporate stores. “We know we can’t be in all these places at once, but we’re just going to have to rely on hiring the right people,” Kelvin says.
Mandy agrees. “It’s going to be hiring the right people and developing the right training materials and manuals.”
What’s in a name?
Where does the name Blue Moon Pizza come from? Co-owner Mandy Slater says she wishes she had a better story, but their partner at the time suggested it. “We were saying that pizza this good only comes along once in a blue moon. We’ve since done a little branding and refined it a little bit. … The actual blue moon event is a rare and special event and we try to be a rare, out-of-the-ordinary place.”
Of course, Blue Moon is also the name of a popular beer. Do the Slaters have to worry about trademarking issues? “They love us,” Co-owner Kelvin Slater says. “We sell a lot of Blue Moon beer for them. Everything you see, they give us, like the mural, the umbrellas, the beer, the glasses, the coasters. … It’s been a good partnership. I’m just waiting for them to come to us and want to do a brewery and pizza place together!”
Mandy Wolf Detwiler is managing editor at Pizza Today.
Mike Cain has owned Family Pizzeria since 1985. He uses family recipes and the restaurant is firmly steeped in the local community.
Q: You offer a 28-inch pizza. What logistics are involved in producing such a size?
A: We had to cut a notch in our kitchen doorway to get the pies out for dine-in orders. We also buy custom-made boxes to sell them for take-out. On our busiest nights we can only cook two at a time, making for a longer wait time.
Q: Family Pizzeria is very involved in the local community. What do you do to help out and stay top-of-mind for local residents?
A: My late wife, Traci, always said, “don’t be in the community. Be a part of it.” We make donations like coupons, t-shirts, cash and food to support many local events. We are currently working on a mobile pizza unit for more hands-on support to law enforcement, fire and rescue, military and more local functions.
Q: Your Steakosaurus challenge gets folks to try out a monster of a sandwich for a chance to win prizes. What was the impetus behind offering the challenge?
A: My daughter thought since we offered a 28-inch pizza, why not make it a challenge? It took off so well she thought a steak challenge would have equal success. Now coming soon will be our famous suicide wing challenge. We dare you!
Q: You offer some plated dinner specials, such as prime rib and Alaskan snow crab, when available. Why not just stick to pizza?
A: Being an independent owner, I am not restrained by corporate regulations. I’ve enjoyed working in restaurants all my life and my customers know I listen. We have a large following, and their feedback has encouraged me to offer a variety of dishes. We like to satisfy all their hunger needs.
Q: You offer a $10 pizza special on Tuesday and Wednesday. What other specials work well for you?
A: Besides our mentioned plated specials we also offer daily lunch specials. Our $10 pizza special is also offered on any open day if you buy five or more pies at one time. We will also sell some menu items in bulk to suit our customers’ needs upon request.
Photos by Josh Keown & Rick Daugherty
Good, old-fashioned hamburger has adorned pizza across America for decades now. Using ground beef is simple, but bear in mind that there are different levels of leanness to consider when purchasing the ingredient. The leaner you go, the more expensive it gets.
It’s important to figure out how to cross-utilize all the ingredients on your menu. For example, would it make sense to add hamburgers to your sandwich section? Could you use the ground beef in a marinara meat sauce? These are just options to keep in mind. But for this story, let’s focus on ground beef as a pizza topping.
Regardless of the lean-to-fat ratio you use, make sure you buy real ground beef. There is no need to use beef that has fillers. Trust me, that inferior product won’t really save you a buck in the long run because it will cost you customers.
Once you’ve decided on the ground beef that you’re going to purchase, you need to cook it off in a big skillet. I prefer to season my ground beef slightly with a little salt and pepper while I’m cooking it to give it some flavor. Once it’s cooked, drain well and then cool it as quickly as you can for safety reasons. Laying it out on sheet pans and cooling it in the refrigerator or freezer is a great way to achieve this. Next, you want to portion the ground beef in appropriate size containers or bags. If you want to prepare plenty in advance, you may freeze this product and thaw it as you need it.
If you want to spice things up a little, no problem! Just like we take plain wings and toss them in different sauces, we can do the same thing with our ground beef to create new masterpieces on a pizza crust for our guests. Consider the following options:
Mexican pizza: Right after you drain your beef, set some aside and add taco seasoning. Use this both for an amazing taco salad and a Mexican pizza. To create the latter, use salsa on crust instead of pizza sauce. Top with peppers, onions, tomatoes, black olives and taco beef, and blend some cheddar cheese with your pizza cheese for extra oomph. Also, garnishing with a little bit of shredded Romaine makes for a great finishing touch.
BBQ beef pizza: Mix a little BBQ sauce in with your ground beef. Top your dough with BBQ sauce, bacon, ham, BBQ beef, onions, cheese and bake to perfection. BBQ lovers will praise you for this one.
Buffalo beef pizza: Buffalo chicken has been popular, but there’s no reason not to season some cooked ground beef with spicy Buffalo sauce. Use this as a topping, along with peppers, onions and cheese. Serve this with celery sticks and ranch dressing for dipping and you’ve got a hot seller. u
Jeff Freehof owns The Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia. He is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today and a speaker at the Pizza Expo family of trade shows.
Photos by Rick Daugherty
Editor’s Note: This is the second installment of a two-part series on tip reporting. Part I was published in our March issue.
Your employees are required by law to report 100 percent of their tips. As the employer, it is your responsibility to make sure employee tips are accurately reported. To assist with this, there are several tip reporting agreements designed by the IRS to encourage employer diligence.
The Tip Rate Determination Agreement (TRDA) requires at least 75 percent of employees to sign a Tipped Employee Participation Agreement (TEPA) and report tips received at or above the rate determined by the IRS and the restaurant. The Tip Reporting Alternative Commitment (TRAC) is where an employer agrees to establish and maintain a quarterly education program for all directly and indirectly tipped employees as well as formal tip reporting procedures as outlined by the IRS. Employers assume responsibility for tip reporting, and the IRS doesn’t assess the business employment taxes on unreported tips unless the employees are audited first. There’s also the Employer-Designed Tip Reporting Alternative Commitment (EmTRAC), available only to businesses where employees receive both cash and credit tips. The newest effort by the IRS to simplify tip reporting is the voluntary Attributed Tip Income Program (ATIP). Eligibility requires that at least 20 percent of gross receipts be charged receipts with credit tips, and at least 75 percent of tipped employees must sign employee participation agreements. ATIP provides a formula for employers to determine tip rates. The IRS will not initiate tip examinations if ATIP requirements are met satisfactorily.
Employers who operate large food or beverage establishments (food or beverage is provided for consumption on the premises, tipping is a customary practice and more than 10 employees who work more than 80 hours were normally employed on a typical business day during the previous calendar year) must also annually file Form 8027, Employer’s Annual Information Return of Tip Income and Allocated Tips to report employee tips. (See IRS.gov for forms and more info; The National Restaurant Association also provides information on income laws, see www.restaurant.org).
None of this sits particularly well with pizzeria owners, and the information overload and complexity of the issue is dizzying. Melissa Klein, operations manager and finance director at Stone Hearth Pizza (which has three locations in Belmont, Cambridge and Needham, Massachusetts), says pizzerias are especially vulnerable to negligible tip reporting by young employees who don’t understand either the actual legalities regarding tip reporting or the serious consequences associated with taking them for granted.
“Tip reporting is one of those areas where people like to interpret the law to their own benefit, which, quite frankly, when you’re dealing with the government, you can’t do that,” says Klein. “You don’t want to do that. When you’re a young server — a lot of kids in college will become a server and they don’t fully grasp the implications of tip reporting — it’s so tempting for them (to under-report) … Say, at the end of a typical night, they make $125. (It’s tempting when) they do their cash out (to say) … no one really knows I made $125 — let me just put in $75!”
Klein counters potential confusion by making education a priority from the moment a server is hired. “From the first day of training, they are explained how it works, and that is that you declare 100 percent of your tips,” says Klein.
She also explains to employees that it’s beneficial to them to correctly report their income, because not doing so can be detrimental when seeking a loan or other income-based agreement.
As the IRS continues to interpret and develop tip-reporting regulations, experts advise showing a resolute effort and respect for the law. “What I can suggest and what I always focus on, is creating a procedure and audit trail that shows that you understand the legal requirements and have taken all available steps to ensure compliance,” says James Sinclair of OnSite Consulting. “While good faith might not be good enough, it certainly does not hurt and also ensures without question that you cannot be accused of letting compliance be ignored or fueling any violations.”
When in doubt, pizzeria owners are making concerted attempts to show compliance. “We make sure that, in the aggregate, employees report their tips in an amount that is consistent with the tipping percentage that customers tip on their credit card charges,” says Peter Cooperstein, president of Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria in San Mateo, California. “Now that almost all of our sales are by credit cards, life has become much simpler — both for us and for the IRS. There is no way for us to assure that our servers declare every dollar; however, if we were audited, the IRS would certainly see that we are making a serious effort.”
The best way to avoid an audit is to make sure your operation has an accurate system of checks and balances for tip reporting in place, and continuously educate yourself and staff about income laws. Tip reporting should be a priority, not an afterthought. “If this topic is just one of the million things on a pizzeria manager’s list, it’s a sure thing the ball will get dropped,” says Dan Simons, principal at Vucurevich Simons Advisory Group, a restaurant consulting agency. “This is one fumble, that if picked up by the IRS, either on audit or due to a complaint from a disgruntled employee, can be devastating to a business. While it may seem tedious to stay up to speed with all voluntary compliance guidelines, the alternative is far worse than tedious.”
Lee Erica Elder is a freelance writer in NYC.
While there are many varieties of onions, the four types most commonly used in just about every restaurant are: yellow, Spanish, red and scallions (also know as green onions). When we get into fine-dining restaurants, however, the usage expands to include more exotic onions such as Maui sweet, Vidalia, Walla Walla, cippoline, pearl, shallots and
torpedo onions. Somewhere along the way, depending on the style of your menu, you might want to add one of the exotic onions to your repertoire. For example, cippoline onions are a
traditional Italian variety that is firm and juicy. It’s ideal for soups, stews and casseroles.
Those who know my cooking style will recall that I advocate sautéing vegetables in olive oil and/or butter to develop their flavor. For onions, this is a must. When prepping onions for use as a pizza topping, I also suggest either sweating or caramelizing them.
Sweating — gently cooking — is a common technique, and it accomplishes several things. For starters, it softens the texture, increases sweetness and reduces sulfur content (which makes it milder). I suggest sweating onions for dishes such as rosotti, pasta sauce and pizza.
Do this by first slicing or chopping a yellow onion. Add just enough oil or butter to cover the bottom of a deep sauté pan. If you use too much fat, you’ll smother the onions.
Sauté and stir over medium heat until the onions are soft.
If you decide to caramelize, you’ll achieve a unique flavor. Once an onion’s sugars have caramelized, a variety of sweet, rich flavors develop that add depth to any dish. I recommend caramelizing onions for use on sandwiches, hamburgers, roasted meats or as a pizza topping.
To caramelize for a pizza topping, start by heating one tablespoon of vegetable oil and one tablespoon of butter in a 10-inch non-stick fry pan set over medium heat. When the oil and butter are heated and the foaming stops, add 1⁄2 teaspoon of salt and 3⁄4 teaspoon of light brown sugar. Quickly stir to mix. Add about 1 cup of chopped yellow onion. Cook over high heat for approximately five minutes, stirring occasionally. The onions will begin to soften and release some of their juices.
Cook until onions are soft, have a glossy look, and are a deep, rich brown color. This may take 20 to 30 minutes. Do not rush this process, or the result will not produce onions with the varying layers of color and rich flavor. When the onions are done, remove from the heat and stir in a tablespoon of water. Add pepper to taste.
To use these onions on a pizza, brush the pizza shell with olive oil. Layer on the onions evenly over the crust. Top the onions with shredded mozzarella or Asiago cheese. Bake. Garnish with chopped parsley or snipped basil just before sending the pizza to the table.
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.
TIP: If you want to reduce the harshness of an onion for a lighter dish, place sliced or chopped onions in a bowl of ice water. Soak for 90 minutes, changing the water every 30 minutes.
Onion and Mushroom Pizza
Yield: 1 14-inch pizza (scale up in direct proportion)
1 14-inch pizza shell
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ cups coarse chopped sweet yellow onion
1 ½ cups sliced white mushrooms
½ cup pitted Kalamata or other oil-cured black olives, chopped
8 ounces shredded mozzarella
Fresh basil or parsley
In a sauté pan set over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil for 1 minute.
Add the onion and the mushrooms to the pan. Sauté and stir for about 8 minutes or until the onions soften. Drain excess moisture. Set aside. Brush the pizza shell with olive oil.
Top the pizza with the onion/mushroom mixture followed by the chopped olives. Sprinkle on the shredded mozzarella. Bake.
Garnish with clips of fresh basil leaves or parsley before sending out.
For more recipes log on to pizzatoday.com
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Where’s My Mag?
I have received your magazine in the past, but I quit receiving it. I have been to your Expo three times and plan on going again. Could you please put me back on your mailing list?
Dan, we’re sorry you dropped off our mailing list. Because we want our circulation to be as highly qualified as possible, this sometimes happens to folks who do not fill out the subscription form annually. At any rate, let’s get your subscription going again. To do this, visit PizzaToday.com and click on “News & Views” in the green header bar. From there, click on “Subscribe,” then “Subscribe to the Magazine.” Fill in the necessary information, and you’re all set.
The Dough Doctor
Might you refer me to some articles from past publications that could provide me with additional dough info? I am thoroughly enjoying the process of opening a pizzeria and hope to contribute a success story some day to your outstanding publication.
Matt, check out the answer to Jay’s question regarding the Hot 100 Independents. All you need to do is visit our archives and you’ll find a highly informative Dough Dr. column in each and every issue. Also, you should go ahead and make plans now to attend International Pizza Expo 2012 in Las Vegas. There, you’ll find a wealth of dough-making instruction that will greatly aid your pursuit of the perfect pizza crust.
Hot 100 Independents
Hi, love your magazine! Thanks! Was trying to find a list of the top 100 independents and couldn’t. Any chance you could provide me with a link to that list?
Silver Beach Pizza
St. Joseph, MI
Jay, our annual Top 100 Independents list appeared in our October 2010 issue. Simply visit PizzaToday.com and go into the digital issue archives (located directly beneath the image of our magazine cover on the top left of your computer screen). Open the October 2010 issue and then flip to page 70.
Pizza Lover’s Club
Sunday, February 13, 2011
Your offers are, as always, to the right of this message. Just click the button labeled “CLICK HERE for your COUPONS”, and you can print them out and enjoy!
Now at Rusty’s, when you buy a small, medium or large pizza at regular price, the second pizza is half price! No coupons are required, and you don’t even need to ask, it is now part of our regular pricing! We hope your year is off to a great start, and only gets better!
See you soon,
Your Friends at Rusty’s Pizza
Demographics, in a simplified sense, can be described as a profile of your potential customer. Knowing your customer demographics is key — that information tells you who to target with your marketing. Think of demographic data as a virtual image of your customer.
The beauty of this is that numbers don’t lie. If your customers are primarily older, there is no sense in designing an edgy campaign geared toward teens. You want your advertising to pull customers from within your neighborhood or town. But to do that, you have to understand the demographics of the area so that you know what types of marketing will be most effective.
So, how do you do a demographic study? First, you need to decide what information is important to you. Then you need to figure out how to get it. This can be as sophisticated as a software application connected to your Web site that collects data or as simple as a suggestion box on your counter. Many Web sites offer free demographic information, and there are many companies who will conduct market research for you. Adapt to what works for you, make sure it is user-friendly, and possibly even consider adding an incentive in exchange for customer information.
Dan Collier of Rusty’s Pizza Parlors instituted an e-club that catered to the needs of the demographic profile of Ventura County, California. When joining the e-club you are asked if you are a vegetarian – something popular in the area. If you say yes, then when you receive an e-mail offer it is focused on vegetarian choices. Collier then went a step further. Realizing that sporting events often create pizza sales, Rusty’s e-club gathers information about subscribers’ favorite teams. This allows e-mails to be customized with links to team information. This helps reinforce that sports and pizza — in this case, Rusty’s Pizza — go hand in hand. Again, this is effective because Collier’s own demographic work suggested to him that sports play an important role in the lives of his customers.
Specialized marketing campaigns like this are highly effective, but you can’t put them together without first knowing your customer base. So get started examining your demographics today. You’ll see results sooner than you think once you know how to tailor your marketing.
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 the Pizza Expo family of tradeshows.
Walton encourages all of his hourly staff to invite their friends from their personal social media sites to “like” the company’s Facebook page. He wants them to post comments and photos about their community activities and events sponsored by Fox’s Pizza Den of Oconee.
Their feature pie, the “30-inch Big One,” often is used to brand their
pizzeria. Walton’s employees incorporate the photo album feature of Facebook and post pictures within hours of each event/promotion. The photos create community buzz.
“It’s their (hourly staff) community and their restaurant,” says Walton. “They know the customers best — many are their friends, family and schoolmates, which is the core of our customer base.”
Fox’s Pizza Den of Oconee now has 3,369 loyal fans on its Facebook page. Most importantly, they are coming in for food and fun … as seen on Facebook!
Farrelli’s Wood Fire Pizza, based in Tacoma, Washington, began with a single Facebook page with 3,482 pizza lovers “liking” the restaurant. The company now takes advantage of the “place page” feature of Facebook, which allows each of Farrelli’s five locations to have its own page. This allows each location to connect, engage and build strong relationships with their respective customer bases.
“Part of the new hourly-employee two-hour orientation includes familiarizing the hourly staff on the company Facebook page and how to use it,” says Clayton Krueger, director of marketing & communications at Farrelli’s. The social media training includes how to “tag” posts and photos to extend the reach of the staff interaction across the Facebook network. This, in turn, extends the brand exposure.
Asking the hourly staff to participate directly in the Farrelli’s Wood Fire Pizza presence on Facebook was part of the company’s marketing strategy.
Key elements for successful Facebook campaigns with hourly staff include
basic guidelines on social media
etiquette and training on how to use some of the tools to broaden the reach of posts (Facebook “tagging”).
Point blank: including hourly staff as part of your social media extends the reach of your best brand ambassadors. They engage and build the customer base every shift. They are the primary touch-point with every customer. Plus, they already know and use the technology.
My Turn is a monthly guest column. This installment is written by Paul Paz, founder of Waiter’s World in Portland, Oregon. If you are interested in submitting your own
column, e-mail Jeremy White [email@example.com] and let him know what you want to say and what qualifies you to say it!
Photos by Rick Daugherty & Josh Keown
For pizzeria owner Adam Goldberg, advertising isn’t something you do when you want to kick-start a slow sales month. It is part of business as usual. “It’s really important to never stop marketing and advertising ... even when our sales are up,” says Goldberg, owner of the southern California-based Fresh Brothers pizza chain.
And the proof is in the pudding. Fresh Brothers’ short history reads like a case study in marketing success. After opening their doors in June 2008, they now have five successful locations, and are opening a sixth this May in Beverly Hills. Fresh Brothers’ Facebook fan page bubbles with activity, and Goldberg says when the store releases a new billboard, customers have been known to pull over to the side of busy L.A. traffic and snap a photo on their phone, then upload it to Twitter and Facebook. So how does a relatively new restaurant develop this kind of fanatical following?
“We have a strategy that we stick to, but the No. 1 thing is that we manage our brand in our advertising,” he says. “We take our ads to the next level — we want to engage our customers, and now they want to see what Fresh Brothers will come up with next.”
The first part of any good advertising strategy is knowing your customer demographics, says Stacey Hyland, a marketing coach in Montreal, Canada. “Define who your ‘perfect customer’ is,” she says.
“Define who your ‘perfect customer’ is,” she says. Zeroing in on this target customer will help you know what to emphasize in your advertising strategy, and where you should focus your marketing media. For example, Hyland says to attract university students, don’t take out ads in the newspaper and yellow pages. Conversely, if you would love to see more retirees, you should probably think less about Twitter marketing and more about print ads and flyers.
But don’t just guess about your customer base. “Have cashiers keep a tally by the register,” says Lisa Bradner, president of Geomomentum, a Chicago-based advertising agency. “When people come up to pay, just have them make a mark in a column categorizing them into a demographic.” Retirees, working professionals, students, families with kids — keep records for a week or so to get a good sample, and then look at your results. You might be surprised by what you find ... and how it affects your marketing strategy.
After you know who your customers are and who you want to bring into the store, you’ve got the first piece of the puzzle. Next you need to use that information to develop a cohesive plan for advertising throughout the year.
“One of the most common mistakes I see are people who just advertise sporadically without an actual plan,” Hyland says. “I see a lot of small business owners who think they have a plan, but then someone comes into the store selling a super-discounted yellow page ad or offering a spot in a coupon book and they want to jump at it because they think it’s a great deal.”
Depending on your market and your budget, you might want to consider hiring an ad agency to help you define your goals and come up with that marketing plan. Goldberg says part of the key to Fresh Brothers’ advertising success is working with an outstanding marketing firm. “We work hand-
in-hand with a local advertising agency, and having someone like that to handle marketing helps you manage your brand image,” he says.
The marketing firm helps with design and placement of billboards, print ads, and the Fresh Brothers Web site. Because the advertising strategy is centralized, there’s very little wasted effort, and the look and feel of the brand stays focused and cohesive. And a marketing firm can also help you know what’s a realistic budget. Bradner and Hyland say they help clients by talking about what their current sales and marketing expenditures are, and then what their goals are. But there’s no magic percentage or golden number out there, so hiring a marketing expert to talk you through your budget and overall plan can be money very well spent.
Even if people haven’t searched your restaurant out themselves, you can still bring them in with social media. Encourage customers to “check in” on sites like FourSquare, Facebook and Twitter when they’re at your store. “It’s like word of mouth on steroids,” Hyland says.
Still, don’t fall so in love with new media that you forget how well the old guard works to drive business. “Everyone likes to get their information differently,” Hyland says.
If you’re not sure what’s working to bring people in, though, don’t just guess. “I’ve heard restaurant owners say, ‘Oh, I saw this customer walk in with a flyer, so that must be what’s driving business,’ ” Bradner says. “Instead, ask people how they found out about you.” You can do it at the register, when servers go to take orders, or even walk table-to-table yourself. But that’s how you’ll get a clear picture of what’s hitting home with your demographic. You can see a flyer or a coupon, but you can’t spot that person who saw five of his friends become Facebook fans or who saw an ad in a sports program for his kids’ soccer team and thought your pizza looked great.
Once you figure out which demographic is responding to each type of advertising, you can become more focused in your marketing and special offers. “Maybe you want to put an ad for an early-bird special on a slow night in a print ad in the newspaper — that will attract retirees and families,” Bradner says.
Similarly, a $5 coupon on Twitter or Facebook that’s good after 9 p.m. may boost your sales to college students and young singles who keep later hours. “The pizza business has so many different kinds of customers coming to the same restaurant ... but just not necessarily on the same days or times,” Bradner says. “Use that to your advantage by focusing your advertising to each demographic.”
Nora Caley is a freelance writer specializing in food and business topics. She lives in Denver, Colorado.
dinner idea 4 tonight: 16” pepperoni, toasted ravs, 2 liter of Pepsi, a qt of rocky road. Yes, we will deliver to your sofa 636-458-1313
Why it works: This Tweet offers a complete meal — appetizer, pizza, dessert and soda. It mentions delivery and offers the all-important phone number so interested customers can call right away. The only thing from preventing this from being a perfect Tweet? No price offered.
Extreme Pizza RVA
Keep in mind that we are OPEN till 3am Wednesday to Saturday. Take-Out, Dine-in, Delivery 804-359-2030
Why it works: College students are up late, and they eat late. This Tweet let nearby Virginia Commonwealth University students know that Extreme Pizza is open when those post-midnight hunger pangs strike. And the phone number makes it easy for students who are busy studying (or partying, perhaps?) to order delivery or takeout.
PizzaToday.com >> Recipes
Recipes >> Italian Entrees >> Greek-style Meatballs: Find this amazing recipe and many others at www.PizzaToday.com.
Punch Neapolitan Pizza: special tastings and events for punch “foodies” — is there any interest out there for this —
example would be night to try amazing new capers and anchovies we found from Sicily.”
Why it works: This is what Facebook is all about for small business owners — interaction with customers. This post asked for advice from regular patrons: would you be interested in coordinated tastings of specialty foods? Punch received 36 comments, and the overwhelming majority said they would love to see these tastings come to fruition. So not only did Punch interact with its client base in a meaningful way, but the pizzeria also generated a new revenue stream without having to conduct expensive research.
Pizzeria Mozza: The $20 Special. Enjoy your favorite Mozza Pizza, Dessert & a glass of Bastianich Friulano or La Mozza Morellino di Scansano for just $20. Monday – Thursday. 12-5pm & 11pm-12am @ the Pizza Bar & Wine Bar.
Why it works: High-end pizza, dessert and a glass of wine for $20? In Los Angeles, that’s one heck of a deal. Also, the offer is designed to drive business on slower weekdays during the slower dayparts. While we’d like to see a phone number in the post, it is available on the company’s FB page.
Photos by Josh Keown
When Chris and Kate Saville opened The Flatz Company in Wyckoff, New Jersey, about a year ago, they knew they wanted to use fresh ingredients. They just didn’t know where to find them.
“It took a lot of trial and error and calling people,” says Chris, who is from England and did not have foodservice experience in the U.S. “It was a puzzle in some ways.” He quickly found that he needed more than one vendor. Food distribution giant Sysco could source tomatoes, lettuce and other fresh produce from California, where certain items are available year-round. Seasonal fruits such as berries for smoothies would come from New Jersey. For gourmet items, The Flatz Co. buys from a specialty vendor.
Saville says he juggles various vendor contracts because offering fresh ingredients fits with the eatery’s mission to offer high quality, healthy, thin-crust pizzas. If people are going to spend $14 for a single serving pie, they want organic exotic mushrooms and bacon from heritage breed pigs. Also, he says, there’s a practical reason for offering fresh ingredients. “We have a tiny freezer space, and we can use it only for ice cream and frozen yogurt.”
As more customers demand fresh ingredients, even in the off-season, operators are responding. That means they have to look for the right vendors, get creative with the menu, and become experts at ordering.
For some, the challenge is not only how to buy fresh ingredients, but also how to find produce that is grown locally, answering another important consumer trend. Renee Kreager, who with her husband, Steven, co-own Eclectic Pizza in Tucson, Arizona, says they buy tomatoes from a supplier in Wilcox, Arizona. “They have a greenhouse, so we are able to get their tomatoes year ‘round,” she says. She buys soy organic cheese from a small business in Tucson and coffee from a local roaster. Another giant distributor, U.S. Foods, provides other ingredients.
Tomatoes aren’t the only ingredients that are grown indoors and are available year-round. Rob Beall, CEO of 100-unit Ledo Pizza, says the Annapolis, Maryland-based company buys mushrooms from a family owned farm in Pennsylvania. “We are family owned, we sell franchises to local families, and many of our vendors are family owned companies,” says Beall, who is third generation at Ledo Pizza.
Some operators change the menu as the seasons change. Troy Mains, executive chef at No. 10 Water Restaurant in Brunswick, Maine, says he buys produce locally. In February, for example, potatoes are available, as are brussels sprouts. So Mains, who offers Gourmet Pizza Night every Tuesday, offers thinly sliced potatoes and truffle oil on pizza. Another topping option is pickled brussels sprouts. “You have to get creative during winter,” he says. He adds that walking through the farmers market is also a good way to get information and recipe ideas.
Mains estimates that the fresh vegetables cost about double what the canned versions cost. His food costs at the high-end restaurant are 28 to 33 percent. “It works because of menu incorporation,” he explains. “If I buy 100 pounds of potatoes, we are using potatoes for other things on the menu.”
Expensive ingredients don’t always lead to high food costs. One way to keep food costs down is to limit waste. Kreager uses tomatoes in more than one recipe. Perfect-looking tomatoes are sliced for salads, where they can be showcased. “We really pride ourselves in our salads being super fresh,” she says. The less beautiful tomatoes are chopped as a topping or diced for salsa.
It helps to have a limited menu, says Saville. The Flatz Company offers 14 different pies, or customers can create their own from a short list of gourmet toppings. “It’s not like we have to order a vast array of different things,” he says. “It allows us to make sure we use everything, and not have anything laying around and not ever being used.” He offers one type of lettuce, romaine, for salads and as a pizza topping. (Yes, he says, lettuce is a popular topping.) Other ingredients that work well as pizza toppings and for salads include cherry tomatoes, bacon and fresh mozzarella.
Another way to reduce waste is to place small orders with vendors and have food delivered a few times a week instead of one large weekly order. Eclectic Pizza places orders to be delivered Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. If it looks like they still have a large amount of an ingredient heading into the weekend, Kreager calls and revises the Saturday delivery. She also makes sure she sees the orders when they arrive. “If I can see one tomato busted open, I know it will affect the tomatoes around it. So I can say, ‘these four are bad,’ and I either get a refund on them or they bring me new ones.”
If, after all the careful planning there is still too much of one ingredient, she finds a way to repurpose. For example, red peppers are not exactly the most popular pizza topping. So if Kreager ends up with too many, she roasts them and adds them to salads.
She says customers will pay more if they know the ingredients are fresh and high quality. “People do understand it is a costly thing,” she says. “What you’re paying for is great organic food for less than $20 dollars a head.” u
Nora Caley is a freelance writer specializing in food and business topics. She lives in Denver, Colorado.
Photos by Josh Keown
Build an exceptional pizza, tasty pasta dish or a delicious salad and the customers will come — if you get the word out. But how do you tempt the masses without spending massive amounts on advertising?
Clint Harris, co-founder of Promise Pizza with locations in Austin and Round Rock, Texas, says he used to create flyers and box toppers in addition to advertising in newspapers and magazines. Then he realized his customers were sophisticated enough to use social media as their main source of news about new pizza products. As a bonus, he saved the money he would have used on print advertising.
But, let’s back up for a minute because the first step in marketing a new product is testing it to see if it will sell. At Promise Pizza, Harris uses employees as guinea pigs first, then friends and family. If the product passes muster after going through that chain, it’s put out for customers to try.
“We bring free slices out to them and ask them to give us their honest opinion,” says Harris.
He readily admits it’s not a very scientific method of evaluating a potential product. In fact, many people say they like new products just to be polite. Still, if the response is an overwhelming “awesome,” Harris then takes that as a positive and moves forward with the new item.
The current new offering at Edwardo’s Natural Pizza, with nine locations in Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana, is hummus pizza (different flavors of hummus have replaced the pizza sauce). The first test was to see what kind of toppings the staff put on these unique pizzas.
“We let them play with the hummus, because they have lots of good ideas,” says Ken Weidner, director of operations for Edwardo’s.
When Edwardo’s had some good, viable combinations, they took testing of the hummus pizzas one step further by organizing two focus groups using regular customers –– one with teens and one with adults. Both groups were given identical pizzas. The hummus pizzas made a better showing with the adults.
Once testing of this nature is completed, it becomes necessary to train employees to properly make the dish consistently. Once that is achieved, it’s time for servers to push the new item.
“First, we sit down with the managers and tell them about the new item. They need to make sure they have what they need so it will be made exactly the same every time, no matter who makes it,” says Harris. “All the staff has tasted the new product and knows the ingredients so they can tell customers about it.”
At Edwardo’s Natural Pizza, the management team is also the first to be trained. They know how many ounces of hummus go on the new pizza, that it needs to be evenly distributed with no hills and valleys and that there should be a taste of hummus in every bite. Those managers, in turn, train the kitchen staff and the servers. Anyone with direct customer contact must know what hummus is, how it’s made and what flavors are available.
When it comes time to spread the news, a wide variety of vehicles exist to get the information to consumers — and most of them are either free or inexpensive. Jeff Sayers, founder of Mangia Pizza in Austin, Texas, likes to put new offerings on a whiteboard as the special of the day for all his customers to see when they walk into the restaurant. If that goes over well, he announces it on Mangia’s Facebook page and places flyers on pizza boxes announcing the new item and asking customers to try it.
“We haven’t spent any money on print advertising in the past two years,” says Sayers.
Weidner also says they do very little TV or print advertising at Edwardo’s, but they are involved in a radio station trade program, which makes advertising on the radio a bargain.
Through this program, radio stations trade air time for Edwardo’s gift certificates. The stations use the certificates as giveaways or sell them as their deal of the day online, usually at 50 percent off their face value. In turn Edwardo’s receives radio air-time to advertise new products or whatever they wish.
Besides using radio, Edwardo’s puts box toppers on to-go pizzas, describes new items on an insert in a jacketed menu and sends the information out in twice-monthly e-mail blasts to 10,000 e-mail subscribers.
Harris stays fairly active on Twitter by sending out the Promise Pizza deal of the day, which can include new items, but finds Facebook an easier social media tool to communicate with customers and likes that it can be personalized with photos and videos. E-mail, however, wins the prize and is used the most to tell customers about new products.
Whichever method you use, make sure your product is right before marketing it. The buzz will get customers in once — but if the product lets them down, they won’t be back.
Heather Larson is a freelance writer in Tacoma, Washington, who frequently writes for trade publications.
Photos by Josh Keown
If you’re like a lot of business owners, you hold meetings, conduct brainstorming sessions and do research to figure out what your customers want. But why not ditch the guesswork and just ask them?
Customer surveys can help you discover how your customers experience your restaurant (and fix any problems), decide on new products to try, and sleuth out new, profitable locations. “Because of the proliferation of restaurant choices and the fickle nature of consumers, keeping your finger on the pulse of what consumers want and need and are willing to pay for is very important,” says Bradley Honan, senior vice president of StrategyOne, an Edelman strategic polling firm. In addition, demonstrating that you care about how your diners feel and what they want is a goodwill gesture that can result in more loyal customers.
There’s more to conducting a customer survey than slapping some multiple-choice questions on a card and sticking them on your tables. We asked the experts how to get your customers to dish.
Paper surveys are the go-to for many restaurants; they’re easy to create and you can mail them out or give them directly to customers. But now, you can also survey your customers online through an inexpensive service. The benefits to online surveys are that the data are compiled for you. That means you don’t have to copy and analyze information from hundreds of survey cards.
If you want to be even more technologically savvy, try polling your customers via social media outlets. Joe Sorge, owner of Zaffiro’s in Mequon, Wisconsin, finds out about his customers’ wants and needs using Facebook. When he asked customers for new topping suggestions, some of them liked the idea of a peanut butter-bacon-cheeseburger pizza. Sorge added the unlikely-sounding pizza to the menu and it was a hit.
Once you’ve decided on a format, you need to come up with questions that will enhance your knowledge of the customer experience. It’s tempting to ask customers for feedback on everything from your apps to the color of your napkins. But Honan recommends asking questions only about areas that you can and will take action on. For example, there’s no point in asking customers what they think about your décor if you refuse to change it. But you can ask how long the customer’s wait was if you plan to correct potential problems in that area.
Stuck on what to ask? Debbie Frank, vice president of marketing for Bravo Restaurants in Chicago, relied on internal focus groups to come up with questions for the company’s written surveys. “Each year we have a conference with our general managers,” she says. “We had them break out into groups and said, ‘What would you ask?’ Then we evaluated the questions and put the survey together.”
You may want to ask for basic demographic data, such as how often the customer dines out, his income level, age, and so on. “You might see differences in high income versus low income diners or frequent diners versus infrequent diners, and knowing your own target market helps in terms of your positioning,” says Jeff Zupancic, owner of the marketing research firm Reveal Solutions. And be sure to request the respondent’s e-mail address so you can add them to your marketing list (with their permission, of course).
The best customer survey in the world will do no good if no one fills it out. Both Honan and Zupancic recommend offering an incentive to motivate people to participate. One way to do this is to offer a discount to each person who fills out the survey. Another is to organize a drawing with a prize such as a gift certificate to a local store or an iPod. For the drawing, stick to one big prize instead of several smaller ones, suggests Honan; people are more motivated by one $150 prize than by ten $15 prizes.
Once the surveys start rolling in, be sure to read through them on a regular basis to get a feel for what you’re doing right — and what you can improve. For example, Kevin Goldfein, owner of Rosti Tuscan Kitchen in Santa Monica, goes through the restaurant’s paper surveys once a week and takes each one seriously (and he’s gotten more than 4,000). “I call it the cockroach rule, where if you see one, there are100 behind the wall,” he explains. “So if I see one comment, then there are probably 100 people thinking the same thing.” If a guest has a good experience, you can post the comment on the employee bulletin board as a motivator; if the guest has a bad experience, you can call her to make it right by apologizing, offering a discount on a future visit and letting her know how you fixed the situation. u
Linda Formichelli is a freelance writer in New Hampshire.
The Pitfalls of Tradition
BY SCOTT WIENER
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
I must have a terrible poker face, because it took about three seconds for the guy behind the counter to ask why I looked so confused. There I was, standing in the entrance of a pizzeria whose signage boasted “Brick Oven Pizza,” yet a wall of shiny stainless steel deck ovens stared right back at me. I politely asked, “Do you make all of your pizzas with those ovens?” It was my way of finding out if there was a secret wood-burner hiding in a back room, but the answer to my question negated my suspicion. I truly believe it’s possible to make a great pie with an Easy Bake Oven if you’ve got the chops, but what peeved me so deeply about this situation had more to do with psychology than great pizza. Thanks to the allure of “traditional” equipment and techniques, many pizzeria owners are convinced that marketing is more important than follow-through, a plan that does a great job of getting me through the door but often fails to deliver on its promise.
Lots of pizzerias toss around phrases like “traditional,” “authentic,” “old world” and “DOC” to create an illusion for the customer. Traits that were once regarded as messy and inconsistent are now desirable –– even Domino’s has its own “artisan” line with carefully blemished crusts and unconventional toppings. It’s obvious how powerful these images are to an increasingly food-literate population, but one cannot allow their product to be defined by image alone.
You’ve probably noticed the increase of San Marzano tomatoes on the tongues of chefs and pizza makers across the country, but that’s not necessarily what’s in their saucepans. I recently discovered that several of my favorite Neapolitan pizzerias are using a completely different type of tomato. Why? Because they believe it tastes better. With all the corruption and intrigue in today’s food labeling world, I’m much more comfortable trusting a chef’s taste buds than I am the name on the side of a can.
If there’s one thing our allegiance to convention has robbed us of, it is the confidence to strive for innovation. A new pizzeria recently opened in the back room of a bar in Brooklyn. They advertise some “old world” techniques, such as a 100-percent natural fermentation process, Italian tomatoes and mozzarella di bufala, but instead of using an imported wood-burning oven they opted for a modified tabletop pottery kiln. It’s composed of a base and a “dome” with exactly enough room for one pizza at a time. After a topped skin is loaded onto the hot brick hearth, the “dome” lowers into place and blasts the pie with enough heat to finish the bake in about 60 seconds. It’s absolutely incredible, but far from traditional.
When I take my friends to a pizzeria, it isn’t because of the recipes’ authenticity or the presence of a brick oven. You can make any claims you want on the sign above your front door, but all I really care about is the quality of your food. Why hide under tricky marketing when you can stand behind the best pizza in town?
Scott Wiener owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City.
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