Photos by Rick Daugherty
Less than three years removed from high school, childhood friends Mark Gold and Lou Siecinski moved from pizza-happy Detroit to Milwaukee to open a pizzeria. Twenty-six years later, Pizza Shuttle is one of the nation’s highest grossing single-store independents.
It’s a place many envy, yet, not a spot Gold and Siecinski reached by accident.
“Every decision we’ve made through the years has been critically evaluated, particularly in terms of ROI,” Gold says. “We know what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.”
Seasoned operators know it takes even more than a great pizza to attract guests and profits; it takes bold, strategic decisions in all areas of the business. Some of the nation’s top independent operators share the best practices that have spurred their success.
Among operators’ chief advice is to work smarter, not harder. Jeff Janik, head of Milton’s Pizza in Raleigh, North Carolina, has a saying: “Sometimes working hard makes you lazy.”
For many operators starting out, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Operators make pizzas, pay bills, greet customers, toss trash and extinguish various operational fires each day — all vital elements, Janik acknowledges, for a beginning operator hustling to survive.
“But if that’s all you do,” Janik says, “then you’re doing your business a disservice.”
In the early 1980s, Janik did the daily hustle, cooking the pizzas himself because it was easier than teaching someone else to do so. Over time, he learned to delegate some tasks with thorough training while focusing his efforts on building the restaurant with big-picture thinking.
“It was scary to make that leap,” Janik confesses, “but I had to step away from the daily grind and examine the areas of the business that could bring greater ROI. That’s how the business was going to grow.”
These veteran operators have also learned to differentiate their businesses. In 1993, when Gus Nassar purchased the seven year-old Rome’s Pizza in San Antonio, he noted the Texas city’s lack of any gourmet pizza options. A self-described foodie, Nassar jumped at the opportunity to be first to market.
Nassar added menu toppings such as spinach, artichokes, gyros meat, and sun-dried tomatoes, while simultaneously creating unique pizza combinations. His still-evolving menu remains inventive as well as popular, with some customers driving 45 minutes for a Rome’s pizza.
“I knew what the other pizzerias were offering and I was intent on being different and exciting,” Nassar says.
And while the temptation is there to work 24/7, many operators have learned to bring managers into the business. When Darryl Reginelli and Bruce Erhardt had just two Reginelli’s Pizza locations in New Orleans, one partner ran each establishment. When the partners opened a third location, they had to entrust daily operations to a manager. In quick time, that store faltered, prompting both Reginelli and Erhardt to relinquish their duties at the original outlets and focus on a third-store turnaround.
“The first two stores were successful because the product was good and we were present,” Reginelli says. “We had to find a way to make that model work at the third location.”
The turning point came when the partners handed their knowledge to the shift managers, eliminating the excuses and providing managers the ability to implement ideas within the framework of Reginelli’s business model, which included training, portioning, projections and budgets. It’s a decision that has proven fruitful, as Reginelli’s now has seven locations.
“The worst mistake is allowing employees with a diluted self interest to define policies and ignore the business’ needs,” Reginelli says. “The restaurant should run the same whether you’re there or not and, for us, that came about when we forced our managers to think more like operators.”
It’s also crucial to be a good neighbor. Over his 18 years in French Lick, Indiana, Dave Childers has worked to establish Chicago’s Pizza as the friendliest business in town, a reality his customers appreciate.
“I bring that ‘it-takes-a-village’ mentality to my business,” he says.
Churches and schools represent 90 percent of Childers’ advertising budget, as he offers a 30-percent discount for church and school-related functions, provides raffle prizes, auction items, and pizza for concessions. When a club, team or youth group requests a donation, Childers obliges every time.
“This has proven to have a much greater impact than blabbing my name on the radio,” he says. “People in town will say, ‘Go see Dave. He’ll take care of you.’ It creates such a positive buzz that people rally around us at this point.”
As an operator, keep in mind to handle only what’s in your control. In her 21 years operating Lillian’s Pizza in Pensacola, Florida, Lillian Walsh has endured hurricanes Ivan, Dennis and Katrina, the 2010 Gulf oil spill and a recession. It would be easy to point the finger and play the blame game, but Walsh doesn’t.
Rather, Walsh has analyzed and reanalyzed her business, consistently pursuing ways to attract and appease customers within the areas she can control.
When she moved into a more sizable spot across the street in 2005, for instance, she eliminated her lunch buffet, confident that the glossy new 225-seat eatery would pull in guests. After three years and a precipitous drop in lunch sales, she restored the lunch buffet in 2008. Lesson learned.
“We had to reverse course and bring the buffet back. It’s a lot of work, but we’ve dug in, made it happen and seen positive strides,” Walsh says.
When possible, cross-train staff for maximum efficiency. At Fargo’s Pizza in Colorado Springs, longtime GM Barry Manis trains staff in various operational areas; some veteran team members are capable of filling as many as five different positions.
With the ability to step into other operational areas and know the position’s requirements, cross-trained staff fills voids and responds to rushes while ensuring that labor remains active and engaged. In addition, Manis says, cross-trained staff creates labor savings and helps employees secure hours.
“This creates an efficient workplace and keeps employees involved, two definite keys to long-term success,” Manis says.
Ultimately, consistency wins. Central to the success of Northbrook, Illinois-based Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria has been a consistent product from year to year. While commodity prices have risen and trends have swayed, Lou Malnati’s has held the line on their 40-year-old winning formula, demanding consistency and stability from vendors in the process.
As others have added pineapple and chicken to their pizzas, for instance, Lou Malnati’s has investigated the possibilities, but rejected the additions given concerns over pizza standards.
“The critical decision for us has been to stick with what we know rather than trying to be everything to everyone,” Lou Malnati’s COO Jim D’Angelo says. “We do what we do and repeat it time and again. That’s the winning formula for us.”
Chicago-based writer Daniel P. Smith has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.
Hey Dave, I currently own a counter service joint and am looking to open my second location. This location I’m looking to do more sit-down. So my question is, is 30- to 35- percent labor cost reasonable for this type of restaurant?
I think in a full service operation, 30- to 35-percent labor is about right. After the new crew gets in the swing of things, I would like to see the labor percentage around 30 percent.
I focus on the sum of food cost + labor cost. Adding food and labor together yields prime cost. This number, measured in percentage of sales, less sales tax, factors in soft hidden labor costs like unemployment and workers comp expenses (plus employer matching social security taxes). I like to see my clients running their prime cost at
60 to 65 percent. Depending on your fixed occupancy costs and recurring monthly expenses, this should put you in the black.
In today’s economy, how long should it take to be in the black? We have been in operation just over a year and need to double our sales to be at that point. With people having less discretionary income, can we expect an increase in sales?
Your question is complicated because there are so many variables that affect net profit. The answer a bean-counter may propose is: “The minute your sales are sufficient to pay all expenses.” It seems that you have already heard that pearl of wisdom and are searching for solutions to attaining profitability on a regular basis. Since you know that your sales are only paying half of the bills, I’m sure you are in near panic mode.
Doubling sales is a pretty aggressive goal. I can only recall two or three times in my career that we were able to reach that goal. I used to challenge myself to raise sales $100 a day. This is a very doable goal. It boils down to one more pizza sale an hour. From a simplistic view, my weekly paycheck was the last hour of the day. The first 11 hours of sales went towards paying all expenses, and the last hour of the day was mine.
In order to prescribe a fix for your problem I’d need to know some accounting basics from your financials. Then I would look at and scrutinize your competition. I would want to know how much sales my competition is doing weekly. This study will give you a ‘market share’ percentage. Next would be analyzing the quality of your pizzas. When times get tough, most people quit marketing. When all of the data has been collected I’d know if your shop is savable. Lack of profit goes hand in hand with weak sales.
Big Dave Ostrander owned a highly successful independent pizzeria before becoming a consultant, speaker and internationally sought-after trainer. monthly contributor to Pizza Today.
Photo by Josh Keown
Familiarity breeds intent, and those of us in the food business are quite familiar with that duet of herbs: basil and oregano. Generally, our intent is to use them in every way possible –– sometimes, whether we need to or not. For example, a pizza restaurant that shall go unnamed once used oregano to the point of absurdity. Finally, I called the owner (anonymously) and told him that if he kept laying down a napalm of oregano on my pizza that I was going elsewhere. I love oregano –– when it is used in moderation and in proper balance to the rest of the ingredients.
First, let me address the issue of dried herbs versus fresh herbs. Given the availability, price factor and overall usage, I would opt for fresh over dried every time, and who among us is not guilty of keeping dried herbs around too long? Dried herbs are not like a fine red wine — they do not get better with age. In fact, they lose potency by the week.
When using fresh herbs in, say, a pasta sauce, add them near the end of the cooking time. Putting them in early will alter the taste, since fresh herbs do not hold up as well in heat as dried herbs.
Conversely, if you are using dried herbs in a sauce, put them in at the very beginning. Dried herbs need time (and heat) to rehydrate and round out their flavor. Generally you will need to add three times as much fresh herbs as dried herb in a recipe –– for example, three tablespoons of fresh basil, or one tablespoon of dried basil. You wouldn’t scatter whole peppercorns on a salad. Passing the peppercorns through a mill —grinding — over the salad releases the flavor, making it pronounced and viable. The same is true for dried herbs you put into a pasta sauce (and on pizza when possible), rub the herb between your thumb and forefinger as you add them. This releases the inner flavor of the herb.
So what herbs and spices should you put into use in your restaurant? Consider these:
Rosemary is a very pungent herb and should be used sparingly. I favor its use mostly in soups and with chicken and lamb dishes. Add some rosemary to a dough you would be using to make focaccia (rosemary and onion focaccia is a winner) or to flavor up chicken strips.
Marjoram is a sweet-scented herb that is important in Mediterranean cooking. Sweet marjoram has a decidedly delicate flavor. Oregano is a member of the marjoram family that is more pungent than sweet marjoram, but some cooks like to use marjoram and oregano interchangeably.
Sage is an herb that is not commonly used with pizza (it has a very intense flavor). But, using sage with a butter sauce and ravioli or other pasta sauce can be quite tasty. Use sage in combination with Italian sausage and peppers.
Fennel (dried, not fresh, also known as anise) is an important part of my pantry. I use whole fennel seeds and I have a spice grinder dedicated solely for grinding fennel seeds.
Parsley is definitely an unsung herb, but if you are going to use in cooking (as opposed to using it as a garnish) it should be flat-leaf Italian-style parsley.
Nutmeg is indispensable in cream-based sauces such as Alfredo. It’s best to avoid ground nutmeg. Grate whole nutmeg fresh as needed. Use it sparingly; a little of its intense flavor goes a long way.
Capers, packed in brine, are the best kind to use, but rinse them under cold water before using them in a sauce. Capers are an excellent flavor addition to a spicy red sauce (for pizza or pasta).
Thyme is another undersung herb. I would never be without thyme (I mostly use dried thyme). Thyme would be my first herb choice when using any type of seafood (on a clam pizza, for example, or to flavor the clam broth for linguine with clam sauce).
Cilantro plays an important role when making any type of Mexican dish, including Mexican pizza toppings, salsa and tacos.
Chives work great when added to, say, mashed potatoes. Also chives work great with any type of eggplant dish (caponata, for example).
Tarragon has a hint of licorice flavor. I use it for chicken tarragon, also for tarragon mayonnaise (great with a chicken sandwich).
Penne with Bolognese
Yield: four servings as a pasta course
(scale up in direct proportion)
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup chopped yellow onion
1 pound ground beef
2 teaspoons fennel seed and
1 teaspoon ground fennel seed
¼ cup milk
4 cups canned plum tomatoes, crushed with juices
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 teaspoons dried oregano, crumbled, or ¼ cup fresh finely chopped
½ cup chicken broth
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
¾ pound penne, rotini or other short pasta
In a heavy pot, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Add
the onion. Cook and stir for 2 minutes. Add the meat. Cook and stir for another 4 minutes or until the meat is cooked through. Add the fennel seed and milk and cook for 3 minutes.
Add tomatoes, parsley, oregano and chicken broth. Bring the sauce to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally for 35 to 40 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. (The sauce can be prepped ahead to this point and held).
Cook the pasta until it is al dente. Drain well. Divide the pasta among four heated pasta bowls. Spoon on the sauce. Served with grated Parmesan on the side.
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.
It was a pizza night, to be sure. My six-year-old had a baseball game that didn’t end until nearly 8 p.m., and my two-year-old had a checkup with his pediatrician before the game. There was no time to squeeze in dinner before hitting the diamond. Needless to say, the family was famished afterwards. As soon as we hopped in the car, I dialed a local pizza shop and Italian restaurant that used to be a favorite of mine. The order was simple enough — cheese pizza for the kids, a salad and two orders of pasta. I asked for delivery and was quoted a time of 45 minutes.
Perfect — I had time to get home and get both kids bathed and in their pajamas. We’d have a late dinner, watch a cartoon and then the kids would get to bed at a respectable time. Or so I thought. After an hour went by, my wife reminded me that the last time we ordered delivery from this place it took well over an hour to get our order. After waiting another 15 minutes, I grabbed the phone and called to check on the whereabouts of our food. After a lengthy hold, I got the obviously inexperienced hostess on the other end of the line. I explained that my order was 30 minutes late and asked her to check its status. The answer was anything but encouraging: “I don’t see the delivery guy anywhere around, so it’s probably on its way now.”
I thanked her for her “help” and hung up the phone, shaking my head all the while. As I visit the country for Pizza Today, I constantly come into contact with astute restaurant owners who understand the importance of customer service. I visit pizzerias that do back-flips for their customers. Throughout the course of a year, we’ll publish several articles that detail why anything less than exceptional customer service is tantamount to career suicide. Those very same sentiments will be backed up, time and again, by educational seminars at International Pizza Expo. Yet, try as we might, we simply cannot reach everyone with this message. That was never more obvious to me than the night my exhausted and hungry boys waited more than 90 minutes for a cheese pizza.
But the wait wasn’t what upset me. Things happen, after all. Orders get lost. Delivery drivers get lost. But customer service should never get lost. That’s not a variable — it’s a basic component that is critical to success.
The girl on the phone never offered me an apology, nor did she find out why my order was late and let me know exactly when it would arrive. All I got was a lazy “it’ll be there soon” attitude.
Perhaps I should have called the manager to let her know exactly what had happened. If she were worth her salt, she would have promptly apologized and comped my order. She also would have looked into the matter and made sure her employees knew that this could not happen again. If fact, I know I would be doing the manager a favor in the long run by letting her know about the snafu. But I was tired and hungry, my boys were tired and hungry, and we had big plans for the next day. I decided to eat and go to bed — and to never order from this particular place again.
I wonder how much more business they will lose before they learn the importance of customer service? For the sake of the owner and manager, I hope they figure it out fast.
Jeremy White, editor-in-chief
Photo by Josh Keown and Rick Daugherty
TIP: Be sure to use a wood or wood laminate peel for your prep peel. The metal blade peels are best reserved for use as oven peels.
We bake in a deck oven and we are presently baking on aluminum screens because when I use a peel to bake on the deck, the dough ends up sticking to the peel and making a mess in the oven as the toppings slide off of the dough. How do you keep the dough from sticking to the peel?
A: There are a couple of things that might cause the dough to stick to your peel. If you are using malt in your dough, make doubly sure that it is non-diastatic (non-enzyme active) malt. If the malt is diastatic malt (enzyme active), it will convert starch in the flour to sugars, making the dough sticky or tacky to the point where it will stick to almost any surface it comes into contact with, including a prep peel. If the dough is over absorbed (contains too much water) it may feel clammy or even exhibit a slight tackiness when touched. Over absorbed dough tends to be difficult to work with as the dough is just too extensible and is easily over stretched during the forming operation. While some of the traditional doughs are fairly high in absorption and difficult to handle during forming, they can still be peeled into the oven without much of a problem if they are well floured for ease of handling, and either fine cornmeal, or semolina flour is used as the peel dust to aid in sliding the prepared dough skin off of the peel. Be sure to use a wood or wood laminate peel for your prep peel.
The metal blade peels are best reserved for use as oven peels. The reason for this is because the metal blade peels will force any moisture coming from the dough skin right back up against the dough surface, creating the potential for the dough to stick to the peel during unloading into the oven. This can be especially troublesome during the colder months when the metal peel blade is cold, and condensation is formed when the warm dough is placed upon it; now, any flour that is present on the dough skin quickly turns to school paste with very predictable results.
When a wood or wood laminate is used as a prep peel, the wood will have some capacity to absorb moisture, thus reducing the potential for stickiness. Because it is harder to form condensation between a wood peel and the dough skin, the issue of condensation is all but totally eliminated. Even with the best dough and wood prep peels, it is still possible for dough to stick to the peel if too much time is taken in prepping the dough skin.
Even when a novice is prepping a dough skin and taking their own sweet time about it, there is still only a slight chance that the dough will stick to the peel. But where the problem arises is when the prepped or partially prepped dough skin is allowed to remain on the prep peel while they do something else, like wash and cut a topping for the pizza or stop to answer the phone, etc.
The solution to this is easy to address –– just make sure once the dough is placed on the peel it is dressed and peeled into the oven without interruption. Of course, a good peel dust doesn’t hurt either.
I think if you were to ask 20 different operators what peel dust they prefer you would probably get at least a dozen different answers. My own personal favorite peel dust is made from equal parts of fine cornmeal, semolina flour and regular white pizza flour. I’ve seen any one of these used by itself as an effective peel dust in addition to things such as whole-wheat flour, rice flour, rye flour and wheat bran, as well as bread crumb like materials more commonly added to the top of the pizza to help absorb excess moisture. All of these materials seem to work quite well in most applications, so you have plenty of things to choose from to get the dough to smoothly slide from the peel onto the oven hearth.
One last thing I’d like to share with those who are just beginning to work at peeling dressed dough skins into the oven: after you place the fully formed dough skin onto the dusted prep peel, do not try to dock the dough on the peel. Instead, dock the dough before you place it onto the peel, then, give the peel a shake to make sure the dough is sliding on the peel and not stuck to it for whatever reason. Shake it again about halfway through the dressing of the dough skin. This is a confidence builder more than anything else –– knowing that the dough is still unattached to the peel, I can now peel the dressed dough skin into the oven with the authority and commitment needed to make the dressed dough smoothly slide from peel to oven hearth.
Remember, what goes into the oven, must eventually come out again, so be sure to keep your oven rake and broom handy to loosen any debris from the oven deck and sweep it out, or you will soon have a carbonized build up on the deck, as well as unsightly, charred debris sticking to the bottom of your pizzas.
We have been thinking about doing an individual-sized breakfast pizza. What type of meat topping(s) do you recommend?
A: I’ve seen thinly sliced beef and pork used on breakfast pizzas, but I’m a traditionalist in some ways, so I really like to stay with things that people can easily relate to as a breakfast topping. My preference is to use breakfast sausage rather than Italian sausage, not the links, but rather hand portioned pieces, either pre-cooked, or raw (depending upon how you normally apply your sausage to your regular pizzas), and then there is the old stand-by, bacon bits/pieces. In this case, I always opt for the pre-cooked bacon pieces due to the added crispiness and flavor that they provide. I’ve found that if you offer too many different meat topping selections, your breakfast pizza will soon begin to lose its identity and begin taking on the appearance of a regular pizza. I don’t know about your thoughts on this, but I want my breakfast pizzas to look like a breakfast pizza, and to have a unique, stand-alone flavor, tasting like a breakfast offering,- rather than just a regular pizza, served at an earlier hour of the day. u
Tom Lehmann is a director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas.
The thing that really separates International Pizza Expo® from general foodservice shows — in addition to the dynamism of our tradeshow floor — is our educational program, which is totally devoted to the pizza industry. In fact, no other food show, let alone any other so-called pizza show, offers what we do: four full days of pizza-specific seminars, demonstrations, networking opportunities and contests, all devoted to a single industry. Even better, we’ve decided to increase the total number of seminar days to four.
On Monday, the day before the show floor opens, we’ve added individual seminar tracks for new operators and first-time attendees. We’re really excited about our new Monday morning Power Panel — “The 2 Million Dollar Club: Outperforming the Big Chains,” which will kick off the pre-show free sessions. Panelists will include Peter Cooperstein of Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria, Tony Gemignani of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, George Hadjis of Oggi’s Pizza & Brewing Company, Bill Jacobs of Piece Brewery & Pizzeria and Mike Rangel of Asheville Pizza & Brewing Company. The one thing they have in common, besides pizza, is the fact that they all operate pizzerias that average more than $2 million in gross sales per unit.
At Pizza Expo® you’ll find 5½ football fields of pizza-related products, services and equipment, as well as the leading industry experts, consultants and analysts. And at next year’s show we’ll present more industry insiders than ever discussing current issues and a variety of pressing topics. Here are just a few of the new speakers and topics we have planned for our 28th annual show:
Mark Dym, co-owner of Marco’s Coal-Fired Pizzeria, has taken his lunch business to another level, and he’ll tell you how he’s done it.
Doug Ferriman, president of Crazy Dough’s Pizza, will offer pizza-by-the-slice strategies that have worked for him — and could well for you — to boost the bottom line.
Matt Galvin, co-owner of Pagliacci Pizza, has been dealing with the day-to-day challenges of running three restaurants and 12 delivery kitchens for more than a decade. He’ll speak on how to add revenue with a profitable catering business.
Kevin Higar, a senior manager for Technomic Inc., has worked with a large number of restaurants and pizzerias, as well as Top 500 companies, providing industry insight and analysis. He’ll focus his Pizza Expo sessions on current dining trends and how they affect pizza operators.
Shawn Randazzo, owner of Cloverleaf Pizza, which focuses on takeout and delivery, will tell you everything you need to know about online pizza sales.
Darryl Reginelli, co-owner of eight-unit Reginelli’s Pizzeria, will share with you his proven methods for finding and keeping great employees.
The bottom line: There’s always something new at Pizza Expo® that can advance your pizzeria. As always, our commitment to you, our partners, is to continue to grow and improve every facet of Pizza Expo … from the tradeshow floor to our networking events and contests. In fact, if you don’t come away from International Pizza Expo® with new cost-saving or profit-boosting ideas, I’ll refund your registration fee.
For more information on our contests or to register, please call (800) 489-8324 or visit our Web site at www.PizzaExpo.com.
It’s all pizza and it’s all for YOU!
Randy Hueffmeier started Randy’s Premier Pizza in 1986 and has been making some gargantuan pies ever since. He has also earned a handful of national and international pizza-making and spinning honors in the 25 years since opening his pizza shop.
Q: What is the Randy’s Pizza Challenge?
A: We actually have a total of nine challenges. The main three are: a 30-inch challenge (four people have 30 minutes to eat a two-topping pizza, one of which needs to be a meat — and if they eat it in 30 minutes or less, they receive free t-shirts and the pizza is free); a 36-inch challenge that is the same thing, but with five people; and a 48-inch pizza challenge is nine people … With each of those, there are money challenges, as well. So for the 30-inch, (the) standard is four people … if two people eat it, it’s $500; if one person eats it, it’s $1,000. With the 36 and the 48, there are two money challenges, as well.
Q: How much product is used for the 48-inch pizza, and what are its food costs?
A: It starts with about a 12-pound dough ball. There is about three-quarters of a gallon of sauce, 70 ounces of sausage, 16 and a half pounds of cheese, and I would venture to say about 1,000 pepperonis. The food cost … I suggest, at least, you need to get the same price as you are getting for your regular pizzas — so my food cost runs right around 25 percent.
Q: What are your most successful ways to market the challenge?
A: If you get this out there to birthday parties, to anywhere people are, the pizza will market itself. It will take on a life all of its own. You just have to get it out there in front of people. On the radio stations, try to set something up just like little events in your local community and get your paper involved.
Q: Modifications were made to your deck oven. How did you accommodate such large pizzas?
A: I can get two 30-inches in my pizza oven at one time. The 36-inch isn’t bad because it’s the size of my oven. For the 48-inch, I had to make an extension for it to be able to accommodate the larger size. It’s an extension that comes out to cover the door.
Q: How do you hand toss a 12-pound dough ball?
A: You know, very carefully. I can toss the 30-inch up in the air and flip that. The 36-inch, I can do that as well. The 48-inch, I can only toss it so far. It’s a lot of weight and then I have to work it on the table to hand stretch the edges. I just keep working it until I get it big enough.
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We are excited about the upcoming event in October and I would really love to be involved. If you are looking for additional help, let me know. I could help with promotion of the event or help recruit riders (women especially). Unfortunately, I have friends who are battling this terrible disease.
Lisa, we wish your friends the very best. Breast cancer impacts so many people. There’s not a pizzeria in America that hasn’t been touched by this disease — that’s why we’re working so hard to rally the industry together to focus on this very worthy cause.
We would love your help. In fact, we need all the help we can get! Our Editor-in-Chief, Jeremy White, is spearheading Slice of Hope … he’ll be in touch with you soon.
Next time could you please print pink Slice of Hope shirts and offer them in a women’s cut? Pretty, pretty please?????
San Clemente, California
You have asked so nicely. How could we possibly say no to that? In the meantime, however, we have thousands of black and gray shirts available in sizes M-XXL. To order, visit PizzaToday.com and click on the Slice of Hope icon on the home page.
When will Pizza Today be on the iPad? It’s the only paper magazine I still read … and I want to be able to read it on the iPad with my other subscriptions.
We’ve got some very exciting projects in the works, Duane. Some really innovative stuff will blow you away and just might one day get us on the cover of Wired magazine. Keep your eyes out.
Not only are we the leader in foodservice publishing today — but we’ll also be the leader tomorrow, as well.
Photo by Josh Keown
How rare is your cheese? Has it flown across the ocean just so your customers could have the exclusive opportunity to enjoy it? Are your tomatoes culled from a unique piece of earth that has been designated right and proper? The challenges of collecting such ingredients have become marketing points, especially within the Neapolitan pizza community, but there’s a parallel trend developing in New York and other major cities that promises even more flavor potential without the need to leave one’s neighborhood.
This new trend combines the two hottest food concepts of the moment: Neapolitan pizza and the locavore movement. I’ve been calling it NEOpolitan because it uses the Neapolitan model as a jumping-off point and launches into something completely new. Simple dough made of 00 flour baked quickly in a wood-fired oven provides the perfect foundation for creative flavor combinations utilizing local ingredients. The result is entirely unique and exciting in its ability to combine two upscale trends into one powerful pie.
I first encountered this pizza style five years ago at a pizzeria in Brooklyn. It seemed like a standard Neapolitan joint, complete with a large brick oven built by a third-generation Italian mason, but the menu had a list of the entire ingredient sourcing. Everything came from farms within a 250-mile radius. The list made me feel like I was cheating because so many pizzerias are protective of their ingredients, guarding them as trade secrets. This pizzeria eliminated the mystery of its process — and I loved the fact that its owners were willing to share with their customers.
Local ingredient selection is a point of pride for pizzerias. I recently met a chef in New Jersey who beamed with excitement as he told me how he picked the greens for my salad at a farm down the road that very morning. He wanted me to know how involved he was with the process, and I truly did appreciate it. Seafood restaurants can boast about the fish they purchased at the dock the same morning, so why can’t a pizzeria follow suit?
There’s also a lot to be said about supporting local purveyors in an effort to become more entwined with one’s community. One of my favorite NEOpolitan pizzerias searches farmers markets for unique local products to work into their menu. Some experiments are short-lived, while others gain full-time spots in the line-up. Either way, I’m sure it helps bring in new customers who want to see their friend’s product on a real restaurant menu. The constant influx of new ingredients must help feed the pizzaiolo’s creativity, which has never been the goal of standard Neapolitan pizza.
We have to remember that Neapolitan pizza is named as such because it uses the local ingredients of Naples. Since pizza was a peasant dish, pizzaioli would never dream of paying to import ingredients. Tomato and mozzarella were simply available in Southern Italy, so they became popular toppings by default. In a sense, featuring local ingredients in your pizzeria is more true to the original form of pizza than importing DOP San Marzano tomatoes and mozzarella di bufala to your restaurant in Alabama.
Scott Wiener owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City.
Photo by Josh Keown
Comedian Buddy Hackett is noted as saying: “As a child, my family’s menu consisted of two choices: take it or leave it.” Menus are not quite as simple anymore. Today’s pizzeria menu should tell consumers a unique story about the restaurant and the product. When menus are created in such a fashion, they act as powerful tools to sell your product and your concept.
Recently, I presented a seminar at a food show. I used an exercise where the audience was given two menus to peruse, andthen I simply asked them what each one was using to sell. The group’s answer to menu one was “price.” Their answer to menu two was unanimously “pizza.” Seeing the menus side by side made it a no brainer for the majority of the audience. Yet, this was also an “Aha!” moment. What made menu two awe the audience? The pizzeria knew its concept and was able to communicate about it effectively.
Note these tips from Linda Duke of Duke Marketing, LLC:
No matter how great a food photo looks or how mouth-watering a description is, the food needs to taste good. Communicate to the staff to get the dish right every time.
Compare menu items and price points with the competition. Your signature items and theirs should not be alike; otherwise what makes your restaurant special? Signature and unique menu items are important to promote. These menu items will generate positive word of mouth, create guest loyalty and characterize the personality of the restaurant.
Update menus regularly, even if your restaurant does not change menu items. Nobody wants to eat food when reading a dirty menu.
Make the menu available online. This is especially important to savvy Generation Y consumers and for to-go customers.
Do not forget to list restaurant locations, hours of operation and contact information on the menu –– especially important for local store marketing.
Dining out should not be about the price, it should be about the experience. Lose the dollar signs so consumers will forget its money that they’re spending.
The NRA tells us that 52 percent of adults indicate they are likely to make a restaurant choice based on how much a restaurant supports charitable activities and the local community. Including subtle statements like “locally owned and operated,” “the official pizza of XYZ” or “proud supporter of ABC” motivates people to support your business. Also, note that 68 percent of money spent in a local independent restaurant stays within the community. These assertions tell people you care about them and their community.
Engineering the menu will enhance the dining experience and increase profits.
Scott Anthony is a Fox’s Pizza Den franchisee in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. He is a monthly contributor to Pizza Today and a frequent guest speaker at Pizza Expo.
IL CANE ROSSO // DALLAS, TX
My obsession with Neapolitan Pizza began on our honeymoon trip to the Italian Riviera back in 1995 — Pizzeria Aurora on the Square in Sorrento to be exact. I was working in New York at the time for GE Capital, and all of the natives had warned me that I would hate the pizza in Italy, that it tasted “nothing like New York.” That little pizzeria in Sorrento was where I had my “holy crap!” moment. Each bite of that pizza was a revelation — tangy, milky cheese and tomatoes that tasted like, well, tomatoes. I was blown away.
Life happens, so fast forward 10 years, several “real jobs” and two kids later. I had relocated to Dallas and had a crazy idea to build a wood-burning pizza oven in our backyard. After many failed and incinerated pizzas, I sought out training with L’Associazone Verace Pizza Napoletana, the American delegation headquartered in Marina del Rey, California. After lots of hands on training, gentle guidance and yelling (“Jay! Pizzas are round!”; “Jay! This is burned”; “Jay! Do it again!”), I began to get it. From there, I knew the path forward. We’d open a Neapolitan pizzeria in Dallas and join the very few, select pizzerias to obtain certification from Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN). After all, how hard could it be?
In February of 2011 we opened Il Cane Rosso in the Deep Ellum neighborhood of Dallas — complete with a custom Neapolitan oven, a “fork mixer” imported from Naples and pizza ingredients imported from Campania. We were fortunate enough to be well received by both the public and the food critics. We were making pizza with passion and put great thought into all the components. All of the stars were finally aligned to pursue certification. The initial application is easy — a short form, some photos of the process and ingredients, a few YouTube videos and our application was in the pipeline.
Several weeks later, the e-mail arrived indicating that schedules were being arranged for our pizzeria to be “inspected” by a Master Pizzaiolo from VPN. That’s when the stress and the reality of the situation hit me like a ton of bricks. Despite having made thousands of pizzas, hand-selecting our equipment and ingredients, and enjoying good reviews, we were about to be “inspected” by someone who has been making pizza ALL HIS LIFE. I suddenly realized that while certification by VPN is indeed a great honor, it is also a great responsibility and a great commitment. It’s so much more than a business decision or a marketing strategy. We Americans just don’t have the sense of, or respect for, the tradition of pizza making that stretches back hundreds of years.
I don’t think I slept at all the night before the inspection. I barely spoke to the team at our restaurant for the week leading up to it. My anxiety was heightened after picking the inspector up at the airport and discussing the importance of tradition on the ride to our pizzeria.
The inspection lasted all night long and involved all aspects of our operation — ingredients, dough making, ball rolling, dough stretching, peel techniques, oven management, cooking and finishing. It was, to say the least, an incredibly humbling experience. While we had been confident in our ability to reproduce authentic Neapolitan pizza, we quickly realized we had an incredible amount to learn. Although stressful, the inspector taught us a tremendous amount — not only about making pizza, but also about respecting and honoring tradition.
That very same commitment to tradition produced a “holy crap!” moment for me 16 years ago on a warm summer evening in Sorrento. We hope to do the same for even just one of our customers.
If you’d like to see the application video we did for the VPN, you can find it here:http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=canerossotx
My Turn is a monthly guest column. This installment is written by Jay
Jerrier, owner of Il Cane Rosso in Dallas, Texas. 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.
Photo by Rick Daugherty
Rick Wells has opened 19 different restaurants over his career, including Sauce on the Square, a 125-seat McKinney, Texas-based pizzeria that began welcoming guests in early 2009. Through it all, Wells has retained one clear perspective.
“I can’t pour all the whiskey and make all the pizzas,” he says.
Knowing steady employees are central to his success, Wells embraces any recruiting techniques that can help Sauce on the Square land capable team members. In fact, in today’s ultra-competitive foodservice environment, many believe recruiting and hiring the right personnel carries as much importance as the product itself.
“Ultimately, you’re talking about your reputation here,” says David Hyatt, president of Colorado Springs-based Corvirtus, a human resources consulting firm. “If you take a halfhearted approach to recruiting and hiring, then that’s likely the type of experience you’ll create for guests.”
As the economy has staggered and unemployment has climbed, the number of individuals seeking work suggests that pizzerias might hold the proverbial pick of the litter. Only one problem: it’s a massive litter.
“So many people are looking for work that it takes a lot of time and energy to whittle the pile down to the right ones,” Hyatt says.
Yet, the “right ones” seem to be available in greater supply today than five or six years ago, say many veteran operators. Wells knows a number of sharp restaurant staffers who, after leaving the industry to pursue their own professional agenda following their teen or college years, have returned to the restaurant world in today’s bearish economic climate.
“The challenge might soon move from recruiting to retaining, but there are some real qualified restaurant folks out there right now,” Wells says.
To attract capable candidates and secure solid workers, operators and employment experts offer these strategies:
Start internally. “You can come up with all the buzz words and Web sites, but at the end of the day recruiting is about the people you have working for you,” Wells says, echoing the sentiments of many operators.
If you build a reputation as an enjoyable, respectful place to work, then candidates will line up for opportunities, particularly those encouraged to apply by current staff who want to work with people they know, like and trust.
“Good people hang with good people, so broadcast any opening to your staff,” Hyatt says, adding that he believes current employees referring a friend have essentially pre-screened the candidate.
At Sauce on the Square, Wells’ staff actually drives the hiring process, a prime recruiting strategy he employs. After a job candidate interviews with the guest service manager, property GM and Wells, the candidate then shadows a current team member for a four-hour shift. Staff then provides input on the candidate’s potential.
“Giving staff ownership of the business and investing them in this process creates a culture that brings good people in,” Wells says, noting that Sauce on the Square only lost one employee during its opening year.
Investing staff in the recruiting process can also include referral bonuses.
Jason Shifflett, operator of 31 Domino’s pizzerias in the southeast, offers bonuses up to $100 for employees who bring a competent worker into the fold. In addition to securing the pizzeria a new employee, the bonus also invests staff in the success of the new hire, which Shifflett says creates a motivated, willing workforce grounded in positive peer pressure.
Leverage the “right” technology. Technology remains an important recruitment aide, specifically with Gen Y and the Millennials. Be careful though, as large job Web sites such as Monster or CareerBuilder might bring a flurry of unqualified, even disinterested applicants.
“Prepare for 180 resumes knowing that only two to three will work,” Wells says of the large job sites.
Rather, investigate more targeted job boards, specifically local outlets.
“From something as well known as craigslist to local churches and schools, there are a lot of smaller, niche job boards you can utilize for strong results,” Hyatt says.
Value the pre-interview. Interacting with an individual before any formal interview provides operators an immediate — though by no means concrete — sense of how a prospective employee might relate with guests. In such dealings, Domino’s franchisee Dave Melton seeks eye contact, a smile, and a compelling personality.
“This tells me if they can connect with people on a personal level, which is so important in our customer-focused culture,” says Melton, who is also the co-author of Hire the American Dream, a primer for attracting entry-level employees.
Shifflett also values the pre-interview, encouraging his managers to utilize the quick dialogue as a straightforward recruitment aide.
“How do they present themselves? Did they bring their own pen? How do they talk about their previous job experience? All of these help assess if this individual is worth investigating further as a potential employee,” Shifflett says.
Always be open. While some of Shifflett’s 31 Domino’s outlets have little turnover, others find themselves in a consistent staffing crunch. Either way, Shifflett offers consistent direction to managers: always accept applications.
“Like a good college football coach, your eyes always need to be open to great players you can add to your team,” he says.
Nearly 20 years ago, Wells enjoyed a positive experience during a personal meal, later handing his business card to the server and offering: “If you’re ever looking for a job, please look us up.” Last year, that server joined his staff.
“I’m certainly not suggesting you go into restaurants and poach their employees,” Wells cautions, “but I am saying you need to believe in recruiting wholeheartedly and be aware of opportunities to introduce your restaurant to qualified individuals.”
Extend that openness to guests, many of whom are familiar with the establishment, its vibe and have expressed an interest in your business.
“There’s nothing wrong with letting customers know you’re hiring,” Hyatt says.
Networking with high school counselors or teachers, athletic coaches, college employment offices, church groups, and nonprofits can also yield positive leads.
And finally, Hyatt says, don’t be afraid to go retro.
“The old help wanted sign in the window still works,” he says, adding that the signage frequently prompts the oft-telling personal interaction.
Chicago-based writer Daniel P. Smith has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.
Photos by Rick Daugherty
“The love I feel can only be surpassed by the pizza I ate.” Those are the words etched in blue ballpoint pen in a bathroom at Piece Brewery & Pizzeria. If the restaurant’s sales –– $6 million-plus in 2010 –– are any indication, it’s the sentiment of more than just one graffiti artist. Piece, it seems, has won the hearts of its entire city, an amazing feat for a New Haven-style pizzeria in a town built on deep-dish. Piece and its owners are smart, savvy and successful –– a winning trifecta that has earned it Pizza Today’s 2011 Independent Pizzeria of the Year designation.
“You should have told me you were going to Piece pizzeria,” said our cab driver as we pulled up to the restaurant, which opened in 2001. “It’s very famous in Chicago. Everybody goes there.” Located in Wicker Park, the restaurant was built out of a garage that housed trucks, affording it a high ceiling but a dirt floor and raw walls before construction. “I targeted this market because it was a growing entertainment district,” Owner Bill Jacobs says. “It was hip, it was trendy, and since 2000, when I signed that lease, it has just grown by leaps and bounds. It is one of the great entertainment centers of the city.
“When I was doing my market research, there was no brew pub and no pizza place in this market, which was a sizable, substantial market even in 2000.”
A decade later, the company has seen steady, impressive annual sales growth. Sales were up five percent last year but are already up nine percent in the first half of 2011. Jacobs attributes much of that to Piece Out, a 1,000-square-foot ancillary takeout and delivery store that opened in 2007 in a former boutique next door. “We never had the capacity to do delivery,” Jacobs says. “We would do takeout, of course, but it would create a bottleneck at the front.”
Jacobs was confident it would succeed when he opened Piece Out four years ago, and last year, delivery and carryout accounted for $1.6 million in sales. Drivers use their own insurance and their own car and undergo a training program, so that limits liability. His top concern: delivering a quality product. Jacobs even takes pizzas home and has them delivered to his house to ensure consistency and quality. “It starts with being a great product,” he says. “When it’s delivered, it’s a very good product.” (During Pizza Today’s visit, a customer picking up a pizza at the takeout counter was quick to interject his admiration for the company. “This is the best pizza in the neighborhood. We never have a piece left!”)
Part of that appeal is that it offers a New Haven-style pizza, an homage to Jacobs’ youth. “Our dad told us when we were very little (that) the best pizza in the world was Sally’s on Wooster Street, so we grew up on it. … We knew the pizza was the best and we hadn’t experienced much outside of New Haven. … Having lived in Chicago since 1983, I was never able to find a great thin-crust pizza. It was obviously known for its deep-dish pizza.”
Jacobs’ initial business plan, forged as he was winding down a thriving bagel company he later sold to Big Apple Bagels, included a brewery concept from the start. Jacobs credits his friend, brewmaster Matt Brynildson, who worked for Goose Island Beer Company, for the addition of beer to his concept, a move “that was a critical component to our success.” (See the sidebar on page 63 for more on the company’s brewery.) That well-developed business plan included a logo, marketing plans, menu development and a location –– all of which allowed Jacobs to raise more than $1.1 million from investors (including guitarist Rick Nielsen of rock band Cheap Trick) during a time when technology was a less risky venture than restaurants.
The multi-level restaurant seats 245 people –– 22 of those at the bar that nearly spans the length of one wall. “The Pit,” a sunken area commonly used for private parties, seats 40 and is often booked months in advance. The Chicago neighborhood, no longer as edgy as it once was, also draws a mixed demographics of young people as well as families. “It was obvious that this was a very good market,” Jacobs says. “There’re lots of businesses. It’s a great shopping area.”
There are a couple of competing pizza places nearby, but “we’re secure in what we do and we know we do a great job,” Jacobs says, adding that he welcomes the addition of businesses to the area, which he says “bolsters
The company employs about 125 people, and “we have very little turnover,” Jacobs adds, crediting that to a good working environment –– one in which employees make money and are promoted from within. “My managers are all on bonus plans, and I’m happy to say that they always make their bonuses and they always do very well. We’re always looking at challenges and goals and meeting them head-on.” There’s an operational meeting held every Monday, where we’ll review our numbers. We’ll look at our food costs. We’ll talk about marketing. We’re pretty religious about it.”
Jacobs attributes much of the company’s success to that operational vigilance and its focus on quality, right down to grinding its own cheese (more than 2,400 pounds a week), making dough and frying bacon. “We do everything. We make our own salsa. We make our own guacamole,” Jacobs says. Why not outsource? “We’re able to control the quality of it and get a good food cost out of it,” he adds.
Like most pizzerias in Chicago, sausage is Piece’s top seller. “It’s so focused on pizza. We’re not trying to do everything. We’re trying to be a great pizzeria and brewery first,” Jacobs emphasizes. “They go hand-in-hand, pizza and beer.”
Dinner is the restaurant’s busiest day part, “with the exception of weekends and holidays, when we’re jam-packed. … We do a big sports business.”
Sixty percent of the company’s sales comes from food, with beer accounting for 32 percent. Liquor and merchandise –– including carryout growlers, t-shirts, hoodies and hats –– makes up eight percent of sales.
“Branding has always been a big part of Piece, and we keep the tone of what we do consistent,” Jacobs says. “There’s a smart humor to it. It’s never in your face –– it makes you think, and we do it in different applications” including at the point-of-purchase, table signs, merchandising, on the company’s Web site and in social media like Facebook and Twitter. (Jacobs will co-host a branding workshop at International Pizza Expo in March, 2012). The focus on branding is “smart in its simplicity,” and Jacobs gets help from a friend who is a local advertising agent who has helped Piece create an identity not just on the Chicago food scene but as a business in general. They do very little print outside of some alternative print publications, and even that is waning in favor of social media and store-level marketing.
Although food costs have fluctuated in the past 10 years and the country’s economy soured, Jacobs says Piece has honed its operations, and that has encouraged its yearly sales increases. “We’re clearly in a segment of the restaurant business that is affordable and we’ve continued to thrive, fortunately. … We’ve become very good operators … and I always say that we never remain content with what we’re doing. We’re always pushing the envelope and working to be a better operation. We know we’re good, but we know that they’re always room for improvement. We don’t rest on our laurels. We’re not arrogant about how we’ve done. … We’re always looking to be better.”
Does that include growth beyond a one-store operation? Jacobs has been approached to sell and to franchise, but has always declined. After all, there are challenges to opening a second unit. “There’s clearly a reason why I haven’t jumped at these opportunities,” he says. “Our sales are up and we’re doing well because we’ve stayed focused. It’s not about how much money you make. It’s about doing something that is satisfying.”
Instead, Piece focuses its efforts on quality and community. Jacobs rarely turns down an offer for help, either financially or through donations –– including pet charities, local film festivals, public radio and schools.
“An important part our image is to give back,” Jacobs says. “It’s what we do to operate in good conscience.”
Curiosity may be one of the most powerful tools in your marketing arsenal. QR codes speak to individuals’ inquisitiveness, and the phenomenon is sweeping across the country. Your customers who carry smart phones may be on the lookout for QR codes in your restaurant. But, first, what is a QR code and how does it work?
To begin, QR stands for “quick response.” Without getting too technical, a QR code is basically a two-dimensional, square barcode, similar to a product barcode or ones visible on shipping labels.
Anyone with an Internet-enabled smart phone can download a free application that works through the phone’s camera. The user simply clicks on the QR code scanner app (the camera will automatically pop up) and points the phone at the code. It will send the user to anything from a mobile-friendly webpage or video to social media sites or online coupons — alleviating the need to type in the Web address.
“The key is that it enables someone to jump from the printed piece to the Web,” says QR codes expert Jason Pinto, marketing manager at InterlinkONE in Wilmington, Massachusetts. “You are arming them with more content to hopefully compel them to be a customer.”
Though QR codes are fairly new in the U.S., places like Japan have been using them for decades. Many technology watch groups have pointed to 2011 as the year of the QR code. And they seem to be popping up everywhere: on billboards, signage, posters, business cards and a variety of other print materials, as well as on the Web.
Pinto says that QR codes are so new in the American marketplace that they do require a bit of education at times.
Using QR codes now puts businesses, for a brief time, ahead of the technology curve. With the fickle trends of technology going in and out rapidly, Pinto expects QR codes to be around for a while.
QR codes are free to create and inexpensive or free to track. There are countless QR code generators online where the user is simply required to copy and paste the link of the page for which the code is intended. Then, the user simply saves the QR code image and places it on marketing materials.
As far as tracking, utilizing a QR code-specific coupon page allows for easy analysis. However, using an external source or a general page in your Web site makes analysis more difficult. “There are applications out there that will not only help you create the codes easily, but they also provide real-time reporting and analytics,” Pinto says. These types of services average around $19 per month.
The most important consideration before creating a QR code is determining precisely where to link it. Pinto says to be sure to point the code to a site that has been optimized for mobile web. “If they don’t have the resources to do that, it might be best to point it to an external site that is mobile friendly,” he says. Sites like Google, Yelp, Facebook and Twitter are already optimized for mobile viewing, he adds.
It’s also vital to incorporate a call-to-action with the QR code. “Give people a compelling reason why they’d want to scan it,” says Pinto.
Niki and Scott Blair, owners of Brothers Pizza in Virginia Beach, Virginia, were introduced to the concept by her brother who worked for Google and encouraged the couple to get a Google Places page. With Brothers Pizza’s page, the Blair’s received a free QR code that links to their Google page.
“I was excited about it, so I started putting (the Google Places QR code) on the back of my husband’s business cards,” Niki says, adding that the codes are now on fliers and stickers that she places everywhere.
Niki’s interest prompted her to look further into the codes. She created a free one for the Facebook page using one of the many QR code generator sites.
Scott finds the codes to be a good conversational piece. “When they ask about it, it gives me a window of opportunity for a whole new conversation about the way we do our marketing,” he says.
Dan Scheel of Dano’s Pizza in Columbia, South Carolina, says it made perfect sense to market through QR codes with the abundance of college students who frequent his shop. In March, he began promoting his Google Place and Facebook pages through table tents with QR codes for each. And, he has plans for more. “We are in the finishing stages of adding online ordering. Once that is complete, we will have an opportunity to put our Web ordering address as a QR code,” he says.
More frequently, QR codes are popping up on Web sites, too, making it convenient for visitors to point their phone at the screen and download an app or connect directly with a business. Brian Showers of Fritz’s Pizza in Broadalbin, New York, has a QR code prominently located on his Web site that allows smart phone users to add Fritz’s into their phones’ address books. He enlisted friend and owner of Check It Web Design, Mike Barker, to develop the unique approach.
“It’s just one more way to brand yourself out there — to make you be the one that people are going to go to,” Barker says. “You made it easy and you made it unique where someone didn’t have to go and type it in.”
Tips for creating and customizing QR code
The URL should be short, six to seven characters (The trick: Check on the QR code generator site to see if there is an option to shorten the Web address or use a search engine to find one).
Never make the QR code smaller than one inch by one inch.
You can change the appearance of the code (Only 30 percent of the code is used to make it work. You can change the color and add elements such as a logo. Note: do not cover the three large squares).
And lastly, customizing requires you to TEST, TEST, TEST (Check the code on your phone as well as friends’ and family members’ phones and be sure to check multiple QR code scanner apps).
Denise Greer is associate editor at Pizza Today.
Photo by Rick Daugherty
When a gas station stops letting customers use the restrooms because some people use them without making a purchase, or when a grocery store refuses to accept responsibility for mistakenly selling spoiled food, they lose business and create negative feelings in potential customers. What they are doing, says Domino’s Pizza franchisee Scott Flaherty, is marketing to the one percent.
That one percent of customers are the ones that you just can’t please. They are the people who will find something to complain about no matter how flawless your pizza, and who will try to do whatever it takes to wring a freebie out of you as often as possible. While it may feel proactive to treat anyone with a complaint as if they might be trying to take you for a ride, the other 99 percent of people don’t like to be handled as if they have an ulterior motive or a chronic bad attitude.
Treating customers as if they are the enemy might save you from giving out a few unwarranted pizzas, discounts or other comps, but in the long run that hostile attitude will cost you customers, and Flaherty isn’t the only one who thinks so. Keith Marshall of Atlantic Restaurant Consultants feels that true service is becoming a lost art.
“There is no doubt about the fact that great customer service increases sales and return customers,” Marshall says. “If you handle every problem with care and attention, you will probably find that for the most part, people can’t take advantage of you. Every once in a while you will have to fix a problem that isn’t real in the name of good service, but customers should always be approached with an attitude of ‘innocent until proven guilty.’
“Of course, the best thing is to execute your business so that you have minimal problems in the first place.”
Like Flaherty and Marshall, Gina Defilippis of Nick’s Italian Deli and Pizzeria knows the value of fantastic customer service. “We’ve been around for 22 years, and that’s in part because we do whatever it takes to make our customers happy,” she says. When a customer comes to Defilippis with a complaint, she doesn’t just throw a coupon or a free pizza at the problem. She and her staff work to correct the complaint. And when some of the local teens show up just a little short on cash for their order, Defilippis has been known to reach into her own pocket rather than send them away. “You’re not going to get repeat customers for 20-something years if you’re not giving them great service,” she says.
When a customer called to tell Flaherty that they’d bought several pizzas for their family, and that the sauce was runny and unappetizing, he asked them what night of the week they typically ordered pizza.
He then placed an order for the next week at no cost. He didn’t tell his crew about the special order, either. “These customers don’t need us to make them a perfect pizza once. They need to know that our pizza is great every time, without special treatment,” he reasons.
That is the kind of customer service that creates customer loyalty and, according to Flaherty, the family has ordered from him every week since. This kind of excellent customer service, Flaherty says, should be par for the course thanks to the Domino’s “Wow” policy. “If someone calls up to complain about a pizza, their guarantee is that if you are not totally satisfied, we will make it right or refund your money. I would hope that any owner would go to the same lengths,” he says. “It’s part of our Domino’s culture.”
This kind of corporate culture is what attracted Flaherty to Domino’s four years ago, and it is the way that Marshall says a business should be operated. Additionally, Flaherty also suggests empowering your employees to make customer service decisions.
“When things go wrong –– and they always do –– it’s how you react and how you take care of people that matters,” he says. “All of my employees have the power to fix problems without asking a manager or me.”
Marshall suggests adding one stipulation: “Employees in pizzerias are often young. They should be empowered to help the customers, but they need the support, development and training of the owner.”
Adds Defilippis: “You can’t please everyone every time, but we go out of the way, we take care of what needs to be done, and that’s it.”
Four steps to excellent customer service
1. Apologize for the problem. Be sincere. Try to see the customer’s side of things. Sometimes the problem seems artificial or minor, but listening carefully and apologizing can go a long way toward smoothing ruffled feathers.
2. Offer a reasonable solution to the problem. For example, replace an overcooked pizza or offer a different sauce if the customer hated the usual one. If you don’t see an immediate solution, or you’re not sure what the customer wants you to do, ask them what they would like. You may be surprised at how reasonable their requests are.
3. Go a step further. Offer a dessert, a free beverage, or a discount on their next pizza. Make sure that your customers know how valuable they are to you, and they will be back.
4. Correct the cause of the problem by training your employees on proper procedure and encouraging them to do well.
Dionne Obeso is a freelance writer in Hollister, California.
Cassano’s Pizza @CassanosPizza
TRIVIA TUESDAY .... name our two mascots .... First correct answers wins a Free Pizza! #TriviaTues Reply @CassanosPizza
Why it works: Any mention of free food is sure to get the attention of followers, but Cassano’s takes it a step further. This tweet encourages folks to look for the company’s mascots –– typically done by visiting its Web site. It also uses the commonly tweeted #TriviaTues, which makes it visible for anyone searching under that hash tag.
Hot Z Pizza @HotZpizza
Tuesday Lunch specials @ our Landisville location from 11AM-2PM: Turkey sub = $4.50 tax. Bowl of chili & 1/2 Turkey sub = $5.25 tax.
Why it works: This tweet manages to get two daily specials into 140 characters. Not only are they reasonably priced but this tweet also lets followers know there’s more to this company than just pizza.
Facebook Pizza Feeds
Sal’s NY Pizza: Made 2 extra pizzas on K rd by mistake - a cheese and a pepperoni. First 2 people that call 360-7257 right now can get either pizza for $1! Pickup only, 1 pizza per call. Thanks...
Why it works: Way to turn lemons into lemonade! Rather than chuck a couple of mistakes into the trash, this pizzeria managed to generate a lot of buzz on Facebook and recoup some loss. The quick promotion went so well that Sal’s posted another just an hour later. Genius!
Papa Vince Pizza: 24 Slice Pizza 3 Toppings $17.99 Call Now 905-227-9394 http://www.papavincepizza.com/
Why it works: That’s a big pizza for a great price. This Facebook post also gives the phone number –– an immediate prompt to pick up the phone –– as well as a link to the Web site so users can peruse the menu. It’s a fool-proof promotion!
Photo by Josh Keown
The heat is on! More customers these days are clamoring for hot and spicy this and even hotter and spicier that. Between pizza, pasta, sandwiches –– even salads –– it seems as if the heat in the kitchen is here to stay.
If I were to say that the only true way to heat things up is through peppers alone, I would be dead wrong. Yes, peppers can spice things up a bit, but there are a number of ways to raise the temperature. And, unless you know your peppers from top to bottom (and the degree of heat they put out), you just might put off your customers. Here is my short list of chili peppers and their relative heat (based on the Scoville scale) –– starting with the mildest and leveling up to the hottest:
Sweet bell peppers (regardless of color) are the mildest peppers out there. They are as versatile as can be, but don’t expect to spice things up with bell peppers.
habañero (very hot, so use it with caution)
I am not here to complicate your life, though, so giving your pizza a kick is as easy as this: buy bottled giardiniera (a.k.a. Italian relish). Usually this relish comes in two heats — mild and hot. The mild might be too tame for our topic here, but the hot version has everything you could ask for and more. To spice it up for a pizza, simply mix giardiniera into the pizza sauce you have set aside for a spicy pizza. Then simply spread this hopped up sauce over the pizza crust, add cheese and bake. The oven heat will ramp up the heat of the giardiniera, so do a couple of taste tests to determine how much to use.
To expand on this, here is a recipe for an extra-spicy tomato sauce. Give it a try. I think you will like it.
Extra-spicy Tomato Sauce
Yield: 2 cups or enough sauce for two 13- to 14-inch pizzas (scale up in direct proportion)
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cups canned plum tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
1 tablespoon canned chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce*
Salt, to taste
In a large heavy saucepan, sauté the garlic in the oil over moderate heat for 2 minutes.
Empty the tomatoes and their juices into a mixing bowl and crush the tomatoes with your hands. Add the tomatoes to the saucepan. Add the oregano and chipotle peppers to the tomatoes. Bring the sauce to a steady simmer over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally. Simmer for 18 to 20 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened and has reduced to about 2 cups. Add salt to taste. The sauce can be prepared ahead and kept covered and refrigerated for 4 to 5 days. Let the sauce cool for at least 30 minutes before using.
* Use caution when working with chipotle peppers. Remove them from the can with a fork. Place them on a plate and chop them with a knife and fork. If you have to touch the peppers with your hands, use rubber gloves. The smoky flavor of the chipotle is what makes this sauce so interesting. Adjust the (spicy) heat accordingly.
Another quick way to spice up a pizza: after you have ladled and spread your pizza sauce over the crust, take a bottle of siracha (hot chili sauce available everywhere). Swirl a circle or two over the pizza sauce (siracha is hot, so test the heat level a couple of times). Add your other toppings and bake. Some of the top chefs around the world use siracha as their “secret” ingredient.
This is a pizza with a “good burn.” The extra-spicy sauce takes care of that. Prep the sauce and the beef ahead.
Yield: one 14-inch pizza (scale up in direct proportion)
1 tablespoon corn oil or vegetable oil
1 pound ground beef
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons minced cilantro
Salt, to taste
1 cup extra-spicy tomato sauce (see recipe above)
¼ pound each shredded Monterey Jack and mild cheddar cheese (total about 2 cups)
Put the vegetable oil in a sauté pan set over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef and cook and stir for 2 minutes. Add the cumin and cilantro. Cook and stir for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the beef is cooked through. Add salt, to taste. Drain the excess liquid from the pan and set aside to cool.
Spread the sauce over pizza. Spread the cooked beef evenly over the sauce. Combine the two cheeses and sprinkle over the beef. Bake. Garnish with additional chopped cilantro as needed.
To spice up a dressing for a sandwich, try adding a shot or two of hot pepper sauce to mayonnaise and combine well. Spread it over cooked chicken breast for a spicy chicken sandwich.
Toss chopped or cubed cooked chicken breast with siracha sauce and use it for a very tasty hot and spicy pizza.
To make a flavorful hot sauce for a burger, combine (to taste) mayonnaise, steak sauce and siracha. Spread it over a burger, add cheese, bacon, etc.
To spice up any pasta dish, simply use crushed red pepper flakes.
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 Rick Daugherty
When the hostess stand at Buddy’s Pizza becomes mobbed with hungry customers, the hostess hands out pagers shaped like coasters. That seems to calm everyone down, says Wes Pikula, vice president of operations for the nine-location Detroit pizzeria. “It’s a stress reliever if you are a guest,” he says. “You don’t have to listen for your name, or worry that they mispronounce your name, or start your whole dining experience feeling anxious.”
Paging systems that use coasters or cell phone texts don’t just tell waiting customers their table is ready. These hostess management systems can also help clear the lobby, turn tables and reduce staff costs.
“The paging system creates a contract with the guests,” says Doug Crisafulli, director of marketing and product development for JTECH Communications Inc. “It’s all psychological and unwritten, but they
get the message: These people are going to take care of me. They will call me when a table is available.”
Customers with pagers don’t have to hover over the hostess stand, wondering if the hostess called for Ashley or Ashton. Instead, they stroll outside, shop at neighboring retailers, or sit at your bar and order drinks and appetizers. When a table becomes available, a busser clears the table while the hostess types the pager number into a keypad. The pager vibrates, and the customer reaches the table just as it becomes ready.
No one is yelling or chasing down a customer, and the table is filled quickly. That could mean lower staffing costs and faster table turns.
Still, pagers do have their drawbacks. People lose them or just keep them. Matt Braddy, floor manager at the Georgetown location of Pizzeria Paradiso in Washington, D.C., says one customer kept a coaster pager, then brought it back a week later during a dinner rush. “They said they had been waiting for a table for half an hour,” Braddy says. “But the pager hadn’t been charged so we knew they were lying.” Braddy offered the guest a fresh coaster and a spot on the waiting list.
Pikula says teenagers pilfer the coasters. “It’s a badge of honor to take them,” he says. Hostesses are responsible for taking back the pagers. “They’ll say, ‘Oh, let me get rid of that for you.’”
Addison, Texas-based Long Range Systems offers coaster pagers, including one shaped like a pizza slice. Those might be cool enough to steal, but Jeff Jones, director of sales, says the system has antitheft transmitters. Pagers work on radio frequency, so they can be set up to work within one or two miles of the restaurant. “If the customer gets out of that range, the pager starts beeping and lighting up,” Jones says. “They think they shouldn’t be that far away, or they think it’s their turn, so they come back.”
Sometimes people walk away with pagers because they are angry that they had to wait long, says Steve Elefant, chief information officer for Princeton, New Jersey-based Heartland Payment Systems. “Other customers don’t like to touch them because they’re dirty and grimy,” he says.
One alternative is the cell phone text. The hostess asks the customer for their cell phone number and then sends a text message when the table is ready. The system also has a seating chart and a timer to show which tables will become available soon.
Customers are almost always willing to give out their cell number, says Ray Villaman, owner of Fireside Pizza Co. in Olympic Valley, California, and Rubicon Pizza Company in Truckee, California. “I can’t remember the last time somebody said, ‘No, I’m not giving you my number.’”
Rick Stanbridge, president of Fidelity Communications Inc. in Novi, Michigan, says the text message system is maintenance-free. “You’re not relying on the customer to return something, and you’re not relying on another device to work,” he says.
One drawback of cell phone texts is they do not create a tether the way the coaster pagers do, says Crisafulli. The customer can go across the street to three other restaurants and leave their cell numbers there, too. “The customer thinks, whoever calls me first, gets me,” he explains. “You run the risk of walk-aways.”
A system with pagers and a charging station can start at about $1,000 to $2,500, depending on the number of pagers. Jones recommends one pager for every minute-and-a-half wait. If your wait for a table is typically 30 minutes, you need 20 pagers.
The cell phone text packages charge monthly fees ranging from $39 to $99, and some have upfront or setup costs.
Elefant, from Heartland, says it’s easy to tell whether you need any paging system. “If you ever have guests grumbling while they’re waiting in your lobby, or complaining about who was first or trying to get comped because they had to wait so long, you need a paging system,” he says.
Nora Caley is a freelance writer specializing in food and business topics. She lives in Denver, Colorado.
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