Photos by Josh Keown
The hours before opening — while sometimes hectic — are the few times in a busy pizzeria’s day when customers are not continually walking in and the phone is not ringing like crazy. It’s the perfect opportunity to lead the day in a positive and profitable direction. Paul Gainor, owner of Pizza Zone with two locations in Spring, Texas, uses the time to get ready for the day’s rush — making sure the prep table is stocked, turning on the ovens and vent hoods, checking voicemail and the fax machine (which prints the shop’s online orders), pulling dough out of the refrigerator, heating the pizza sauce, counting the safe, bringing all of the washed utensils (pizza cutters, cheese cups, scale, etc.) to their stations, checking inventory and ordering food.
Dough is also made before opening at Pizza Zone. Gainor says mornings are the best time for dough production because there are limited distractions during the delicate process.
It’s the most obvious — but vital — things, he says, that most frequently get overlooked, such as turning on the “Open” sign and remembering to unlock the front door.
That’s where a trusty checklist comes in handy. “The most important thing is that people follow the checklist,” Gainor says. “Otherwise things get forgotten. Give some incentive to your employees that they better use the checklist or they will be in trouble.” He verbally reprimands employees for ignoring items on the sheet. Habitual offenders can even lose out on raises.
Carmelo Lamotta of LaMotta’s Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria, Fort Myers, Florida, says there is no excuse for missing a task that is on the checklist. Having his employees initial each item leaves little room for rebuttal. The sheet is broken down into daily tasks as well as the schedule for weekly and monthly duties.
Lamotta handles many of the kitchen opening duties with one helper. “It saves on labor and it saves on waste and food cost because I control the food cost.”
In addition to kitchen prep, Lamotta brings a server in 30 minutes prior to opening to prepare the dining room. “Hygiene is No.1 for me,” he says. The server is responsible for making sure tables and chairs are sanitized, the floor is swept, menus and special inserts are wiped down, windows are cleaned and everything is stocked in the counter and service areas.
Morning is also a good time to take advantage of the quiet to hold meetings and training sessions. Run through the numbers of the previous day, highlighting the positives and negatives and things like recognizing employees for exceptional service.
Have a new menu item? Use mornings to introduce the new dish to your lunch staff so they can more effectively promote it. The tasting also gives the kitchen crew practice, without having to focus on other entrées.
With a small staff, Jason Petro, owner of The Red Star Pizza Company in Seymour, Indiana, handles opening differently. While Petro focuses on closing duties, his wife, Nicole, opens the restaurant. Petro relies on his evening and closing staff to tackle many of the tasks that some operators would consider opening duties.
The goal, Petro says, is to get everything ready for the next morning so that Nicole can come in one hour prior to open to turn on the ovens and then make a bank run or other errands that need to be completed. Occasionally, he leaves Nicole tasks written on their large checklist wipe boards in the kitchen to be completed before opening.
The Petros also make use of their midday lull to prepare for Red Star’s dinner rush instead of prepping for the entire day prior to open.
There are a number of approaches to take to make daily operations run smoothly. Make a game plan, be ready and execute.
Checklists not only give you a reminder of all of the tasks that need to be completed, it also provides you with accountability when staff members initial each item that is finished. Common tasks on an opening checklist include:
- Check the exterior for security breaches and litter.
- Unlock doors for staff, disarm alarm and lock doors upon entering. u Conduct an interior security walk-through.
- Turn on ovens.
- Double check food orders and inventory levels to be sure the pizzeria is ready for the day’s business.
- Check manager’s log from previous night. Make sure employees clocked out appropriately and review labor hours.
- Check voicemails, e-mails and faxes for advanced orders and employee schedule conflicts.
- Scan the labor schedule to be sure you have enough employees scheduled for each shift.
- Inspect freezer and refrigerator units for proper temperature readings.
- Check appearance of kitchen and dining room, cross-checking with nightly checklist.
- Make appropriate amount of dough and verify prepped dough has been rotated for use.
- Set up steam table and make line and start prep work.
- Count the safe and assign drawers.
- Check deposit slips.
- Verify there is enough cash and change for the day’s operation.
- Go to the bank to make last night’s deposit and get change.
- Review specials and be sure they are displayed in the store.
- Check the restaurant calendar for large parties and/or catering.
- Be sure the dining room temperature is comfortable.
- Turn on lights, fans and television and sound systems.
- Take out the trash and pick up litter.
- Conduct an opening meeting with instructions, training and motivation.
- Do final walk-through of dining room and verify opening checklist.
- Turn on open sign and unlock doors for customers.
Denise Greer is associate editor of Pizza Today.
Meet the Players:
Mother Bear's Pizza
Fresh Brothers Pizza
Los Angles, California
Farrelli's Wood Fire Pizza
Crazy Dough's Pizza
Q: What is the most effective promotion you ran in the last year?
Ferriman: The most effective promotion we ran last year was a bundle promotion of buying one large Signature Pizza and getting a large cheese for $5.
McConn: Our most popular promotion in 2012 was also our most popular in 2011 and 2010 and 2009, etc. I’m referring to our Munchie Madness special (10-inch one topping pizza, breadsticks w/sauce, 2 home-made brownies, and a 2 liter of Pepsi product for $10.95) that’s good 24/7. It offers strong value, fulfills a need in the sales lineup, is very memorably named and is prepared and processed very easily. We have a few others that offer similar value that are aimed at different facets of our customer base.
Krueger: We ran a super successful pizza school series, inspired by Tony Gemignani’s International School of Pizza, which our Director of Kitchen Operations, Michael Rutledge, attended. We asked ourselves how could we leverage that higher learning that Mike had received as it pertained to our guest experience? We recognized that we had an opportunity to better educate our customers on the quality of products we source and the pride we take in the preparation and baking of our pizzas. We figured, why not give our guests the opportunity to go through Pizza School? The idea was to keep it fun and simple at the same time — informative and hands-on. So we came up with three courses: 101 was all about dough … making, rolling, storing and opening the dough. 202 was all about toppings and really getting people to think outside of the box when it came to sauces and ingredients, with an emphasis on quality. 303, or the capstone as it became known, was a competition where the customers would make and present their own pie to a panel of judges that we compiled. The best pie was chosen to be featured on the cover of our menu for the following quarter, and the proceeds from the sale of the pizza were donated to the Washington Restaurant Association Education Foundation in the form of a scholarship for an inspiring young culinary student. Essentially, what this campaign did for us was drive traffic on slow nights in our stores … Secondly, it gave people an experience in our stores that they would most certainly share with their friends via positive word of mouth. It also gave us a bunch of stuff to talk about through our social media channels. Most importantly, though, the winning pizza raised money for a charitable cause which really helped us showcase our commitment to neighborhood nourishment at Farrelli’s.
Shepherd: I am not a fan of gauging success on single promotions. Rather, I like to build out a solid marketing strategy that relies on many small items all working together. But, if I have to choose just one I would go with our Upselling Incentive program for our phone staff and servers. Over the course of a month we were able to increase our check average by over $3! Employees were given incentives such as cash, gift cards, and free food to help them encourage customers to try new pizzas, specialty drinks, appetizers, and desserts. The suggestive selling was backed up by management who would parade eye-appealing food through the dining room, give out free samples, and keep the staff motivated.
Q: What is the most pressing issue facing your business in 2013?
Ferriman: The most pressing issue facing our business in 2013 is keeping our food costs down. Continuous training for proper portion control will help us in this rising commodity world we live in.
McConn: Rising costs. Given the global nature of food, if a gnat farts in Australia, flour rises 2 percent in Chicago, or so it seems. Seriously, we are at the mercy of global harvests and availability of natural resources. When there is a failure in some part of this chain, we all have to pay the price. Given the wild fluctuations of weather and changing weather patterns that we’ve seen in the past few years, I think we all need to be prepared for shortages and the consequent rise in prices.
Goldberg: Our most pressing issue is finding great locations for new stores — a good problem to have. We find that we are competing with major national QSR chains for retail space.
Q: How often do you re-evaluate your menu offerings and pricing?
Goldberg: We evaluate our menu options and pricing twice a year. We’ll add menu items when it’s appropriate, such as our January 2013 launch of the Fresh Brothers skinny crust. New menu items tend to refocus customers’ attention onto the food, and away from price changes. Ultimately, our focus is on our food. Always.
Krueger: We re-evaluate our menu selection and pricing every 3-6 months. We go through a menu engineering process to determine our Stars, Dogs, Puzzles and Plow Horsers so that we can figure out what needs to stay on our menu or come off, or which items need to be put in a better location on the menu or have the recipe or presentation re-tooled to be more effective. We want our menus to always be current and fresh and to do the very best job possible at driving profit to the bottom line. We research the gaze patterns that the human brain will make when staring at different menu layouts so that we can have our most profitable items placed in the sweet spots of the pages.
Gold: We re-evaluate our menu and pricing every three months. We only print 3 months of menus at a time.
Ferriman: We re-evaluate our menu offerings and pricing twice a year when we reprint our menus. We evaluate what pizzas sell and don’t sell, their contribution margin and their ingredient prep time and cost. Pizzas that don’t meet the standard for these factors either get a price increase or face elimination from the menu.
Q: How often do you re-evaluate your menu offerings and pricing?
McConn: Ideally we review menu and prices once a year and make changes to coincide with the start of the university school year. You can go bananas poring over POS data and trying to tweak your menu every week or month. To us it makes more sense to be patient with your new offerings and give them a chance to develop “legs”. Price increases that occur outside of normal seasonal fluctuations are evaluated to determine if they are fleeting or the new norm. Being an independent, we can literally react within minutes to a situation such as an outstanding new product or price consideration.
Shepherd: I generally review my food costs on a monthly basis. Considering the precarious economy, I am very reluctant to raise prices unless I really must. Instead I have been focusing on adding new offerings that are by nature low in food cost to help offset the rising costs in other areas.
My menu is ever changing. I try to update and refresh my menu at least quarterly. Customers want solid consistent offerings, but also want new things that they can get excited about.
Q: What advice would you give new operators who are entering the industry?
McConn: Whenever I read answers to this question, I’m always disappointed by the nebulous, redundant nature of the responses. The reality is that you need money, and of course a passion/interest, and then more money, and experience, and if you don’t have experience then a lot, lot more money. A good location helps, but nothing substitutes for financial depth. Yeah, you can make it without financial wherewithal, but you can also put your money in a pile in the middle of the street and hope it’s there the next day. Nothing, including sweat, intelligence, industry, effort, 80 hours a week, free advice, expensive advice, your wife’s family, your second cousin’s blessing, Aunt Thelma’s secret recipe that came over on the Mayflower, etc., substitutes for having ample cash. That’s just how the game is played. If you can’t play by these rules, then you really shouldn’t play.
Shepherd: You must know your numbers! Know how much profit your location can make, know how much in sales you need to make, know your break even numbers, and know when to call it quits.
Gold: Be realistic on the amount of return on your effort and investment. Be truthful to yourself why you are getting into the pizza business.
Ferriman: My advice for new operators is to first make sure your “Will Power” tank is full, and then become obsessed with learning everything about operational efficiencies, portion control, quality ingredients, customer service and how you put all those together to create success.
Q: How has social media impacted your marketing?
Gold: The return on investment is better than any other type of paid advertising out there now.
Ferriman: Social media has given us a much broader reach for a fraction of the cost. We are constantly creating new pies to sell by the slice and social media is a perfect medium to get the message out about something new and innovative we are doing. I will create say a Filet Mignon pizza and take a picture of it, tweet and Facebook it out and say....“Come in now for a new Filet Mignon slice...and just for trying the new creation I will buy your fountain soda.” Social media also allows us to interact more easily with our customers, i.e. people always put pics of pizzas on Twitter, which I see, and I subsequently direct message with a “thank you” and bogo coupon.
McConn: Social media? What’s that? Although we have a Facebook account, a Twitter account, and advertise on Yelp, we also have a yellow page ad, daily placement in our daily newspaper, and table tents. We really don’t use social media to any great extent. Why? Because we don’t have to! For all the benefits that are purported to be gained from social media, they don’t come free. To be truly effective, you or your designee need to be fairly active in pursuing the different electronic avenues, and creatively developing ad copy for them. This is spelled “time and money”. Our disdain for this venue is also based on our market position. We are acknowledged as the best pizza in 43 states (okay, we’ll settle for Bloomington for now). We have created a system of marketing that has been tested through the years to be exceptionally effective for us. Business is still increasing on an annual basis. If I was starting my first store, I would be highly involved in social media. Since Mother Bear’s has been here for 40 years, we play the game differently.
Goldberg: We consider it a valuable tool alongside traditional marketing tools like print advertising, billboards and radio. Social media is like adding another distribution channel. It allows us to interact directly with our customers, so we’re more engaged and present to our customers, which is very important to us.
Krueger: The thing I often think about is, ‘What would life be like without social media?’ I can hardly remember a time when we weren’t interacting with our friends, family and favorite organizations through various online social networking sites. For us at Farrelli’s, we were early adopters of social media, having a MySpace page for our company early on and since transitioning our efforts to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube & Yelp to name the primary ones. These sites have helped our business to have a stronger brand presence and to engage with existing and potential guests through mediums that they are already using … Additionally, we are hearing about areas of opportunity for us to improve through these sites as opposed to not hearing that feedback at all. It also gives us an opportunity to fix any issues that someone may have encountered in our store to help retain them as a valued guest, sometimes even while they are still in the store, so that we can correct the issue before they ever leave. Our objective with social media is not to utilize it as a “free” advertising medium, as some people might be inclined to do, but rather to stay engaged with our guests so that the next time they think pizza, they think Farrelli’s ... It’s about top of mind awareness.
Shepherd: Social media now makes up the majority of my marketing. I don’t push coupons and specials through social media, but rather use it as a platform to get my customers talking about us. It is instant, free, and makes the customer feel a part of something. We recently started a campaign at one of my stores focusing on getting my customers to know my staff. We take photos of the staff, post on Facebook and the first customer to come in and say the correct phrase to that employee wins a free pizza. Next month we will encourage our customers to “steal” a certain branded item, take a photo of themselves with it at a notable landmark, post it to our Facebook page and then pass it on. I hope I can get the item across the country.
JOIN US: Beer & Bull Idea Exchange® Tuesday and Wednesday, March 19 & 20 4:30 - 6 p.m.
Have you ever wondered what it’d be like to sit at a table with 10 other pizza operators from all over the country—or in a room with 500 colleagues—free to discuss whatever issues are foremost on your mind? It happens every Pizza Expo at Beer & Bull, where attendees wind down from the day with a cold drink and friendly information sharing in a non-competitive environment. You name the topics; you ask the questions—at your table and over the microphone in the larger room. Pizza Today publisher Pete Lachapelle moderates the discussion to ensure that someone will have the answer you seek.
Photos by Josh Keown
A ‘Go West’ inclination during a carefree time was the recipe that resulted in Gerald Strader and his business partner, Scott Leist, setting up shop — literally — in Austin, Texas. Once they made the move a whirlwind of events quickly conspired to produce both jubilation and unexpected challenges, but, really, what business doesn’t face both, the two men reasoned? More than three decades later, the partners operate a company, Conan’s Pizza, that ranks No. 95 on Pizza Today’s list of Hot 100 Independents.
“We opened Conan’s on July 19, 1976,” explains Strader. Leist was unable to be present during our visit in January. “We had graduated form college in Florida and wanted to open a pizza place. We knew we wanted to be in good weather, so the parameters were that we would go somewhere West of the Mississippi River and South of the Mason-Dixon Line. If Austin didn’t work we were going to go to Tempe next, and then on to San Diego. We literally loaded up our vans and drove out here. We fell in love with Austin. It was booming.”
Those were the days when Janis Joplin and Willie Nelson reigned supreme in the city, and Strader said Austin’s artistic bent coupled with its growing population made it a good choice for a restaurant. The fact that there weren’t any pizzerias serving the pan-style for which Conan’s has become known made it an even better place for the two new graduates to give their concept a shot.
“My first ever pizza job was in Stillwater, Oklahoma,” says Strader. The son of a military father, Strader has lived all over the U.S. and other countries. “It was a full-blown Italian restaurant. I saw a lot of stuff there and learned a lot. But our pizza recipe didn’t come from there. It is an extension of what I learned in college. When I was in Gainesville I worked for a place called Leonardo’s. I took what I learned there and brought it here.”
What made Strader think that style of pizza would be a hit in Austin? “I loved it,” he says. “I was a huge fan. I thought this stuff was so good that it would sell anywhere. And I was right. It went really well.”
Just about everything went well for the partners early on. After working daily to get Conan’s open, the pay off didn’t take long. After only six months in business the pizzeria was so busy that it nearly doubled in size, from a mere 800 square feet to 1,500 square feet. But one day a legal notice arrived in the mail and Conan’s faced a major hurdle. Its identity, inspired by a comic book character that was later immortalized in Hollywood movies, was placed in the crosshairs of threatened legal action. You see, the pizzeria didn’t just use the name, Conan’s Pizza. It also featured artwork of the character. After some legal wrangling and a trial, Strader and Leist emerged with the right to continue using the name and using the images within the three company-owned stores. Though any future licensees or franchisees can’t use the artwork, the pieces still remain on display in the three stores owned by the partners.
With the legal hiccup aside, Strader and Leist were free to grow their business. That, of course, comes with its own trials and tribulations.
“We opened about a dozen stores over the years,” says Strader. “And just about everyone of them were successful. One closed due to crime; one closed because the landlord went bankrupt. The building was literally condemned and the whole place was bulldozed. Then, in 1986 Texas was hurting despite what was going on in the rest of the country. We had to close a San Antonio store in ‘86. The first five were gold mines. It just goes to show it really is location, location, location.
Strader’s sons are involved in the business now and his eldest, Chris, has come back to lead a management and marketing role after spending time working in political circles in Washington, D.C. While in the nation’s capital he worked on campaigns, as a driver for Rahm Emanual and as a clerk on the Ways & Means Committee for Democratic U.S. House of Representatives member Charles Rangel of New York. Though those experiences no doubt shaped him, he says some of the skills that have translated to Conan’s the most did not come from time spent in government buildings, but in a more unlikely place.
“Some of my best experience was actually managing a lawn and garden center in D.C., believe it or not,” he says. “They gave me a lot of responsibility. I started a newsletter and did social media, and that certainly spills over.”
For Strader’s part, he says the itch to grow never fully subsides. With that in mind, he says burgeoning markets like areas in Dallas, Houston and along the Interstate 35 corridor may present opportunities for Conan’s to expand.
“We’re dying to open more stores,” he says, “but it has to be the right fit. We don’t open losers.”
So, for now, the plan is to continue focusing on production and providing customers a good experience. In 2012, Conan’s experienced 12 percent growth as compared to the year prior. Now, Chris is working to maintain that track by keeping Conan’s in the mix through advertising and social media channels as Austin experiences an influx of newer, trendier dining options.
“Things are going well right now, and we have a lot of cards in our hand yet to play,” he says. “The next time we feel a bubble we can start to use some of it.”
With today’s advanced POS systems, say the Straders, so much more information is available at the operator’s fingertips than ever before. Things like identifying and courting so-called “lazy customers” to return is easier now than ever.
“From a marketing standpoint,” intercedes Chris, “the pickup customer is the customer I get the least amount of information on. If you think about it, with a delivery customer I get their full address and I can market directly to them.”
Delivery makes up 15-20 percent of sales at Conan’s, and that is without making a conscious effort to increase that segment of the business. In part, Conan’s hasn’t had to since it has made a name for itself with longevity.
“We’re an icon now,” says Strader. “UT (University of Texas) students all over the state want to come back to visit, and when they do we’re on their check list.”
Consistency is the real key to that. For Conan’s, a commissary is one of the drivers that helps all three stores produce the same product all day every day.
“We’ve always had a commissary,” says Strader. “We do it out of one of the stores now. We have three guys work it, and two of them have been here for 20 years. They come in and make the dough, prep and load the van. They deliver fresh product to the stores seven days a week.”
That results in quality control some independents don’t always have. Says Strader: “We’re labor intense. I know that. But we’re quality. I really think quality and labor go hand in hand."
Jeremy White is Editor-in-Chief of Pizza Today.
Photos by Josh Keown
The story has been repeated time and again in cities all across America: an aspiring man or woman moves to a new locale after years in New York and is disappointed by the pizza offerings of the adopted city. This time, the city in question is Austin, Texas, and the heroine of this twice-told tale is a former NYU student who made her living in Austin as a food editor. But the clichés really are only circumstantial, because behind the concept developed by Jen Strickland (seated in the black dress in the photo at the right), her husband Joseph and business partner Terri Hannifin (far right) there’s substance. Together, the trio opened Home Slice at the end of 2005. They were part of a boom on Austin’s now-popular Congress Avenue and have reaped the benefits of hard work, location and a fun concept ever since.
There was a time when Congress Avenue was less than desirable. Street walkers and drug pushers owned the nights on this busy street with a distant view of the Texas state capitol building. But just as other cities such as Indianapolis and Charlotte have undergone successful revitalization efforts in years past, something was brewing in Austin. An educated, hip and artsy population does not remain stagnant for long, and Congress eventually became the focus of like-minded entreprenuers who saw potential in the area. Now the avenue is a growing, buzzing hotbed of activity. And with both residential and business areas nearby, the restaurants benefit with crowds during both the lunch and dinner dayparts. Such was the case when Pizza Today dropped in on Home Slice Pizza in mid January to observe the goings-on. The main restaurant was packed with business professionals and young families. Next door, More Home Slice — a small extension meant to deal with takeout overflow — was packed as well. Its limited seating was taken by students and biz pros on a time crunch. Slices waited for re-heating in the deck ovens, while the warm sunshine outside meant the outdoor seats were occupied with slice enthusiasts as well. We chatted briefly with Chris Harlan, a student at the University of Texas who was shopping at a nearby specialty store. He said Home Slice was his “go-to joint” when he felt the need for pizza.
“You get in and out fast, and the vibe is cool,” he says. “The slices are large and they always hit the spot.”
The menu is designed to hit the spot New York style. Whole pies and slices reign supreme, but other options include salads, antipasto, calzones, sub sandwiches, espresso and dessert. Beer and wine complete the dining experience and work to elevate overall sales. Though native to New York, the trio of owners did not already possess pizza-making expertise when they decided in earnest to make a run at pizzeria ownership. Instead of trying to acquire it in the Lone Star State, Jen Strickland instead went back to NYC for an unofficial apprenticeship. With that experience under her belt, she returned to Austin with what Home Slice’s Web site calls “street cred.”
To play up the New York pizza experience as much as possible, More Home Slice, which opened in February of 2010, features tile work that conveys some iconic New York personalities — Spike Lee, Run DMC and J.D. Salinger, to name a few. Back in the original Home Slice, the decor has more of a circus feel to it. Tastefully done and fitting (what pizzeria kitchen isn’t a circus act, after all?), the look complements the menu and the restaurant’s overall mentality.
Speaking of mentality, Home Slice carries its kitsch over to social media as well, where it has managed to excel and set itself apart when compared to its competitors. Home Slice has more than 16,000 Facebook likes and more than 7,000 Twitter followers. The company uses the former primarily to interact with customers (it shares photos of fans as well as pics sent in by diners) and the latter to advertise daily specials.
Then there’s the Carnival O’ Pizza, an annual event the restaurant stages late each fall. Complete with a pizza-eating contest, music, games and other activities, the Carnival O’ Pizza has become Home Slice’s claim to local fame. It’s an event that puts the restaurant’s name front and center for hundreds of Austin residents and ensures a new wave of rabid fans each year as the it continues to grow both in size and popularity.
“You’ve got to see it sometime,” says Harlan, the student we caught munching a slice of pepperoni on our visit. “It’s insane.”
Jeremy White is Editor-in-Chief of Pizza Today.
What movie would you rather see: one on the life and times of Babe Ruth or one about Barry Bonds? I think even the most ardent Giants fan wants to be in with the original. Think of other originals and their imitators: the Beatles to the Monkees, “Baywatch” to “Acapulco H.E.A.T,” “Armageddon” to “Deep Impact,”and everything in between. Then ask yourself: “Is my pizzeria a true original or an imitation?”
We see it all the time in movies, TV and music — and we call it out as phony. What we seem to not call out is when it happens in the restaurant industry. Exactly the same generic Chinese joint, the same enchiladas at Señor Fill-in-the-Blank’s and the same stock photos on the wall at every pre-packaged pizza place. Even Original Ray’s ain’t original.
You may be an independent, but is your business independently minded? Are you buying the same stock items from your food vendor and doing the same stock things with those items that every pizza place is doing? Saying: “But we use grated Parm instead of shredded!” is not a real differentiator. Maybe you’re lucky and you’re the only one in town doing it (now), but if someone could open shop and duplicate everything you do, including using grated Parm, then you are anything but safe. Just being “Home of the_____” is not enough. You need to dig deep and be the original You — and have your brand follow that lead.
That’s why YOU have to build a brand, and then respect that brand. Cultivate that brand: what are the ideals of your brand? What does it say about what’s important at your place? Figuring out if it says anything at all at the moment would be a good place to start.
In 2005, Andolini’s Pizzeria hit a point where money was tight. Anyone could buy the same frozen raviolis, throw some sauce on them and –– boom!, we would become just another pizza and Italian place. Facing that reality, we decided instead to make everything from scratch.
Along with that we decided to come up with food items that no one else was doing. We were always asking ourselves: “What would we need to do and be to survive the New York or San Francisco dining scene?” and not just simply to make it in Tulsa.
That strategy has paid off for us and I write this not to say: “Hey look at me! I think I’m fancy and special.” No, I write this because I wish someone said it to me the day Andolini’s Pizzeria opened and saved me some heartache. I wish someone had reminded me that being an individual is why you opened this place. Don’t try to do your competition’s brand better than they do; try to invent a new brand identity that has never been done. At the very least, that hasn’t been done in the place you’re operating.
When someone copies you, know that it’s a sign of desperation. Don’t be desperate yourself and return the favor. Just be you. I don’t remember the Beatles trying to cover “Daydream Believer.”
Here’s where to start: what is generic about your store? The menus, the pizza names, even the pepper shakers — what have you seen already? Now slowly change that in your image. Does your logo and name inspire confidence or does it perpetuate clichés? Is it instantly recognizable as you? There is no one right answer to this other than to say if someone plopped into a seat at your restaurant in Anytown America, when he left, would he know and remember where he had just been? Or would he (or she) more likely say: “Yeah, I’ve think I ate there once. It was pretty standard.” If you got into this to make fantastic pizzas, then I applaud you. Get that idea and goal out to as many people as possible by increasing and bettering your brand. u
Photo by Josh Keown
The performance kitchen at Cane Rosso takes center stage. Built around a wood-fired oven, the workspace is home to leading man Dino Santonicola, the Naples-born master pizzaiolo hired by owner Jay Jerrier to put his restaurant on the map. And he’s not alone –– more attention than ever has been placed on hiring as a marketing ploy. Bring in a big name (even for a limited-time engagement), garner attention and bam! Instant fame. But is a chef –– one with street cred, a degree and/or acclamations –– really needed over a cook who worked his or her way up in an organization?
“A chef brings a lot of the ‘business’ side of the restaurant to the table,” Jerrier says. “He handles all of our unit costing, ordering, scheduling/staffing, quality control, vendor management, documentation, cleaning routines, etc. A cook is there just to execute the menu. I don’t want to rely on an hourly employee to have to deal with the big picture items.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 100,000 people were employed as a chef (or head cook) in 2010 (the last year surveyed) with a median pay of $40,630 per year. Most had one to five years of work-related experience, but many chefs received more formal training at a college or technical school.
“Most people who have culinary degrees will call themselves cooks,” says Chad Pritchard, a chef instructor at the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Dallas, Texas. “Just GOING PRO MOONEY FARMS because they’ve graduated from culinary school doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a chef.”
Although the two titles are often used interchangeably, G. Allen Akmon, a chef and the culinary arts department chair at Sullivan University in Louisville, Kentucky, says professionally trained chefs and cooks offer their employers experience, a greater focus on the bottom line and an emphasis on quality.
“In the industry, we always focus on how rather than why,” Akmon says. “Experience coupled with education brings mastery and the ability to apply different techniques to different products so with only one of the two components in place an individual is limited in the area of growth potential.
“Proper training is more than just the action and reaction of food products. Many times, the experiences that are learned in the industry are the fundamentals of cooking and when an individual rises from that position, it becomes very difficult to learn about recipe costing, labor and resource maximization, interviewing and management skills without at least a basic understanding. These foundations present another benefit of education that are not always realized immediately after graduation but rather further down the road as positions dictate.”
Pritchard, who has owned three pizzerias and two Italian restaurants in the past, finds that “there are a lot of culinary graduates who are very loyal to those who brought them on,” he says. “People are very afraid of hiring culinary graduates. When I owned my pizzerias, I always hired culinary graduates because there are a lot of graduates out there who don’t have the experience to go to a fine dining restaurant or a higher-end restaurant. Pizzerias and Italian restaurants are great places for these cooks to learn. As they do that, they become very brand loyal and they in turn send their friends and family to you. A lot of times, you’re their first job out of culinary school and they’re very proud of what they do. I think it elevates the craft more to hire those who are classically trained. It elevates us to more than just spaghetti and meatballs.”
This creativity plays a crucial role for some independent restaurants that rely on quickly changing their menus and rotating seasonal ingredients. “I think what you’ll end up finding is that you have more creativity in your kitchen,” Pritchard says. “You’ll end up saying ‘Hey, we need to do a daily special’ and they can get one on the menu.
At Cane Rosso, hiring a more experienced chef, while initially more expensive in terms of benefits and salary, increased quality overall with a more authentic product and employee training. “We also wanted to set a new standard for ‘authenticity’ in Neapolitan pizza,” he says. “There are very few places in the U.S. where you can get a Neapolitan pizza made with dough made in a Neapolitan mixer, cooked in a Neapolitan oven, by an actual Neapolitan from Naples city center...not a suburb!”
But for some companies, consistency is more important than creativity as they grow to multiple units and create more uniform products across their brand.
“We actually prefer to hire (line) cooks,” says Chris Lombardi, a partner at Tommy’s Coal Fired Pizza in New Jersey. “We try to keep our menu simple. We have four locations now and we feel by using simple menus, with less ingredients in the store and constantly turning over product, our employees can do it simple but do it right.”
Like other chains both large and small, they have created a recipe book that is standard as the company adds stores to its brand, and following that to the letter is imperative so that customers get the same product no matter which location they visit. “Chefs try to get creative, and that’s hard when you have more than one location,” Lombardi says. “When you own single restaurants, you can change it up on the fly. But for us we’re trying to keep it the same across all the restaurants. We use proven recipes that we know our customers like time and time again.”
One happy medium? Hiring local culinary students for internships. Most pizzerias are relatively casual, and that provides a good learning experience for many students as opposed to a formal dining establishment with more rigid kitchens. Pi-zzeria, located in Virginia Beach, often hires students from the local Culinary Institute of Virginia, which gives them real-world experience as well as college credits and a paycheck. Although the pizzeria’s parent company owns and operates a number of restaurants, initially, “we probably came out with ‘hey, let’s pay everybody minimum wage –– it’s a pizza place,’” says Darin Zediker, food and beverage manager at Pi-zzeria. “But we found out that … you have to be as skilled in one of these operations as you do one of our full-service seafood restaurants.”
Interns “are people who are working towards finishing up a culinary degree –– whether it’s getting them in to gain that experience or we actually have two or three (employees) who graduated from the institute,” Zediker adds.
In the end, finding the right combination of experience, ability and loyalty is what works for most operators. Training is critical for the days when a chef isn’t on the schedule –– afterall, there are only so many hours in the day and while an employee can work a lot of hours, they can’t work ’round the clock.
“One of Dino’s main tasks is to make sure he trains the pizza makers personally,” Jerrier says. “He is on the hook to make sure the pizza is just as good if he is not personally making it … We are finally to the point where we have a good, reliable team covering all of our shifts. Dino does still cover some of our busier weekend shifts –– but as we look to grow and add additional restaurants he won’t be able to personally work those shifts. His team is ready to rock.”u
Mandy Wolf Detwiler is managing editor at Pizza Today.
Photos by Josh Keown
The Greek poet Euripides said: “One loyal friend is worth 10,000 relatives.” Think about the truthfulness of that statement. Friendship is a relationship we are not born into but still choose to cherish. In the hospitality industry, we form relationships with our customers and treat them like dear friends. We reach out, listen and react to their needs in a sensitive manner. In time we win them over as a friend and loyal fan, not just an acquaintance. This relationship like all others must be nurtured.
The fact of the matter is that: u 66 percent of adults surveyed by the National Restaurant Association (NRA) said they’d be more likely to patronize restaurants offering customer loyalty and reward programs. u The restaurant industry is poised for growth as 40 percent of adults surveyed said they are not using restaurant services as much as they’d like. u It costs between eight and 10 times more to attract new customers as it does to keep existing customers coming back.
It stands to reason that focusing on a fan club or loyalty marketing is a great tool to increase customer loyalty, spread positive word of mouth and improve customer satisfaction. It also gives you a competitive edge, as the NRA reports that only about 30 percent of restaurants use such a program.
Why are so many restaurants not using loyalty marketing? Many programs are set up to only incentivize the next sale but not with thought to bringing benefits to both parties involved. For example, you build a fan club, and then send them all the same offer — $2 off a large pizza. Aren’t these people the ones who were already buying that pizza at full price? You got them to come back and spend less! Jay Siff of Moving Targets adds: “While I do agree with having a club to help keep your customers loyal, I believe a business needs to think very carefully before they commit to starting a program that constantly gives discounts to their customers. In addition, having to keep track of people’s points, etc. can be cumbersome. And how do you ever end such a program without upsetting customers?”
Manny & Olga’s Pizza, a 15-unit chain located in the Washington, D.C. metro area, has successfully built their fan club. “It’s a good way to have a closer connection to your customers and gives you an extra edge in the pizza wars when the customer is choosing who to buy from,” says Haralambos Athanasakis, president of Manny & Olga’s Pizza Systems Inc. To keep his edge, Athanasakis advises operators to be consistent and make offers appealing to your customers — not take a one-size-fits-all approach.
When customers opt in to fan clubs, operators have the opportunity to gather information such as birthdays, the anniversary of their first order, menu preferences, favorite sports teams etc., Operators can then be specific in your marketing. While Athanasakis could do this himself, he advises against that — at least initially. “Don’t do it yourself in the beginning,” he says. “Get a company to do it for you to get a feel for it, and then you make a decision what is good for you.” A dedicated company can help you to create a professional branded design template and coach you on offers and copy that get results. They also have resources to help you collect information needed for your database, such as adding online registration forms to join a club or sign-up sheets for in-store use. Reports provided by the service can help you determine the appropriate frequency for sending out messages to your fans.
Fan clubs allow you to do more than make a financial transaction. A good friend of mine made me some cinnamon rolls and when she packaged them up, she included a family newsletter. As I ate my cinnamon rolls, I read the newsletter and felt all good inside. Why? She made me feel special and she made me want to reciprocate. I loved the cinnamon rolls and her newsletter let me know of the new business she was starting — Grandma’s Doggie Day Care. The cinnamon rolls got my attention, the newsletter bonded us, and I will now always think of her when I need a dog-sitter. Your fan club can work the same. Today, I received an e-mail from Tutta Bella in Washington. They introduced a new pizza and made an offer for me to try it. They also paired it with a wine. And to seal the deal, their executive chef told a love story of when he first tasted this particular pizza in Naples. Fan Clubs utilized in such a way can get customers to try new things and to up-sell them on other complimentary products. This helps to give them a reason to increase their frequency to your establishment and raises the check average.
Athanasakis follows the same path, “We send out mostly coupons or offers two times a month and announcements, new menus items, stores openings, etc. We try to keep it fresh with new and rotating coupons.” He is able to track effectiveness through a monthly report of how many were sent out and how many were opened all the way through. A POS system makes it easy to track who is eating at your restaurant, when and how often. “Let the business decide who, how and when they want to offer rewards,” Siff adds. “And in behavioral psychology, it’s recognized that variable reinforcement is more effective than constant reinforcement. So the customers feel special for joining but the business controls the rest.”
Recall the old German saying: “Whose bread I eat, his song I sing.” With loyalty marketing they will be eating and singing right out of your hand. u
Scott Anthony is a Fox’s Pizza Den franchisee in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, and a marketing consultant in the pizza industry. He is a frequent guest speaker at Pizza Expo.
Photo by Rick Daugherty
According to the National Restaurant Association, the most profitable menu items are soft drinks, followed closely by alcoholic drinks and then pastas and pizza.
The largest pizzeria chains in the world do not sell alcohol, and until just a few years ago they did not even sell pastas. Yet, they still make a lot of money on a limited menu. You might ask yourself: “How does a small operator like me, with one or two stores, maximize my profits?” Well, it is right in front of you. Just open your menu!
Your menu is a main ingredient in the overall recipe of your restaurant’s success. If it is too big, your food cost soars. Too small and your volume may suffer due to lack of variety. So the key to creating “moneymaking menu musts” is using the ingredients that you already have and offering your guest choices that are the most profitable for you.
We all know stale food is not good. Neither are stale menus. Today’s restaurant guests like consistency, but they also crave new options. National brand restaurants make seasonal menu changes that are reflected in their appetizer menu, salads, main courses and desserts … and so can you. It’s easy, fun and can increase your profits every day.
I love making fresh appetizers like onion rings or house-made mozzarella sticks. Take a look at the ingredients necessary to make either of these appetizers and you probably have both in your walk in — mozzarella cheese, onions, flour, baking soda, a few seasonings and beer! Remember, you have no new food ingredients to buy and you are making fresh apps that your guests are going to love. They will increase your profits and set you apart from your competition (which is probably buying items like this pre-made from their distributor). Consider this food cost breakdown:
- A serving of onion rings is 10 rings.
- Onions are about 24 cents per serving.
- Beer batter costs 25 cents.
- 2 ounces of ranch dressing costs about 20 cents.
- The total food cost is 69 cents.
- Price these house-made beer battered onion rings at $5.95, and you’ll have a gross profit of $5.26.
- A six-piece serving of mozzarella sticks is ideal.
- Mozzarella costs about $1.80. u Beer batter equals 25 cents.
- 2 ounces of ranch dressing costs 20 cents.
- The total food cost is $2.25.
- A six-piece order of homemade mozzarella sticks is priced at $6.95. Gross profit? $4.70. And always remember to increase your price point for homemade specials. Your guests will notice the flavor and pay for the quality!
Most pizzerias have pasta on the menu, but does your menu say “house-made pasta special”? It should if you want to make a moneymaking menu! Fresh pasta is easy to make, cooks much faster than dried pastas and tastes much better as well. Once you start making fresh pasta, your menu will explode with exciting new “specials.” And, remember, every time you make a “special” you can increase your profit margins. Here is my easy pasta dough recipe, which yields about six servings of pasta:
4 cups of 00 Flour
4 large eggs
2 tablespoon of water (as needed)
Mix ingredients in a small mixer or by hand until it is the consistency of “Play Dough,” wrap with plastic and let stand about an hour.
Bring salted water to boil and place your pasta in the pot to cook. At the same time, start your sauté of a ½ cup of fresh veggies, 2 ounces of bacon and a pinch of fresh garlic in EVOO. Then add a pinch of salt and pepper. Your fresh pasta will cook in about 3 minutes. Add your pasta to your sauce, toss in a pinch of Parmesan or Pecorino cheese and top with a fresh basil leaf.
The total food cost is just $1.25 with a special menu price of $9.95 — making you a gross profit of $8.70. One of the secrets to creating a menu that consistently delivers high profits is change. Remember to use fresh local vegetables, dairy products and proteins to create specials for your guests. By utilizing the ingredients you already have in your kitchen, this will keep food cost low and make experimenting with new recipes easy.
Now that you have an idea of what your new menu items will be, it’s time to make sure your guests order them. Don’t worry about having to rewrite your menu and spend a bunch of money recreating it. Here are a few ideas to use no matter your restaurant situation:
- Counter service, carryout and delivery. Printing up a quick specials menu is easy and inexpensive. Just list your specials — from apps to desserts — and price accordingly. Whether your guest orders a special right on the spot or takes home the menu, you still have sparked the idea for them to try something new. Get excited about your new menu items and your guests will be excited too.
Send home new special menus with walk-in guests and delivery orders as well and you will see the orders start Wiscon Corp coming with every new call. Run your specials for at least two weeks so your regular guests get a chance to order them. You will be able to track your sales to see what is being ordered the most.
- Dine-in. If you are in the full-service business, then you already know how important it is to train your staff to sell the specials! Make it fun for them and make sure they taste the specials so they can honestly and accurately tell the guest what they are. Wait staff should know your menu inside and out and they should be trained to point out the most profitable menu items, so training is critical.
Glenn Cybulski is executive chef at Persona Neapolitan Pizzeria and a member of the World Pizza Champions. He will present a seminar on this topic at International Pizza Expo this month.
Photo by Rick Daugherty
When Dan Richer opened his second pizzeria venture, Razza Pizza Artigianale, earlier this year, he had a clear vision in mind. All the ingredients would be locally sourced and everything that could be made in-house would be. His beverage list would get the same care and attention to detail as the food and service. The wines would all come from a region in Italy he visits every year on a pilgrimage. The beers would all be considered craft and come from breweries within the state or a short drive away.
Like good food, craft beer “has substance and soul behind it,” says the Jersey City, New Jersey, owner. “Local and flavorful beer on the menu pushes the wheel forward.”
As America enjoys a golden age of beer, many pizzerias have created enviable beer lists that not only increase customer interest — and therefore, sales — but also garnish a sense of pride for operators and give them a leg up on the competition. Call them artisanal, small batch, or even microbrews, but the truth is that more and more craft beers are popping up on beverage menus as pizzeria owners move away from uninspired beer menus that are as dusty as they are irrelevant.
The foamy line has shifted over the last 30 years and now the Brewers Association, a trade group that represents small, independent and traditional breweries, says that there are more than 2,200 breweries in the country and that the majority of Americans live within at least 10 miles of a brewery. This means fresh, flavorful beers that are suitable for any palate are within reach.
Adding even a few craft beers to existing offerings can add depth to a menu and is easier than you might think. It begins with education.
Many beer distributors now have a craft component and they have spent time and money educating their employees on the rapidly changing landscape. They will share that knowledge with you. First, ask your distributor what is available, spend a little extra time with their sales book, and consult sites like beeradvocate.com and ratebeer.com to see what real customers are saying about a particular brew. Sites like craftbeer.com (which offers a state-by-state brewery locator) and allaboutbeer.com give insight to trends, flavors as well as popular and inspiring breweries.
Another option is to look to your staff. Chances are there is someone working in your kitchen or dining room that has a decent knowledge of beer and could offer suggestions. When you’re ready to get serious about building a better beer menu distributors will often come in for tutorial classes to help your staff with identifying flavors and proper pouring techniques, as well as give guidance on proper storage and effective presentation.
There are many benefits to draft beer, but it does require extra equipment, space, and education. However, draft offers a chance to serve rare or limited release brews, or options from breweries that do not package their beers. This is particularly helpful if you want to serve local.
If draft is not an option — or even if it is — consider bottles and cans. Yes, cans. Once thought of as a lesser vessel, many craft breweries have embraced aluminum because of its ability to keep out the mortal enemies of light and oxygen, as well as it’s lightweight. Bottle options go beyond the 12-ounce. Flavorful beers come in 7-oz, 22-oz, even 750-ml bottles. Some have the traditional caps, but others offer cage and cork, or swing tops. Pizzeria owners and beverage managers alike say that different bottle presentations along with unfamiliar labels often get the attention of other customers, especially if they are made visible while walking through a dining room.
In the past with generic lagers, people knew what they were getting. Pale to golden yellow in color, easy on the flavor and usually without bitterness, lagers are what several generations grew up knowing about beer. No more.
If you’re aiming to start slow, consider adding a Pale Ale that features a spicy hop bite. Or an amber or brown ale, which focus more on sweet and roasty malts. Belgian beers are popular and include witbier, a hazy wheat-heavy brew with spicy notes, and Belgian pale ale, which has more of a malt profile and some fruit notes. There are also the Biere de Garde that has woodsy, cellar-like character that comes with proper aging and offers a dry flavor and finish. Many of these beers are bottle conditioned — meaning yeast is added to the bottle — and regularly pair well with bread dishes. India Pale Ale, especially one made in the U.S., will be more hop aggressive and pair well with bold dishes, like wings or blue cheese.
Like produce, beer is seasonal. With each new month, different beers are released that showcase the best of winter, spring, summer and fall. Adding these beers to your menu to compliment food gets customers engaged.
As you’re making decisions about your beer list keep in mind that so much depends on what malt, hops, and yeast the brewer used. No two are exactly alike.
Pizzeria operators say that taking the time to share facts of the beer — origin, flavors, alcohol content, and pairing suggestions — on a printed menu lead to additional sales with little effort. Give the beer the same care and description that you do your wine or food menu.
“I’ve found that customers that order craft beer and pay a premium are more likely to order specials from the menu and tip better,” says Mike Rangel of Asheville Pizza and Brewing in North Carolina. “If you rotate your beers, they come back more often. What’s not to like about that?”
John Holl is a freelance journalist covering the beer industry. He’s the author of the American Craft Beer Cookbook. Holl lives in New Jersey and regularly lectures and consults on the topic of craft beer.
Photo by Josh Keown
My brother and I own a pizzeria and deli. We have been open almost two years and business has been OK, but not terrible. We are paying bills, payroll is covered and my brother and I are making money. I don’t think we are making profit; I feel we are making salary for the amount of work we are putting in (which is still good considering we are still open). The concern I have is we should be making more! We have a proven product that is far beyond the competition. I know there is always room for improvement (i.e. our delivery times, consistency with product and overall atmosphere of our location).
This is where I need some help. I’m torn between expanding my current location or opening a second location. We are a small location and not very appealing for a sit down location. So, should I stick to what we have or put my focus into another location, or possibly move and expand our current location?
Whenever I get a question like yours, I feel I need to read between the lines and make some assumptions. My first assumption is that detailed financial statements are not being done every month. If you were doing your own or having them prepared by an accountant, you would know for sure if you were running in the black or red. In addition to the bottom line amount, good financials would show you your exact amounts as well as percentages for each and every expense category. If you don’t understand, or haven’t been mentored in basic profit & loss statement, balance sheet, cash flows, current ratios and what EBITDA means, you are not ready to open a second location. You have bought you and your brother a job. Unfortunately you two are the last ones getting paid.
One of my must read business books is titled The E Myth Revisited. The author, Michael E. Gerber, states a truism I absolutely agree with. He says: “The problem with most failing businesses I’ve encountered is not that their owners don’t know enough about finance, marketing, management and operations — they don’t, but those things are easy enough to learn — but they spend their time and energy defending what they think they know. The greatest business people I’ve met are determined to get it right no matter the cost.”
Start by getting yourself more up to speed on accounting. When you have a handle on that you are ready to take your next step. 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.
Photographs by Josh Keown
Customers are restaurants’ biggest allies and their harshest critics. They are not shy about expressing their joy, concern or displeasure with an eating establishment. The wilting plant in the corner, the dust on the ceiling fan or the empty paper towel bins in the bathroom are details easily overlooked by operators and staff.
But customers notice everything. When they see a dirty restaurant, they lose their appetite — and operators lose business.
“The cleanliness of the restaurant, small details — in the corners — reflects the cleanliness of the kitchen. This means everything,” says David Kincheloe, president of National Restaurant Consultants in Golden, Colorado.
Christopher Wells, founder of Restaurant Building Blocks, a restaurant management and training company, agrees that one negative can affect a customer’s impression of the entire restaurant.
“Your potential clients trust that you will provide them with a quality product that is safe for them,” Wells says. “If what they see tells them otherwise, it doesn’t matter how great you are with them, at that point you’ve tarnished the relationship.”
Alan Guinn, managing director and CEO of the Guinn Consultancy Group Inc. in Bristol, Tennessee, says dusty plants are just the beginning of overlooked areas that will draw the negative attention of customers.
“Menus that are sticky, have food between the pages, are worn, torn, or tattered offer the opportunity for you to not impress your guests even before they try your excellent cuisine. In most cases where guests are waiting for food or drinks to be served, their eyes immediately are drawn to the light fixtures. There is no excuse to have dusty light fixtures,” Guinn says. “HVAC and cold air returns naturally attract dust because the restaurant environment has micro particles of grease in the air which attach to these surfaces and act as an attractant to any dust in the air. The dust readily builds up and can spread across closely contingent ceiling surfaces.”
Kirk Mauriello, director of franchising for Aurelio’s Pizza, with locations in Illinois, Indiana, Florida, Georgia and Nevada, says other overlooked areas include window sills, trash cans inside the restaurant, the area around the hostess stand and overhead woodwork or decorations, otherwise known as dust collectors.
“The reception area needs to be spotless and organized. Are there tears, stains on benches, broken tiles (or) dirt in the threshold of the door? Front windows and doors need to be free of clutter and smudges. The tops of exposed beams are easily missed areas, Kincheloe says, and “parking lots are often overlooked. Walking up the sidewalk to the restaurant, is there trash lying around and cigarette butts? The back door of the restaurant is sometimes visible. Is there junk lying around, empty crates, boxes, old equipment?”
Wells also adds that chair legs are usually ignored and gum accumulates under the table.
“The floors are mopped, but corners are often overlooked and a dark gunk accumulates. Salt and pepper shakers are often sticky and gross as well as sugar and napkins if they are on the table,” Wells says.
Oddly, customers may decide whether a restaurant is clean not by eating in the dining room but by visiting the restroom.
“One of the first things customers comment on is the cleanliness of the bathrooms,” Mauriello says. Guinn agrees that restroom cleanliness is crucial to a customer’s assessment.
“Bathrooms are the most obvious ‘behind the scenes’ area that customers can visit in your restaurant, and the condition in which your bathrooms present to the customer directly mirrors the customers’ belief of the cleanliness of your kitchen,” Guinn says.
Laurel Roach, account executive of Commercial Janitorial, a commercial cleaning and maintenance company, says the most noticeable problems occur in the restrooms (the bases of toilet seats, walls, tile and grout lines).
Once areas are identified, operators need to act.
“Put cleaning tasks on a side work checklist for servers and kitchen staff to routinely clean. Hire a professional to periodically scrub tile and clean the carpets to keep things looking nice. Some tasks, such as scrubbing out the inside of an oven, cleaning a deep fryer or high dusting, really should be left to a professional,” Roach says.
Kincheloe says cleanliness is ultimately the responsibility of the manager/owner.
“They need to walk in the restaurant from the parking lot through the front door and observe. Sit in the far corners of the restaurant and look around ––top to bottom. Lists are nice and should be completed for communication and accountability of staff; they do not take the place of observation,” Kincheloe says.
Wells says the best system he’s seen is a list filled with weekly and monthly cleaning duties for each staff member to do in their free time. “They get each task signed by a manager when they are completed. Make this mandatory,” he says.
With a little help from technology, Aurelio’s Pizza is keeping on top of cleaning duties with their POS system. Installed for business purposes for credit cards and tracking data, the POS system also has time alerts to notify staff when the restrooms need cleaning.
“The system has a time calculation alert that says when something has to get done,” Mauriello says. “Our employees tend to get caught up in customer service when it’s busy, and when the restaurant is busy, the restrooms are used the most. It’s a great reminder system; it’s like a Google alert.”
Operators who need more elbow grease should consider enlisting professional help.
“Liability is a big reason to hire a professional cleaning company. An operator would be responsible if their staff member fell off of a 12-foot ladder doing the high dusting, or slipped when mopping the floor and hit their head,” Roach says. “When an employee is making a minimum serving wage, $4.75 per hour, it is probably asking a lot to require that they scrape gum off from underneath tables at the end of their shift. The quality of work is often poor or inconsistent. When hiring an outside vendor, an operator is able to hold someone accountable.”
DeAnn Owens is a freelance journalist living in Indianapolis. She specializes in features and human interest stories.
Photo by Josh Keown
I’ve seen any number of different ways in which the dough ingredients are staged/ added into the mixing bowl. Is there really a difference, or is it a case of just whatever you are taught to use?
A: I think some ingredient staging procedures can actually cause harm to the dough while others may not harm the dough. But they can be more labor intensive, thus detracting from other things we have to do in the shop. Here are some examples:
- Adding the water to the mixing bowl followed by the salt and sugar, and then mixing for several minutes to dissolve the salt and sugar. This serves no useful purpose, as the salt and sugar will completely disperse as the mixing commences. It just adds additional time onto the total prep time for your dough.
- Adding the compressed yeast to the water in the mixing bowl and then mixing for several minutes to thoroughly suspend the yeast in the water. Again, this serves no useful purpose. It only adds additional time to make dough. The compressed yeast will be thoroughly dispersed throughout the dough if you simply crumble it onto the flour just before you begin mixing.
- Adding the salt, sugar and oil to the water in the mixing bowl and then mixing for several minutes also has no useful purpose. In this case again, the salt and sugar will be thoroughly incorporated into the dough without the need to put them into the water. And in this case, as soon as you stop the mixer to add the flour, the oil will immediately separate from the water, float to the top and soak into a portion of the flour rendering it impossible to develop gluten when the dough is mixed.
- Adding instant dry yeast (IDY) to the water in the mixing bowl and mixing until the IDY is completely suspended in the water. In addition to adding time to your dough preparation, this can also have an adverse impact upon the functionality of the IDY as it should not be hydrated in water colder or warmer than 95 F. Doing so can result in a release of glutathione from the yeast. Glutathione is an amino acid present in all yeast, but it can be washed out of dry yeast by hydrating it at the wrong temperature. Because glutathione is also a reducing agent much like L-cysteine (think dead yeast), it can cause an unexpected softening or weakening of the dough, especially if it will be held in the cooler for several days. If you must pre-hydrate IDY, do it in a small quantity of water at 95 F, stir well to suspend, then allow to hydrate for five minutes before adding it to the dough, either in the water or into the dry flour.
- Adding active dry yeast (ADY) to the water in the mixing bowl along with the salt, sugar and possibly the oil, then mixing at low speed to suspend the yeast. This is not a recommended practice for a couple of reasons. First, the water temperature in which the ADY is hydrated should be between 100 and 105 F. If the water is colder than this there is a probability that some glutathione will be leached out from the dry yeast cells, resulting in less than optimal yeast activity, plus an added bonus of a potentially softer, more extensible dough than planned. Since you may see the softer dough condition while the dough is still in the mixer, you might reduce the absorption of following doughs to correct this (erroneously thinking that the dough absorption was too high). You might also add a little additional flour to the dough to help dry it up. In both cases, you will only compound your dough problems, as your dough may still not perform well over several days in the cooler despite your “corrective” action. In the event that the water temperature in the mixing bowl was adjusted to the recommended ADY rehydration temperature of 100 to 105 F, your resulting finished dough temperature will probably be much higher than desired, resulting in a rapidly fermenting dough that is difficult to manage in the cooler. This can lead to a reduction in the yeast level to a point where the dough can now be managed without it “blowing”, but the yeast level is now so low that finished pizza crusts may not have the desired raised edge (or, in some cases, there might not be sufficient yeast to raise the center of the pizza, resulting in a collapsed center or an extremely soggy center).
- The weather influences the amount of water (absorption) added to the dough. This is a totally false observation, but we still see it, so what is really happening is that when the oil is added to the water (a common procedure) the oil separates from the water as soon as the mixer is stopped, allowing for the flour addition. Now we get a situation where a portion of the flour absorbs the oil and not the water. That portion of the flour will not create gluten as the dough is mixed, thus creating a dough that may appear to be softer than normal, leading to the addition of more flour to the mixing bowl to correct the condition (when in fact, the amount of flour was just fine). The best way to eliminate this problem is to use what we refer to as the delayed oil addition mixing method. By this mixing method, the oil is not added to the dough until it has had a chance to mix for about two minutes with the water. This allows the flour to more fully hydrate before the oil is added, thus significantly reducing the problems resulting from the oil soaking into the flour. Once you begin using this mixing method you may find the weather really doesn’t have the impact upon the dough absorption that you once thought it had.
As you can see, the way the ingredients are staged, or added into the mixing bowl, really can have an impact upon the finished dough/crust quality. u
Tom Lehmann is a director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas.
Photos by Josh Keown
When Sara Griffith, husband Joe and partners Shawn and Barb Griffith bought a Sam & Louie’s franchise location in Omaha, Nebraska, in August 2012, Sara was looking to update the pizzeria’s interior. She found inspiration from Pinterest, a visual-based social networking site, to use chalkboard paint to cover the entire wall behind the order counter.
“It’s the first thing customers see,” Sara says. “It really makes an impact.” She created an attractive focal point with half of the wall used to promote Sam & Louie’s lunch specials and the other half to depict colorful drawings related to the season and to highlight the restaurant’s features.
“It’s such a quick update,” Sara says. “It’s new and it’s fresh.” The DIY project cost only $20 for the gallon of chalkboard paint and her time. In the next few months, she also plans to paint a faux brick wall, a signature look in many Sam & Louie’s locations.
“Paint can certainly make a big difference,” says Deborah Ward of Deborah Ward Interiors in Tacoma, Washington. Ward specializes in restaurant interior design.
She cautions to plan ahead — calculate the area’s square footage so you know how much paint the walls and possibly ceiling will require. Depending on the size, painting may cost $5,000 or more if you use a professional crew. Also be sure to use low VOC paint to limit fumes.
One of the most obvious, but overlooked, aspects of a worn dining room is simply cleanliness, Ward says. “A lot can be done with just cleaning it,” she adds.
Go beyond your daily and weekly cleaning routines. While closed, take the opportunity to give your dining room a thorough, deep clean. Wash walls and ceilings, scrub upholstery, steam-clean floors, polish metals and dust all light fixtures and décor. Don’t forget to focus on hard-to-reach areas.
Evaluating the space for repairs and updates is vital to a fresh interior, Ward says. Make a list of everything — from wobbly tables, torn upholstery and ripped and worn flooring to an outdated color palette, poor dining room flow and mismatched decoration.
Some high-impact, low-cost dining room touch-ups include freshening up the front counter with a new pattern of plastic laminate, wood or other finishing material; swapping out outdated menu boards; re-upholstering furniture; touching up any wood elements and applying new stain; bringing new art and wall décor and updating light fixtures.
Prioritize the list. But when it comes to execution, Ward recommends that you make the changes all at once. It allows the grand reveal. “You just have to look at it all at one time — what the place needs — so it works together,” she says, adding that you should try to avoid piece-mealing the changes. While there’s usually additional cost involved, many subcontractors will work around your operating hours.
But if you have to phase in updates, Ward says, plan everything out that needs to be done. Poor planning can result in a look that is not cohesive and exceeds your budget to correct the problem.
“Sometimes you don’t know what you are going to get yourself into,” Ward says. That is why planning is so important. “Get all of your prices together so you know exactly where you are,” she says, adding that planning should be done far in advance. If new furniture is ordered, it may take a month or longer to receive. She adds, “when you start getting into plumbing and electrical, those are big dollar items.”
Some questions operators should answer before embarking on an interior project is: How large of a project is it? How much will it cost? How long will the project take to complete? Will it require a designer, architect or contractors? Is the update ADA compliant? Will the pizzeria be able to remain open during renovations?
When Tony Koehler, owner of Boulevard Pizza in Sparks, Nevada, was ready to replace his retro-looking menu board, he mapped everything out, which resulted in a well-executed finished product and saved him money.
Koehler tapped employees with graphic design and photography talents to come up with the new menu boards. “We outsourced only the printing of the menu files to a local print shop, whom we traded the work for a few pizzas,” he says. The Boulevard team spent nearly 50 hours total on the project that included building the backing boards, affixing the printed menus to the boards, framing to the walls, and installing ceiling mounted light fixtures.
Boulevard’s new menu board cost $325. Moreover, Koehler says, the change is photo-rich, draws attention to higher margin menu items and emphasizes descriptions over price. He says his customers now have a better impression of the pizzeria.
What a customers see
Walking through your dining room everyday means you may not notice its flaws. Restaurant interior designer Deborah Ward suggests that you select a person you trust who will be honest with you to evaluate your dining room. Create a checklist that focuses on the following areas:
Floors: Are they worn to the point of replacement? Are there rips, stains, or cracks and can those be repaired? If carpet is in place, does it look dirty or have an odor?
Ceilings: Are there stained, broken or missing tiles? Are all light fixtures working and have the correct wattage bulb in them? Do the fixtures look dated?
Walls: Is the paint discolored or faded? Are there dings in the wall that require plaster? Is the art on the walls dated? Does the color palette and art best represent your restaurant? Would adding visual blockage to undesirable sightline enhance the dining experience? Does your menu board represent your current offering effectively?
Furniture: Are chairs or tables wobbly or broken? Is the upholstery in dire need of replacement? Can furniture be reconfigured for better dining room flow? If so, will it require moving light fixtures?
Denise Greer is associate editor at Pizza Today.
Photo by Josh Keown
Angelo Halakos, owner of Seasons Pizza, was skeptical about online ordering at first. He wasn’t sure it would actually work, and then there was the fee to consider, reasonable though it was. Even so, Halakos, who owns 28 locations primarily in the Newark, Delaware area, decided to take a chance.
“All the big chains had it and were doing very well with it, and this got me interested,” he explains. “I thought, ‘why not us?’ ” He tested the program in a few of his locations but soon found it was working so well that within a few months he rolled it out to all of them. Now, seven years later, about 27 percent of his overall orders are placed online, a figure that has increased by at least five percent annually.
One benefit Halakos noticed almost immediately was that the average online ticket was $2 higher than phone orders. According to Duessa Holscher, marketing director at Granbury Restaurant Solutions, ticket averages are typically higher because customers can take their time exploring the menu online, placing and customizing their orders. This isn’t the only advantage online ordering offers, says Holscher, whose Grapevine, Texas-based company provides technology solutions.
“Operators also find online ordering reduces labor costs, as employees don’t have to be tied up taking phone orders,” she explains. “It also improves accuracy, as orders come in exactly the way the customer entered them. And online systems have excellent suggestive-selling tools to help maximize orders.”
Online order also leads to higher customer satisfaction, says Moe Taleb, owner of three Zig Zag Kitchen restaurants, all in Chicago. Taleb began offering online ordering in 2003 primarily because the catering side of his business had really taken off and he wanted to give these customers the option of ordering at any time. But it’s also popular with his non-catering clientele.
“Customers love it,” says Taleb. “They like not having to deal with placing orders by phone and they like having an e-mail confirmation receipt for their expense reports or taxes. And it’s nice for us to have the information in written form and not have to struggle taking it all down over the phone.”
Online ordering saves time for everyone involved, says Sy Bor Wong, business development for Brygid Technologies Corp., a Vancouver, Canada-based company specializing in e-commerce solutions for restaurants. “On average, it takes two to three minutes or less to submit an online order,” he says. “But it may take five to 10 minutes or more to place an order over the phone, especially on those busy Friday or Saturday nights.”
Taleb says about 25 percent of their business is done online, generating an average of around 600 orders monthly. Online orders are e-mailed and faxed over, followed up by a phone call from their service provider. Brian Fitzgerald’s online orders come to him in the same way; once received, he enters the orders into his POS system. Fitzgerald, owner of Primavera’s Pizza Bistro in Morris Plains, New Jersey, has offered online ordering for 15 years.
At first, just three or four orders a week came from his Web site, but this quickly turned into a few orders a day until by the second year, they were doing $200,000 annually in volume, he says.
“Morris Plains and the surrounding area are home to some of the largest corporations in the world,” says Fitzgerald, explaining that delivery, takeout and catering comprise about 70 percent of his business. “I found my corporate administrators ordering online more frequently and by the fifth year we were receiving close to 1,000 a day in lunch orders.”
One of the main mis-perceptions about online ordering Wong encounters is the idea that it’s out of reach for all but the larger chains. Perhaps that was truer in the past, but now, the growing number of online ordering companies entering the market has made for a much more price-competitive environment, he says. “Also, the cost of technology and economy of scale helps make this solution affordable for everyone,” Wong adds.
For example, in addition to an initial modest fee for modifying his Web site to enable online ordering, Taleb pays $1 per order, regardless of the order amount (if he falls below the provider-set minimum of 30 orders per month, there’s an additional charge). Halakos says that everything with the company he uses is pay as you go and consists of a small per-order charge and a percentage. What he likes about this is that he can end his association with his provider at any time.
Halakos advises those just starting out to negotiate the percent of the service charge. “For example, three percent of 10 orders is not a big deal,” he explains. “But down the road, three percent of 200 orders is a big deal. Companies are willing to negotiate,” Halakos adds.
But don’t buy on price alone, Wong cautions. Consider the quality of service, reliability, scalability and user-friendliness of the technology. “Customer loyalty is very sensitive,” he warns. “If they have a bad online ordering experience, more likely than not, they won’t order again.”u
Tips for Success
Along with the already-mentioned benefits, online ordering enables restaurants to collect e-mail addresses and customer data, allowing for inexpensive e-mail marketing. But you first have to get your customers to use it. Try:
- Promoting it everywhere, says Duessa Holscher of Granbury Restaurant Solutions. “Many restaurants have even removed their phone number from a prominent spot in most of their advertising and collateral,” she says. Don’t overlook box tops, menus, even on-hold messages.
- Kicking it off with specials or incentives to encourage trial, Holscher suggests.
- Gearing your Web site and online ordering towards the non-tech savvy, making it easy to navigate and use, says Brian Fitzgerald, owner of Primavera’s Pizza Bistro.
- Going mobile, says Holscher. “A majority of Google searches for restaurants take place on mobile devices,” she says. “Be sure that your online ordering system works well on a mobile device; or you may want to offer a specific mobile app for downloading.”
Pamela Mills-Senn is a freelancer specializing in writing on topics of interest to all manner of businesses. She is based in Long Beach, California.
Photo by Josh Keown
Last year, the week before Christmas, Carmelo Lamotta needed to fire a server. He did not want to wait until after the holidays because then other workers would suffer. “If you keep someone an extra week because of the holidays, business drops because customers do not come in because of the poor customer service,” says Lamotta, who owns LaMotta’s Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria in Fort Myers, Florida. “You hate to let someone go, but here, we are a team. If one player is not playing, the team is not united, and the person brings the rest of the team down.”
Terminating an employee is never easy, but it is necessary when the worker affects others. Lamotta had repeatedly told the server that during slow times she was supposed to learn the menu. She declined, instead opting to stop other servers every time her tables asked her a question. That slowed everyone down, and it caused the better performing servers to neglect their own customers and even lose some tips. “We have a three-strike policy,” Lamotta says, adding that the policy comes as no surprise to employees. “They get the handbook and they know what’s demanded from them.”
Sometimes the decision to terminate an employee is not that clear because it’s hard to tell whether the staffer has a poor attitude or simply does not understand what to do.
It’s the difference between performance and values, says John Mazarakis, chief operating officer for Wilmington, Delaware-based Seasons Pizza. “I like to break it down as not being higher up on the learning curve versus someone not caring what you stand for,” he explains. “If someone is taking the pizza out of the oven slowly, I can’t fire them for that. I can train them. But if someone says, ‘I will not take the pizza out of the oven faster,’ that shows me their values.”
Performance is measurable, Mazarakis says. At the 28-unit Seasons, the person taking phone orders must say, “thank you” to the customer on the phone. Otherwise they get two verbal warnings, and then a written warning.
“The write-up is not reprimanding, it’s an opportunity to learn,” Mazarakis says. “It’s not, ‘Why did you do this?’ but, ‘This is what we want you to say on the phone.’ ”
The third write-up can end up being the exit interview. The manager has the choice of terminating the employee or giving them another chance. If the person is really trying and demonstrates a good attitude, they should be trained more. “I would not fire that person,” Mazarakis says. “You have to be candid with your employees. You have to give them enough chances to redeem themselves.”
You also have to document everything, says Carolyn D. Richmond, a partner in the law firm Fox Rothschild, LLP in New York City. “When I get a call from a client saying ‘Can I fire this person?’ I say ‘send over the personnel files’, and they are inevitably too thin,” says Richmond, who chairs the hospitality practice for the firm. “In a perfect world you have files with performance review forms and disciplinary documents with all the right boxes checked.”
In general, restaurants employ people at will, which means they do not have a contract (as some executives do) and they are not members of a union. With at-will employment, the person can quit any time, and the employer can terminate employment any time for any reason, but it cannot be an illegal reason, such as that the person is in a protected class. Richmond explains that the operator can fire the employee for making a mistake so grave that the restaurant loses $5,000 worth of cheese, but the person might sue the operator and claim they were fired because they were 50 years old or Jewish.
That’s why it helps to document everything. If the manager reprimands the person for mouthing off at a customer, the reprimand should be written, signed by the employee and placed in the file. (Incidentally, no one has to give the employee three tries. You can fire someone the very first time they use foul language to a customer, Richmond says.)
The documentation does not have to be on paper. It could also be an e-mail. “It should not be informal,” says Margaret Parnell Hogan, a partner with the law firm Littler Mendelson. “Write it with the same care as you would write a letter to the employee.” A worker can delete an e-mail, but the messages never really go away.
Just make sure you have a “paper” trail. “Employers think, ‘everyone will believe me, I am an honest businessperson,’ ” says Hogan, who works in the firm’s Denver office. “But jurors like pieces of paper.”
Richmond says the exit interview can be constructive if the person is resigning to take another job. The employer can gather information on how to improve the culture or benefits of the establishment. “It’s different when it’s a termination,” Richmond says. “Really you want to get in, get out.”
At least be honest. “Do not say you are eliminating that position, because they are going to look for a job on Craigslist and they are going to see you posted the job, and they will run to a lawyer,” Richmond says. “Tell them they weren’t right for this job.”
When you conduct a performance review or write a warning, the employee has to sign the document. “We want them to acknowledge they’ve been warned and another action will result in termination,” says Carolyn D. Richmond, a partner at the law firm Fox Rothschild, LLP in New York City. “But the employee never wants to sign it.”
Richmond says one of her clients found a solution. The employer would make a big show of how furious he was that the employee didn’t want to sign the form. Finally he would turn over the page and tell the employee to indicate that they object to the bad review or the warning. “He even had a stamp made that said, ‘I object,’ with a line so the employee could sign it.” The employee would sign it, happy to record the dissent.
That’s all the employer needs. “It doesn’t matter that the employee objects,” Richmond says. “They acknowledge that they saw it, they read it, they know they were warned.”
Pamela Mills-Senn is a freelancer specializing in writing on topics of interest to all manner of businesses. She is based in Long Beach, California.
Photo by Josh Keown
At The Capri restaurant in Los Angeles, Jim and Jeff Thiel run a 50-year-old establishment that has assembled a loyal following for its pizzas as well as its inviting atmosphere.
Eager to cultivate deeper relationships with customers, the Thiels added mobile marketing to their advertising arsenal in 2010. Today, The Capri has built a growing database of customers’ mobile numbers, all of whom stand willing to receive information on special offers, Happy Hour deals and other Capri store happenings.
“Text messaging’s been a nice addition to our marketing mix and something that’s allowed us to reach more people quicker,” Jeff Thiel says.
David Wachs, senior vice president of mobile for ePrize, a Michigan-based interactive marketing agency that counts Hungry Howie’s and Boston’s Pizza franchisees as clients, confirms mobile marketing’s appeal, citing a read rate four to five times that of e-mail and calls to action that are fulfilled eight times more than e-mail. In addition, Wachs says mobile frequently drives higher tickets, provides a platform for ongoing communication with customers and offers operators improved tools to measure program productivity.
For all of that allure, however, mobile marketing possesses its obstacles, nuance and pitfalls.
To wit, Papa John’s got slammed with a $250 million class-action lawsuit late last year alleging that select franchisees sent out 500,000 illegal text messages in 2010. Some customers complained they were receiving more than a dozen consecutive text messages, some in the middle of the night.
For mobile marketing professionals, the Papa John’s case is an attention-grabbing example of how ignorance to mobile marketing’s legalities can deliver potentially devastating consequences, including significant financial penalties, evaporating consumer trust, and even the mobile program’s cancellation.
Heather Mlodinow, founder of Frextr, a Pasadena, California-based local marketing agency and The Capri’s mobile vendor, says mobile marketing’s powerful prospects must be balanced with both the law and consumer sentiment.
“People are sensitive to how much comes across their mobile device that they didn’t ask for, which has promoted the renaissance of permission-based marketing,” Mlodinow says.
Unlike e-mail and auto-dialing services that go largely unpunished for SPAM, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been proactive with mobile privacy legislation and SMS marketing regulations that prevent mobile phones from becoming yet another SPAM-collecting device.
“The FCC got in front of mobile marketing early … and the current laws with respect to mobile are more rigorous than anything we’ve ever seen in marketing,” Mlodinow says.
Mobile marketing’s most common legal misstep remains sending text messages to individuals whom have not opted into the program. Most blatantly, this is done when businesses upload a list of mobile numbers — sometimes pulled from the POS or an in-store survey — into a messaging platform. Sending messages solely to those who have granted approval is a business’ only legal course.
At The Capri, Jeff Thiel sees no benefit to purchasing a list of mobile numbers and rushing the store’s announcements onto more phones.
“We’ll continue to patiently build our own database with clarity and compliance top of mind,” he says. Opting in may be the first step, but far from the only step.
In all print and digital materials discussing a mobile program, businesses must define in accessible language the frequency of the messaging, the ability to opt out, information on exiting the program, and potential costs.
Mlodinow says a fully transparent disclaimer would read: “No charge for subscribing. Standard message and data rates may apply. Phone numbers are never shared or sold. For help, text HELP to (five-digit short code). Two messages monthly. To cancel, text STOP to (short code).”
Whenever a customer opts into a pizzeria’s mobile marketing campaign on the ePrize platform, that individual receives an immediate message reiterating these central elements. “This is part of being responsible and transparent, not to mention required by the carriers,” Wachs says.
Businesses will find almost certain trouble when they ignore their own terms of service. Far too often, operators fail to comply with something as simple as message cadence, such as sending six messages in a month when their own terms of service note two messages per month.
“The focus with mobile marketing should be on precision and quality, not quantity,” Mlodinow says.
To protect both the operator as well as its own business, both the ePrize and Frextr platforms prevent the uploading of mobile number lists as well as disregarding the stated message frequency.
“We put in compliance protections to safeguard everyone involved,” Wachs says.
Furthermore, Wachs suggests that operators, particularly those who incentivize staff for securing customers’ participation in a mobile program, educate workers on the program’s specific details, including its benefits for the eatery and customers.
“Having a staff educated on the mobile program can certainly help minimize problems and confusion,” Wachs says, further adding that restaurants should protect their integrity by adopting a strict policy against selling mobile numbers to a third party.
Finally, Mlodinow urges all operators to pursue full legal compliance with a reputable mobile marketing vendor well versed on the evolving regulatory landscape.
“Be rigorous with your legal follow through because missteps can bring some severe, perhaps crippling consequences,” she says.
On selecting a credible mobile marketing vendor
Given the energy and opportunities consuming the mobile marketing space, many upstarts have jumped into the field ignorant to the landscape’s unique, shifting climate.
Heather Mlodinow, founder of local marketing agency Frextr, says business owners make a giant mistake when they do not properly vet a mobile marketing vendor, particularly as mobile carriers are authorized to perform audits and various watchdog organizations monitor the industry for missteps.
Both Mlodinow and David Wachs, senior vice president of mobile for ePrize, a Michigan-based interactive marketing agency, identify the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) as a rich source of information for pizzeria operators interested in adding mobile to their marketing mix. A global collective of mobile carriers, major brands, and mobile marketing vendors, the MMA sets best practices, educates on compliance, and guides business owners to reliable resources.
“Small business owners and even attorneys cannot be expected to know all the intricacies that providers in this space should know, so linking up with an organization capable of sharing credible, current information is vitally important,” Mlodinow says.
Chicago-based writer Daniel P. Smith has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.
Photo by Josh Keown
This is an intervention. The Internet has become well-worn territory, yet many of you are still treating your Web sites like it’s 1996. Users’ attention spans are microscopically short for Web sites, so you want there to be as few barriers as possible between potential customers and your business. In a completely selfish maneuver to make my own pizzeria-Web site-surfing life less stressful, I’ve compiled a list of my top five pizzeria Web site failures:
1. Just The Facts. Stop burying basic information like your location and hours of operation deep within your site. The further I have to dig for these details, the less likely I am to find them. Be specific about hours rather than simply stating “Open for Lunch and Dinner” … because one person’s dinner is another’s late lunch. And remember that the Internet is big, so people who aren’t from your immediate area are likely to view your site. Be thorough with your location information rather than just listing “Sweet Valley Location, Bayside location,” etc. None of those names are helpful if I don’t know what state you’re in.
2. Can the Music. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fallen victim to a sneak attack by a low-quality version of “That’s Amore” blasting through my computer’s speakers. I get it — you want people who visit your site to know you serve Italian food, but music is usually more annoying than it is useful. If you do insist on a soundtrack, just be sure to provide an obvious mechanism for turning it off or my only alternative will be to exit your site.
3. Menu Me. Stop making me download a PDF of your menu — just publish it directly on the page. Placing a downloadable menu on your site gives the user a reason to opt out, especially since folks are so weary of downloading corrupt files. Having your menu readable as text right on the page may even bump your search engine visibility because of all the keywords embedded in your dish names.
4. Annoying Animation. Ditch the annoying flash intros. One of my favorite pizzerias in the world has a loading page and eventual animation that does nothing but waste time. I have an immediate instinct to close a page as soon as I see the “Loading” bar appear. If I really want to track down info about your pizzeria, it’s easier for me to visit Yelp! and run the risk of seeing some bad reviews. Which do you prefer?
5. Faulty Formatting. Investigate how your site looks on multiple browsers. If it looks different on Internet Explorer, Safari, Chrome, Firefox or the utility of your choice, alert your Web master immediately! It frustrates me to no end when I have to scroll from side to side just to view all the information on a pizzeria page. Don’t forget to check compatibility with mobile devices. Some sites have separate mobile versions, but it’s possible to design one site that will work across the board. Newer smartphones are even able to make details like phone numbers and street addresses clickable so users can dial or view your location on their devices instantly, so be sure your site is formatted in a way that optimizes these options.
Scott Wiener owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City.
Photos by Josh Keown
So much of what happens in a restaurant is creative. All cooks like to think of themselves as artistes. It is, after all, called the culinary arts. But when it comes to the menu, that’s where science kicks in. In fact, too much creativity on a menu can have negative consequences.
That isn’t to say the menu shouldn’t be creatively produced. Indeed, the right colors, typeface and even photos in some cases are key elements. But knowing which colors, what typeface and font size and whether or not pictures should be incorporated are important considerations. They’re components in the science of menu engineering, and learning how to put the knowledge to work with your own menu can increase your profits significantly — without raising menu prices.
There are more than 30 menu-merchandizing techniques that have been proven to influence what guests buy. That’s more than can be itemized here — and more than you need to employ to effectively reengineer your menu. The best menus utilize no more than two of the strategies on one page and no more than five for the entire menu. But one of the most important elements to understand before considering any of the others has to do with what can best be described as your menu’s real estate. And just as with conventional real estate, the three most important things in menu engineering are location, location, location.
Think of your menu as a property development. And just as with, say, a condominium development, some pieces of the property are more attractive than others. If you were a developer, you’d want to put your high-rent properties in those areas that are going to attract the best buyers. It’s the same with your menu, but instead of relying on water features to get the attention of well-heeled condo buyers, or relegating the lower rent condos to the lots next to the railroad tracks, you need to understand how your buyers, the restaurant guests, make their selections. That’s where the science comes in. It is part behavioral and part sensorial.
Studies have determined that people read a menu in a particular pattern. Take for instance the typical three-panel menu. When guests open the menu, their eyes immediately go to the middle of the middle panel. Then they move to the top right of the right-side panel. And from there their eyes move across to the top of the left panel. That’s sort of the Golden Triangle –– the high rent district, if you will –– of your menu. And that’s where you want to put your high-margin signature items. (How to determine what those items are is a topic for another discussion.) That’s perhaps an oversimplification of a rather complex study in human behavior. But it isn’t necessary to know how it works, only why it works, and then take advantage of it. But important as it is to know where to place which items within the real estate of your menu, there are many more considerations as well. Some of these include:
- Item names. A simple cheese pizza becomes more alluring if named the Handmade Mozzarella Pizza.
- Item descriptions. Short descriptions are, as a rule, preferred. But if there is one item on the menu with a longer description than the others, your guests will take note. People are conditioned to notice something that’s different. u
- Negative space. Along the same line, by setting a signature item apart, with empty space around it, your guests’ attention will be drawn to it.
- Nested pricing. Instead of right-justification of the prices, which encourages the guest to shop by price, place the item’s cost at the end of the description, in the same font size. That encourages the guest to choose an item by its description, not by how much it costs.
- Don’t use dollar signs. Psychologically (more science!), dollar signs have been proven to actually create a negative physiological response of pain; much like a small pinch.
And in the “neatness counts” category, be sure to hire a professional copywriter to write and proofread your menu. Misspelled words and poor grammar and punctuation get noticed, and they reflect negatively on you. But beyond mere style, concise and compelling copy sells. Your niece may have gotten an A on her English composition essay, but that does not necessarily mean she can write irresistible menu descriptions that will make your guests want to buy your product.
Also, engage the services of a professional layout designer who can advise on font style and type size. Layout design is truly a combination of art and science. Flowery script and a tiny typeface can make a menu difficult to read. Hint: if your menu looks like a wedding invitation, you and your guests are headed for a break-up.
But none of this will matter and no amount of menu engineering can help if you haven’t first developed your brand’s personality, its story and its promise (three areas that will be more thoroughly explored at International Pizza Expo this month). Too many business owners equate their brand with their name and their product, but true branding goes much deeper than that.
Essentially, a brand’s personality is very much like the personality of a human. If your brand were a person how would it walk, talk and behave in public? Would it be whimsical or serious? What’s its favorite color? How does it dress — in a button-down shirt or cut-off jeans?
People love storytelling, so after you determine your brand’s personality, consider its story. It could very well be your story, too. But a focus of the story should be not what you sell but why you sell it, because, ultimately, that’s why people buy it.
And the brand promise communicates your pledge to the customer. It may be in the integrity of your ingredients, your dedication to sourcing local products, or a higher level of quality. Once you’ve developed them, your brand’s personality, story and promise will drive all aspects of your business, from the marketing you do, the sign you hang out front and the color you paint your walls. And yes, even the way you design your menu.
Aaron Allen is a global restaurant consultant representing foodservice clients spanning more than 100 countries worldwide and who collectively post more than $100 billion in annual revenue. He will speak on the topics of trends, menu engineering and restaurant makeovers at the upcoming 2013 Pizza Expo.
Photos by Josh Keown
Many of you have contemplated adding pasta to your menu but may still be reluctant. Well it’s time to cast your worries aside. I’ve written about pasta in the past and have even lead demos at International Pizza Expo. My goal now is to bring you through the most important part of making it happen — perfect pasta preparation!
Let me start with the very basics. There are two things that must happen before a single noodle can hit the pot of water. First, the water must be heavily salted. If you’ve ever been in the ocean, I imagine at some point you have gotten a mouth full of seawater. I hope you remember what that tasted like because that’s how salty I want your pasta water to taste. You can achieve that by putting 2/3 cup of salt into 4 gallons of water. Secondly, make sure your water comes to a full boil before you place your pasta in the pot. I’m not talking about a slight simmer either. Get the water to a full, rolling boil.
Now, you are ready to cook your pasta but there are a few things that are critical to successful pasta prep. One, don’t overcrowd the pot with too much pasta. Remember if you are using dry pasta, the pasta will absorb the salted water and expand in size. I’ve seen cooks put two parts pasta into three parts water, and before the pasta is fully cooked it has absorbed all the water and can’t continue to cook properly. They inevitably scorch the bottom of the pot and that burnt flavor will permeate through the rest of the pasta and ruin it all. Eight pounds of dry pasta in 4 gallons of boiling water is a good ratio that you should cook in a 5-gallon pot.
The second critical point I want to make is that you must frequently stir and move your pasta around, especially once it first goes into the boiling water. This is what keeps it from sticking together. I like to use an extra long pair of tongs to stir my pasta so I can pull the strands apart from each other. The wider the pasta’s surface, the more opportunity it has to cling to one another. Fettuccini will stick more than linguini, and dry lasagna noodles just love sticking together. I don’t like to waste oil, so I don’t oil my water. Some people say it will prevent your pasta from sticking. I say that simply adding oil to your water won’t achieve that goal and a few minutes later will simply go down the drain. The oil will come in handy after the pasta is cooked, however.
Although these points that I’ve shared with you thus far are all important, this next step, if not followed correctly, will throw all your previous efforts down the drain. You must cook your pasta about 90 seconds less than al dente. Al dente literally means “to the tooth.” As a culinary term that means to the bite, slightly firm or not overcooked. Most Americans and many restaurants overcook their pasta. Since I’m teaching you a method of cooking pasta that will be rinsed and chilled and then dipped in boiling water to order, you must slightly undercook your pasta in order to get it to the perfect texture as you are serving it to your guest.
I remember one of my first jobs as a teenage cook in a diner-type restaurant that had spaghetti on the menu. They would pre-cook the pasta and then store it in water, which is the absolute worst thing you can do! Another foolish thought is to think if you shut the heat off under the pot of pasta, that since the water is not boiling any longer, that the pasta is no longer cooking. Wrong! As soon as your pasta is slightly under al dente, I want you to drain it and immediately rinse it in cold water. This will mean that you’ll have to move the pasta around under the running water. This process should be completed within a couple of minutes.
Do not allow there to be any warm spots at all, otherwise the pasta will continue to cook slightly. While the pasta is still wet from rinsing it, pour about a half-cup of oil over the pasta and massage it in. Now you are ready to store your pasta under refrigeration. I would suggest that with portion bags, you portion out your pasta to the appropriate size (8 to 10 ounces for an entrée-sized portion). This will allow you to stock only what you need for each shift on the line instead of having a large container of pasta where your staff will never consistently portion the same every time. You will have a three-day shelf life on your pasta, so only cook what you anticipate serving for a two-day period. Have a small pot of water (unsalted this time) with a strainer basket on a grill or burner on at all times during meal periods. You will need to replenish the water many times throughout the day. When you get an order for pasta, as long as the water is at a boil, you only need to submerge the cooked pasta in the boiling water for 30 to 40 seconds. Then be sure to drain it well before it goes into the dish to ensure you are not serving a watery pasta entrée.
Although the cooking procedure is the same for all pastas, the cook time will vary from pasta to pasta. For example, thin spaghetti will take approximately seven minutes to cook where angel hair will take only three minutes to cook.
Tip: If you are using fresh pasta, use all the same procedures but know that your pasta will cook in approximately three minutes.
Rigatoni al Filo di Fumo
Yields: 4 Servings
¼ pound pancetta in a chunk about ½ inch thick
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 cups canned plum tomatoes (juices drained), crushed
½ cup frozen peas
1 pound cooked rigatoni
½ pound shredded or chopped fresh mozzarella
4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Pare the rind from the pancetta and cut the meat into a small dice. In a large sauté pan set over medium heat, cook and stir the pancetta until it starts to get crisp around the edges.
Add the oil to the pan. Put the garlic through a garlic press into the pan. Add the tomatoes and peas. Raise the heat and bring the sauce to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the sauce, breaking up the tomatoes with a fork or spoon.
Add the rigatoni to the pan with the tomatoes. Immediately add the mozzarella and toss to combine.
Divide the pasta among four heated pasta bowls. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of Parmesan cheese over each serving.
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.
Photo by Rick Daugherty
Q: I’m looking for a standard American-style pizza dough as well as a standard Italian-style. Can you help with recipes?
A: I sure can! Here you go:
Standard Classic America
High gluten/ High protein flour
100 percent flour
58-60 percent hydration
2 percent sea salt
1 percent oil
1 percent malt/sugar
.50-1 percent yeast
Standard Classic Italian
1 liter water
1.8 kilograms flour
50 grams sea salt
50 grams oil
3 grams malt/sugar
2-10 grams yeast
These two recipes are given to each student here on the first day of instruction at the International School of Pizza in San Francisco. The class makes each batch according to the recipe and usually finds that the dough comes out great if made correctly.
When the students leave and go back to their respective kitchens and restaurants, it is up to them to decide if the recipe needs to be changed in any way. What each student generally finds is that, yes, every recipe has to be altered. There is no magic recipe that exists that never needs to be changed. Not only do individual tastes have an effect on recipes, but a host of environmental factors must also be considered.
The environment in which you make dough plays an important role in how each batch comes out and how you decide to tweak your recipe. Heat, humidity, cold, elevation, water, and even the placement of your mixer in your kitchen will all affect the making of dough and should all be considered before mixing. u
Respecting The Craft
Is a new column featuring World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani, owner of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco and Pizza Rock in Sacramento. Tony compiles the column with the help of his trusty assistants, Laura Meyer and Thiago Vasconcelos. If you have questions on any kitchen topic ranging from prep to finish, Tony’s your guy. Send questions via Twitter @PizzaToday, Facebook (search: Pizza Today) or e-mail email@example.com and we’ll pass the best ones on to Tony.
Photos by Josh Keown
Time to sharpen your knife skills? And by skills, we’re talking about back-of-house efficiencies and safety protocols around the most common foodservice tool. Knowing which knives work best for cutting different types of product, how to care for them properly and how to use knives safely can give operators a well-honed edge.
Safety first. “Train your employees how to use the knife properly,” says James P. DeWan, adjunct chefinstructor at Chicago’s Kendall College School of Culinary Arts and co-author of The Zwilling J. A. Henckels Complete Book of Knife Skills: The Essential Guide to Use, Techniques and Care. He recommends the classic French method, which sees the bottom of the blade pinched by the dominant hand’s thumb and first finger with the other fingers wrapping around the handle. The other hand curls into a claw position, which guards the fingertips against the blade, and grips the ingredient being cut. “The side of the knife is flush against your guide fingers,” he says. “That’s the way to cut safely. It takes time to get used to it, so it’s important to practice it. There are tons of videos on YouTube that demonstrate proper technique. Have your kitchen staff watch them and then practice their skills repeatedly.”
And like all well-run professional kitchens, staff training is key. “Our senior cooks teach the newer cooks how to cut properly,” says Jim D’Angelo, COO of Lou Malnati’s, which has 35 pizza shops in the Chicagoland area. For repetitive tasks, such as cutting dough, back-of-house staff must don protective metal mesh gloves. “We implemented the policy about five years ago and we strictly enforce it,” he says. “Knife cuts were making up a huge amount of our back-of-house injuries. We don’t make them wear it on the line, but when they’re doing something repetitive, they have to. It’s reduced accidents significantly.”
To maximize performance and minimize injury, DeWan recommends keeping blades sharp. Lou Malnati’s sends its knives out for sharpening weekly. “We lease our knives from a company and sharpening them is part of that lease,” says D’Angelo. The company takes away the dull knives, replacing them with sharpened ones, sharpens the dull ones and returns them the next week, following the same pattern to always keep Lou Malnati’s flush with sharp tools.
At Fiammé Pizzeria in Naperville, Illinois, a sharpening truck visits about every two weeks, or whenever executive chef Ryan Craig calls them in. “He does them right there on the spot, and it works really well for us,” he says.
DeWan suggests honing the knives with a steel in between sharpening sessions. “The blade of the knife has microscopic teeth that bend with use,” he says. “Running the knife over the steel pushes those teeth back into alignment.”
Of course, pizzerias require specialized tools. When it comes to which knife works best, the answer is as varied as the available types of pizzerias.
For thin crust and Napoletana-style pizzas, the favored choice seems to be the pizza wheel. “Our pizzas are Neapolitan style and our ingredients are delicate, requiring a more precise, delicate touch,” says Craig. “I tried using a rocker knife because it’s more efficient, but I lost a lot of ingredients, which just flew off the pizza with the movement of the big blade.”
On the line, he uses three pizza wheels: one for red, one for white and one for gluten-free pizzas. He also keeps a chef’s knife and paring knife for ingredient prep, as well as a good bread knife for cutting French bread into crostini and bruschetta.
Lou Malnati’s also uses a pizza wheel for its dine-in thin-crust pizza. “It doesn’t drag the cheese and it gives us a nice precise cut,” says D’Angelo.
For dine-in deep-dish, which is the most common pizza ordered at Lou Malnati’s, his prep cooks use a boning knife, which sports a long, narrow, sharp blade. “It allows them to cut through the thick layer of cheese, toppings and crust with some pretty good speed and accuracy,” he says.For carryout and delivery, a mezzaluna, or rocker knife, is the go-to blade. Its handles allow for a sure grip while putting more weight on the knife to cut through the pie with precision and clean edges. “We’d use it for our dine-in deep dish pizzas, too, if we could,” he says. “It’s so fast and efficient.” The mezzaluna can portion a 14-inch pizza with only four cuts. As the restaurant chain cuts and then serves its dine-in deep dish in the pan that the pizza was baked in, the rocker is not an option. “The boning knife works well, but for cutting speed, nothing is better than the rocker,” says D’Angelo.
Why not a pizza wheel for deep dish? “It plows through the toppings and doesn’t give you a clean cut. You have to go over it too many times to cut through, making a mess of the pizza as you do it,” he says. For prep work, his staff uses the traditional eight-inch chef’s knife, also known as a French knife, and smaller (2½-inch) paring knife.
Katie Ayoub is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today. She’s based in Naperville, Illinois.
Photos by Josh Keown
There is something noticeable about the staff’s look at Cocco’s Pizza in Primos, Pennsylvania, — expression of individuality and brand awareness. Employees sport graphic T-shirts with the pizzeria’s name and logo. Owner Michael Cocco says his dress code reflects his crew’s personalities.
Everyone is wearing something just a little different from one another. They can select from new and retro designed T-shirts. With 35 years of designs, they have a lot of options. Cocco works with a neighboring printing company to keep the shop’s designs on file. If someone doesn’t find one they like, Cocco says, they are welcome to buy their own style tops and he’ll have the print shop screen print on them.
“They are able to express how they want their shirts to look,” Cocco says. “I like the individuality of our shirts. It makes us a little different.”
It may appear like the pizzeria doesn’t have much of a dress code, but at closer examination there’s method to Cocco’s casual presentation. The dress code standards are outlined in its employee handbook, though he always verbally reinforces his expectations.
Cocco supplies the shirts — the more days they work, the more shirts he gives. If employees want extra, he charges $5. There is a $10 replacement penalty if employees forget their shirts.
Cocco isn’t too strict about the rest of his employees’ attire. He doesn’t allow sweat pants or gym shorts. There has been confusion on what constitutes sweats or gym shorts. In those instances, he says he makes the final decision. He doesn’t mind a few holes in the jeans, but he has sent people home for wearing pants with an overabundance of holes.
“They just have to use common sense,” Cocco says. “We really try to set a family atmosphere. Customers watch what you wear.”
Having your dress code spelled out in writing, formally stating specific uniform standards — no matter how loose — and courses of action for failures to comply with requirements, is good business.
After all, employees’ appearance reflects a restaurant’s brand. Choosing not to have a set dress code creates confusion, says human resources expert and trainer Roberta Matuson. “You just have to be very specific as far as what does a clean, neat attire look like? The more you can do to eliminate people from having to make those decisions themselves the better.”
Haley’s Pizzeria in Litchfield, New Hampshire, also has a loose dress code. In fact, staff members simply wear jeans and t-shirts. The key, says owner Mike DeMarco, is outlining what is not acceptable — no sleeveless shirts, no low-cut or sagging pants, nothing vulgar or explicit on t-shirts, nothing that shows cleavage or posterior and no Yoga pants or jeans. DeMarco gives each employee a Haley’s T-shirt when they are hired, but it is not a required piece of uniform.
Having a uniform accessible and clean can be stressful for employees, DeMarco says. “I would rather them put their energy into the product and the customers,” he explains.
While Cocco’s and Haley’s take a casual approach to dress codes, Mama’s Famous Pizza & Heros in Tucson, Arizona, and Aldo’s Ristorante Italiano & Bar in Naples, Florida, have stricter requirements.
Mama’s four locations have a dress code, requiring employees to wear kakis or white pants, a brown Mama’s shirt, green apron and hat. Manager Liz Biocca says, “it’s the image that we want them to present and staff appearance should be consistent.” The restaurant supplies one of each, costing the restaurant under $10 per piece. But if the uniform gets stained or torn, Mama’s will replace it free.
Common violations of Mama’s dress codes are forgotten hats and shirts that are not tucked in. There’s a warning process when the policy is violated, Biocca says.
Kelly Musico says Aldo’s goes for a classy, sophisticated look — black button down shirt, black pants, black bistro apron and black non-slip shoes. The uniforms, she says, also make staff easily identifiable to customers, especially when Aldo’s caters off-site.
Aldo’s dress code is always enforced and gives employees multiple chances. “First offense, we will issue a loaner; second offense, employee will get sent home; third offense, employee will receive a written violation; and fourth offense, termination,” Musico says.
It is important to set reasonable standards, Matuson says. Expecting a white shirt to stay clean in an environment filled with red sauce is not going to be effective. Nor is supplying a style of uniform that does not fit everyone. If skirts are a piece of the uniform, she suggests also offering pants as an option. Be flexible.
Success of a dress code, Matuson says, comes down to communicating what’s in it for the staff. “You have to appeal to people’s self interest,” she says.
Also, make sure you and your managers are modeling the attire policy, Matuson says. It difficult to get employees to adhere to the rules when they see management disregard them.
Whether your style is extreme casual or formal, let your employees know how you expect them to dress for work. It is your image that they are representing.
Tips for Success
Dress codes are not complete without appearance standards. Many requirements, like pulling hair back in a ponytail or a hairnet, come down to local health code mandates. Some things like not displaying visible tattoos are image representation.
Where your dress code can get into legal hot water is if it violates federal and state employee discrimination laws. The rules are in place to protect employees from “unfair treatment because of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 and older), disability or genetic information,” enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Make certain that the policy you’ve set into place doesn’t leave you vulnerable to lawsuits. Run your dress code standards by your attorney.
Denise Greer is associate editor at Pizza Today.
Photos by Rick Daugherty & Josh Keown
On weekdays, the lunch crowd from the local police academy and nearby industrial park pack out Lido’s in Meriden, Connecticut. And on Friday and Saturday nights, it’s all about serving it up to the kids — soccer teams and Brownie troops alike. Although the folks at Lido’s pride themselves in turning the tables quickly, sometimes a waiting time just can’t be helped.
That’s why the restaurant recently re-designed its waiting area, says manager Linda Collins. Eight months ago, Lido’s installed red-striped awnings on the walls inside the front door. The awnings, which match those on the outside, hang over a wrap-around booth seating up to 15 people. A table in the middle provides space for drinks or crayon coloring. Plaques and photos from fundraisers line the entryway walls, a testament to the restaurant’s commitment to service.
“We’re good at helping with the community and also with relief in Haiti,” Collins says. “Our waiting area is designed to instill a sense of belonging. It’s a busy place. We’ve been here in this location 16 years, and the owners have been in business for 30, so we have a lot of regulars. We now serve kids who are grown up and bring their own kids.”
Lido’s has hit on a two-pronged strategy to keep customers happy while they wait: “Engage and Promote.” Is your entryway inviting enough that people are willing to hang out there, even if it means waiting up to an hour for a table?
“You want to engage people and use this as an opportunity to promote what you are,” says Chris Tripoli, president of A’la Carte Consulting Group, a restaurant consulting firm in Houston, Texas.
“The thing we preach is that being busy is a good thing. It’s not an excuse for something to go wrong. You don’t want to be so busy that the customers leave and then say: ‘I guess that happens! They left!’ Busy isn’t an excuse. It’s a reason for being in business. You have to figure out, ‘How can we profit from the reason?’ ” Tripoli says.
Here are some steps to consider:
Step One: engage. In the past, Tripoli says, “lobbies were afterthoughts.” Restaurant owners didn’t realize the value of capitalizing on the wait time.
“The last thing you want is for the customer to come in and think, ‘I missed out. I feel like the left over. I have to stand in this waiting room. I have to sit on this little bench,’ ” he says.
To make the customers feel included in the dining room action, streamline the surroundings. “So if you have a particular theme, design, color, background, music, style of seating, make sure it’s carried out into the waiting area. The lighting is the same. If you have a speaker in the ceiling with background music, you include it in the lobby,” Tripoli says.
Set the expectation with decor, says Liz Toombs, an interior decorator and owner of Polka Dots and Rosebuds Interiors in Lexington, Kentucky. Among others are two popular themes for pizzerias, she says: kitschy (black-and-white tile floors, bold red and vibrant greens) or “Old Tuscan” (tin tiles on ceilings, plastered walls, lower lighting and golden warm colors). You want to bring that theme all the way to the front door, she says.
“One thing that works well is wall art, because the things you put on the walls and the lighting when a customer first comes in creates ambience in the restaurant. The first thing people will see are the colors, the art, the lights — all of that fits into what you’re going for in the rest of the restaurant,” Toombs says.
Textiles in the waiting area also play a role in engaging the customer at first entrance, she says. For example, in a Tuscan-feel environment, you might have iron chairs, but add “a certain amount of velvet or suede or faux material. That’s good for making a place warm and luxurious,” she says.
For a family-centered restaurant, keep on hand kid-friendly items, Toombs says, such as a flat-screened TV with age-appropriate shows “to keep the kids occupied so they’re not nagging to get out the door. Flat screens don’t take up a lot of space. You might even have little tables where kids can do coloring activities. It makes them like going to your restaurant and makes it a novelty.”
Also, make “greeting” a part of the hostess’s job description, Tripoli says. Just like the people at Lido’s know their customers’ names, the hostess should be walking through the area, calling people by name, providing menus in advance and telling them about specials. “It helps you save time, because they know what they want when they sit down, and it can increase the per-person check average.”
Step Two: promote. This is the easy part, but it’ll take a little effort on your part, Tripoli says. Use the waiting time to promote who you are. This could be as simple as displaying the plaques of community service on the wall, like Lido’s does, or by circulating food samples to whet the appetites.
“This takes the feeling of being ‘a leftover’ to being someone special: ‘I’m getting something for nothing,’ ” Tripoli says. “If you have a dessert promo going, what a nice opportunity during the one-hour waiting list to give them a taste of a special strawberry cheesecake. You say, ‘We don’t want to ruin your appetite, but here’s a sample. Save room for this! It’s on special!’ They feel important, because they got something for nothing, and you stand a chance of selling more dessert.”
If you have a bar, make sure that those who wait for a table there get the same freebies you’re offering in the lobby, Tripoli says. “You don’t want them thinking, ‘You sent me there so that I would spend more money, and the other people in the waiting area are getting free stuff.’ If the bar is part of the waiting area, then the bartenders have the same promotional program.”
Heidi Lynn Russell specializes in writing about the issues that affect small business owners.
Photo by Josh Keown
Two decades ago, America was largely intimidated by wine. Snobs drank it. Even worse, they swished it around, spit it into a bucket and then talked about it in unappealing and difficult-to-understand terms like “flinty” or “grassy.” What normal, everyday Joe wanted to drink grass?
Since wine was an unknown and perceived as expensive, it was feared. Forget that it is grape juice at its heart — it was just too, well, sophisticated for the pizza crowd.
Times changed, however, as times always do. A number of factors worked in unison to broaden wine’s appeal: the industry’s marketers, for example, realized the need to make the product more accessible; food-centric shows on television encouraged people to expand their palates and restaurants identified the value in the additional revenue stream.
Fast forward to today and there are tens-of-thousands of pizzerias across the country that menu wine. In fact, our most recent research shows that 38 percent of American pizzerias — more than 26,000 pizza restaurants — serve vino. How can they all be wrong when it comes to wine’s appeal? They can’t, says Taylor McNeely, a pizzeria bar manager in Indianapolis.
"Wine is a profit driver for us,” she says. “We sell a lot of it and it is one of our biggest money-maker items.”
McNeely offers wine by the bottle and by the glass, but also has found success with flights.
“They’re good because it encourages people to try new things. It helps them branch out a little,” she explains. “A customer may come in with a pre-conceived notion that, ‘I don’t like chardonnay or I don’t like big, bold reds. But just because you may not like Chianti does not mean you won’t like another red, like a Barbera or something else. One red might be spicy, while another might be fruity. There are just so many variances from each variety and even within the same variety from different labels. You have to open yourself up to trying new things, and the flights help that out a little bit. You’re not putting all your eggs into one basket, so to speak. You aren’t spending $18 on a bottle or $7 on a glass of something only to discover that you don’t like it. It’s a very non-commital way of learning, of discovering what you might like.”
At Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria in Seattle, a well-established wine program is one of the hallmark’s of the company’s success. Tutta Bella was named our 2010 Independent of the year. Owner Joe Fugere likes to keep offerings fresh and examines the wine list with a critical eye at least twice a year. Typically, the company’s wine offerings experience a facelift every six months. With wine representing close to 20 percent of overall sales at Tutta Bella, Fugere must be on to something.
Jenny Fleece, a longtime spirits manager who is working to open her first pizzeria in Bethesda, Maryland this summer, says she plans to follow a similar strategy.
“I like to turn wines over in late spring, just before summer, and again in late autumn, just before winter,” she says. “Sometimes, like during the hot months, people may gravitate to some lighter, more refreshing whites. They tend to opt for some heavier reds later in the year. While you seek balance, you want to turn the list over when necessary to make sure you’re offering what will sell the best at any given time.”
Often, what sells is largely dependent on the service staff. A knowledgeable crew that has been well-trained on wine and food pairings can make helpful suggestions to customers, translating into better wine sales. It doesn’t take a full-time sommelier, either. Today’s educational opportunities are abundant. Jason Crum, a bartender at Joey’s in Houston, says vendors can be excellent resources.
“Your wine reps are more than just sales people,” he says. “A good one cares about your business, because your success is his success. A good one is knowledgeable about the products he sells and can be a great point of contact when it comes to learning more about wines and how to best pair them with pizza or Italian food.”
Crum says his wine distributor makes it a point to keep him up to date on the latest trends and pairings.
“He comes in periodically and gives the bar staff and wait staff crash courses on the different wine options we carry,” explains Crum. “He talks about the grapes, the region they’re grown in, what the climate and soil is like. He talks about the process and how that relates to what you taste when you lift the glass and the juice hits your taste buds.”
Sometimes, it’s about story telling. The details of the story enrich the customer experience and make the customer-server connection a more meaningful one.
“After you tell the story,” says Crum, “the sale is easier. It’s not a transaction; it’s an experience.”
If you are looking for some good wine and pizza pairings, let us help you get started. While many people think Chianti when they think of Italian food, there’s no reason to paint yourself into a corner. Let’s face it, a bottle of Chianti in a wicker basket next to a plate of spaghetti and meatballs is about as cliché as it gets. Don’t limit your selection to Italian labels. Quality wines from America, France, Australia and South America, to name a few, will get the job done as well.
Take a German Riesling, for instance: its sweetness and mellow attitude makes an excellent accompaniment to a spicy sausage and pepper pizza. If you’re looking for an across-the-board all-star to pair with red-sauce pizza in general, then look to a Barbera. A Moscato can be tapped for desserts, while the properly balanced Red Zinfindel is exquisite with a meatlover’s pie.
“A wine list should express some diversity,” says McNeely. “Variety is the spice of life.”
Jeremy White is Editor-in-Chief at Pizza Today.
In today’s business climate, it’s not just about knowing how to produce a quality pizza or understanding your customers’ needs and wants if you want to maintain and grow your pizzeria. Attending an industry trade show is the best vehicle for obtaining new knowledge, insight and ideas that can help you position your pizzeria for future growth. At Pizza Expo you’ll find new opportunities and solutions that will produce bottom line results.
Below are a few tips that will help you get the most out of your trade show experience:
• Time is at a premium. Come prepared with a plan of attack. Download our new Pizza Expo 2013 mobile app and the Pizza Expo 2013 Guide from the Apple and Android stores.Schedule appointments with key contacts. Make a list of what you want to learn and see. Review the seminar program and pre-show workshops to see what’s being offered that will have greatest benefit and impact on you and your business.
• Take charge! You may want to arrange to meet with suppliers and/or other pizzeria operators to find out what they’re doing and what they see happening in the future. Make plans to attend the Beer & Bull® Idea Exchange to hear what other operators are thinking.
• Take time to walk the show floor thoroughly and completely. Make notes of the products, companies and booth numbers that grab your attention. Pay particular attention to new products and services being offered at the show, as well as new exhibitors.
• Knowledge is power! Take time to talk to as many industry consultants and experts as you can. Pick their brains to find out what they’re thinking and doing. What are the emerging trends, and how can they help or hurt your business? Many of these top consultants are on the seminar program.
• Last but not least, this may be one of the best times ever to purchase new equipment … certainly a buyer’s market. The fact of the matter is: no one wants to take their equipment and products back to the warehouse. Take advantage of the show specials and steep discounts being offered by our exhibiting partners. You may not have an opportunity like this again for another year.
• What are your peers doing, and how does your pizzeria compare?
• Can you leverage vendor/supplier expertise?
• Is there an opportunity to expand your menu?
• What can you do differently to outshine and outperform your competition?
Finally, write down what you learned at the show and rethink or analyze your business strategy and philosophy. How can you better position your pizzeria in the marketplace? What new ideas can you implement to achieve your goals?
There will always be winners and losers, but only those pizzeria owners and operators who arm themselves with new industry knowledge and are willing to take action toward positive change will have the ability to compete and win in today’s economy. At International Pizza Expo® you’ll gain new industry insight and knowledge that will help you strategize, improve operations and make the right decisions that will allow you to compete and WIN!
We mean business!
Executive Vice President
What makes our pizza healthier is a combination of things. It first starts with the dough we use — our organic ancient grain crust is a nutritionally rich proprietary blend of ancient grains without the added sugar, molasses, high fructose corn syrup or other fillers in a lot of other pizza dough. It’s the pure grains delivered to you in pizza dough form. Since our bodies need good carbohydrates, this dough has been really well received by our diabetic customers.
The sprouted ancient grain is a proprietary blend of grains including, but not limited to, quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat. It has only a small amount of wheat to provide the gluten necessary to transform it into pizza dough. Because it is only a small percentage of wheat, it tastes nothing like traditional wheat crust. The flavor profile is nutty and earthy and quite unique. The characteristics of the crust are light and airy, thin with the perfect amount of chew and crisp.
We then use an organic, low-sodium tomato sauce and a variety of low-fat cheeses as the base for an unbelievable finished product. Our toppings are sourced through our local farming community or organic grow houses in the Southeast. We believe in supporting agriculture that practices organic and sustainable farming methods. Inherently, it all goes into our bodies — the chemicals, antibiotics and hormones used in most conventional/commercial approaches — therefore we choose to be a part of a healthier solution for our future.
Our current location adds to our mission because we are nestled inside of an urban space — The 7th Street Public Market. We are surrounded by other locally focused food purveyors with a common goal of offering high quality, local and organic foods that focus on our region. It’s a very collaborative space. We are fortunate because we buy from several of the other shopkeepers — things like cheese, produce, bacon, ground beef and olive oil/vinegar. We are a “location within a location” so there are definite pros and cons. We are the benefactor of ambient traffic flow, but then again, we are one of the major drivers of foot traffic within the market.
Because we are a different kind of pizzeria, we really had to make a strong connection with those pizza lovers out there. And, because of our location, we had to establish our own identity. So well before we sold our first pizza, we were social media crazy!
It was a hard sell at first to convince my business partner of the need to hire a professional videographer to film us. But when he saw the first video produced and the response to it from our social media outlets, we were off to the races to produce more. The intention was to create a visual interpretation of Farm-2-Fork. We went on location to a variety of our partners to show who they are and what they do; everything from a mushroom farm, a 40-year organic farm, one of Charlotte’s favorite local breweries and a bee keeper. The followers really connected in a resounding way. We had fans says, “How can I be craving something I’ve never tasted!”
The pizza arrived blackened. And by that I do not mean merely overcooked or even slightly burned on the bottom — I mean “end of times” black. We posted a picture of it on our Facebook page (search: Pizza Today) with a short caption and it went viral. The comments and shares from pizzeria owners ran deep. They could not believe a pizza shop would send the charcoal black pizza to a customer.
Neither could we. We needed a pan pizza for a photo shoot and simply did not have time to make it ourselves before our deadline. We called an independent pizzeria just blocks away from our office and placed the order –– anonymously, of course. When we opened the box, our jaws dropped. Our managing editor, Mandy Detwiler, placed a call to the shop. She asked to speak to the manager regarding a burned pizza. After five minutes on hold, Mandy was informed the manager was busy helping in the kitchen because someone didn’t show up to work that day (the customer’s problem?). Mandy was promised a return call from the manager.
Well, the return call came — but not from the manager. Again, too busy. But the employee was courteous and apologetic. She explained the reason for the burned pizza (their inexperienced crew had turned the deck ovens up too high in the morning) and offered to make it right by sending a gift card. That did nothing to satisfy our needs for a photogenic pizza or to remedy our hunger, but it was a gesture that, as pure customers, we appreciated. She was working to make it right.
The best part of the story — at least it gave me a chuckle — was when the employee called Mandy back to get the address to which the gift card should be sent. “908 South 8th Street,” Mandy said … “Care of Pizza Today magazine…” There was a gasp at the other end of the line. The poor girl couldn’t believe they just sent a national magazine a product even a hog wouldn’t eat. But, in reality, we are absolutely the best office in America for this sort of mistake. We understand. Others do not. At some point it becomes not about the poor product that was served, but about the service the unhappy customer receives post-mistake.
What would you personally have done in this situation had that call come into your pizzeria? Would you have returned the call yourself? Would you be happy if you learned that the hostess instead of the manager called the customer back when the customer specifically asked to speak to the manger? Would you have delivered a new pizza immediately along with the gift card? These are all questions that our staff has asked one another and our operator friends since the blackened pizza left us all feeling blue.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you would have settled the matter if it occurred in your pizzeria. Please e-mail me at the address below.
Jeremy White, editor-in-chief
The NY Slice Truck
Tonight’s Delivery Specials 5p-9p Call 721-8434 Garlic Knots & Wings $7.99 Or 3 Toppings 20 Inch Pizza Garlic Knots Wings $24.99
Why it works: This Tweet was sent out on a bitterly cold day, and the idea of a hot meal delivered hit home. NY Slice Truck added in their hours and a phone number, along with their daily specials. Way to use those 140 characters wisely!
Tuesday lunch pie is Lambda Gyro Pi: Zaziki, beef/lamb Gyro, Onion, Tomatoes & Feta. 11-1 North & South slices and 11-2 on East Buffet.
Why it works: Sick of pepperoni and cheese? Aver’s can fix that. The Greek-themed pizza (a tongue-in-cheek play on the Greek social system at the nearby university) transcended traditional offerings. Aver’s also let customers know that they offer slices at one unit and a buffet at another. This tweet packed in a lot!
This month on PizzaToday.com
Exclusive coverage, photos and video from the International Pizza Expo. See it all at www.PizzaToday.com/pizzaexpo2013
You can now follow Pizza Today on tumblr. PizzaToday.tumblr.com
Roast'Em: Use your ovens for roasting. Also check out the recipe for Roasted Pepper and Tomato Pizza.
You can now “LIKE” School of Pizzeria Management on Facebook!
Facebook Pizza Feeds
Family Pizza and Restaurant
ONLY A COUPLE DAYS LEFT PIZZA LOVERS!!! Don’t miss your chance to win $100 from your favorite pizzeria!!! Just text “FAMILY PIZZA” to 72727 to be automatically entered to our February 1st drawing
Why it works: Text messaging is an easy way to target those people who want to receive your offers. Family Pizza’s giveaway garnered interest and built a list of ready-made customers who opted in to receive future correspondence. (For more on e-mail marketing, see our story on page XX.)
Cassanos Pizza King
IT IS CONTEST TIME! Let us know your favorite cold weather Cassano’s Pizza and we will pick a random winner for a FREE LARGE PEPPERONI PIZZA. Check back at Noon today for the winner!
Why it works: This Facebook post had 85 responses within 10 minutes of posting, all raving about their favorite Cassano’s offering. And by asking folks to check back at noon, fans are reminded about Cassano’s not once but twice in a day. Brilliant!
One lucky Expo attendee will leave with lots of cash — the show closes with a $20,000 Mega Bucks Giveaway.
This month, more than 10,000 pizza professionals will be under one roof at International Pizza Expo 2013.
Idaho has 347 pizzerias.
// Rocket Pizza Lounge / Uccello’s Ristorante / Sliver Pizzeria
122 W. 4th St.
Los Angeles, California 90013
This eclectic pizza place sits in the heart of downtown Los Angeles’ Old Bank District. Lined with comfortable booths, a rotating craft beer menu and variety of Happy Hour specials, Rocket is a hotspot for the after-work crowd. Its Roasted Bacon & Gorgonzola pizza with tomatoes and basil (12-inch at $14) has received high marks among patrons. Other innovative pies include the Baked Eggs with bacon, chives, caramelized onion and red chili sauce (12-inch at $13); the Meltdown with Italian sausage, jalapeño, crushed red peppers, garlic, onions and bell peppers (12-inch at $13); and Ham & Sage Cream with roasted rosemary chicken and fried sage leaves (12-inch at $13). Its menu also features rustic ciabatta sandwiches like the Arrabiata Sausage with spicy Italian sausage, Gorgonzola, arugula, peppers and caramelized onions ($12) and the Arugula, Apple, Avocado with red onion, provolone and romasco ($11).
2630 E. Beltline SE
Grand Rapids, Michigan 49546
Uccello’s knows how to draw sports fans into its pizzeria and sports lounge with an extensive sports entertainment package projecting on HD flat screen TVs with views from every angle. Specials menus are tailored for fans like the Football Features — chicken fingers, pepperoni rolls, meatball sliders, Uccello’s quesadilla and the buffalo chicken grilled pizza, ranging from $5.99 to $8.99. The three Michigan locations also drive business during lull times with $2.99 Happy Hour food items, including pizza puffs, half subs, one topping, nine-inch pizzas and bruschetta. Uccello’s also offers a variety of pizza crust options, from wheat, traditional and ultra thin to pan, stuffed and grilled.
2132 Center St.
Berkeley, California 94704
The pizzeria’s interior is modern and sleek with an attractive bar. Close to the University of California, Sliver offers slices and whole pies. Each day at Sliver hosts a special pizza offering. A past featured week highlighted pies with roasted marble potatoes, Pasilla chiles, yellow onions, mozzarella, Bulgarian feta cheese, cilantro Mexican key limes and garlic olive oil; red bell pepper, leeks mozzarella, Gruyere cheese, green olives, Italian parsley and garlic olive oil; and roasted eggplant, roasted onion, mozzarella, pecorino Parmesan cheese, fresh herbs, garlic olive oil and paprika. Along with daily pizza specials, Sliver features daily salads, as well as entertainment highlighting local musicians and artists.
Photos by Josh Keown
“There may be a hundred different stances and sword positions, but you win with just one,” said undefeated Samurai Miyamoto Musashi in 1643. Mushashi would have been a great pizza guy because he described pan pizza to the letter. Every town, village and territory in the world has their own pan pizza style: Chicago style; Sicilian Sfincione; Detroit Red Top; Tuscan Schiacciata; Old Forge style; French Pissaliadiere; Ligurian Pizza all’ Andrea; Philidelphia’s Tomato Pie; the Abruzzan Pizza Rustica from Renaissance times; stuffed pan pizza and pizza Pugliese. Even the centuries-old Chinese Scallion Pizza is baked in metal and some speculate that it was this idea that Marco Polo brought back to Italy to evolve into…(drumroll please) pan pizza!
For 13 years, I have used the 180 seasoned pizza pans in my small place to bake my own Athens-style pizza. Each pan sees action at least twice every day. During the rushes, they get tossed, slammed, slid, stacked and sometimes knocked over which, I will admit, is not a great way to treat the vehicle that crisps my pizza product (but each pan will again eventually don the high protein cloak of cold-fermented dough that it deserves). My pans have straight sides with a “nesting” indentation halfway up to stack the pans very high without harming the dough. I opted for this feature because I only have 1,200 square feet in my pizzeria.
Unlike pan pizzas on the East Coast, ours are not oiled but are just dusted with corn meal. These pans hold the dough crust vertically for a rustic look as it is docked, proofed, sauced, cheesed and topped before heading into our 475 F conveyor ovens. The pan heats up from 390 to 400 F after seven minutes, pushing the crust temperature to 315 F for a nice browning effect. It isn’t as hot as a wood-fired oven but heats up the 19 ounces of proofed dough nicely!
There are as many pizza pan designs as there are styles. If you are buying more than 50 at once, some companies may discount your order or deliver for free. Always ask (I only use credit cards that offer miles also!)
To find the one best pan pizza for your pizzeria, consider these factors:
- Your comfort zone. Are you and your staff willing to enthusiastically craft new pan pizza styles to generate more revenue?
- Your customer. What are they used to? How far can you stretch their culinary comfort zone? u Your market. Who has the best pan pizza in your area? (Be honest.) How can you beat them? These are very personal considerations for you and your pizzeria, but if you wish to take the leap to pan, let’s first concentrate on where the metal hits the road.
- Steel pans. Old-school steel pans are sometimes found in all their black seasoned beauty in the dark corners of used restaurant stores, these are the undisputed kings of golden crispy pizza pan crusts. The steel is strong (but does not conduct heat as quickly as aluminum) and they have better cook-ability and hold the heat longer. With thicker pizzas and larger pans, they don’t have a middle “skip” zone of un-doneness that aluminum pans have because of bending under heat. Some old pan pizzas were made in tin-plated steel pans, but remember that tin melts at 450 F, so these aren’t good for today’s high-heating ovens. I like the steel pans because some high seasoned sides seem to force a nice heat into the upper cornicione, or crust, of the pizza.
- “Nekkid” steel pans. New “bare” steel pans can be cheaper than coated steel pans, but buyer beware: thicker pizza pans with gauges below 16 are getting harder to find these days. If you are buying online, always ask what gauge the pan is. The lower the steel gauge number, the thicker the pan. These new bare steel pans need to be seasoned, which means you crank up your oven and coat each pan with a thin layer of lard, (really old school) vegetable oil or shortening. These have a low smoke point and you must ventilate your place well while doing this all day long until they turn color and eventually get blackened with carbon. (NOTE: never wash seasoned pans or bake with any liquid on the seasoning. If you absolutely have to wash them, use warm water and a weak soap quickly, then rinse and immediately run through another seasoning session.)
- Aluminum pans. Aluminum transfers heat four times faster than steel but I’ve found from personal experience I get a better golden brown crust in a deck oven from the steel. Because non-coated aluminum heats up fast, there is sometimes a “stickability problem.” Large aluminum pans tend to buckle in one corner under brick oven heat and that can affect cooking also.
- Coated pans. Aluminized steel pans offer both the durability and speed at heating up, while the “Anodized” aluminum pans coated with PSTK or pre-seasoned Tuff-kote improve durability and baking performance. These can either be as an electro-chemical process that converts the outside of the pan to aluminum oxide, or through multiple layers of sealant sprayed on an aluminum base that is absorbed into the pores for a tough, non-stick surface. This pan coating comes under numerous names depending on the company but they are all are twice as expensive as “bare” pans and, as I am finding out, will last forever — 11 years and counting for my pizzeria.
As you can see, many options are available for your perfect pizza pan. I’ve barely touched the surface here and most of my information just comes from personal experience. The best pan information will come from the company itself. If you are looking to open a new pizzeria, consider having multiple styles of pizza and don’t forget the pan.
In the next issue, I will delve into the differences in pan pizza dough styles and how the two most important aspects are achieved with the marriage between dough and pan: taste and texture.u
John Gutekanst owns Avalanche Pizza in Athens, Ohio. He is also a speaker at International Pizza Expo and a member of the World Pizza Champions.
REMEMBERING PAT BRUNO
Page 3 [in the January issue] is a great tribute to Mr. Bruno. I never met the man but always enjoyed his passion for pizza and the industry. Kudos to you for not forgetting and remembering a pizza legend. By the way, I think you should think about making an annual Pasquale Bruno Award for excellence or innovation in the area of pizza.
I always look forward to receiving my Pizza Today in the mail. Keep up the good work! Peace to you.
Pat was a great man and is dearly missed. His contributions to our industry cannot really be measured. That’s exactly why we have created the “Pat Bruno Award,” which will be bestowed upon the “Pizza Maker of the Year” at the International Pizza Challenge annually at International Pizza Expo.
RESPECTING THE CRAFT
I enjoyed Tony Gemignani’s section this month. I’ve been around for a while now, and seeing a guy who I know is in the mix with dough and pizza on a daily basis and his take on tips and tricks makes me pay more attention to the advice.
Thanks. See you guys in Vegas.
Respecting the Craft with Tony Gemignani debuted in our January 2013 issue, and we know people are going to love it and find it very useful. And, yes, we will see you at International Pizza Expo, Mike!
SCHOOL OF PIZZERIA MANAGEMENT
I think that your School of Pizzeria Management is long overdue. I think my story is pretty typical of many independent pizza operators. Although I have owned and operated my own small pizza/sub shop for nearly 25 years (with no formal education or family connection to the pizza business), I have been able to get by mainly reading books and your incredibly helpful publication … I’m writing this letter to let others who are plodding along in their pizza businesses know that taking advantage of the opportunities offered in Pizza Today to get educated may take their pizza and/or their business from mediocre to amazing. Hope to see you in Vegas!
Joseph van Ruiten
The Milk Barn Pizza and Dairy
Long Beach, California
We hope others will share your enthusiasm for the project as well, Joseph. The industry needs this! And, yes, we will see you Vegas. Looking forward to another great show!
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