Photo by Mandy Detwiler
The crowd gasps an undeniable breath of anticipation the moment she appears on stage. After a brief announcement from the emcee, the crowd exchanges quips of admiration regarding the impending performance. As the moment of performance arrives, paparazzi descend upon her. But the stage is not that of Madison Square Garden, it’s a table; the emcee is a waiter; the crowd is your customers and “she” is your Quattro Formaggi pizza. The paparazzi (or in our case, pizzarazzi) are the growing legion of tech-toting shutterbugs that will risk the heat of a dish in favor of the perfect pic. A few peeved restaurateurs in New York recently put the kibosh on tableside photography and now eateries across the country are contemplating the same. Little do they realize that a camera in the hands of a customer could be the best thing to happen to a pizzeria
I take pictures of food when it looks delicious. We eat with our eyes first, so the sound of a camera shutter should really be taken as a compliment. Most food photogs I know don’t even use cameras, opting instead for their phones. Sometimes I wonder why I wasted money on a digital camera when the chip in my mobile phone usually gives me better shots. The best part about your customers taking pictures with their phones is that they’re probably going to post the images on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Foodspotting and Instagram. These sites have incredible marketing power and all you have to do to leverage them is serve attractive food!
Rather than ban food photography, restaurants should encourage it. Dig around the social media sites and I bet you’ll find photos of your food that look better than whatever is on your marketing materials. Why not make a contest out of it and reward your customers for taking shots of your food? I’d love to see pizzerias hold food photography events to encourage customers to get snapping. Just partner with a local photographer to show your customers how to get the perfect angle and you’ll maintain control over your image.
If food photography is so great, what’s all the fuss about banning it? The one complaint I can understand is that overzealous photogs have the tendancy to disturb other guests. A couple on their first date might feel awkward when someone at the next table whips out a giant camera to photograph a soufflé. A friend of mine once drained the blood from my face when he stood up on his chair to get a better shot of a Pizza Margherita. These situations seem to require a quick lesson about manners rather than an all-out camera ban. More ridiculous is the suspicion that a competitor might alter the image of a dish to discredit its restaurant of origin, but that seems highly unlikely. The only time a camera ban makes sense for your restaurant is if you’re serving something that doesn’t look appetizing. If that’s the case, pictures of your bad food are the least of your worries.
Scott Wiener owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City.
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.
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.
As someone with celiac disease, I have certain red flags that I always look for when I dine out. And it all begins with the front of the house.
Restaurants across the U.S. are introducing gluten-free options at a rapid pace. This new menu trend is especially strong among pizza parlors, which are ordering gluten-free crusts or developing their own dough to accommodate gluten-free requests. Managers are putting time, money and effort into building dedicated gluten-free areas, verifying gluten-free ingredients and establishing gluten-free protocols for the chef and kitchen staff. But that’s all for nothing if the hostess and server aren’t properly prepped.
Your front-of-house staff is the first source of contact with customers, and therefore, the first impression of your establishment. Your kitchen staff could be well versed in gluten-free safety, but if a server responds to a question about gluten with a quizzical look or a heavy sigh, chances are that gluten-sensitive customer will lose faith—and may even opt to dine elsewhere.
Consider this: Last summer, the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, for which I am the director of gluten-free industry initiatives, asked those who choose this option to share their concerns about dining out. Among the top four themes we identified in the responses was this: Many gluten-free diners base their comfort (or lack of comfort) on the attitude and knowledge of the front-of-house staff.
Celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity are serious health conditions that can cause debilitating symptoms when gluten is ingested. It is estimated that 1 percent of our population—that’s more than 3 million in the U.S.—exhibit gluten intolerance. A tiny amount is enough to trigger a reaction, so gluten-free meals must be prepared with extreme vigilance for members of this group.
Confusing the issue is the rising popularity of the gluten-free diet. A recent report by Packaged Facts estimates that 18 percent of the population has adopted a gluten-free diet. (That’s up from 15 percent in 2010.) More consumers are making this a lifestyle even though it is not a medical necessity—and there’s a big difference between dietary requests they might make and the requirement of zero gluten among those with health conditions.
The trend can affect a pizzeria this way: A diner who requests a gluten-free meal because it’s a choice rather than a necessity may steal a bite of pasta from a friend’s plate or decide to order a gluten-containing dessert. Your staff sees that and may not realize that another diner, one with a gluten-related disorder, is unable move back and forth like this. For hosts and servers, repeated exposure to these crossover gluten-free diners can cause confusion about the seriousness of special dietary requests, which puts true gluten-sensitive diners at risk and builds an air of distrust between customers and servers.
In the celiac and gluten-sensitive community, we are advised to call ahead before dining out so we can alert the staff to our gluten-free needs or pick another restaurant if gluten-free options are unavailable. We request a gluten-free menu when we are seated. We ask a variety of questions to ensure that the food we order will be prepared safely. It’s essential for front-of-house staff to be prepared to meet these requests and answer each question with confidence. The last thing a gluten-sensitive diner wants to hear is, “Um, yeah, I think that’s gluten-free.”
For some industry perspective, I asked Adam Goldberg, CEO and co-founder of Fresh Brothers (Pizza Today’s Independent Pizzeria of the Year for 2012), for his thoughts on front-of-house training. Fresh Brothers was one of the early adopters of GREAT Kitchens, an NFCA training program, and his locations now serve more than 1,000 gluten-free pizzas per week.
“Our gluten-free customers ask a lot of questions, as they should. It’s vital that our cashiers can answer those questions,” he said. “Even more important for our cashiers is knowing when they should bring a manager into the loop. If our cashier can’t answer a question with authority, then we ask that they bring the manager into the discussion to make sure the customer feels comfortable about our procedures.”
This may sound like more effort than it’s worth. I assure you, the rewards far outweigh the investment.
Gluten-free diners are known for their loyalty. Restaurants that offer a safe gluten-free meal and provide a superior dining experience are few and far between; they quickly become hot spots for the gluten-free community. What’s more, special dietary needs often dictate where an entire group may dine, so one customer with celiac disease could be responsible for bringing in a troop of 10 or 15, none of whom have gluten-related disorders but all of whom support their friend who does. Finally, gluten-free diners are active word-of-mouth marketers. They post restaurant reviews on forums, listservs and social media; they talk about where they ate at support-group meetings; and they take feedback from one another seriously.
Fresh Brothers has become one of those go-to spots for celiac and gluten-sensitive diners. Goldberg attributes the chain’s success to his staff’s “ability to feed the entire family.” That claim isn’t just a reflection of the kitchen; it’s a sign of a cohesive staff. And it’s a sign of a well-run and profitable business.
Beckee Moreland is director of gluten-free industry initiatives at the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. She will be leading a discussion on gluten-free pizzas during two sessions at Pizza Expo in March. Beckee will be joined by Adam Goldberg of Fresh Brothers, Willy Olund of Willy O’s Pizza & Grille and Michael Rutledge of Farrelli’s Wood Fire Pizza—all of whom are now serving gluten-free pizza.
For more details on International Pizza Expo 2013, visit www.pizzaexpo.com.
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
Hey Dave, I currently own a counter service joint and am looking to open my second location. This location I’m looking to do more sit-down. So my question is, is 30- to 35- percent labor cost reasonable for this type of restaurant?
I think in a full service operation, 30- to 35-percent labor is about right. After the new crew gets in the swing of things, I would like to see the labor percentage around 30 percent.
I focus on the sum of food cost + labor cost. Adding food and labor together yields prime cost. This number, measured in percentage of sales, less sales tax, factors in soft hidden labor costs like unemployment and workers comp expenses (plus employer matching social security taxes). I like to see my clients running their prime cost at
60 to 65 percent. Depending on your fixed occupancy costs and recurring monthly expenses, this should put you in the black.
In today’s economy, how long should it take to be in the black? We have been in operation just over a year and need to double our sales to be at that point. With people having less discretionary income, can we expect an increase in sales?
Your question is complicated because there are so many variables that affect net profit. The answer a bean-counter may propose is: “The minute your sales are sufficient to pay all expenses.” It seems that you have already heard that pearl of wisdom and are searching for solutions to attaining profitability on a regular basis. Since you know that your sales are only paying half of the bills, I’m sure you are in near panic mode.
Doubling sales is a pretty aggressive goal. I can only recall two or three times in my career that we were able to reach that goal. I used to challenge myself to raise sales $100 a day. This is a very doable goal. It boils down to one more pizza sale an hour. From a simplistic view, my weekly paycheck was the last hour of the day. The first 11 hours of sales went towards paying all expenses, and the last hour of the day was mine.
In order to prescribe a fix for your problem I’d need to know some accounting basics from your financials. Then I would look at and scrutinize your competition. I would want to know how much sales my competition is doing weekly. This study will give you a ‘market share’ percentage. Next would be analyzing the quality of your pizzas. When times get tough, most people quit marketing. When all of the data has been collected I’d know if your shop is savable. Lack of profit goes hand in hand with weak sales.
Big Dave Ostrander owned a highly successful independent pizzeria before becoming a consultant, speaker and internationally sought-after trainer. monthly contributor to Pizza Today.
Photo by Rick Daugherty
When a gas station stops letting customers use the restrooms because some people use them without making a purchase, or when a grocery store refuses to accept responsibility for mistakenly selling spoiled food, they lose business and create negative feelings in potential customers. What they are doing, says Domino’s Pizza franchisee Scott Flaherty, is marketing to the one percent.
That one percent of customers are the ones that you just can’t please. They are the people who will find something to complain about no matter how flawless your pizza, and who will try to do whatever it takes to wring a freebie out of you as often as possible. While it may feel proactive to treat anyone with a complaint as if they might be trying to take you for a ride, the other 99 percent of people don’t like to be handled as if they have an ulterior motive or a chronic bad attitude.
Treating customers as if they are the enemy might save you from giving out a few unwarranted pizzas, discounts or other comps, but in the long run that hostile attitude will cost you customers, and Flaherty isn’t the only one who thinks so. Keith Marshall of Atlantic Restaurant Consultants feels that true service is becoming a lost art.
“There is no doubt about the fact that great customer service increases sales and return customers,” Marshall says. “If you handle every problem with care and attention, you will probably find that for the most part, people can’t take advantage of you. Every once in a while you will have to fix a problem that isn’t real in the name of good service, but customers should always be approached with an attitude of ‘innocent until proven guilty.’
“Of course, the best thing is to execute your business so that you have minimal problems in the first place.”
Like Flaherty and Marshall, Gina Defilippis of Nick’s Italian Deli and Pizzeria knows the value of fantastic customer service. “We’ve been around for 22 years, and that’s in part because we do whatever it takes to make our customers happy,” she says. When a customer comes to Defilippis with a complaint, she doesn’t just throw a coupon or a free pizza at the problem. She and her staff work to correct the complaint. And when some of the local teens show up just a little short on cash for their order, Defilippis has been known to reach into her own pocket rather than send them away. “You’re not going to get repeat customers for 20-something years if you’re not giving them great service,” she says.
When a customer called to tell Flaherty that they’d bought several pizzas for their family, and that the sauce was runny and unappetizing, he asked them what night of the week they typically ordered pizza.
He then placed an order for the next week at no cost. He didn’t tell his crew about the special order, either. “These customers don’t need us to make them a perfect pizza once. They need to know that our pizza is great every time, without special treatment,” he reasons.
That is the kind of customer service that creates customer loyalty and, according to Flaherty, the family has ordered from him every week since. This kind of excellent customer service, Flaherty says, should be par for the course thanks to the Domino’s “Wow” policy. “If someone calls up to complain about a pizza, their guarantee is that if you are not totally satisfied, we will make it right or refund your money. I would hope that any owner would go to the same lengths,” he says. “It’s part of our Domino’s culture.”
This kind of corporate culture is what attracted Flaherty to Domino’s four years ago, and it is the way that Marshall says a business should be operated. Additionally, Flaherty also suggests empowering your employees to make customer service decisions.
“When things go wrong –– and they always do –– it’s how you react and how you take care of people that matters,” he says. “All of my employees have the power to fix problems without asking a manager or me.”
Marshall suggests adding one stipulation: “Employees in pizzerias are often young. They should be empowered to help the customers, but they need the support, development and training of the owner.”
Adds Defilippis: “You can’t please everyone every time, but we go out of the way, we take care of what needs to be done, and that’s it.”
Four steps to excellent customer service
1. Apologize for the problem. Be sincere. Try to see the customer’s side of things. Sometimes the problem seems artificial or minor, but listening carefully and apologizing can go a long way toward smoothing ruffled feathers.
2. Offer a reasonable solution to the problem. For example, replace an overcooked pizza or offer a different sauce if the customer hated the usual one. If you don’t see an immediate solution, or you’re not sure what the customer wants you to do, ask them what they would like. You may be surprised at how reasonable their requests are.
3. Go a step further. Offer a dessert, a free beverage, or a discount on their next pizza. Make sure that your customers know how valuable they are to you, and they will be back.
4. Correct the cause of the problem by training your employees on proper procedure and encouraging them to do well.
Dionne Obeso is a freelance writer in Hollister, California.
Photo by Rick Daugherty
When the hostess stand at Buddy’s Pizza becomes mobbed with hungry customers, the hostess hands out pagers shaped like coasters. That seems to calm everyone down, says Wes Pikula, vice president of operations for the nine-location Detroit pizzeria. “It’s a stress reliever if you are a guest,” he says. “You don’t have to listen for your name, or worry that they mispronounce your name, or start your whole dining experience feeling anxious.”
Paging systems that use coasters or cell phone texts don’t just tell waiting customers their table is ready. These hostess management systems can also help clear the lobby, turn tables and reduce staff costs.
“The paging system creates a contract with the guests,” says Doug Crisafulli, director of marketing and product development for JTECH Communications Inc. “It’s all psychological and unwritten, but they
get the message: These people are going to take care of me. They will call me when a table is available.”
Customers with pagers don’t have to hover over the hostess stand, wondering if the hostess called for Ashley or Ashton. Instead, they stroll outside, shop at neighboring retailers, or sit at your bar and order drinks and appetizers. When a table becomes available, a busser clears the table while the hostess types the pager number into a keypad. The pager vibrates, and the customer reaches the table just as it becomes ready.
No one is yelling or chasing down a customer, and the table is filled quickly. That could mean lower staffing costs and faster table turns.
Still, pagers do have their drawbacks. People lose them or just keep them. Matt Braddy, floor manager at the Georgetown location of Pizzeria Paradiso in Washington, D.C., says one customer kept a coaster pager, then brought it back a week later during a dinner rush. “They said they had been waiting for a table for half an hour,” Braddy says. “But the pager hadn’t been charged so we knew they were lying.” Braddy offered the guest a fresh coaster and a spot on the waiting list.
Pikula says teenagers pilfer the coasters. “It’s a badge of honor to take them,” he says. Hostesses are responsible for taking back the pagers. “They’ll say, ‘Oh, let me get rid of that for you.’”
Addison, Texas-based Long Range Systems offers coaster pagers, including one shaped like a pizza slice. Those might be cool enough to steal, but Jeff Jones, director of sales, says the system has antitheft transmitters. Pagers work on radio frequency, so they can be set up to work within one or two miles of the restaurant. “If the customer gets out of that range, the pager starts beeping and lighting up,” Jones says. “They think they shouldn’t be that far away, or they think it’s their turn, so they come back.”
Sometimes people walk away with pagers because they are angry that they had to wait long, says Steve Elefant, chief information officer for Princeton, New Jersey-based Heartland Payment Systems. “Other customers don’t like to touch them because they’re dirty and grimy,” he says.
One alternative is the cell phone text. The hostess asks the customer for their cell phone number and then sends a text message when the table is ready. The system also has a seating chart and a timer to show which tables will become available soon.
Customers are almost always willing to give out their cell number, says Ray Villaman, owner of Fireside Pizza Co. in Olympic Valley, California, and Rubicon Pizza Company in Truckee, California. “I can’t remember the last time somebody said, ‘No, I’m not giving you my number.’”
Rick Stanbridge, president of Fidelity Communications Inc. in Novi, Michigan, says the text message system is maintenance-free. “You’re not relying on the customer to return something, and you’re not relying on another device to work,” he says.
One drawback of cell phone texts is they do not create a tether the way the coaster pagers do, says Crisafulli. The customer can go across the street to three other restaurants and leave their cell numbers there, too. “The customer thinks, whoever calls me first, gets me,” he explains. “You run the risk of walk-aways.”
A system with pagers and a charging station can start at about $1,000 to $2,500, depending on the number of pagers. Jones recommends one pager for every minute-and-a-half wait. If your wait for a table is typically 30 minutes, you need 20 pagers.
The cell phone text packages charge monthly fees ranging from $39 to $99, and some have upfront or setup costs.
Elefant, from Heartland, says it’s easy to tell whether you need any paging system. “If you ever have guests grumbling while they’re waiting in your lobby, or complaining about who was first or trying to get comped because they had to wait so long, you need a paging system,” he says.
Nora Caley is a freelance writer specializing in food and business topics. She lives in Denver, Colorado.
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
When San Ramon, California-based Straw Hat Pizza wanted to increase appetizer sales, they turned on the TVs. The 61-unit company partnered with Coca-Cola and created a three-minute video showcasing the chain’s Snack-A-Tizers and Coca-Cola products. Store owners bought television sets that they placed on the order counters, and customers watched the Snack-A-Tizer loop –– which, thankfully for the cashiers, had no sound –– as they waited to place their order.
The chain tested the video in stores in Northern and Southern California. The results were encouraging. “We had a 23- to 30-percent increase in appetizer sales,” says Jonathan Fornaci, president of Straw Hat Pizza. “We had one store near Monterey where the store owner’s TV broke, and within a week his Snack-A-Tizer sales dropped.” He adds that the store owners’ investments paid off within the first month of buying the TVs and DVD players.
Fornaci says the test indicated that customers want to see more visual presentations of the foods, so the chain is installing digital menu boards in some locations. Digital menu boards show pictures, video, moving text and other features. “You want to make the customer feel more comfortable. The digital menu board shows the picture, and the customer says, ‘I want that,’ ” he says. Store managers can even change the text to Spanish to reflect the demographics of a store.
Other restaurants that want to upsell appetizers use a more low-tech approach. Usually that means training cashiers or servers to mention appetizers in a way that doesn’t seem pushy.
“We tell the cashiers we want to offer the missing item,” says Amir Sabetian, vice president of operations for the 96-unit zpizza, based in Irvine, California. “Say they come in and order a pizza, the beverage is the main missing item, so we offer a beverage. Then we go for salad, because salads create a bigger check average than starters. Then we offer starters.”
Sabetian says appetizers and desserts are impulse buys, especially with Internet orders. “We notice if people order online the check average is higher,” he says. “They see everything in photos, and they get to take their time. Sometimes customers ordering for two people end up with enough food for four.”
David Poth, senior vice president of marketing and research and development for Mazzio’s Italian Eatery, says the company trains call center staff to offer a Dippin’ Starter, or appetizer with a sauce, early in the ordering process. “They start with a pleasant greeting, ‘Would you like to start this evening’s order with an order of cheese dippers?’ It’s non threatening. We are asking a question.” The call center handles the delivery and carryout for about 75 of the chain’s 167 locations.
Two years ago the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based chain launched a promotion called Go 4 It. Call center staff and counter staff at the restaurants tell customers they can add a starter for $4, which is a discount of about $1 to $1.50. “Four dollars is a safe price point,” Poth says. “At four bucks that obstacle to purchase is pretty low, so we might get them to take a chance.”
Every two to three months, Mazzio’s changes which starter to offer at that price. Sometimes the chain uses table tents at the counter, to show photos of the appetizers. Poth says the table tents help future sales. “It doesn’t help us for that visit but it plants a seed. People say, ‘Oh I didn’t know they had toasted ravioli.’ ”
Call center staff can earn prizes for meeting certain appetizer sales goals. Poth says the prizes often include gas cards, iTunes, and gift cards. Call center managers get a budget, and they buy prizes they think will be valuable and motivating. “They are empowered because they’ve got input, and that seems to work,” Poth says.
At Giovanni’s Pizza, with one location in Huntington, West Virginia, owner Tony Mancini says customers tend to eat appetizers at the bar, while watching local Marshall University football games on TV. “When people spend four or five hours there, they don’t want to eat a big bowl of pasta and then throw down beers. Instead they get a spinach dip they can share with their buddies,” he says.
The trick is to get dining customers to order appetizers in addition to their meals. Mancini says Giovanni’s offers specials, and he incentivizes staff with prizes. He offers gift cards for a non-competing restaurant to the person who sells, for example, the most chicken tenders on a weeknight. “Most of my servers are college kids. You can motivate them with free food,” he says.
He instructs servers to ask customers not whether they want an appetizer, but which appetizer they want. “Make the decision for the customers,” he says. “Plant it in their head with, ‘Do you want to start with a spinach dip?’ ”
Sabetian says staffers don’t have to sell an appetizer to every customer. On busy Friday nights, for example, sometimes it’s better to wrap up orders quickly than to try to get a person to order an appetizer while others are waiting to place an order. “If there are ten people in line, I’d rather take another customer and another $25 check than a $4 starter,” he says. “When it’s slow, the cashier can offer more things and have a conversation with customers.”
Nora Caley is a freelance writer specializing in food and business topics. She lives in Denver, Colorado.
License to Drive
Hiring delivery drivers demands attention to detail
BY DANIEL P. SMITH
PHOTOS BY RICK DAUGHTERY
When TJ Banning opened his first Rosati’s Pizza in suburban Chicago in 2000, he carried low standards for his delivery driver hires.
“If you had a pulse and a car, you were hired,” says Banning, who’s swapped his early waywardness for more stringent driver standards at both of his Rosati’s locations.
Banning entrusts his drivers to represent Rosati’s in a positive light, certain that their presence influences customer perception and satisfaction.
“Sixty percent of our business isn’t me, but rather somebody I’ve hired to deliver pizzas and hold money until the end of the night, so you bet I’ve learned to pay closer attention to the drivers I hire,” says Banning, whose delivery crew is a mix of “career drivers,” delivery veterans with at least five years’ experience and part-timers filling either hours or income gaps.
Yet, the importance of hiring responsible drivers extends well beyond perception and deep into an operator’s pocketbook, as ignorance to a driver’s insurance coverage, vehicle condition and driving record can prove costly.
While experience and area familiarity often shoot driver candidates to the top of the employer’s pile, wise operators, recognizing their assets and livelihood could be at risk, activate a number of critical, judicious steps to protect their business and others.
“Our philosophy is ‘hire tough and manage easy,’ ” says Glenn Mueller, whose RPM Pizza operates 150 Domino’s Pizza restaurants in the southeast. “If you get the right people in place, you’re going to save yourself a lot of stress down the line.”
While some operators run driving tests for applicants to assess road decorum as well as street knowledge, three key, universal checkpoints before hiring a driver will help insulate the business from time, money, and emotion-consuming battles. Here are some considerations:
The driver’s motor vehicle report (MVR). One’s driving record provides operators a glimpse into behind-the-wheel responsibility. While insurance companies can access MVRs, EPIC Insurance Brokers’ Cheryl Downey, who specializes in restaurant delivery coverage, suggests operators require drivers bring a copy of their MVR to the interview along with proof of insurance on the car they will use.
The MVR will list moving violations, including citations for driving too close, speeding, or intersection violations. According to Downey, two or more violations could reflect the driver’s personality and prompt reason for concern with operators. Should an accident occur, operators can be liable for putting a driver with a spotty record on the road.
“All programs have their own criteria, but I can’t imagine any provider insuring anyone with three or more moving violations,” Downey says. “And virtually no program will insure a driver with a major violation, such as driving under the influence.”
The driver’s personal insurance.Before hiring drivers and turning them onto the streets, operators should hold current, accurate documentation detailing the driver’s auto insurance coverage. In addition to checking the policy’s expiration date, make sure your applicant is named on the policy along with the vehicle he will use.
“If the driver substitutes a different vehicle that doesn’t have insurance, then the driver’s personal policy, active or not, doesn’t do the operator any good,” Downey says, reminding that operators can amass thousands of dollars in bills for driver-caused damage.
While operators can do this fact-checking themselves, Banning leans on his insurance company to help him hire and retain responsible drivers. His carrier, Hub International, runs MVRs every six months, while also providing updates on drivers nearing coverage expiration and ongoing driver safety training.
The car’s condition. While no one expects pizzeria operators to be auto mechanics, a review of the condition of the driver’s car helps limit unwarranted risk. Many insurance carriers can provide a multi-point inspection form to guide policy holders on basic car safety functions they should examine, such as seat belts, brake lights, turn signals, windshield wipers.
“In the event of an accident, the plaintiff’s attorney will almost certainly investigate if you allowed the driver to use a car that wasn’t roadworthy,” says Keith George, managing director with AmWINS Program Underwriters.
While many long-time pizzeria franchisors have a built-in safety culture culled from years of experience, many independent operations neglect an important piece of the delivery equation: possessing a non-owned auto liability policy that shields the business from damaging claims.
“If you think the driver’s policy is enough, then you’re playing Russian roulette,” George says. “As the employer, you are vicariously responsible for the actions of your employees.”
A driver’s personal insurance usually provides coverage up to a pre-defined limit — $15,000 is typical, Downey says. Even then, however, the restaurant will be liable for claims exceeding that limit. In some cases, a driver’s personal auto policy may have an exclusion for business use or, more specifically, for pizza delivery. As a result, non-owned auto liability coverage serves a critical business safeguard.
“I know if something happens out there with one of my drivers that I’ll likely be the target (of litigation),” says Banning, who’s happy to swap the $8 a day charge for non-owned auto liability coverage for the peace of mind he gains.
TIP: Operators should hold current, accurate documentation detailing the driver's auto insurance converage. Look for the policy expiration date as well as the policy holder's name and vehicke listed.
Chicago-based Daniel P. Smith has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.
Photos by Josh Keown
Soda is a serious moneymaker, especially in the pizza world. And fountain sodas, especially, can help keep your business in the black, namely because you don’t have to pay the extra for cans and bottles. Like many owners, Nick Merlino of Goomba’s Pizza in Colmar, Pennsylvania, started out with bottles. “We mostly do take-out and delivery,” Merlino says. “Bottles we don’t have to store cold, we don’t have to worry about ice, it’s pretty much ‘take your bottle and go.’”
However, the company is opening a second store and for that, they’re likely to go the fountain route. “It’s more of a sit-down place,” Merlino says. “So we’ll want to give people that option. They’ve come to expect it.”
This sentiment is true of many pizza places –– both new and growing. They’re finding that fountain sodas are almost a must-have. But what’s the best way to do it? A self-service machine in the dining room? An over-the-counter offering? A little of both? The answer depends on a number of factors, including space, customer expectations and staffing.
First, let’s take a look at the units. Soda fountains come in two styles: behind-the-counter (for use by staff only) and self-service (for both staff and customers). There are many differences between the two, but one of the most important components is the ice-delivery system. Due to the increased health risk of scooping ice (not just with possibly dirty hands, but also with potential for spillage), soda machines with ice bins below the unit typically must be used only by staff members. Self-service units, on the other hand, have ice situated on the top of the machine, either via an automatic ice-maker or a manually filled ice bin.
“Thus, behind-the-counter units tend to be less expensive, because they have less moving parts,” says Mike Cominski, manager of Soda Dispenser Depot. “On the other hand, they also don’t have the glamour and merchandising that a huge unit sitting in the dining room does.”
This brings up another important consideration: how much space will the machine take up relative to the space you have? Behind-the-counter units are smaller, but typically so is the space behind the counter. “For us, the most cramped area is around our counters,” says Matt Galvin, owner of Pagliacci Pizza in Seattle, Washington. “Plus, all the fluid –– liquid, ice, water –– is intermingling in the area where you’re dealing with receipts and customer tickets. It makes sense for us to keep our soda machines away from all of that.”
Beyond the machines themselves, there are additional things to consider. Ice usage, for example, is a biggie for many restaurants. By offering behind-the-counter drinks, staff members control the ice, which is typically cheaper than soda. Self-service customers, on the other hand, are more likely to fill their glass with more soda and less ice.
There is also typically more waste with self-service machines. Customers use extra napkins when they spill, they take too many straws, and they’re more likely to grab one soda, and then dump it out when they realize they wanted something else.
For Kelly Willey, owner of Ramunto’s Brick Oven Pizza in Claremont, New Hampshire, it makes financial and time sense to have someone else take care of the cleaning basics. “We have just one soda fountain in the dining room area, and we have a company that services it regularly,” she says. Bringing someone else in to do the, well, dirty work, does mean an increased cost — but it also means that you’re putting the job in the hands of someone who probably knows the ins and outs of the
machine better than your staff does — and, operationally speaking, that’s never a bad thing.
Refills are another important consideration. If you do free refills, self-service might be a better choice –– the money you’re losing on the extra soda is fairly small in contrast to what it costs to hire someone to refill drinks. This is also true if you charge a small amount for a refill; does the money you’re making offset the cost of hiring someone to do the work of refilling the glass and taking the customer’s money?
“If you’re charging for refills, then self-service becomes a drain,” says Galvin. “When it’s busy and someone just wants a refill and there’s a line of eight people, it can be frustration for everyone. We’ve also gone away from the refill charge because it felt like we were nickel and diming our customers.”
Free refills also add the value perception of getting something for nothing; this can often make or break a customer’s experience. On the other hand, some customers dine out specifically to be served, and the idea of having to pour their own soda does not fit into their expected experience.
Whether you go behind-the-counter or self-service, soda fountains can be a boon for your business. No need to throw your coins in and wish for better sales — the coins will be coming to you instead.
Safety First It’s not hard to keep soda fountains looking and behaving their best, but it does take a bit of upkeep from both owners and staff to maintain cleanliness and safety over the long haul.
First and foremost, obey all the health code regulations for your area. Know them in and out, and make sure your staff does, too. The two most important places to clean are the nozzles and syrup box connections. Nozzles should be removed and soaked in a mild soap solution every night.
“Many restaurants have two sets of nozzles,” says Mike Cominski, manager of Soda Dispenser Depot. “This way they can have one soaking at all times and one in use. This kills off any bacteria that would accumulate on the nozzles and will make your health inspector very happy.”
Secondly, store your syrup properly. Make sure your syrup is kept at the temperature that’s recommended by the seller or manufacturer, and double-check the expiration dates regularly.
Finally, make sure the floors around your machines have the proper coverage and that your staff knows to clean up any spills as quickly as possible to keep accidents to a minimum.
Shanna Germain is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She loves to write about both food and drink, and she contributes to a variety of publications.
Photos by Josh Keown
I’ve been in a real rut lately. There are dozens of quality pizzerias in my area, but when my friends want to go out for a pie or two (or six) we end up at the same place every time. It isn’t even close to my apartment; I have to take the subway six stops just to get to the right neighborhood. The prices aren’t any different from the other pizzerias in town, so it’s not like I’m going there to save money. There isn’t even a clever loyalty program to encourage repeat visits. So why am I so in love with this pizzeria? The answer is so incredibly simple and requires no additional costs or equipment. More importantly, it has the power to attract the most coveted of all customers: the ones who come back for more.
When I go out, I’m looking for more than just good food –– I’m looking for an experience. Part of that experience has to do with the physical nature of the space. I don’t need plush seating, but it’s nice when a room conveys a singular vibe. The pizzeria I’m currently in love with has funky mismatched chairs and large wooden tables with assorted found objects accenting the space. It’s a far cry from the TGI Friday’s school of decorating, but still conveys a degree of informality. That’s exactly what I want on pizza night because it makes me feel relaxed and ready to enjoy my favorite food without feeling like I’m underdressed.
Once inside, my attention falls on the staff. We all know a pleasant and attentive wait staff is important for any dining experience, but it’s a huge plus when my server goes beyond the call of duty to help me get more out of my stay. This person can give me vital clues about the menu because they (hopefully) have lots of experience eating from it. An insider tip about a favorite dish can get me out of my routine and introduce me to a new favorite dish. I would be forever grateful for the suggestion and you can bet it will influence the tip-o-meter.
I especially like it when the owner or manager takes a moment to stop by the table. There’s no better way to understand a pizzeria than by talking with its owner. I’ve read so many Yelp reviews about how great it was when “the owner stopped by to see what we thought about the pizza.” It’s pretty powerful when someone spends more time talking about meeting the pizzaiolo than they do about eating the pizza. As amazing as a dining experience may be, it can all fall apart in the final moments. Part of the reason I find myself frequenting the same pizzeria is that they make me feel comfortable during the entire visit. I never feel rushed to pay the bill and the bussers aren’t racing to snatch our half-eaten pizza bones. If two pizzerias serve similar food, I’d much rather patronize the one that let me manage my own pace.
So if you already make the best pizza in town and want the edge over your competition, help your customers feel at home with a healthy dose of comfort. A pizzeria with strong human identity is much easier for me to tell my friends about than one with an anonymous and cold vibe. If you keep it easy, you can be sure I’ll be back for more. I’ll probably even bring some friends.
Scott Wiener is Pizza Today’s ‘Man on the Street.’ The most enthusiastic pizza fanatic you’ll ever meet, Scott owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City. His column will appear regularly.
Established in 1994, Cornerstone Pizza is owned and operated by my partner, Dave Shearn, and me. Cornerstone is a small delco shop that specializes in pan-baked pizza. On December 28, 2010, I received a call from a customer at the Philadelphia airport. She said, “How fast can you get 50 pizzas to the airport? Can you get them by 2 p.m.?”
Mind you, it was 1 p.m. I asked if she could give me until 2:30, and she agreed. Still, it was going to be a tall task. I began by entering the order in our system when she requested: “We need another 100 pizzas around 6:30 tonight.” As soon as I hung up the phone, we began to rip out 50 pizzas. Our manager, Keith Allen, called in off-duty employees. That initial order of 50 was delivered on time, as promised. But getting the next 100 pizza order out on time was going to be a challenge since we had to get new dough ready for same-day use.
Once we made the dough, we allowed it to rest at room temperature for a few hours (covered, of course) to speed up the proofing time. Then, we sheeted it into the pans and gave it 60 to 90 minutes to further proof before baking. With our crew coming in earlier than usual, we were functioning like a well-oiled machine. But more orders were pouring in due to a rescheduled NFL game. I assisted with the delivery at 6:30 p.m. to express our appreciation. To my surprise, she wanted another 300 pizzas delivered the next day: 150 at 10 a.m., 150 at 6:30 p.m.
While I was excited about the orders, we had a problem: it was 7 p.m., and we had gone through all the flour in the shop. We had an order coming in on Wednesday, but not before noon. We called another pizza shop in town and they were gracious enough to lend us three bags of flour. In the meantime, I called our food supplier sales rep at 8 p.m. to explain that we needed product ASAP the next morning. His response showed me just how dedicated he is to good customer service. Not only did he say, “No problem,” but he went to the plant first thing in the morning and filled his personal vehicle with flour, sauce and cheese. He dropped it off at 9 a.m. Wednesday morning.
On Tuesday night, a couple of us stayed into the wee hours prepping for Wednesday. I returned at 5 a.m. to find one of my valued employees, Kamal, still there making sauce and prepping various items for Wednesday’s normal business. He had been there since 1 p.m. Tuesday. The morning order of 150 pizzas went out without a hitch. Then, around noon, our customer stopped in at the shop and asked to add 30 pizzas to the evening order of 150. She also asked us to repeat both orders again Thursday — 150 pizzas at 10 a.m., 180 at 6:30 p.m.
Again, distributors replenished our supplies. We even had to fill blanks in the inventory at the grocery store. With much help from our cooks and delivery drivers, we successfully completed all the orders. Believe me, it took some managerial juggling to make sure our regular business was not neglected. Our entire crew stepped up big-time. They worked extra hours, they came in early, they stayed late ... you name it.
Local newspapers and our ABC affiliate covered our big order, which resulted in Cornerstone receiving a lot of good publicity. You can find the stories at our Web site, www.cornerstonepizza.com.
As I wrote this column two months later, we were still experiencing quite an upswing in business as a result of the publicity we received. It has been quite a ride.
My Turn is a monthly guest column. This installment is written by James Villas, founder of Cornerstone Pizza. If you are interested in submitting your own column, e-mail Jeremy White [firstname.lastname@example.org] and let him know what you want to say and what qualifies you to say it!
Photo by Josh Keown
“Your pizza sucks,” signed an ambiguous online customer reviewer.
Most operators can relate to receiving a similar review on one of the many user-generated customer review Web sites. It’s just sitting out there for the world to see when someone searches for your pizzeria online.
There’s a buzz from owners who are finding online user-generated reviews frustrating and downright unfair. Others choose to ignore them all together. Big mistakes, says Kathleen Ion, Internet marketing consultant at WSI IM Solutions, LLC in Phoenix, Arizona. “You have an online reputation whether you want one or not,” she says.
With the popularity of mobile devices and apps designed to make reviewing quicker and easier, Ion says the use of online review sites is only going to grow.
Your online reputation encompasses more than review sites, it also includes comments on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare, as well as the wide blogosphere.
Projecting a positive online reputation lies in your hands. As the saying goes, “The best defense is a good
offense.” There are a number of avenues you can take both on and offline. First things first –– claim your business on customer review sites, putting you in charge of those reviews by giving you the option to respond to positive and negative reviews. It also gives you the ability to post menus, photos and links to your Web address and e-mail.
Monitor your online reputation, whether you do it yourself, assign it to a crewmember or hire outside help. The first two may not cost you a dime. But if you choose to hire an outside monitoring service, prepare to pay. “It’s really comparable to advertising,” Ion says, adding that a proprietary system that monitors a company’s rep can cost $400 per month to several thousands depending on how aggressive they want to monitor.
If you’re handling it yourself, Ion suggest that you should visit Google, Bing and Yahoo daily to search your restaurant’s name to see what is popping up. She also suggests searching review sites, as well as Facebook and Twitter for comments about your place.
There is nothing wrong with asking your loyal customers to post reviews. “Institute a process or procedure for their wait staff — when customers are very happy — to ask them to post a review,” Ion says. If the occasional bad review occurs, Ion says, “if there is enough (positive) stuff out there about them, before long the good is going to outweigh the bad.”
Post QR Codes directing customers to review your restaurant on sites like Yelp, Urbanspoon, Google, etc., Ion suggests. Place flyers at the register and table tents requesting reviews.
It’s not tragic to have the occasional bad review, Ion insists. Operators can learn of areas to improve. She adds, “it makes things sound more believable instead of seeing nothing but five-star ratings.
So what do you do about a bad review? Respond. “If it’s someone you know, then by all means call them,” Ion says, explaining that the customer may pull down the review if you attempt to rectify the situation.
If your only option is to reply online to the comment, “Explain your side but don’t be contrived and don’t insult them…just be professional,” Ion says.
An area of concern for many operators is “fake” comments by competitors and former employees. In this case, you have an option to appeal to the review site itself. Have your ducks in a row with the information on the individual in question. Review sites require its posters to sign up so they do have some information regarding the person. Ion says in those cases sometimes the site will take the reviews down.
Los Angeles-based Fresh Brothers Pizza has a strong online reputation, with a four-star rating on most review sites. They stay proactive by receiving Google alerts, a free service that lets them know when the pizzeria is mentioned. When Fresh Brothers receives a bad review, owner Debbie Goldberg says, they “remain calm, cool and collected. We address the problem or complaint. We ask for their address so we can send them a gift certificate and then we encourage people to update their reviews.”
Craig Mosmen at The Couch Tomato Café in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, says the pizzeria’s online rep is important. “Our marketing feedback forms provide us with proof that many new customers find us online, and try us out because of our online reputation.” He personally checks his Web site feedback and comments left on Urbanspoon, Yelp, Menupages, Yahoo, Bing, Google,
Zagat, and Insidepages almost daily.
Melissa Ferriman of Crazy Dough’s Pizza in Boston is quick to respond to online comments and she’s noticed a trend. “I have found that if they know you are out there actually reading and responding to your online feedback, they will spend the time to give you real information that can help you improve your business and gauge how you are doing,” she says.
And sometimes, it’s just good to have a little fun with reviews. Staff members at Pizzeria Delfina in San Francisco were brainstorming ideas for new crew shirts. “As a joke, they thought it would be fun to print bad Yelp reviews on t-shirts,” says owner Anne Stroll.
Ann chose the five worst reviews like “This Place Sucks!” and “The pizza was soooo greasy. I am assuming this was in part due to the pig fat.” The reviews were placed in large, white, all-caps lettering on black t-shirts. Staff members loved them and still continue to wear them today, she adds.
Not intended to be a publicity stunt, Pizzeria Delfina made local and national news for its staff’s ingenuity.
Just like other aspects of your business, have a plan to create a positive online rep.
Denise Greer is associate editor at Pizza Today.
Photos by Josh Keown
Let me know your thoughts please, and Thanks a lot!
3 Style Pizza, owner
Sounds like you have just bumped into the weenie of the week. You are legally in the right to keep all the money and send him out the door with his pizza, or not. His choice. You contractually, legally fulfilled your duty by providing him a good and service for a pre-determined price. If you send him packing he will bad mouth you and 3 Style Pizza, only telling his side of the story to anyone who will listen. I’d handle it this way:
I’d cheerfully refund all of his money. I’d educate him on why your menu price is fair and let him know how you use only the very best ingredients available, and plenty of them. I’d let him know that you take it personally when customers don’t have a wonderful experience at your place. I’d apologize and then I’d give him an additional free $20 gift certificate to your favorite cheap competitor down the street (I used to buy and have on hand a few, in advance, just for these kind of people). I’d let him know that you would be happy to personally call his order in to the manager and let him know you’ll be right there. I’d also advise him that you will be not able to provide any future pizzas to him for six months. I’d do everything I could to be as sweet, kind, understanding, empathetic and firm with the jerk.
Your reputation is worth more than $17. You have taken away his power to bad mouth you. You win. Donate the pizza to on-duty cops, firemen or paramedics. Tell them your story. They will thank you and tell people good things about you and your place. They deal with jerks every day. Make delicious lemonade out of this experience.
Ain’t being in business great?
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.
Here are some tips for setting up your own frequent-diner program:
• Train your employees about the importance of your frequent diner program. Offer incentives to employees who sign up the most customers. Also train them to remind the customer to present any type of loyalty card during the transaction to ensure customers remember.
• Gather demographics information. Gather the gender of the client, as well as the approximate ages.
• If your company has more than one location, you have the option of making the rewards program chainwide, and thus increasing brand loyalty, or allowing your stores to individualize their loyalty programs according to their needs. The problem with the latter, however, is consistency –– if your customers don’t know their projects rewards, they’re less likely to use the program in general.
• Consider using free product (such as buy five pizzas and your fifth is free!). It’s cheaper, you’ve already got it on-hand and you’re not taking money out of your pocket.
Photos by Josh Keown
When it comes to tableside pizza presentation, it’s easy to leave it and
forget it. But serving pizza is an opportunity to add drama and a hands-on personal touch to the dining experience.
Presentation styles and pizza stands vary widely: from the typical C-shaped riser, to the chrome pedestal, to double-decker stands, to custom built pieces of functional art. Some pizzerias utilize what’s on hand, such as repurposing large tomato cans as risers or using wooden pizza peels. Others serve the pizzas directly on or beside the table.
Typical pizza stands are a minimal cost, running $3 to $7 for a standard tray stand. Others, such as the chrome pedestal, run around $10
to $35 and offer a classic solution with retro flair. Multi level wire and wrought iron stands maximize table space and range from $13 to $45 and can stack two to three pizzas. Any higher than that and the stand is best used behind the counter for display.
The pay off in table space is worth the investment. But for those seeking unique solutions, many pizzerias have found stylish solutions.
The provoking stands at Regents Pizzeria in La Jolla, California, are a prime example of how a utilitarian object can set your restaurant apart. Made of repurposed and recycled industrial scrap, the stands add wit and whimsy to the pizza presentation.Commissioned from the owner’s neighbor, regents Pizzeria has seven stands, each unique from the others.
One of the most varied arsenals of pizza stands can be found at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco. Tony Gemignani serves nine regional styles of pizza and has nearly as many ways to serve them. The wood-fired napoletana pizza is presented on beautiful painted ceramic pedestals. his Detroit-style pie is served in blue steel pans directly from Detroit. But the most striking presentation is his three-foot long Pizza romana. Served on a wide wood peel, the pizza takes center stage when placed upon two raised wire racks.
Besides offering tailored presen- tations for each style of pizza, the array of heights, sizes and colors create a fanciful eatable landscape. each pizza evokes a sense of place and honors the way in which it is “supposed to be served.”
The first slice is the deepest, especially when that slice is into a deep- dish or stuffed crust pizza. But other menu items, such as calzones, are best brought to the table intact. They can be served with a serrated blade or rolling slicer. An operator should determine if the server should slice and serve the pizza for guests. This usually depends on how messy the process is. in San Francisco, neapolitan-style pizzeria Zero Zero serves its pies on a custom stand that holds three tiers of white ceramic plates. A small nub sticks out, holding a chic little rolling slicer. When they serve their ripieno— a folded, calzone-like pizza — the wait staff carves the football shaped pocket tableside but lets customers selected their own pieces. By leaving the slicer attached to the stand, the table is uncluttered and at the end of the meal customers can split that last piece of pizza evenly.
Sometimes, serving the pizza yourself is part of the fun. At happy Joe’s Pizza and ice Cream in St. Louis, manager Tony Arnzen says: “We serve the pizza on a tray and place it on the riser on the table, but we don’t serve the first slice.”
The popular taco pizza elicits smiles as customers balance the topping heavy slices on a spatula from pan to plate. each self-served slice reveals a little bit more of the logo printed pan. But this doesn’t mean the staff ends its interaction after the pizza arrives. “i encourage all employees to say “hi, how are you” and to “interact with customers are least three times while here,” says franchisee Rick Simmon. “After the pizza is served, we check back in five minutes” ensuring customers are fully stocked with condiments.
Selecting a slice can be a rather personal experience, but some styles of pizza can bewilder patrons. This is when a server’s intervention is required, sometimes just for safety’s sake. The nearly two-inch wall of pizza at Chicago’s Giordano’s Famous Stuffed Pizza is such an example.
“We serve the first slice. There is a lot of cheese and if you haven’t done it before it can get kind of messy. it shows the customer how to do it,” says Manager Chris Furman, “and it looks nice!” This act of showmanship is a learning experience for the guest and a way for novices to avoid embarrassing mishaps. it shows, through performance, that the guests are being treated to something special.
- buffet risers
- multi-functional holders
- cake stands
Empty cans are multi functional, plus they flaunt the quality of your ingredients. They can be used to hold:
If you’re happy with your existing stands, consider dressing them up with decora- tive elements:
- logo stickers
- quirky toys
- colored tape/ paint
Kelly Bone is a freelance writer living in Culver City, California. She covers food topics for a variety of outlets.
Pick-up windows add appeal for on-the-go customers
BY Annemarie Mannion Photo By Rick Daugherty
That’s the belief of operators of pizzeria drive-thrus who are making it as convenient, comfortable and as quick as possible for customers to get their pizzas.
Operators who have embraced the idea of drive-thrus say opening one, and equipping it, is not as daunting as one might expect.
The drive-thru at Mr. Scrib’s Pizza in Muskegon, Michigan, proves that theory. It opened 28 years ago and operates with a simple system that includes an intercom and a metal box with lights.
The intercom enables workers, even if they are not standing at the window, to hear that a driver is there and wants to place an order. The metal box has numbers that light up and allows customers to go and park and then see when their orders are ready.
“We tell them their number and they go and wait until they see it light up,” says Manager Lisa Crabtree, “or sometimes (they) go and get gas or run to the store and come back for their pizza.”
Other operators have developed their own approaches for how to handle drive-thru sales. Home Run Inn, which operates in the Chicago area, only sells pizza by the slice through it’s drive-thru, which opened in Melrose Park, Illinois, about a year ago because a fast food business had left the space.
“The Arby’s that had been there already had the drive-thru, so we
decided we’d make a go of it,” says Dan Costello, president of the restaurant group.
Costello says customers can choose slices, priced at $4 a piece, from four different pies that are prepared and waiting in cabinet warmers.
“It’s not so different than staging and storing pizzas like you would for a buffet,” Costello says.
He says customers like the convenience of it. “We see a lot of moms who’ve done their grocery shopping and want to pick up a slice before they take their kids to soccer practice,” Costello says. “They don’t want to get their kids out of the car to do it.”
One of the largest considerations when adding a drive-thru boils down to space requirements. Though Home Run Inn wants to have drive-thrus at new locations, Costello says it is not that easy to find a site that can accommodate one.
“You have to have a large enough site for a drive-thru lane and an escape lane,” Costello says. “It’s a lot of land that you need to allocate to it.”
Pizza Patron, which has locations in the Southwest, West and Southeast, opened its first drive-thru in 2006 and has given the green light to adding more.
“It’s become the primary objective in our real estate search to look for places where we can put in a drive-thru lane,” says Andy Gamm, brand director for Pizza Patron.
While finding an appropriately sized site can be an issue, Gamm says building a drive-thru is not cost-prohibitive, even for smaller operators.
“It can be relatively inexpensive —maybe $5,000 or $10,000 — if all you have to do is put a hole in wall (for the window),” Gamm says.
Equipment will add to the cost and can include cabinet warmers, special ovens, menu boards, and communications systems.
At Pizza Patron, the company worked with a company to develop a quick bake oven that enabled the company to reduce its baking speed from 5½ to 3½ minutes.
Pizza Patron also prepares some extra-large pepperoni pizzas that are held in warming cabinets for customers who want a pizza immediately. If those pizzas are not sold in 20 minutes “they either get sampled or thrown away,” Gamm says.
While drive-thrus may seem the province of larger operations, Gamm says it can work for smaller venues and will pay off over time.
“If you’ve got the space that’s
conducive for it, then I think it would work for anyone,” he says. “The more convenient you can make it for people, the more they like it. They really like not having to get out of their cars. And the return on investment is pretty significant.”
That has been the case at Mr. Scrib’s, where half of the restaurant’s sales come from the drive-thru. Some days it’s where most of the small pizzeria’s sales are rung up.
It also helps the business, which is located on a busy street, compete with the fast food joints that line the strip. Thanks to its drive-thru window, Mr. Scrib’s can cater to the needs of many of its customers who work at nearby businesses and who want their pizzas quick. It also keeps the interior of the restaurant less crowded.
“Our restaurant isn’t that big, so it helps us with crowding,” says Crabtree. “It’s more convenient for our customers, particularly in bad weather.”
Annemarie Mannion is a freelance writer living in the Chicago area. She specializes in business and health stories.
If you plan to utilize secret shoppers, be sure they answer the following questions:
• Were you greeted with a friendly smile when entering the pizzeria?
• Was the restaurant clean?
• How long did it take for the food to be served?
• Was the pizza hot and presented attractively?
• Was the service prompt and friendly?
• Did the wait staff try to upsell other menu items such as salads and desserts?
Eating with the Eyes
Front-of-the-house display cases put ancillary products in customers’ sights
BY DANIEL P. SMITH
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
Whenever Tony DiSilvestro designs a new YNot Pizza, an endeavor he’s tackled three times since opening his first restaurant in 1993, he encounters the same conundrum: where to put the 28 feet of display cases he says are vital to his business.
In each of DiSilvestro’s four current Virginia-based outlets, five separate display cases are a must: a six-foot case holding Italian cookies; another six-foot case containing cakes, tiramisu, and other pastry treats; a pair of four-foot cases, one housing a dozen flavors of YNot’s homemade gelato and the second hosting chopped salads and a final eight-foot case displaying various pizza options.
Though some might argue DiSilvestro dedicates too much valuable real estate to the display cases, space that might otherwise add dozens of chairs to his 180-seat eateries, DiSilvestro counters by actually pushing other elements aside to make room for the cases, which he says provide a tenfold increase to his dessert sales.
“I feel the display cases are that important to my bottom line,” DiSilvestro says. “I sold 3,000 pounds of cookies last December alone and those type of add-on sales add up quick.”
As DiSilvestro can attest, display cases — and what’s inside them — can help boost an operation’s overall revenue, particularly in carryout venues that can play to impulse purchases. From pre-made salads and bottled drinks to homemade breadsticks and salad dressings, highlighting a pizzeria’s peripheral offerings in fresh, eye-catching ways can heighten incremental sales, steer purchases, and entice product trials.
Much like DiSilvestro, Adam Goldberg knows the power display cases can produce. Each of Goldberg’s six Fresh Brothers pizza outlets in southern California feature a 24-inch-by-24-inch custom-made glass case displaying a sample of a thin crust personal pizza and a deep-dish counterpart as well as two take-out salad samples. The case sits adjacent to Fresh Brothers’ registers, a spot all customers visit with their wallets in hand.
While customers think of Fresh Brothers as a pizza destination, Goldberg says showcasing the eatery’s various product offerings promotes additional sales while simultaneously linking the pizzeria’s menu to sensory marketing.
“When people see a product in the case, they can almost taste it,” Goldberg says. “That’s not true when they’re just looking at a menu.”
Dritan Saliovski, who runs Luigi’s Pizza in Frisco, Texas, believes too few operators assign a retailer’s eye to the display case and its point-of-sale potential, a profitable concept his establishment only mistakenly learned. Originally, Saliovski used his display case to showcase the cheese and fresh tomatoes Luigi’s used to create its pizzas. When people started inquiring about purchasing blocks of cheese, Saliovski saw an opportunity to exhibit his own products, namely the pizzeria’s homemade Moni’s salad dressing line. By displaying 20 to 30 bottles of salad dressing and putting them within reach of customers, 75 percent of whom are carrying out, Saliovski witnessed an immediate uptick in sales.
“When we began displaying the product, we saw people make impulse buys,” Saliovski says.
Saliovski also shares Moni’s story with signage. Using buzzwords such as “natural” and “local,” he says, creates a persuasive, contemporary story that prompts the add-on sale.
Indeed, many pizzeria operators utilize a range of proven merchandising techniques to catch customers’ eyes. During the holidays, DiSilvestro packages his cookies in bags with festive ribbons and packs cookies into YNot coffee mugs. He also places small children’s toys on colorful cupcakes, a marketing-savvy, minimal expense that makes YNot a favorite of local kids and tugs on the parental heartstrings.
“The more colorful and clean the products look in the case, the better they sell,” DiSilvestro says.
Both DiSilvestro and Saliovski, meanwhile, adhere to the stack-it-high-and-watch-it-fly mantra. Both veteran operators assemble extensive product inside their cases, a visual display they say informs guests that the products are available for purchase and worth a trial.
For Goldberg, who does not sell product out of his cases but rather uses them solely to showcase product, less is more. Much as an advertiser uses white space to call attention to a particular item, Goldberg limits the products he places inside his display cases, often emphasizing higher-margin items or salads high in color and vegetables to enhance the value perception.
“By not overcrowding the case, we’re highlighting the suggestive sell right in front of our customer,” says Goldberg, who rotates display case product throughout the day.
Similarly, DiSilvestro seeks the right product mix, making sure the best-selling products and high-margin treats are most visible.
“You want items in there that move,” DiSilvestro says, adding that YNot servers, eager to boost the check average and their subsequent tip, often parade dine-in guests to the display cases to entice a dessert purchase.
In fact, every YNot customer confronts the display cases at some point: carryout patrons are tempted by the savory goods as they await their order, while all dining room seats have clear views of the various cases.
“Every moment they’re in the store, I want them pondering what we have,” DiSilvestro says, adding that case placement must always flow with the restaurant and not impede the mobility of servers or guests.
Chicago-based writer Daniel P. Smith has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.
On the Go
Does a dedicated carryout area make sense for your restaurant?
BY ALYSON MCNUTT ENGLISH
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
When Teresa Corea-Golka’s grandfather started Roma D’Italia in Tustin, California, more than 40 years ago, he wasn’t thinking about creating a carryout concept for his sit-down Italian restaurant. He just wanted happy customers.
But Roma D’Italia’s original location only had seating for about 35 guests, and it was the only Italian place around. The restaurant gained a loyal following quickly, but seating supply wasn’t keeping up with dining demand. “Customers started requesting take-out early on,” Corea-Golka says. “And Grandpa was happy to satisfy their needs, whether they dined with us or at home!”
Today, Corea-Golka’s family still operates the original Tustin restaurant, and they recently opened a second location in Orange, California. When designing the new location, the family knew they needed a dedicated area for carryout orders. “Dine-in and take-out customers have different needs,” Corea-Golka says. “Having a separate area for (take-out customers) speeds up how quickly we can serve them.”
A well-designed carryout area shouldn’t take up too much space, says Matt Vetter, whose firm River Edge Project Management specializes in helping quick-serve and fast-casual restaurants manage store design, construction, additions and renovations. “Space considerations are paramount,” he explains, noting that dedicating an area specifically for take-out uses space that would otherwise be given to the kitchen, lobby or dining.
Kirk P. Mauriello, director of franchising for Aurelio’s, a Chicago-based pizza franchise, says their locations shoot for a minimum of 100 square feet for the carryout waiting area. In combination with the dedicated entrance for carryout customers, this allows guests to get in, get their food and get out comfortably and efficiently.
Mauriello says for Aurelio’s, having a separate space is a no-brainer. “If you combine the carryout customers picking up orders in the lobby where the dine-in customers are waiting to be seated, you end up with total chaos and unhappy dine-in and carryout customers,” he says. “Customers who carryout want to get in, pick up their order and head home to the hungry family waiting for dinner.”
Also, put some thought into the overall look of your carryout space. Eric Horsley is a managing partner for Brixx Wood Fired Pizza, a Charlotte, North Carolina-based chain, and he just spearheaded a complete interior redesign of all 21 Brixx’s locations.
While Brixx doesn’t have a separate entrance for carryout, their interior design puts the take-out customer front-and-center…literally. The Brixx locations all have a central bar-seating area, and in the middle of that stands a brightly-tiled cylinder that grabs your eye as soon as you walk in — the carryout counter.
With the recent redesign, they doubled-down on both the carryout area’s form and function. “Aesthetically we wanted a focal point, but functionally, we knew it needed to be in a prominent but easily-accessible area of the store,” Horsley says. “So we aligned it with the oven and the door so when you walk in, the brick oven is the focal point, and the carryout cylinder is directly in line with it.”
The carryout area is also differentiated by its counter-height, Horsley explains. “The cylinder has a granite counter, just like the bar, but it is positioned about three inches higher so it stands out and has a little more ‘presence,’ but it’s not so tall you can’t see over it easily.”
Space and design can make or break a carryout area, but no matter how well-thought-out the flow is or how wonderfully-designed the counter may be, you can still kill it all with clutter. “Everything has its place, and that helps us avoid clutter,” Mauriello says, noting that at Aurelio’s the carryout areas have POS terminals, a phone bank, warming units, cold storage and an under-counter storage area for additional supplies. “Nothing else should be at the carryout area,” he says.
While clutter can turn off a guest quickly, don’t forget that for some customers the take-out experience may be the only time they walk into your store. At Aurelio’s, branding photos (shots illustrating Aurelio’s history as well as food images) hang behind the carryout counter. “Though these customers are not dining with us, we still want them to feel like they are having the Aurelio’s experience,” Mauriello says.
Finally, remember customers won’t spend a lot of time (hopefully) in carryout. The time they do spend makes an impact on their perception of your store — and the value of your product. To Vetter, that makes one idea paramount when designing and building take-out areas: craftsmanship.
“I require my contractors to really focus on the appearance of the customer waiting areas and lobbies –– the rest of it has to look good, of course, but the lobby really has to shine,” he explains. “You have only two chances to impress (take-out customers): the food, of course, but the other big one is the vibe the customer area gives off.”
Alyson McNutt-English is an award-winning freelance writer specializing in home, healthy, family and green topics. She is based in Huntsville, Alabama.
CRITICAL ISSUES 2012
Employee Hiring Retention
It might surprise you to hear Brett Steiner’s No. 1 priority for his servers at Russo’s New York Pizzeria in Germantown, Tennessee: “School comes first,” says Steiner, who owns one of the 30 Houston-based franchises.
Five years ago when he launched Russo’s, Steiner started with “a choppy, sketchy staff.” But he wanted the reputation of an owner who cared about his employees’ education and personal welfare. With that, a steady stream of loyal workers grew up from area high schools, community colleges and universities. Within six months of opening, Steiner had his dream team. He was told that labor would be his biggest challenge, but he turned it into his strongest suit.
“They’re a great group of kids,” he says. “A lot of them have been with me since age 15 or 16 and are finishing college now. I keep a larger waitstaff, only because I am very happy to tailor my schedule depending on their school schedules and their needs. As a result, I have a higher quality and more enthusiastic individual that works here, plus loyalty.”
Steiner has hit on a salient point: Employment is a two-way street by which people’s performances are commensurate with the way they’re treated and respected, say restaurant consultants. True, most restaurants thrive on good food and libation –– but the service often leaves something to be desired. So how do you hire and inspire good servers, hosts and bar staff for your front-of-the-house operation?
First, what traits are you looking for in a server? James Sinclair runs OnSite Consulting of Los Angeles, a national restaurant consultancy that focuses on challenge, distress and growth models for restaurants operators. His advice is to look for one talent: greatness.
“That can be defined as the willingness to be great, to try hard to resolve issues, and more importantly, to execute common sense. So you are hiring for a great attitude and great outlook. Everything else, I can train,but you cannot train someone to be instinctively great,” Sinclair says.
The server is the marketer, the advertiser and the pacifier –– and you need someone who fits all three attributes, he adds.
David St. Louis is HR manager for Field Staffing for Pizza Hut, a division of Yum! Brands. He urges: “Hire for personality; train for skill.” A strong front-of-the-house employee “is someone who connects with people and is energetic,” he says. “Think about it from a personal standpoint: Which would you rather have as a customer? Someone who is grumpy? So strive for people with an over-the-top mentality.”
Pizza Hut ferrets out that type during the selection process, using a personality assessment test provided by an outside vendor. “If you want an animal to climb a tree, do you want the squirrel or the moose? It’s harder to train personality traits that you desire,” he says.
Follow up with training. The trick to hiring a great employee is to be a great boss, Sinclair says. It’s incumbent to “give them the tools to be fantastic.” Identify systems and processes and train heavily: what to do during down time, what to do when it’s busy, what to do when they have a crisis? “Without training and expectations being defined and without strict processes, you are solely setting them up for failure,” he says.
For example, Sinclair recently went into a busy restaurant and asked what was on tap. The bartender impatiently pointed to a lineup of bottles behind her and exasperatedly quipped that she didn’t have time to list them for him. “I could get angry at that person, but no. I get angry at the manager for not training her on how to deal with the crisis,” he says.
Pizza Hut also heavily emphasizes training, St. Louis says. “We have a lot of data on this. The better trained the employee, the more productive and less turnover you have. If the cook quits, the server is interacting with a guest who may not be happy. That is something we coach very aggressively on and work to build skills to diffuse situations.”
Steiner doesn’t leave his workers hanging. They’re trained to get a manager and not handle customer complaints alone. “I’m a field marshal, not a General Underhill, who is the last to get the information,” he says. “If you’re in the trenches, you’re the first to know about problems and build camaraderie. I don’t sit at a table drinking wine. You’ll see me cooking and washing dishes. I’m always the first to know if there’s a hiccup within the four walls, and by doing that they acknowledge you as the leader. How you manage conflicts will affect whether people come to you with open arms.”
Finding The Talent
If you wait for candidates to walk into the door, you’re already losing in the hiring game, says Pizza Hut’s David St. Louis. “We encourage the restaurants to be active. We hit career fairs regularly. Depending on the needs of the restaurant, we typically will hold fairs once a month or so. Our great stores will have a regular process. They have a day blocked out in the week for interview times and build it into the monthly process.”
And the company is getting involved in the social networking space, too. “The application process can feel like a black box. You submit it online and hope that it gets acted on, so we’re trying to break that feeling,” St. Louis says. The company has created a Pinterest page for all recruiters.
“We talk about all things interesting for us. I have beach pictures, charities, different organizations I admire and applicants get the personalized feel about each of us,” he says, adding that Pizza Hut has also just launched a Facebook page. And some recruiters are on Twitter. “We’ve learned that candidates have different ways they like to be interactive, so we take a multifaceted approach,” he says.
Heidi Lynn Russell specializes in writing about the issues that affect small business owners.
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
As Alex Taylor contemplates opening a second Due Forni location to complement the Las Vegas hot spot he shares with a collection of partners, he’s looking far and wide. Nevada. Texas. Colorado. North Carolina.
Knowing how critical site selection stands to his pizzeria’s success, Taylor’s taking his time. He’s researching, leaning heavily on credible demographic information to uncover the right spot. “Wherever we end up putting the second location, key demographics such as food and beverage spends and household spends will drive that decision,” Taylor says.
From independents to established mega-chains and growing companies, demographics can play an invaluable role in a number of key business areas, namely site selection and marketing, but also extending into customer communication, pricing, and merchandising. Al Beery, director of client services at Pitney Bowes Business Insight, a Connecticut-based customer communications management technology firm, says successfully utilizing demographic information can drive performance.
“If you can discover the characteristics of those who will frequent your place and reach out to them, you’re on your way,” Beery says.
To best apply demographics to the business, operators and providers alike agree it’s a two-step process.
First, pizzerias need to collect data that identifies their core customer. Thereafter, to propel site selection or marketing initiatives, operators can utilize third-party providers to find precisely where large numbers of those target customers reside.
Utilizing the “carrot approach” and offering customers incentives for their input, operators can collect data with intercept surveys that provide key profile information, including household demographics, dining frequency, sales drives and lifestyle characteristics. Such information will generate a profile of the pizzeria’s core customer and open new insights and opportunities.
If most customers live within five miles and dine with their families, an operator might eliminate spending large amounts of money on direct-mail campaigns that hit homes more than five miles away and assign marketing dollars to promote family dining deals.
Or if a great number of respondents cite fresh, local ingredients as their primary sales driver, an operator can then unveil marketing that showcases the restaurant’s use of locally sourced cheese and vegetables and pursue future locations where that product is similarly valued.
Charles Wetzel, CEO of Buxton, a Texas-based firm that utilizes extensive demographic data to provide market planning and marketing services for businesses, says that understanding the core consumer is a “monumental business step whether you have one location or 1,000.” “Just knowing the basics will help increase the bottom line,” he says.
With solid insights on the core customer in hand, operators can activate more targeted, informed efforts that drive business. For instance, bouncing the eatery’s primary consumer characteristics against entire household files from mailing agencies, such as direct mail companies or national database files (Experian being just one example), allows an operator to screen against numerous variables. “You have the ability to select specific households based on criteria, such as age or income, and to focus on those consumers most likely to drive your business,” Beery says.
To develop the Pie Five Pizza Company, an upstart brand with six locations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, CEO Charlie Morrison employed Buxton to help Pie Five pinpoint the locations of its first shops. Buxton mapped out major U.S. markets and then highlighted the specific areas that fit the target Pie Five customer, one more likely to visit Chipotle over Taco Bell.
“If you have an opportunity to reach your target customer, then you’re increasing the likelihood that your investment will be successful,” Morrison says. Minus the budget to employ third- party services, Taylor’s gathered much of the demographic information himself to prepare for a second unit.
Taylor started with the “Best of ” lists from outlets such as Forbes, Money and U.S. News and World Report, accessible work that led him to trade areas that are entrepreneurial, food enthused, or favorable to small businesses. Like a detective, he has combed the reports’ footnotes for leads to reports from government agencies, university research, restaurant associations, or nonprofits.
Taylor has then contacted local chambers for additional insights. In many cases, the chambers have tracked down Taylor’s requested data for free.
“I’ve yet to meet a bad one,” Taylor says of the chambers’ helpfulness.
As Due Forni produces a specialty product blanketed in high-quality ingredients, Taylor knows he needs to find the audience that values such culinary exploits. In selecting its flagship Las Vegas site, Due Forni settled into one of the city’s higher- earning demographic areas and near one of the Las Vegas Farmers’ Market’s three locations.
“We need to make sure our target customer is wherever we go … and that they’re interested to invest in what we have,” he says. While it’s easy to be intimidated by demographics, Taylor says a little familiarity goes a long way.
“You can’t assume demographics,” he says. “Do your own digging and get your hands on credible data about your consumer and the area and you’ll be better off for it.”
GETTING TO KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER WITH SURVEYS
While broad-based demographic information, such as household counts and median income, provides telling information, operators and demographic providers alike agree that the Census-like data falls short of providing a predictable story. Accessing information on purchasing behaviors and lifestyle characteristics can inform important business decisions and direct opera- tors down new, more ROI-driven marketing paths.
“If you can dial in further, well, that’s the secret sauce,” Buxton’s Charles Wetzel says.
Key profile questions include:
Where do you live?
How often do you dine out?
What time of day is a typical visit to this restaurant?
What’s your average spend on a lunch visit? A dinner visit?
What drives your decision to more routinely visit a particular restaurant?
Where did you come from before your visit? Where are you headed after?
What conveniences do you most seek from a restaurant?
On a typical visit, how many people are in your dining party?
What do you enjoy in your free time?
What community organizations are you affiliated with?
What might we do better?
Chicago-based writer Daniel P. Smith has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.
Photos by Josh Keown
I was traveling the interstate close to midnight when I stopped by a restaurant still open in the small community of Canyonville, Oregon. My 18-year-old waiter, Kyle, graduated last year from his small high school in a senior class of 12 students. He was not the best in the technical aspects of formal tableside dining service, but he was a joy as my service provider.
His entire demeanor broadcasted a “How can I possibly help you?” vibe. His animated service and genuine sense of hospitality was a breath of fresh air in comparison to all the other businesses I typically encounter. The way he made me feel important made up for any service faux pas that otherwise might have distracted me from the visit.
The current culture is comprised of a young labor pool that’s more comfortable communicating with staccato text messages or e-mails using a language only their peers understand.
As a food service operator, the challenge is finding staff that has the proper soft skills to engage customers face-to-face in a professional and businesslike manner but still maintain their individuality as a person.
Soft skills, also referred to as emotional intelligence skills, are the skills that enable effective listening. They are skills that enable a person to handle themselves at work and relate with their customers and peers.
Let’s take a look at Oregon’s “Q Care” Customer Service Training Program (www.OregonQCare.com). It was developed by a state agency, Travel Oregon, to elevate the customer service awareness and skills for the travel tourism businesses in the state. It defined three primary customer service needs as the foundation for understanding what consumers want and expect from their service providers:
Understand me: Different types of visitors and recognizing their different needs
Respect me: Specific attitudes and actions that show customers are highly valued
Help me: Service skills that deliver and make your business’s hospitality a reality
In line with this concept, young restaurant staffers typically lack the life experience to bring these skills to the work environment. They are skills that cannot be learned reading a manual and are best taught with on-the-jobtraining, role-play and mentoring.
One critical aspect of customer service is the difference between delivering service and initiating service. Delivering service is the ritual and mechanics (i.e. “serve plates on the left; remove from the right”). Initiating service is delivering service without being prompted by the usual ritual or mechanics. The service commences without request.
Refill Optimum moment after a refill is when the drink is half empty
For example, staff might not greet a customer until the customer has read the menu, made a decision and then approached the counter to place their order. Initiating service is greeting the customer with eye contact, a smile and “May I help you?” as customers enter the door. That holds significantly higher customer service value because the staff initiates the welcome and hospitality rather than it occurring only by the prompt of the customer. That elevated perceived value of your company is a leg-up on the competition.
Dessert Always provide the opportunity for the customer to consider dessert.
Don’t forget the importance of the employee’s game face. One typically visualizes the professional athlete portrayed in the sports drink commercials –– strong, fierce and intimidating –– but that is not acceptable in the hospitality business. The proper game face in food service is engaged eye contact and a smile.
Engaged eye contact is the visual skill of letting your customer know you are listening to them and are providing them the attention they seek. The smile is the international signal of friendliness and being of no threat. It is also an invitation to service. These gestures display a message: I see you, I work here, I can assist you, ask me, etc.
Studies have shown that the one facial expression that can be recognized at the farthest distance is the smile, which is how critical it is as a soft skill. What is most interesting is the fact that these displays are mirrored by customers. Engaged eye contact combined with a smile sets the tone for a positive start in a business transaction. Think of how the smile is displayed, often almost unconsciously, when engaging others (especially when meeting new people).
Another area of contention for the service side of dining is what is known as the critical moments of service. There are five critical moments of service that can be the tipping point in the ritual of dining that leaves customers February with either a favorable or unfavorable impression of their service experience and your business. They are the moments that transition to the next dining service step; and, if missed, they can cause a high level of distress for the customer. What is important is that the service staff knows the five critical moments of service and understands that urgent action is required to prevent and/or remedy the situation. Here are the five critical moments of service:
1. Greeting. Customers must be greeted/ acknowledged within one minute.
2. Refill of beverage. Optimum moment to offer a refill is when the drink is half-empty.
3. Next course. Closely monitor the time between when the customer finishes a course and is anticipating the arrival of the next.
4. Dessert. Always provide the opportunity for the customer to consider dessert.
5. The check. This is as urgently important as the greeting! When customers are ready to leave, they want to leave now. Delays in presenting and processing their payment can ruin their memory of all the good service experiences provided before this one critical moment of service.
Coach your staff on your service standards, these soft skills and the importance of positive service-sales execution. Best results are achieved with roleplaying in the on-the-job environment. Without educating your staff, they are left with the only remaining emotion to conduct business on your behalf –– panic. Panic is what we feel in that moment of not being able to perform our jobs, regardless of the level of effort.
Educate your staff on their role in branding your company to sustain continued and future opportunity for themselves, the company and every team member in your organization. Make it personal.
From the consumers’ perspective, each employee they engage and how they make them feel, no matter how slight the encounter, is the face of your company. The continuing service challenge is to create a memorable dining experience for your customers and working experience for your employees. The standard should be one of seeking service opportunities to acknowledge, assist, guide and serve your customers and each other. The goal for each employee is to make their customers and teammates feel welcomed, safe and secure as they perform their role with your company. The prize is a successful business that provides good jobs, great career choices and sustains the economies of the communities in which we serve and live.
As I learned long ago from my mentor, Bob Farrell of Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlors: In today’s economy, service is the deal breaker. And to my new friend, Kyle, of Canyonville, Oregon … I’ll be back!
Paul C. Paz is the founder of Waiter’s World.
Photo by Josh Keown
My heart sank as I reached the front door, only to realize that the worst was true. The usual line was nonexistent; the lights inside were dim and the front gates were down. My only clue was a small yellow notice on the front door. Apparently the New York City Department of Health and Human Hygiene had deemed this beloved pizzeria unfit to open. The reputation of an over 80-year-old pizzeria was on the line, and I was forced into the delicate position of defending its honor.
I could feel the text messages, voice mails and tweets piling up as friends and colleagues looked for answers upon hearing the news, but the challenge at hand was to explain to my pizza tour group why I was planning to feed them slices from an “unsanitary” restaurant. My tour wasn’t forming a great first impression of this landmark pizzeria, so it instantly became my job to play publicist and clean up the messy situation as we walked across the street to a pizzeria that had been spared by the DOH.
The first thing I had to do was explain the DOH grading system and how its standards impact the city’s fabled pizza culture. As in many other cities, letter grades reflect a certain number of points that are deducted for violations. Pizzerias fight an uphill battle because product is often staged in display cases, prompting instant deductions. I’ve seen pizzerias go so far as to tag the exact time and temperature of each pizza as it hits the counter yet still shiver in fear at the thought of a health inspector. Every pound of “contaminated” food earns even more deductions. So one hole in a 50-pound bag of flour can be lethal for a restaurant’s score.
Education is the best way out of a sticky situation, but be careful how you present information to your customers. I’ve heard lots of pizzeria managers say it’s impossible for bacteria to survive the high temperatures of a pizza oven — but that can sound like an excuse to let hygiene slide. I’ve also heard the charges that health inspectors are just looking for reasons to pull your score down because they want to make a name for themselves. Hear this through a customer’s ears and it sounds like a pile of unfounded excuses. Try instead to explain clearly what went wrong and how you intend to fix it. People love hearing about all the ways you’re going to improve their dining experience, so make this an opportunity to highlight the future rather than attempting to cover up the past.
A health department closing leaves a bitter taste in your customers’ mouths before they even have a chance to sample your food. Its punch is far more powerful than a few days of lost business; it’s a scarlet letter in the eyes of your customers. Do everything you can to educate your customers and it will soften the blow delivered by an unplanned closing.
Scott Wiener owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City.
You want the good news first, or the bad? The good news is that where it concerns pizza, customers are starting to make decisions based on factors other than pricing. For pizza restaurants that have seen their profit margins plummet due to the price wars that have afflicted this industry, this change is welcomed. The bad news, at least for some operations, is what customers are looking for: exceptional customer service. Those restaurants that have relied heavily on discounting to generate business could find this new mindset unsettling, says David Holmes, vice president of operations for D.C.-based Out East Restaurant Consultants.
“It will be challenging (for them) because people in this industry have been brought up to compete on price,” says Holmes. “But now, restaurants will have to reach in and compete on a whole new skill set.”
Although many components go into creating outstanding customer service, essentially, it consists of significantly exceeding expectation, says Holmes.
“The minimum expectation is to be greeted at the door with a smile and seated as quickly as possible, have the order taken speedily and accurately, and have a good product delivered in a reasonable amount of time,” he explains. “The server should wait a moment after bringing the food to make sure everything is okay with the order. The customer should not have to wait an undue amount of time for the bill to be delivered to the table or to be picked up. And when they leave, they should be asked how their meal was and thanked for coming.”
Any server should be able to do the above, says Holmes. However, memorable customer service goes deeper than this, and consists of an array of behaviors, such as posture, body language, tone of voice and facial expressions, that make customers feel valued and welcomed.
More Than Words
Of the three: words, tone of voice, and body language, the latter is the most powerful and conveys the greatest amount of authentic information, says DeAnne Rosenberg, president of DeAnne Rosenberg, Inc., a management training and development company headquartered in Wareham, Massachusetts.
“Research indicates that only seven percent of the message is delivered verbally. Thirty-eight percent is tone of voice, and 55 percent is body language,” she explains. “So, if there’s a discrepancy between what’s being said and the body language, people are going to believe the body language.”
For example, if a server says, “Welcome to Pizza Towne,” and frowns or doesn’t make eye contact, customers will believe this message over the words. Not only that, says Rosenberg, they’ll sense a disconnection between what is being said and the body language, and will view this negatively.
Doubt the impact of body language? Consider what messages the following non-verbal behaviors might send to customers if, while taking orders, your servers were:
_ Looking impatient, tapping their foot or their pencils.
_ Rolling their eyes, looking around the room, frowning, or looking downward.
_ Standing sideways to the customer.
Still skeptical? According to communication expert Ron Riggio, professor of leadership and organizational psychology at California’s Claremont McKenna College, and director of the Kravis Leadership Institute, also located at the college, evidence indicates that the non-verbal behavior of servers is related to tip size. For example, in one study, when servers squatted down instead of standing to get more “connected” to the customer, their tips were larger, says Riggio.
Vocal cues are especially critical to an industry that relies heavily on phone contact with customers, says Diane Diresta president of DiResta Communications, a consulting company based in Staten Island. Here, with body language removed, the pressure is on words and tone of voice to transmit the impression, making this a challenging form of communication.
Answering the phone without a proper greeting (“Hello, thank you for calling Pizza Towne. How may I help you?”), picking up the phone while yelling to other people (“The verbal equivalent of not making eye contact”), putting people on hold interminably (“It’s like ignoring them”), and speaking too rapidly (“indicates impatience”) are some of the phone sins that DiResta and these experts mention.
“And yes,” says Riggio, “you can "hear" a smile - or at least hear the positive affect in the tone of voice, and you can clearly hear boredom or irritation as well. Expressive, positive individuals, and those who maintain a connection via cues of immediacy and responsiveness, are better liked than those who do not engage in these nonverbal behaviors,” Riggio continues. “Liking is connected to the customer's entire experience at the restaurant, and to their tendency to return.”
Managing the Performance
Waitpersons are actually engaging in a form of social acting, says Riggio. “You wouldn't be happy with a play where all the actors simply read through their lines quickly without nonverbal affect, inflections, or emotional messages,” he explains. “Customers (dine out) for a positive experience; they expect waitpersons to be attentive, pleasant and responsive.”
Holmes seconds the servers-as-actors concept, and says that, consequently, training and rehearsal are essential. Managers should hold daily pre-shift meetings, not only to review the specials, but to also remind staff to listen intently, make eye contact, and to use other body language cues to connect with customers.
Managers should also monitor how employees interact with customers, get specific about the behaviors they expect their staff to exhibit, and model these behaviors themselves, says DiResta.
Training will not only help employees manage their impressions more effectively, it will also help sway the disbelievers, resulting in more consistent customer service.
A good approach, says Riggio, involves role-playing with feedback, pairing employees up to play customer and server. Or take a flip chart and ask servers to list their pet peeves when it comes to the interactions they’ve experienced as customers, says Rosenberg. Then run a discussion on how to avoid presenting your customers with these actions.
And remember to reward servers when you catch them doing something right, says Holmes, who reminds that feedback and rewards must be immediate. “This is the quickest route for taking a new skill and turning it into a habit.”
Diane Diresta, president of DiResta Communications, a consulting company based in Staten Island, New York, says the following “listening CPR” formula will help servers connect with your customers:
_ Clarify. Get as much detail as you can (“Did you want the dressing on the side?”).
_ Paraphrase. Repeat back to the customer what you’ve heard, making sure your understanding is accurate (You want the low-fat dressing on the side”).
_ Review. Review the entire order (“You want a small cheese pizza, medium diet coke, and a small dinner salad with low-fat dressing on the side”)
“This strategy not only reduces errors, it allows you to build relationships with people because it gives you more contact,” says DiResta. “And remember, people come back because of the relationships.”
Sometimes, I just shake my head in amazement at the “customer service” I receive. Thankfully, I rarely receive poor service in a pizzeria. In fact, I visited both ends of the customer service spectrum this week — and the pizza shop was on the winning end.
Let’s start with the bad, shall we?
Like many people, my home phone, Internet and cable television connections are all sourced to one company. The bundle saves me money every month, and I haven’t had much trouble with my service. Until recently.
My home phone stopped working on a Thursday night. On Friday, I called my service provider. It was late in the day, so they couldn’t get out to fix it that day. But they could send someone on Saturday. Unfortunately, I had to be out of town on Saturday. I requested a Sunday appointment. I was told the company doesn’t make calls on Sunday, which I understood. So I took a Monday appointment. You know the joy: they’ll be there between 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.. Nice.
One problem: they never came. So I called to get to the bottom of it. I was told my appointment was actually for Tuesday, not Monday. The somewhat mechanical lady on the phone explained to me that I never had an appointment scheduled for Monday. I had one scheduled for Sunday that I had rescheduled to Tuesday.
“What?” I asked. “I thought you didn’t do Sunday appointments.”
As it turns out, they do in fact schedule Sunday appointments when the problem is the phone, I was told. Now I was really upset. My phone could have been fixed on Sunday and I wouldn’t have had to waste my time waiting for the company to show up on Monday only to find out they made a scheduling error and weren’t coming until Tuesday.
It gets worse. A company representative shows up on Tuesday and fixes my phone in two minutes. After he’s gone I realize that though my phone was up and running, my Internet was now down for the count. So I call customer service once again and am put on hold several times. Finally, the problem gets fixed. No one had a good answer for this question: “Shouldn’t the technician have checked that my Internet and cable were still working after he tinkered with the phone?”
A few nights later, I call my favorite pizzeria to place a pick-up order. The friendly, perky voice on the line informs me that “We now have curbside service, sir. Would you like me to bring your food out to your car?”
It was cold and raining. A no-brainer for me.
I pull into the designated spot 25 minutes later. I barely have time to get the vehicle into park before the aforementioned employee is standing next to my window, a big smile on her face and two bags of food in her hands. I look up to see how she spotted me so quickly and notice the camera pointed towards the three curbside pickup parking spots. She got it right the first time and did so with a smile on her face. I wish my cable company could learn a lesson from my favorite local pizzeria.
Now, more than ever, customer service is critical. Make sure yours is up to par.
How do you get rid of a customer who constantly complains and is always trying to get free food from you?
It's a tricky and funny thing. Obviously, if we really keep making mistakes, we really do want to replace someone's food, along with a huge apology. Without a doubt, there is a small percentage of people out there who practically make a living at scamming businesses out of free stuff - even pizza. I train my staff that if we think someone might be scamming us, I would rather that they get away with it once or twice. Once they've made it clear that they are scam artists, constantly complaining, I tactfully speak with them or write them a letter. The letter would state our passion for getting it right the first time, and say that since we can never make them happy, we will respect their decision to start dining somewhere else. I then state that if they continue to dine with us, that we will no longer be able to replace food that they are not happy with.
Free publicity? Nothing is free these days — or is it?
I don’t want my pizzeria just randomly mentioned by whomever, whenever or wherever. Ultimately, I’d like to control the image I have created and to generate more awareness of myself and what my business is all.
None of us have the resources of a major corporation. We can’t advertise on prime-time network television or do weekly mass mailings. But, there are little things we can do to make a big noise. These little things are not secrets, either. They’re simple little tricks of the trade that we all know — yet we don’t always execute them in the proper way to get the desired results.
First, you have to decide who you want to be (USP) and how you want to accomplish that. Then convey that message to your demographics. Gear your marketing and media placement in the direction to develop your niche.
•Be community-minded. I sponsored a parade, hosted a fundraiser and buy local ingredients.
•Best Pizza – Why can I say that? What separates me from the rest?
•Gourmet Pizza – I offer healthy alternatives, unique products.
•Sporty Image – I sponsor a baseball league, I display sports memorabilia, teams eat here, a famous athlete ate here.
Develop your business around this theme or image. Make your community aware of it and make them like you by showing the positive benefits your business brings to them. Creating this awareness lends itself naturally to bringing on the free publicity.
Remember that you are part of community. You are not on your own, so make a list of those who you can align with to help promote your image.
•Police – I support safe driving; I use anti–theft devices; my drivers always wear seat belts.
•Red Cross – Am I there when a disaster strikes? Do I help others, do I donate?
•Make-a-Wish – Is there anyone who does not have a soft spot in their heart for a sick child?
•Fire Department – Everyone loves, respects and needs these guys. Do you?
•Big box stores, like Wal-Mart, are generally willing and have budgets to donate to a good cause. Wal-Mart, for example, has a set goal to raise a specific amount of money for the Children’s Miracle Network annually. Can you provide a fundraiser?
•Think of other local businesses or organizations that are influential in your community.
The PR departments in these types of organizations have great resources that will help you promote your image for free just by aligning yourself with them. They also have their own employees and databases that are now being made aware of you and your product! And they all like to talk about good things going on around town. Be part of that.
It is a good idea to have some kind of relationship with each type of media. Don’t just approach them when you want something for nothing, and don’t burn bridges by throwing the nagging salesperson out when they come calling.
Know the editor(s), news directors and food critics, and be familiar with their work – what exactly they do and how they do it. When was the last time you sent a free pizza to a media outlet and attached a note saying, “I really enjoyed your last article on……” Just let them know you are around.
Be sure to advertise within your budget in a consistent manner so that you are recognized by them when you do want to have a press release run or when you receive recognition in the community. Also, bear in mind that an editor’s job is no walk in the park. If you can make their job easier, your chances of having your story published increase significantly. It is much easier to copy and paste than to write a story form scratch.
I'm buying an existing dine-in pizza parlor. My challenge is diplomatically dealing with loud and out of control kids -- without offending the parents and making a touchy situation worse- trying to keep all the customers happy.
It's frustrating when parents don't care at all if their children are being disruptive. In that situation, as politely as you can, approach the children and parents saying something to the effect of "I'm delighted that you've decided to join us this evening. I'd like to request that you have your children stay seated at your table, as not to create a disruption in the restaurant". Now remember that you are not a fine dining establishment and that's one reason families are dining with you in the first place, so expect families and noise, but do take control of the situation politely when parents let their children run wild in your restaurant.
It was a Friday night in late August, and an unexpected thunderstorm came and went rather suddenly. The damage was modest, but it knocked out power to much of the area in which I live. It was dinner time and my hungry toddler, like most little ones, wanted pizza. Naturally, I was happy to oblige.
There’s a busy pizzeria located next to a high school and a high-traffic intersection not far from my house, so I decided to call for delivery. Thankfully, the shop did have power. I knew it would be swamped due to the weather. Couple that with the typical Friday night rush and you’ll understand why the girl on the other end of the line said she wouldn’t be able to quote me a delivery time. She honestly had no way of knowing when my order could arrive.
My interest was piqued. I had to see for myself just how busy the place was. So I told her to change my order to carryout. She sounded relieved and told me my food would be ready in 25 minutes. Twenty minutes later, I walked through the front door. The dining room (which seats about 65) was half-full, but the small lobby near the takeout counter was overflowing. Including me, 14 people packed into the waiting area. Several others stood outside on the sidewalk. As I waited for my order, more people kept coming. Before long, the line out the door was nearly into the street, which is a good distance from the pizzeria.
My order, by the way, took almost exactly an hour — 35 minutes longer than the time I was quoted. Naturally, many of those waiting alongside me grumbled about their waits. I heard comments ranging from, “I’ve been here an hour now, this is ridiculous,” to, “The least they could do is give us some free appetizers or something.”
Of course, these people have no idea what it’s like to operate a pizzeria. Being inside the industry myself, I had a different perspective. I watched intently and found nothing to complain about. The girl taking calls was polite and efficient, even when the person on the other end of the line clearly had no idea what they wanted and asked her to repeat the same specials numerous times. The servers dutifully moved to the back of the house to fold boxes and stock the cooler with two-liter bottles of Pepsi (the pizzeria was giving them away with a large specialty pizza on this night). The guy tending the oven and cutting the pizzas was moving with speed and precision. In short, I saw no one slouching and no one complaining about having to do things that didn’t fit into their job description. They were working as fast as possible, and doing a fine job of it.
Unfortunately, I was the only customer who noticed. Before I left, I wanted to pull the manager (whom I’ve never met) aside and tell him what a good job his staff was doing. But, as you can imagine, he was far too busy. So I simply left to enjoy my hot pizza without saying a word.
Such is the life in this business. That crew heard plenty of belly-aching all night, but the one person who respected what they were doing kept quiet. I think I’ll send the manager this commentary. His staff deserves to know someone noticed their hard work and appreciates it.
We all know families are the backbone of your business. Here are some tips to
make your place a welcome spot for the little ones:
• Speak directly to the child, not the parents. Ask them their name, then use it
when you reference them.
• Bend down to their level and look them in the eye so as to be less threatening.
• Offer to have the children’s meal prepared as soon as possible, before the
adults get their food.
• Have moist wipes on hand.
• Offer the kids coloring sheets and crayons to occupy them while they’re waiting.
• Start in the back of the house by washing fruits and vegetables, using designated cutting utensils and wearing gloves.
• Keep cold foods at 41 F or below; hot foods at 140 F or above. Be sure your equipment can hold these temperatures over long periods of time, and check temperatures every few hours.
• Protect food with sneeze guards and shields. According to The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, guards should be 14 to 18 inches above the serving area.
• Label everything with easy-to-read tags to discourage the “finger-dip” method of testing foods.
• Use long-handled utensils and make them easy for customers to reach. Utensils should be replaced or sanitized at least every four hours.
• Post signs that remind customers to use clean plates for each visit, and keep plenty of clean plates available.
• Keep a close watch: clean spills quickly, ensure children aren’t reaching into food trays, and replenish items as needed.
For additional information, contact The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, (800) 765-2122, or www.nraef.org.
Your servers may hate it when a table comes in with four kids in tow — but big families mean big money, both for the restaurant and the server. A waiter who knows how to work the kids is a waiter who goes home with a bigger tip from mom and dad. Paul Paz of WaitersWorld, Inc., offers these tips:
• Don’t be condescending. Remain calm in your interactions with children and treat them with honest, respect and interest.
• Speak directly to the child, not to the parents. Ask them their name, then use it when you reference them.
• Bend down to their level and look them in the eye so as to be less threatening.
• Offer to have the children’s meal prepared as soon as possible, before the adults get their food. This will keep the kids busy.
• Bring the parents moist wipes to clean their children’s faces and hands after they eat.
• If a parent is reprimanding a child, stay out of the way.
• Offer items like coloring books and crayons to keep kids busy.
The dollar signs may not exactly dance before your eyes when a single diner walks into your pizzeria. You’d much rather seat the party of four who will order a bottle of wine and an appetizer.
That might be your first mistake: not welcoming the solo diner warmly. Remember, you should be thankful anytime anyone wants to spend money in your pizza shop instead of spending it elsewhere. A customer is a customer. Sure, the solo diner that just walked in may only spend $11 this visit — but you have an opportunity to cultivate her into a real regular.
How? By treating singles not as a nuisance, but as valued guests. Much like senior citizens, single diners are a fickle bunch. They’ll easily dismiss a shop if they think said pizzeria won’t cater to their ilk. At the same time, they’re loyal and tend to frequent restaurants that make their dining experience enjoyable and take the time to connect with them. Just like the theme song for Cheers, solo diners want a place where people know their name.
In a recent Web poll, individuals that live alone were asked how and where they consume their meals. Nearly 63 percent said they cooked at home. Another 25 percent said they utilized carryout. The remaining 12 percent dine out. Since carryout likely accounts for somewhere around one-third of your business, your shop is a natural option for these customers.
Additionally, a report by the U.S. government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (titled “Consumer Expenditures in 2003” — true to government form, this report is the most recent available; newer data is still being analyzed and packaged), single-person households spent $1,525 on food to be consumed at home in 2003 and $1,306 on food consumed away from home. In other words, the average solo diner is going to spend around $1,300 on prepared meals. Your goal is for as much of that $1,300 as possible to be spent in your pizzeria.
Here are some tips to help accomplish this:
• Ask single diners where they would like to sit. Don’t assume they want to be stuck at the bar. This step alone will help win their hearts.
• Don’t be shy in offering an appetizer or attempting to upsell wine. Also, offering half-bottles of wine goes over well with this crowd.
• Have reading materials nearby. A good server will offer a solo diner a newspaper or weekly tabloid.
• Personal-size pizzas are a great option, particularly at lunch.
• Be sure to offer to-go boxes near the end of the meal.
• Don’t assume the guest is in a hurry because she’s dining alone.
• Do beer or wine tastings on a monthly basis. These events typically draw single diners.
• Beyond that, do the same thing you’d do for a couple or a party of four: offer great service, upsell dessert and invite them back soon. Good service appeals to everyone.
Have you ever participated in local festivals by setting up a food booth? Is it worth the trouble and expense? Do you actually make a profit, or is it just more to get your name out there in the community?
I participate in those as often as I can. There are definitely a couple that I did two towns away that were a complete waste of time and money. Most of the others have been profitable, but the reason I did them was to get and keep my name out there. You have to take advantage of the situation and hand out menus and coupons to get them to come into your door. I have had some events where they request us to just drop the food off. I insist on being there to talk with attendees of these events.
Just over half of my gross sales came from home and business deliveries. Over the years we stumbled on a few ideas that made us stand out from the competition. We were the first company in our area to use car-top signs. It was so long ago I had to make my own from scratch. I permanently mounted it to an old Chevy Vega. The ‘piglet’ only had a driver’s seat. The rest was plywood and heated cabinets. Car top signs work. They are great advertisers and also give the customer something to look for when the car cruises the street looking for the house number.
We noticed that, at least half the time, our customers’ dogs beat their owners to the door when we came knocking. My drivers always had dog biscuits in their jacket pockets. This scored big points with the dog as well as the owner. We also offered small “kiddie doughs” to little people. This was no more than a small piece of pizza dough in a sandwich bag. Kids love to play with Play Dough. We gave them the real deal. We told them not to eat it and to store it in the refrigerator. Anytime they came in the restaurant to dine, they asked for more. Every delivery driver is dependent on a lit house number. Every time we delivered to a home where the porch light was burned out, we asked permission to replace it. I made a case of 100-watt bulbs available for my drivers to have in their back seats.
The best idea I ever had to make the drivers shine was “Hotel Packs”. When I was interviewing motel owners in my town to get permission to place table tents and menus in all of their rooms, I was reminded that eating pizza in a hotel room can be messy. I invented the solution. Place two 9-inch plates, two forks and a few napkins in a gallon Zip-Lock bag. Every time we delivered to a non-domicile (office, business, motel) my drivers offered the packs to the customers. They had a little spiel that went like this. “I made up a bag with plates for you. Could you use this?” Bam … instant tip. Since we rarely, if ever, got coupons from our motel and business customers, the cost was very affordable. My drivers also asked the travelers if they needed driving directions to anyplace in town. Who knows more that a trained driver on the streets in your town? FedEx came to us when they were lost!
These little acts of kindness came back and separated us from everyone else. Give them a try.