One of the highlights of every International Pizza Expo is the open discussion filled with helpful insights, off-the-wall talk and plenty of beer. We call it Beer & Bull. Others call it an educational party. Here, we kick things off prior to the 2014 Expo with a print edition of Beer & Bull.
Beer & Bull Idea Exchange® A Pizza Expo Signature Event
Tuesday, March 25 4:30 p.m. – 6 p.m.
Wednesday, March 26 4:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Join Pizza Today magazine publisher Pete Lachapelle and the editorial staff for a free beer or soft drink and jump right in the discussions. Some of our Pizza Pros will show up as well each evening to offer tips. We also will have craft beers from the Craft Beer Pavilion for sampling.
If you’ve never experienced Beer & Bull at International Pizza Expo, then you’ve been missing one of the industry’s most dymanic networking events. Immediately following the education seminars on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons, Beer & Bull provides an opportunity to relax and continue learning in an informal setting. Sit with a cold beverage at a table among peers in a friendly, noncompetitive environment. You name the topic; you ask the questions. Someone at your table — or in the room — is sure to have an answer.
What was the most effective marketing/advertising campaign for you in 2013?
Coli: We have a lot of success with community involvement. Anytime there is an opportunity to team up with a local event or charity, we take it! Our Crystal Lake location is in the middle of downtown and we see many celebrations right outside our doorstep. We have a rewards club that our customers love and use religiously! New people sign up and take advantage daily. We really began utilizing Facebook in 2013 and will continue to take advantage throughout 2014.
Strader: If I had to single out one thing that has driven the most traffic and new customers through our doors, I’d give the credit to our successful Google Adwords campaigns. They do require regular monitoring and tweaking, but it’s worth the investment because it works. Amazingly, however, after turning the ads off for several months, our sales didn’t slip, but actually grew in the fourth quarter! Also, our customer e-mail list has become pretty darn good at driving traffic when we need it with limited-time weekday offers.
Peters: We are using a very targeted direct mailing of our menu. We do not offer coupons on the mailing. We are able to target by specific mail-carrier routes, and this enables us to be accurate in choosing our potential demographic. We know who our customers are and we can target them at the same time we work to broaden the appeal of Coals Artisan Pizza to new populations.
Bausch: Gift cards, gift cards, gift cards. Not everyone is a coupon person; there are stigmas with coupons. Everyone gets excited with a gift card. Also, now there are so many ways to control them on your terms. Amazon local can sell them online, local stores can sell them, sometimes with money up front (albeit at a discount). It’s a win/win. Either you get people in your door spending more than the card is worth and giving you increased awareness, or you have no one come in and you are plus all that money that gets unspent. It’s really unused food cost at that point.
To get a rush of new customers I do a “Call to Action” discount of $15 for $25-value in gift cards around the holidays. Total win/win. I get a blast of cash in December, and a bunch of new customers in January. As long as your food cost is where it needs to be, the absolute worst case with this would be a one-and-done customer that you sell $7 worth of actual food for 15 bucks. The great thing is that barely ever happens and my P&L proves it.
What steps do you take to keep your employees motivated and happy?
Coli: We have many employee incentives. The most rewarding incentive for servers and restaurant employees is through our mystery diner service. When an employee is mystery dined and earns a 100 percent, we reward the employee with $100 on the spot and dinner for those who had a hand in their perfect dining experience. We also like to hire from within. We promote and cross-train many employees. When employees see the opportunity to move up with the company, they’re more likely to stick around. We often treat employees to dinner as a sign of appreciation. We like to show that we notice and appreciate the extra effort on a daily basis. Our managers have quite an expansive benefit package including more than just health coverage and paid time off. The managers have the opportunity to receive reimbursement for things like clothing, gym memberships and even a trip to the spa! We want the managers to look and feel their best. Providing them with the opportunity to do so keeps their spirits up and, in turn, trickles down the ladder and keeps everyone motivated!
Strader: We’ve added an Employee-of-the-Month program that’s helped over the last few years. We also spotlight specific all-stars in our company-wide biweekly newsletter. And we recognize each employee’s birthday and hire date every year with a gift card to another local business. But don’t underestimate a sincere ‘attaboy’ or a firm pat-on-the-back!
Peters: Our employees are the key to our quality and service. First, we work to accommodate scheduling demands of our FOH and BOH employees. A number of our FOH employees are students, or work other jobs. So we use an online scheduling program to post our schedule. This allows us to custom-tailor the schedules so that we can accommodate employees’ other interests. Secondly, we respect our employees and they can feel that. They represent a wide variety of interests and expertise and we make sure they are comfortable being themselves at Coals. Third, I tell each and every employee that “We are not creating peace in the Middle-East here at Coals. I wish we were, but we’re not. We are making and serving the best pizza in Louisville.” So we keep it in perspective. “Have fun with it, treat each other well, and have fun with it.” Fourth: We do not tolerate poor behavior. This is important because our A Team members (all of them) expect us to maintain a high standard. And if an employee cannot live with those standards, our A Team expects us to act. Fifth: We encourage all kinds of feedback. We let both FOH and BOH know that we want to hear from them; customer feedback, relations with fellow employees and suggestions for improvement; we let them know we truly value their input.
Bausch: For high-level people, individualization: you need to know them. You don’t need to know their twitter handle, and probably shouldn’t, but what’s their background and general interests? If they are moving up in the company and you want them to know you value them, get them a gift that shows you give a hoot. Like concert tickets of someone they listen to or a gift of something for them to do with their family. It goes a lot further than a smaller bonus would.
When I was 18 I worked at a high-end restaurant and after two years of working there the owner bought us all monopoly, the game. He literally gave us a board game. One thing me and my 45-year-old counterparts had in common was the question, “ What am I supposed to do with this?”
That’s why this year, for mass employee gifts, I got everyone gift cards to a local grocery store. Parents can buy diapers, high school kids can buy easy mac, and everyone else has some money towards Christmas dinner. That one seems impersonal, but it really made an impact.
In what ways do you use social media to grow your pizzeria’s business?
Coli: We’re branching out with Facebook this year. In 2013 we were all about posting teasers to show people why they should come out. This year, we’re all about giving them a reason to come in. We’re also starting to use Facebook Offers and Ads.
Strader: We have a decent social media presence. We post on Facebook/Twitter occasionally and have claimed all our listings, etc, but haven’t really made social a central part of our marketing strategy yet. That’s partly because of time constraints, but partly out of a lack of necessity. It’s another tool for us, waiting to be used, when we need another lever to boost sales.
Peters: We constantly work to build our e-mail list. We are careful to use that
list only when we feel we really have something that our guests on the list
will want to know about. And we use Facebook to announce fun details about
our day-to-day activities: specials, parties and new food or beverage items.
We are testing messages on Twitter as well.
Our demographic is a little more mature than traditional pizzerias. For example we sell more wine than beer (even though we have eight craft beers on tap), and our average guest is probably over 45. So we use the social media to build awareness with the younger demographic while delivering a message about quality, consistency and fanatical attention to detail to our existing customers.
Bausch: Social media is just that: SOCIAL. Ever talk to someone who is obviously just waiting to say what’s on their mind and doesn’t listen to you? It’s annoying, just as annoying as a commercial getting in the way of your favorite TV show. It needs to be a back and forth. If they write something funny, retweet it. If someone comes into your place and takes a picture of their pizza on Instagram, thank them. Keep it SOCIAL and people will react. Become an automated commercial machine and people will tune out quickly. Once they’re tuned in, your top-of-mind awareness will be more consistent and sales will increase.
If for some reason your menu had to consist of nothing but pizza and one additional food item, what would the other item be, and why?
Coli: Meatballs! Our pastas are a hit, but our meatballs are No. 1! They’re delicious in our meatball sandwich, with pasta, stuffed in a cheesy calzone, added to any of our pizzas or just by themselves with a little marinara sauce and Parmesan. Something would truly be missing without them!
Strader: Our customers rave about our traditional salad, as simple as it is, with just lettuce, black olives, green peppers, onions and mozzarella. Adding some fresh (raw) greens to your belly before consuming a fully cooked pizza masterpiece is becoming more common in recent years. We also recently added a Caesar to the menu, and it has been very well received.
Peters: Great Question! I think the one other item would be our Coal-Fired Wings. The reason is that I believe some people want more protein than the traditional pizzeria offers. Our wings are lightly fried, but then finished at 650 F in our coal-fired oven. And they create a great balance to the pizza items on our menu. Of course there’s our 100 percent from-scratch Tiramisu dessert … but you asked about only one menu item!
Bausch: A little cliché of an answer, but garlic knots. Fan favorite, great food cost, no downside.
Do you see a trend towards healthier dining in your pizzeria, or do your customers still consider a visit to your shop as “indulgent?”
Coli: We specialize in authentic Chicago-style Deep Dish pizza, so our shop is definitely an indulgence for most guests! Many guests fill up on a salad while waiting for their deep-dish pizza, so they don’t overindulge when the pizza is delivered to the table. We still have some great options for our more health-conscious guests, like entrée salads, gluten-free pizza and pasta, and even our regular thin-crust pizza can be pretty healthy with the right toppings.
Strader: Our original pies are typically healthier than the average pizza. We offer a wheat crust (the first in Texas in ‘76!) that our customers love, and lots of vegetarians and vegans have turned to us as their go-to pizza. There are zero trans-fats in our kitchens. It is easy to eat a healthy meal at Conans, but at the same time, it is very easy to indulge in our restaurant. So we explore ways to reach out to both appetites. There is definitely a trend towards healthier eating in Austin, and we’re happy to oblige.
Peters: We use a cold-rise method to create our thin-crust artisan pizzas. This allows the yeast that we put into our dough to break down the simple sugars in the flour. This makes our crust easier to digest and helps our guests avoid that too-full feeling. While it is not “low-calorie”, our Margherita pizza is thin crust, fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil and olive oil. So it can have a place in any well-balanced diet. We are thrilled with the new levels of dietary awareness that we hear from our customers. And we hear from them that the proportions of crust to cheese to toppings on our pies are perfect. We think our pizza will be part of an intelligent, well-balanced diet for a long time into the future.
Bausch: We have a suburban location and a more central downtown location (in the vastly under-rated great city of Tulsa). Our suburban Owasso store gets more blue-collar families and has a higher propensity to pepperoni and sausage standards. We keep most of the menu the same for both sites, but for our Tulsa site the healthy options are a must. We have salads and dressings made from scratch at both sites, but vegan pizza made of roasted vegetables is a much bigger hit in the city. Same for our gluten-free pizzas and entrees.