October 1, 2015 |

Man on the Street: Communication Breakdown

By Scott Wiener


It’s up to you to please your guests

CharedPizza

Artisanal pizza is an easy target for criticism about burn crust and scant toppings.

Scott Wiener Owner & Operator Scott's Pizza Tours, NYC

Scott Wiener
Owner & Operator
Scott’s Pizza Tours, NYC

You might want to sit down for this one.

A friend of mine recently visited a restaurant and was told to expect a 25-minute wait. No big deal, waiting is part of the game at trendy hot spots like this. After the expected half hour has passed, she was summoned by the host and ushered to a table. No problems yet, but the bomb was about to drop. “Thank you for waiting,” said the host, “but unfortunately your table has been reserved by someone else so we’ll need it back in about 20 minutes.” You can imagine what happened next. It wasn’t pretty.

The discrepancy between promise and product is responsible for the vast majority of consumer complaints. If my friend were given a choice between having a table for only 20 minutes and not having one at all, the outcome would certainly not have been so traumatizing. Communication is your pizzeria’s greatest weapon for preventing disasters and it’s up to you to plug small drips before they become serious floods.

Artisanal pizza is hugely popular right now, but it’s an easy target for criticism about burnt crust and scant toppings. Avoiding customer complaints means finding creative ways to manage consumer expectation about the product. Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza uses the phrase “Our Pizza is Well Done” to do just that. They let their customers know to expect charred crust in advance rather than allowing them to be disappointed when the product hits the table. One pizzeria in Salem, Massachusetts, has a diagram on their t-shirt titled “The anatomy of a Bambolina Neapolitan Pizza,” which includes mention of “flame-blackened blisters” on the crust and references to the freshness of their mozzarella cheese. When characteristics like these become selling points, it turns potential disappointments into treasured features.

As much as proper communication helps prevent relatively minor complaints, some situations are quite serious. More pizzerias offer gluten-free options now than ever before, but the difference between Celiac Disease, gluten intolerance and gluten avoidance is absolutely critical. It’s difficult and expensive to add a truly gluten-free component to an existing restaurant, so pizzerias have to develop creative ways to communicate their offerings in a way that won’t cause potential harm to customers. Just last week, I noticed a headline on a menu at Nicoletta in NYC’s East Village that offered “Low Gluten Pizza Crust.” Since the pizzeria handles mostly standard crusts, they use the term “low gluten” to let their customers know that trace amounts of flour are likely to find their way onto the pizza. It’s a safety warning that satisfies both those who must avoid gluten and those who choose to limit their gluten intake.

You know how crucial communication is when it comes to customer experience at your pizzeria. It’s why you quote delivery times over the phone; it’s why you tell diners when a menu item is sold out; and it’s why you warn them in advance when a table is only available for a limited amount of time before the next reservation. When you meet your customers’ expectations, there’s far less for them to complain about.

Scott Wiener owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City.

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