Pizzeria operators talk about how to fix common grumbles
Customer complaints tend to fall along some general categories. Here are five common complaints, and how operators handle them:
• Why don’t you take reservations? Pizza is a casual meal, and people should be able to pop into their neighborhood restaurant without much planning. That is the basis for the no reservations policy at Cane Rosso, which has five locations in the Dallas area.
“We do take reservations for six or more,” says Director of Operations Megan Dennison. “People have friends and family from out of town and you want to bring grandma and the kids.”
She assures callers that the wait is never lengthy because pizza typically inspires quick table turns. People do ask for an exception, because they have been coming to Cane Rosso for years or because they live close by, for example. “I explain it slows down the process for us,” Dennison says. “We are faster and more efficient when we are not saving a two-top for you while you are stuck in traffic.”
• The food took too long. Enga Stanfield, who with her husband, Matt, owns Mattenga’s Pizzeria in Schertz, Texas, says when customers phone in a pick-up order, the staffer tells them the food will be ready in 15 to 20 minutes. “They arrive at 15 minutes and they have to wait five minutes,” she says. Instead of feeling reassured that the food will be fresh and hot, customers are annoyed because they have to wait.
Mattenga’s sometimes offers the waiting customer some zeppole donuts, fried pizza dough coated in sugar. That works as an inexpensive and immediate way to assuage hunger or anger, but a sugar buzz only goes so far. So Mattenga’s found a long-term solution without changing the oven or the cooking time or any other operations. “Now we tell them it will take 25 minutes,” Enga says. “People take you at your word if you tell them it’s going to be that much time.” On Friday or Saturday nights she tells people the order will take 40 minutes.
• This is not what I ordered. Customization is huge these days, and so is the number of ways things can go wrong, says Dan Collier, the “Big Cheese” of Pizza Man Dan, with seven locations in California. “It is very rare someone orders pepperoni on the whole thing,” he says. “It’s half mushroom, half pepperoni and put the spinach on when it comes out of the oven.”
Sometimes the food does not appear the way the customer envisioned. That happens mostly on the phone and online, Collier says, because people who order at the counter can see the order taker gesticulating. “I can hold my fingers apart when I say, ‘Do you want a thin crust or pan?’” he explains. “You are standing in front of me pointing and saying, half pepperoni.”
The restaurant offers “the ultimate guarantee,” a gamut of offers that begins with making the pie again, to giving the customer a credit towards a future order, to a refund. Meanwhile Pizza Man Dan updated its online ordering system in November. The new platform, Collier says, has better food pictures.
• A long wait for a table. Sometimes instead of complaining, customers take matters into their own hands. Dove Vivi Pizza in Portland, Oregon, has an area where customers order pizza to go, and a dining room with table service. On busy Friday nights, clever customers sometimes order pizza at the takeout counter and then try to grab a table and eat there.
Delane Blackstock, who is co-owner with her husband, Gavin, says it never helps to tell people it is against the restaurant’s policy for them to sit down ahead of guests who are waiting for a table. Instead, she offers other suggestions. “We tell them, we understand you are hungry, here are some options. You can sit at the bar and order your food at the table.”
People also voice their disappointment at not being able to call their order ahead and then arrive to a ready table and a hot pizza while others sit and wait for their own food. “We say, ‘We would love to make an exception for you, but it would be total mayhem in here,’” she says. “‘It’s not you, it’s everyone else.’”
At the end of the meal, Blackstock offers the customer a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie. “We thank them for waiting,” she says. “They feel like they got a little something and their grievance was acknowledged.”
• These portions are unusual. Fireside Pies, which has four locations in the Dallas metro area, offers one size pizza, a six-slice, 12-inch pie. That is larger than an individual pie, and sometimes customers unwittingly order too much food. Director of
Operations Kurtis Schart says the way to prevent that customer dissatisfaction is to train the server to tell the table exactly what they are ordering.
“They are protecting the guest experience and also protecting the guests from themselves, not ordering six pies for six people,” Schart says. “The server can say, ‘I think you probably ordered too much. Why don’t we start with three and if you need more we can put a rush on two or three more.’”
If guests are still unhappy after the meal, a manager can give them a bounce back card worth $10 off their next visit. It is an immediate, feel-good response, and it encourages the customer to come back. “We need repeat business weekly or biweekly,” he says. “We want to be not just a special occasion restaurant. We want to be in their regular rotation.”
Nora Caley is a freelance writer specializing in food and business topics. She lives in Denver, Colorado.