Photo by Rick Daugherty
How do I know when my pizza dough is properly mixed?
A: Most pizza doughs as we know them are under mixed in regard to full gluten development. The only real exception is commercially made frozen pizza dough which is almost universally mixed to full gluten development. For the retail operator, though, a dough that is mixed just to the point of becoming smooth and satiny in appearance in the mixing bowl is sufficient. This level of development allows for continued biochemical gluten development as the dough is managed through the cooler for three or more days while ensuring a thorough dispersion of ingredients and adequate hydration of the flour for decent handling properties when the dough goes to the bench for scaling and rounding.
Using a spiral or planetary type of mixer, this usually means mixing the dough for 8 to 10 minutes at medium speed, or 15 to 20 minutes at low speed. When a vertical cutter mixer (VCM) design is used, the mixing time required to achieve this level of gluten development will be between 60 and 90 seconds, with 70 seconds being about the average mixing time. Mixing times longer than this are just unnecessarily hard on your mixer, especially if you are one of the majority, using a planetary mixer. Shorter mixing times may be ok, but they are normally prone to handling difficulties such as stickiness and tearing at the bench when the dough is being scaled and rounded.
What function does oil/olive oil (fat) serve in the dough formulation?
A: Oil serves a number of functions in the dough. It can provide a flavor such as is the case with olive oil, sesame oil, or even lard or butter, for that matter, the fat can help to retain those wonderful flavors created during the baking of the pizza, adding to the overall flavor profile of the baked pizza. It provides lubricity to the dough allowing it to be opened into a pizza skin somewhat easier without tearing. This same lubricity also helps the dough to expand during the early part of baking to give a nicely raised edge to the pizza. Along these same lines, the fat coats the cells within the dough allowing them to better hold the gas produced during fermentation, which in turn is at least partially responsible for the desirable open crumb structure common to so many thin crust pizzas. Fat of any kind in the dough will help to retard the migration of moisture/water from the topping ingredients down into the dough/crust to provide for a crispier eating characteristic in the finished pizza. Fats, in general, are known as tenderizers to product formulators and their use in product formulation provides for a more tender/less chewy eating characteristic in the finished pizza. As you can see, fat is a multifunctional ingredient when it comes to pizza making.
What type of oven should I use to bake my pizzas?
A: It never ceases to amaze that so many ovens are purchased for all the wrong reasons. My personal advice to newbies just getting into the pizza business is to make your oven selection the last thing you do with regard to your equipment package. The reason for this is because there are so many factors that must be considered when choosing an oven, for example;
1) What is your store concept? Will it be a grab and run, DELCO, a slice operation, dine in? Will it provide your customers with a more or less formal dining experience?
2) What about the product concept? Will you be positioning your pizza as the most loaded pizza in a 50-mile radius, or will the pizza be more of a “gourmet” or classical/artisan presentation with just a few, but very elegant and/or flavorful ingredients? Several years ago I assisted a shop owner decide upon a new oven. Their product concept was one of high customer perceived value, meaning that their most popular pizzas were heavily loaded with all kinds of vegetable toppings. The ovens that they were using did not provide the capability to evaporate the moisture released from all those vegetable toppings during baking, so a change in oven technology provided them with a much drier finished pizza that was better received by their customers.
3) What about your product mix? How many other products will you be selling that will need to be baked or heated in the oven?
4) Will you have an open or closed kitchen area? You can get away with a conveyor oven in a closed kitchen where fine or casual dining is the norm, but what a waste it would be to hide a wood fired oven in a closed kitchen store.
5) Location and codes may also dictate what type of oven you can have. For example, some malls may not permit a wood fired oven, I know of one pizzeria that had to work around a code that would not allow them to have a wood fired oven installed within a frame structure.
6) And then there are questions regarding utilities such as gas and electric and wood or anthracite/coal. These questions revolve around availability and cost. There is an issue of space. Do you have the necessary space in your location for the oven you have selected? Keep in mind that some types of ovens may require more operator/tender space than others.
7) Be sure to consider the noise, heat, and hood requirements of the oven too as there can be some rather significant differences between brands and oven types.
8) Don’t forget to consider the baking capacity of your selected oven. Depending upon your store concept, one properly sized oven or two ovens of a different type may be needed to keep up with your production demands.
9) And lastly, aside from the toppings, find out how well suited your oven of choice is to baking the type of pizza that you want to make. For example, some artisan pizzerias use a very high absorption dough that requires the oven to operate at well above 600F to produce the desired finished product characteristics. Is the oven you’re looking at capable of this?
You may have noticed that I haven’t even mention price. This has to be one of the deciding factors, but don’t let it be the only one, sometimes a few extra dollars spent can have far reaching returns on the success of your business. Warranties, service, and parts availability are all considerations too that should influence your final selection and ultimate purchase.
And I bet you thought choosing an oven was going to be one of the first things you did in putting together the equipment package for your new store, it might be your single most expensive purchase, so be sure to give it the ample thought and consideration.
Tom Lehmann is a director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas.
Photos by Josh Keown
At an old used restaurant warehouse in West Virginia, I stared into a dark corner at several three-foot stacks of blue-steel pizza pans piled like greasy towers. Their thick, bumpy sides indicated that they were at least 15 years old, probably older. With much effort, I pulled one from the middle of each stack and saw that even in this dingy restaurant purgatory, the pans reflected their respective pizza makers in a way no one could fake.
Some pans were beaten, bent, scratched and rusted while other stacks were still shiny, well seasoned and free of debris. The pans’ former owners may have moved on or even died, their secrets lost forever. But, their pans still distinguished the great pizza makers from the mediocre. The well-kept pans had a much thicker patina on the outside, indicating that they were used longer — no doubt that a legacy of commitment, passion and craftsmanship kept their businesses alive longer.
It was then that I knew that I didn’t know jack about pan pizza. So I looked up a few friends, the best of the best pan pizza makers in the world. Here are their secrets. It’s amazing to see that regionality plays absolutely no role in these great pizza recipes because this is the evolution of pizza.
Jungle Pizza, Favaro Veneto, Italy
The pan Luigi uses is a 22-by-14 inch, lightly olive-oiled aluminum square. He uses a direct method with a poolish, (wet pre-ferment) for a 26- to 28-ounce dough featuring red-bag, 5 Stagione flour, salt and water. The dough is always given at least 48 hours of maturation with 36 hours in a refrigerator at 39 degrees and 12 hours at 55 degrees. Luigi rests the dough in the pan for three hours at 68 to 72 degrees along with olive oil on top of the dough. He par-cooks the dough in an electric oven at 536 degrees for five minutes and then lets it rest. He tops the dough with fresh buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil and with either Greci canned tomatoes or fresh ciliegino cherry or datterino, small plum fresh tomatoes. Then he finishes it for another four minutes at that same temperature.
“I have no secrets for a good pizza — just water, flour, yeast, salt, oil and a natural passion for this job,” Vianello says. He sure had passion enough to win the best pizza at the International Pizza Challenge in 2011, so I believe him!
Detroit-Style Pan Pizza
Brown Dog Pizza, Telluride, Colorado
Telluride, Colorado, is a long way from Detroit. But thanks to Jeff “Smoke” Smokevitch, owner of Brown Dog Pizza, folks in this tourist town have been enjoying an amazing amount of Detroit-style pizza for almost three years. Identified by the soft, airy interior and crisp exterior, the aged white cheddar, Wisconsin brick cheese and whole milk mozzarella create the famous thin carbonized bark that crunches its way around these square beauties. At Brown Dog, Smokevitch uses a high-gluten milled from northern hard red spring wheat. His dough is made with a starter and mixed to a sticky, 70-percent hydration, even though he says a lot of Detroit guys use lower hydration. “We use 8-by-10-inch and 10-by-17-inch pans ... All are blue steel pans that were cast-offs from the auto industry and some of them are 20 years old and seasoned so well they produce a great crispy crust with just a thin coat of vegetable oil.” Smokevitch says. He is quick to point out that the altitude is always a factor in proofing dough.
After proofing, Brown Dog par-bakes the pizza with the aged white cheddar around the edge of the pizza. “This sounds strange but the cheese acts like a glue against the wall of the pan so the dough doesn’t shrink when par-baked which, in-turn, enables me to get a fabulous blackened crust,” Smokevitch says.
The Detroit-style pizza is also different from other pan pizzas in that the toppings are put on the pizza under the layer of more cheese, usually a mozzarella and brick cheese blend. This is to keep flavors in the pizza and avoid charring when the pizza hits the 550 to 650 F oven for the final bake. Brown Dog puts the sauce on last that has been kept hot on a steam table so the pizza arrives at the table hot, for a finishing finale.
Bruno di Fabio
Re Napoli, Old Greenwich, Connecticut
Bruno di Fabio is the best pan pizza maker I know and he has the awards to back it up. His Pizza Romana is a specialty at Re Napoli and starts with a 20-year-old seasoned Sicilian pan made with a double-gauge steel measuring 17 inches by 11 inches.
His dough method is a very intricate “four-phase” rise. Bruno first uses flour with 14 percent protein and mixes a poolish with 100 percent hydration into a soupy consistency and then lets it sit at room temperature for 12 to 15 hours before adding 25 percent more flour to the poolish with yeast for a secondary rise at 80 F. Bruno then mixes in the rest of the flour (he wouldn’t tell me how much) with sugar, salt and Frantoio olive oil to a soft 55 percent hydration. It goes into his walk-in for a 48-degree cold-rise (he wouldn’t tell me how long). Now is time for the final phase that Bruno calls the “pan proof.” Using lots of Frantoio again in the pan, he pushes the dough into it gently and lets it sit atop his gas deck oven at 110 degrees for three hours, using another pan as a buffer to keep the dough from cooking. This pizza treatment, which he won with at the French World Pizza Championships, starts with a quick cook in his deck oven at 500 to 550 degrees until the dough just starts coloring. It is then taken out and topped
John Gutekanst owns Avalanche Pizza in Athens, Ohio. He is speaker at International Pizza Expo and a member of the World Pizza Champions.
Photos by Josh Keown and Rick Daugherty
I was recently looking through a catalog that I got at the last Pizza Expo and I saw both wood and metal peels being offered by the different companies. Do you have a preference in one over the other?
A: My preference is to use a wood peel as a prep peel — the peel used to dress the dough and take to the oven. The wood construction typically affords better dough release than the metal peels. The last thing you want to do is to slide a dressed skin into the oven and withdraw an empty pizza skin because it stuck to the peel and slid all the toppings into your oven. This is not to say that the dough will not stick to a wood peel — without dusting flour, the pizza skin can stick quite nicely. It is important to use some dusting flour even with a wood peel, but since wood is a better insulator than metal (aluminum), there is a reduced tendency for the dough to stick to the wood peel (condensation can form under the dough on a metal peel if the dough is warm and the peel blade is cold). I think the metal peel is best reserved for use as an oven peel where it stands up to the everyday “grind” of peel to oven deck/hearth much better than the wood peel does.
With all of this said, do keep in mind that in some localities, the use of wood peels are looked down upon by the local food safety people due to their inability to be properly cleaned and sanitized. This may leave us with only one option, the metal peel, or possibly a peel made from some type of manufactured, composite material that can be easily washed and sanitized without issue. More recently, I’ve had an inspector point to the worn edge of a wood peel and declare that those wood splinters are getting into the pizzas. Right or wrong, we’re in no position to argue with such wisdom, so be sure to give your peel selection more than just a passing thought or you might end up wasting your money on something you can’t use.
We use wood pizza peels to prep our pizzas on and we are required to wash and sanitize them daily. We notice that the peels tend to warp. What can we do to prevent this?
A: While wood peels are not made to be washed, they can be quickly washed and sanitized with a minimum of damage, primarily warping. It is best to start out with a new peel. Wipe it with mineral oil several times to impregnate and seal the wood. This will create a barrier against moisture migration into the peel when washed.
To wash the peel, dip it into the soapy water and scrub gently to remove any debris, then rinse and dip in the sanitizing solution. Next, be sure to wipe the peel as dry as possible with a clean towel, then set aside and allow it to dry thoroughly. This should be followed by another application of mineral oil to reseal the wood. Done carefully, and daily, you can keep problems to a minimum. I have a wood peel that is made from a material that looks a lot like Pakka Wood, a resin wood that is cured under high pressure and heat to form a homogenous wood that is highly stable and moisture resistant. These peels have all of the advantages of a wood peel but without any of the issues.
What is your preference for the top of a prep table where we will be hand stretching the dough?
A: That’s easy: just about anything but wood. Dough has a tendency to cling to wood bench tops. This is why bakers like it so much; but for pizza making, we want a top that will allow the dough to slide around easily without sticking or needing an extraordinary amount of dusting flour to prevent it from sticking. I’ve found that for top-end table-tops, marble, or man-made quartz, is hard to beat — but it comes at a price. Lower in cost, and almost equally as effective, is just plain old stainless steel. It has all the appeal of a homely fence post, but it works well and the price is right. Your food safety inspectors will look favorably upon it, too. A lot of your decision as to what to use will boil down to your store concept, and what you want to convey to your customers who might be watching you open your dough into pizza skins as they wait for their pizza to be made before them.
Tom Lehmann is a director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas.
Photo by Josh Keown
The performance kitchen at Cane Rosso takes center stage. Built around a wood-fired oven, the workspace is home to leading man Dino Santonicola, the Naples-born master pizzaiolo hired by owner Jay Jerrier to put his restaurant on the map. And he’s not alone –– more attention than ever has been placed on hiring as a marketing ploy. Bring in a big name (even for a limited-time engagement), garner attention and bam! Instant fame. But is a chef –– one with street cred, a degree and/or acclamations –– really needed over a cook who worked his or her way up in an organization?
“A chef brings a lot of the ‘business’ side of the restaurant to the table,” Jerrier says. “He handles all of our unit costing, ordering, scheduling/staffing, quality control, vendor management, documentation, cleaning routines, etc. A cook is there just to execute the menu. I don’t want to rely on an hourly employee to have to deal with the big picture items.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 100,000 people were employed as a chef (or head cook) in 2010 (the last year surveyed) with a median pay of $40,630 per year. Most had one to five years of work-related experience, but many chefs received more formal training at a college or technical school.
“Most people who have culinary degrees will call themselves cooks,” says Chad Pritchard, a chef instructor at the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Dallas, Texas. “Just GOING PRO MOONEY FARMS because they’ve graduated from culinary school doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a chef.”
Although the two titles are often used interchangeably, G. Allen Akmon, a chef and the culinary arts department chair at Sullivan University in Louisville, Kentucky, says professionally trained chefs and cooks offer their employers experience, a greater focus on the bottom line and an emphasis on quality.
“In the industry, we always focus on how rather than why,” Akmon says. “Experience coupled with education brings mastery and the ability to apply different techniques to different products so with only one of the two components in place an individual is limited in the area of growth potential.
“Proper training is more than just the action and reaction of food products. Many times, the experiences that are learned in the industry are the fundamentals of cooking and when an individual rises from that position, it becomes very difficult to learn about recipe costing, labor and resource maximization, interviewing and management skills without at least a basic understanding. These foundations present another benefit of education that are not always realized immediately after graduation but rather further down the road as positions dictate.”
Pritchard, who has owned three pizzerias and two Italian restaurants in the past, finds that “there are a lot of culinary graduates who are very loyal to those who brought them on,” he says. “People are very afraid of hiring culinary graduates. When I owned my pizzerias, I always hired culinary graduates because there are a lot of graduates out there who don’t have the experience to go to a fine dining restaurant or a higher-end restaurant. Pizzerias and Italian restaurants are great places for these cooks to learn. As they do that, they become very brand loyal and they in turn send their friends and family to you. A lot of times, you’re their first job out of culinary school and they’re very proud of what they do. I think it elevates the craft more to hire those who are classically trained. It elevates us to more than just spaghetti and meatballs.”
This creativity plays a crucial role for some independent restaurants that rely on quickly changing their menus and rotating seasonal ingredients. “I think what you’ll end up finding is that you have more creativity in your kitchen,” Pritchard says. “You’ll end up saying ‘Hey, we need to do a daily special’ and they can get one on the menu.
At Cane Rosso, hiring a more experienced chef, while initially more expensive in terms of benefits and salary, increased quality overall with a more authentic product and employee training. “We also wanted to set a new standard for ‘authenticity’ in Neapolitan pizza,” he says. “There are very few places in the U.S. where you can get a Neapolitan pizza made with dough made in a Neapolitan mixer, cooked in a Neapolitan oven, by an actual Neapolitan from Naples city center...not a suburb!”
But for some companies, consistency is more important than creativity as they grow to multiple units and create more uniform products across their brand.
“We actually prefer to hire (line) cooks,” says Chris Lombardi, a partner at Tommy’s Coal Fired Pizza in New Jersey. “We try to keep our menu simple. We have four locations now and we feel by using simple menus, with less ingredients in the store and constantly turning over product, our employees can do it simple but do it right.”
Like other chains both large and small, they have created a recipe book that is standard as the company adds stores to its brand, and following that to the letter is imperative so that customers get the same product no matter which location they visit. “Chefs try to get creative, and that’s hard when you have more than one location,” Lombardi says. “When you own single restaurants, you can change it up on the fly. But for us we’re trying to keep it the same across all the restaurants. We use proven recipes that we know our customers like time and time again.”
One happy medium? Hiring local culinary students for internships. Most pizzerias are relatively casual, and that provides a good learning experience for many students as opposed to a formal dining establishment with more rigid kitchens. Pi-zzeria, located in Virginia Beach, often hires students from the local Culinary Institute of Virginia, which gives them real-world experience as well as college credits and a paycheck. Although the pizzeria’s parent company owns and operates a number of restaurants, initially, “we probably came out with ‘hey, let’s pay everybody minimum wage –– it’s a pizza place,’” says Darin Zediker, food and beverage manager at Pi-zzeria. “But we found out that … you have to be as skilled in one of these operations as you do one of our full-service seafood restaurants.”
Interns “are people who are working towards finishing up a culinary degree –– whether it’s getting them in to gain that experience or we actually have two or three (employees) who graduated from the institute,” Zediker adds.
In the end, finding the right combination of experience, ability and loyalty is what works for most operators. Training is critical for the days when a chef isn’t on the schedule –– afterall, there are only so many hours in the day and while an employee can work a lot of hours, they can’t work ’round the clock.
“One of Dino’s main tasks is to make sure he trains the pizza makers personally,” Jerrier says. “He is on the hook to make sure the pizza is just as good if he is not personally making it … We are finally to the point where we have a good, reliable team covering all of our shifts. Dino does still cover some of our busier weekend shifts –– but as we look to grow and add additional restaurants he won’t be able to personally work those shifts. His team is ready to rock.”u
Mandy Wolf Detwiler is managing editor at Pizza Today.
Photos by Josh Keown
Time to sharpen your knife skills? And by skills, we’re talking about back-of-house efficiencies and safety protocols around the most common foodservice tool. Knowing which knives work best for cutting different types of product, how to care for them properly and how to use knives safely can give operators a well-honed edge.
Safety first. “Train your employees how to use the knife properly,” says James P. DeWan, adjunct chefinstructor at Chicago’s Kendall College School of Culinary Arts and co-author of The Zwilling J. A. Henckels Complete Book of Knife Skills: The Essential Guide to Use, Techniques and Care. He recommends the classic French method, which sees the bottom of the blade pinched by the dominant hand’s thumb and first finger with the other fingers wrapping around the handle. The other hand curls into a claw position, which guards the fingertips against the blade, and grips the ingredient being cut. “The side of the knife is flush against your guide fingers,” he says. “That’s the way to cut safely. It takes time to get used to it, so it’s important to practice it. There are tons of videos on YouTube that demonstrate proper technique. Have your kitchen staff watch them and then practice their skills repeatedly.”
And like all well-run professional kitchens, staff training is key. “Our senior cooks teach the newer cooks how to cut properly,” says Jim D’Angelo, COO of Lou Malnati’s, which has 35 pizza shops in the Chicagoland area. For repetitive tasks, such as cutting dough, back-of-house staff must don protective metal mesh gloves. “We implemented the policy about five years ago and we strictly enforce it,” he says. “Knife cuts were making up a huge amount of our back-of-house injuries. We don’t make them wear it on the line, but when they’re doing something repetitive, they have to. It’s reduced accidents significantly.”
To maximize performance and minimize injury, DeWan recommends keeping blades sharp. Lou Malnati’s sends its knives out for sharpening weekly. “We lease our knives from a company and sharpening them is part of that lease,” says D’Angelo. The company takes away the dull knives, replacing them with sharpened ones, sharpens the dull ones and returns them the next week, following the same pattern to always keep Lou Malnati’s flush with sharp tools.
At Fiammé Pizzeria in Naperville, Illinois, a sharpening truck visits about every two weeks, or whenever executive chef Ryan Craig calls them in. “He does them right there on the spot, and it works really well for us,” he says.
DeWan suggests honing the knives with a steel in between sharpening sessions. “The blade of the knife has microscopic teeth that bend with use,” he says. “Running the knife over the steel pushes those teeth back into alignment.”
Of course, pizzerias require specialized tools. When it comes to which knife works best, the answer is as varied as the available types of pizzerias.
For thin crust and Napoletana-style pizzas, the favored choice seems to be the pizza wheel. “Our pizzas are Neapolitan style and our ingredients are delicate, requiring a more precise, delicate touch,” says Craig. “I tried using a rocker knife because it’s more efficient, but I lost a lot of ingredients, which just flew off the pizza with the movement of the big blade.”
On the line, he uses three pizza wheels: one for red, one for white and one for gluten-free pizzas. He also keeps a chef’s knife and paring knife for ingredient prep, as well as a good bread knife for cutting French bread into crostini and bruschetta.
Lou Malnati’s also uses a pizza wheel for its dine-in thin-crust pizza. “It doesn’t drag the cheese and it gives us a nice precise cut,” says D’Angelo.
For dine-in deep-dish, which is the most common pizza ordered at Lou Malnati’s, his prep cooks use a boning knife, which sports a long, narrow, sharp blade. “It allows them to cut through the thick layer of cheese, toppings and crust with some pretty good speed and accuracy,” he says.For carryout and delivery, a mezzaluna, or rocker knife, is the go-to blade. Its handles allow for a sure grip while putting more weight on the knife to cut through the pie with precision and clean edges. “We’d use it for our dine-in deep dish pizzas, too, if we could,” he says. “It’s so fast and efficient.” The mezzaluna can portion a 14-inch pizza with only four cuts. As the restaurant chain cuts and then serves its dine-in deep dish in the pan that the pizza was baked in, the rocker is not an option. “The boning knife works well, but for cutting speed, nothing is better than the rocker,” says D’Angelo.
Why not a pizza wheel for deep dish? “It plows through the toppings and doesn’t give you a clean cut. You have to go over it too many times to cut through, making a mess of the pizza as you do it,” he says. For prep work, his staff uses the traditional eight-inch chef’s knife, also known as a French knife, and smaller (2½-inch) paring knife.
Katie Ayoub is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today. She’s based in Naperville, Illinois.
In a memorable scene from the 1967 movie “The Graduate,” Mr. McGuire offers a cryptic suggestion about the key to future for the young college grad played by Dustin Hoffman.
Mr. McGuire: “I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.”
Benjamin: “Yes, sir.”
Mr. McGuire: “Are you listening?”
Benjamin: “Yes, I am.”
Mr. McGuire: “Plastics.” Benjamin: “How exactly do you mean?”
Mr. McGuire was of course referring to the impending plastics revolution that he believed would change the future. Thirty-five years later, we can replace the word “plastics” with “technology.” Defining growth goals for your pizza operation is a part of healthy business planning. Whether you want to grow your sales by $1 million or $5 million, a cutting edge Point of Sale (POS) system is the key to the future growth and profitability of your pizza operation.
In 1995, Pizza Shuttle opened its doors at a new location on Milwaukee’s East Side. Armed with a pen and notepad, we ambitiously set out to grow our business in our new college-centric neighborhood. We had everything a young, independent pizzeria could offer: a hip marketing campaign, an expanded menu that catered to everyone, late-night hours and delivery service. With 10 years under our belts, we had struck a formula that seemed to work. But if we were to obtain the growth we desired and remain a competitive, evolving business, we had to have a “Mr. McGuire moment” and embrace the technology of the future.
Technology. What exactly does this mean?
We could not have grown efficiently or profitably without the investment in a POS system. You won’t either. Let’s assume you have an unprecedented work ethic, a great product, excellent location and a talented, hard-working staff. If you do not use a POS system, you might as well be taking orders with a pencil and paper on a rotary phone.
Modern pizza consumers have come to expect savvy use of technology by businesses they patronize. In addition to driving a smooth internal experience, a POS system can integrate with online ordering interfaces and social media, as well as offer advanced marketing capabilities that can create a two-way communication channel between the business and the consumer. An efficient business driven by technology will result in a rewarding employee and customer experience.
A good POS system can positively impact every aspect of your business and, most importantly, your bottom line. The following list captures only a short list of benefits that a POS system offers in sustaining and creating business growth.
1) Order taking accuracy and financial control.
2) Delivery dispatch management.
3) Labor management and payroll administration.
4) Integration with web and mobile order interfaces. (This could grow to 50 percent of your orders!)
5) Inventory control.
6) Reporting capabilities: logistics, sales, labor, promotions.
7) Security cameras and surveillance.
8) Credit card processing.
9) Customer relationship management through email, text marketing, social media.
10) Gift cards and loyalty programs.
Choosing a POS System Picking a POS company can be a daunting task. As POS systems evolve with today’s sophisticated business trends, it can be difficult to discern what system will result in the best fit for your business and produce the most return on your investment. The following suggestions can serve as a basic framework for choosing the best POS system for your business.
• Visit a restaurant of similar culture and volume that uses your prospective system. The POS system market offers numerous options for pizza operations of all kinds. The best way to see how a particular system will fit your operations is to observe its performance at a business similar to yours. Of course, you must also consider the future direction of your business in addition to outfitting the business you are today.
• Think about the kind of change you would like to see as a result of your POS system purchase. If you are considering adding delivery service as part of your POS system purchase, visit a high-volume delivery operation and pay attention. Define the areas of growth that are important to you and determine how the POS functions to see if it can get you there. Want to manage payroll? Integrate credit card processing? Expand your marketing capabilities? Make a list of future growth goals and use it as a roadmap in your POS system research.
• Ask the employees. Nobody can give a better testament to a system’s performance than the employees that use it every day. Employees will give you the brutal truth on how the system handles the busiest times or how intuitive the interface is to use and navigate.
• Know their support capabilities. Research a prospective POS company’s support capabilities to see if they match meet the needs of your business. Do you have somebody who is comfortable with programming menu changes in-house or will you be relying on the POS company to make changes? If you are open until bar time, you might want to make 24/7 service support a non-negotiable feature.
• Look into buying or leasing a used POS system. A POS system represents a significant investment in your business and the upfront costs can be intimidating, perhaps even prohibitive. Buying a used system from an existing restaurant or exploring leasing options can save you on upfront costs.
You are creating a living, breathing business that can and should grow. Remember, you do not have to do $1 million or $5 million to make money—although that doesn’t hurt! But at a very minimum, you need to take advantage of the technology available to maximize control of your money while minimizing your labor. A self-sufficient business cultivated by the smart use of technology will enable you to realize healthy business growth, maximize profits and spend more time with family and friends. That’s how technology can really help you enjoy life.
Mark Gold, a co-founder of Milwaukee-based Pizza Shuttle, which amasses $4.2 million in per-year sales from one store, will be a panel member for the Million-in-One Club discussion on Monday, March 18, during special pre-show programming at Pizza Expo. He’ll be joined by Tony Caputo of Red Rose Pizzeria, Tony Gemignani of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana and Ray McConn of Mother Bear’s Pizza for a question-and-answer session about growing one unit to $1 million-plus in annual revenues.
For more details on International Pizza Expo 2013, visit www.pizzaexpo.com.
Photos by Rick Daugherty
Dark dining, a trend where you eat in complete darkness, was introduced both in the United States and abroad about three years ago, but it never caught on. That’s because the right lighting enhances the dining experience, helps the staff, creates a sense of security, makes the pizza and other dishes look their best and creates a pizzeria where people keep coming back. Poor or bad lighting can drive customers away. But no lighting at all just doesn’t work.
“You can have the best reputation in town, but if the light levels are inappropriate, it doesn’t matter,” says Mark Hershman, director of lighting design at Impact Illumination in Lenexa, Kansas. “People won’t come back.”
That’s why when customers, at Sy’s New York Pizza in Eugene, Oregon, complained about the bright lighting in one of his locations, owner Mark Fischer took immediate action. He had just completed a rebate program with his local utility company and installed low-energy fluorescent fixtures throughout the building. These fixtures each contained two tubes, so Fischer removed one tube from each fixture, which dimmed the lights enough so customers stopped objecting.
Before Fischer took ownership of Sy’sin 2006 and used the utility’s rebate program, he said the lighting in his original location was a hodgepodge of thrift–store fixtures, which just didn’t work. Fischer found out that paying attention to just one aspect of his lighting – the energy efficiency – improved his bottom line by earning him a 15 percent savings on his electric bills.
Whether you’re installing lighting in a new pizzeria or changing what you already have, if you’re not already working with a designer, you’ll want to ask yourself the same questions a lighting expert would before you begin. What market are you going after? Is it high-end or not? How do you want your customers to feel in your pizzeria? How long do your customers usually stay? Is it mostly sit down or carry out business?
Higher light levels tend to get people in and out quickly, so that’s what fast food chains have. Hershman says the brighter lights lead to a higher pulse rate and a desire to move so they aren’t conducive to sitting, talking, enjoying your meal and lingering like lower light levels are.
“If you want a more elegant establishment that’s associated with higher priced pizza, the lighting should be more subdued,” says Hershman.
The first order of business when considering lighting is to make sure people can find you. Ron Harwood, president and creative director for Illuminating Concepts in Farmington Hills, Michigan, says lighting begins with the roadside experience.
“You want your façade to look cool and make people want to stop,” says Harwood. Onesto Pizza and Trattoria in St. Louis, Missouri, managed to spotlight their pizzeria with white “twinkle” lights surrounding the awnings, large picture windows, the landscaping around the patio and lights shining on the brick wall displaying their signage.
Because the restaurant is located in a neighborhood that is nothing but homes, Michele Racanelli, co-owner, says people often think they are lost until they see the “lights.” “We truly stand out with our outside lighting,” says Racanelli, who also did the decorating for Onesto. “It makes us pop.”
Make sure your outside lighting makes customers and staff feel secure walking from the parking area to the door of your restaurant. If you have a parking lot, developers or your local utility company usually take responsibility for the lighting. Know who to notify if any of the lighting outside isn’t working or seems too dim to provide security.
“Half of our (eight) locations have parking lots,” says Dan Black, president of Zeeks Pizza in the Seattle area. “Those have flood lights that are handled by the property manager or the building owner.”
You’re going to need to find a focal point. Racanelli decided to use track lighting and other larger lights to illuminate her pizza station.
“Because we only have 60 tables, people often have to wait for a table — so we provide a show at our pizza stations,” Racanelli says. “Our chefs not only throw dough, but they’ve mastered synchronized dough tossing.” Aim lights at your photographs or paintings on the wall. Shadowy mixed with brighter light levels works the best to keep the visual experience exciting, Harwood says.
Tables need to be lit so customers can at least read the menus. Instead of wax candles, consider LED batterydriven candles for your dining tables. They produce the same amount of light as a regular candle and are safer, says Harwood.
“You can use a row of MR16 downlights (low voltage recessed lights) to highlight the top surfaces of the tables and make the food look better,” says Harwood.
Because pizza, for the most part, uses “warm” tone foods like red tomatoes, yellow-orange cheeses, red pepperoni and wheat-colored crust, the light that shines on the pizzas should be in the 2,800-3000 degree Kelvin temperature range (your electrician or lighting supply store can help with this) to render these colors the best, according to Hershman. The warmer light source also make mushrooms, green peppers and onions look more appetizing.
And don’t forget your register area. Mistakes made at the cash register almost certainly affect your bottom line. This is one place where people need to be able to read and you don’t want dim lights. Harwood recommends two 50-watt lights three or four feet above the register area with the lights pointing down. Harwood says you don’t want your restaurant to look like your home, so shy away from the light fixtures you’d have at home. “This is a third place experience, not a home experience. The lighting should be eye candy,” says Harwood. ❖
Here are some suggestions on how to be more “green” with your lighting:
❖ Use lamps that use less than normal wattage.
❖ Incandescent and Light-Emitting Diode (LED) lights are disposable and environmentally-friendly.
❖ Install lights that allow you to manipulate the levels by raising or lowering them.
❖ Don’t light every square inch of your restaurant –– just place lights where needed.
❖ Contact your local utility to see what programs it offers to help you with lighting.
❖ See if you qualify for the tax benefit offered by The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPACT), which lets you deduct the cost of new lighting systems completed before January 1, 2014, in a single tax year instead of amortizing them over a period of years. (Visit www.lightingtaxdeduction.org to learn more.)
❖ Buy your lighting supplies locally.
Heather Larson is a freelance writer in Tacoma, Washington, who frequently writes for trade publications.
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
The U.S. has gone mobile. To be specific, wireless penetration in the U.S. reached 93 percent in 2010, according to the International Association of Wireless Telecommunications Industry (CTAI). Those are some serious numbers.
And, the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) reports that nearly 30 percent of those users are sporting smart phones. The fancy little gadgets like iPhones, Droids and BlackBerrys are powerful computers in the palms of American consumers, capable of surfing the Web anytime, almost anywhere.
Some of the best examples of mobile strategies can be found in the pizza industry. Many major pizza chains are fully mobile with a mobile Web site, an app for each type of phone and the ability to order pizza right from a handset. But what about independent owners? What’s feasible for them? Many owners may ask: can people just visit my traditional Web site on their cell phones or iPads? The answer is yes. “So many owners love their desktop sites,” says Chad Middleton, CEO of Outerwoven, a digital media agency in Cincinnati, Ohio. “They are passionate about them. But, if it’s not mobile-friendly, ultimately you are hurting the experience for the user. “Sometimes the desktop site has so much information, images and plug-ins that it takes too long for it to load on the phone.”
While customers may be able to pull up your site on their phones, there are several items that just may not be compatible. For instance, if visitors have to download a PDF menu, many mobile web users can’t view PDFs properly. The same is true for Flash, a popular platform in the restaurant industry that allows you to add animations, video and interactivity to a Web page. It’s great for desktops, but for now, people on BlackBerrys and iPhones can’t load Flash sites. They just see a blank screen.
The limitations of viewing traditional sites on phones have many businesses flocking to the mobile Web market. Clayton Krueger, director of marketing and communications at Farrelli’s Wood Fire Pizza, got excited about mobile a few years ago after sitting in on demonstrations at Pizza Expo. “For us, we understand that, with technology the way it is, people are making their dining decisions on the fly,” he says.
Krueger sought advice from his friend and web designer for Farrelli’s: “He said, ‘you don’t need an app. All you really want to do is convey some information. So we can just trim down your Web site with those basic elements that you want to get across and put it in this mobile format that can reach everyone’s mobile phone.’”
From a marketing standpoint, North American managing director of MMA Michael Becker says making the decision to go the app or mobile Web route boils down to demographic. “If they are two miles down from a college or university, that iPhone app may be appropriate because the majority of their customer base may be highly penetrated smart phone users,” he says. And he would be correct. The leading news source for college faculty members and administrators, The Chronicle of Higher Education, reports that of the 99.9 percent of college students who have cellular phones, 50 percent of those have smart phones.
On the flipside, Becker contends, apps may not be the right move for a pizzeria in a strip mall in a general community. “You then want to focus on a mobile Web site,” he says, “because a mobile Web site can go across all of the phones.”
Ultimately, it may come down to price. “By far, mobile web is more cost-effective because it’s buildable once and works on all handsets,” Becker says, adding that an app has to be built for each of the eight different operating systems for the thousands of handsets available in the U.S. Middleton adds that getting a basic mobile site up and running can be as inexpensive as $150.
For Meghan Ristau, Internet marketing specialist at Lou Malnati’s, the restaurant’s mobile Web site that launched in fall 2010 is the stepping stone to a mobile app. “We are working towards creating a mobile app through which our customers could place carry-out/delivery orders,” she says. With more than 30 stores throughout the Chicagoland area, she adds that using mobile Web has helped Lou Malnati’s “keep up with the methods of technology our patrons are using.”
Jocelyn Gelphi, owner of Antonino’s Pizzeria & Restaurant in Sunrise, Florida, is content with her mobile Web site. “Our mobile site looks and feels the same on 99 percent of smart phones out on the market,” she says. “I monitor the traffic and so many people are using our mobile site,” she says.
Gelphi worked with Middleton of Outerwoven to get her site up and running, having it go live within 24 hours. When considering a mobile Web site, “the key is simplicity. You don’t need a whole bunch of information in the mobile site,” Middleton says. In contrast to traditional Web sites, mobile sites get back to the basics. Gelphi had quite the wish list for Antonino’s mobile site. “I wanted a little bit of everything on the site but we had to scale back,” she says. “I want the user to have the most user-friendly experience.”
Building a user-friendly experience is crucial in mobile Web. Here are tips for effective mobile sites: Information is still king. Be sure to include location(s), menu, contact information and engagement with your social media pages. You can even include a photo gallery, online reservations and coupons. Always keep the information up-to-date. Users expect it
Find the right person to develop a mobile site. Just because someone is a good Web designer doesn’t mean they know how to optimize mobile browsers.
Continue your company branding. Even though your mobile site is simplified, it should have the look and feel of your company brand with your logo, colors, fonts, etc.
Include Click-to-Call and Click-to-E-mail buttons. These allow the user to touch the screen where the phone number or e-mail address is and it connects instantly.
Track your site. Know what kind of traffic is visiting your site so you can market to them.
Denise Greer is associate editor at Pizza Today.
Josh Keown & Rick Daugherty
No one likes to think about it, but employees do steal from their employers. The SBA reported that 10 percent of businesses filing bankruptcy cited employee theft or fraud as major causes. Pizzeria operators have two options: ignore the possibility or take proactive steps to protect the business.
The three main kinds of employee theft in restaurants today include swiping inventory, pocketing till money and fudging the books. Even in this age of computerized controls, employees find ways of taking product or money that can’t be easily detected. When it comes to the books, the most common methods of embezzlement include forging checks made out to phony accounts or vendors. Frequently the employee who embezzles is a “trusted” employee and therefore avoids close scrutiny.
Hence, here are several suggestions that serve as either positive or negative deterrents:
Give employees generous discounts on offerings. Many employers allow a free meal for each shift worked. The staffer’s rationale might be, “The boss is being reasonable, so I’ll be fair with her.” Even with a liberal employee discount, don’t ignore potential product theft. Have two people do an inventory count, one at the beginning of the day and one at the end. Occasionally switch counters. Notice holes in shelves.
Set up computerized systems to prevent cash withdrawals. This is especially easy to do with a POS system. Each clerk has a register and returns the same amount at end of shift. Only that employee can work his register. Set up computerized registers so that if the order isn’t punched in, it can’t be processed. Provide customer displays so that they see what they are paying for.
Michael DiBona, general manager of Mamma Mia’s, a five-store company in the Boston-area, says of such procedures: “If the clerk is over or under bank, that’s technically theft, and we’re very watchful. ”
Do cash register spot checks. If nothing else, it will alert employees that you are trying to keep tabs of the cash situation. If a spot check reveals a discrepancy, try to isolate it. Is it occurring in the morning, during certain shifts? If the problem persists, switch staff assignments around in order to isolate the possible thieves.
Install video cameras. Set them up behind cash registers, in storage areas and even in the basement — and connect them to an office screen. This makes an excellent deterrent, as well as investigative tool if someone is suspected of stealing. Alert employees that they are there, and monitor off-site if the systems allow.
Study management reports for potential problems. When reviewing routine business reports, be on the lookout for irregularities, changes or inconsistencies. For example, if you find the cash in/out discrepancy becoming larger and larger, you can be sure someone is taking money from the till. Or if you see your gross margin down from last month, for no apparent reason, a good bet is that someone is pilfering product. If one shift has much more cash register errors than another, it’s probably due to some unwarranted employee withdrawals.
“We have discount codes,” says Chris Wolff of Dewey’s Pizza, a 15-store chain in Cincinnati, Ohio. “Employees can key in these discount codes and pocket the difference. We examine these discount code use reports carefully to see if something’s going on. ”
Hire spot checkers. If you suspect a problem, hire a spot checker to act as a customer. This person doesn’t have to be an expensive security expert. Your next-door neighbor, a cousin or a family friend will do. By paying cash and saying he doesn’t want the sales slip, the spy gives the clerk an opportunity to pocket the transaction. The important thing is to make it clear to your spy what to look for. Does the clerk make change from the register? Does the clerk fuss with the register after the sale?
Create a profit bonus system, in which all employees benefit if the restaurant does well. This turns employees into committed company staffers.
Discuss the theft issue with employees. At company meetings, let your staff know that you are aware of the temptations. Point out that taking money from the till is not only a crime punishable by time in prison, but that it also is a despicable act that unfairly puts all staffers in a bad light until the perpetrator is caught.
If you catch a thief, work with your attorney to make sure you properly dismiss him or her immediately. Do not give second chances. No matter how long-term or how valuable the employee is, trust is broken.
As for bringing criminal action, that seems like a logical step. Be forewarned, however, that successfully prosecuting a dishonest employee will cost you a lot of effort, time and money. The chance of recovering any lost money is remote. u
Howard Scott, a former business owner, has published 1,400 magazine articles and four books. He is a former accountant.
Photo by Josh Keown
Our mixer finally crashed and we got a 40-quart vertical cutter mixer (VCM) to replace it. How does this mixer compare against our old 80-quart mixer?
A: The first thing to know about the VCM is that it has a much higher mixing speed. The two-speed models mix at 1750 RPM at low speed and at 3500 RPM at high speed. Single-speed models mix only at 1750 RPM. In most cases, only the 1750 RPM speed is used for dough mixing. This high speed mixing means that the mixing times will be a lot shorter, typically in the 70- to 90-second range, and due to the high speed mixing, dough heating may be a problem.
To address the dough temperature issue, we suggest that you have a five-gallon bucket of ice water at hand, and between doughs, fill the mixing bowl with the ice water, then pour it back into the bucket when you’re ready to add the ingredients for your next dough. The short mixing time can pose a problem for those using instant dry yeast (IDY), as the mixing time is not sufficiently long enough to fully hydrate the yeast or properly incorporate it into the dough. For this reason, IDY should be hydrated in 95 F water for
10 minutes prior to addition to the dough (I like to add it directly to the dough water after hydration).
If you are using active dry yeast (ADY), you have to hydrate it anyway, so there won’t be any change for your normal handling procedure. If you use fresh, compressed yeast, we suggest adding the yeast to the dough water in the mixing bowl, then running the mixer for a couple seconds to fully suspend the yeast throughout the dough water. The remainder of dough ingredients can then be added.
VCMs come with two different mixing attachments. One is flat, looking something like an airplane propeller, while the other one is curved, and sharp on the leading edges. The flat mixing attachment is the correct one to use when mixing dough, while the sharp, curved one is correct for cutting or chopping applications. To assess the correct mixing time when going from a planetary mixer to a VCM, mix the dough just long enough to achieve a smooth appearing skin on the dough. Unlike with other dough mixers, it is easy to over mix a pizza dough in a VCM, so proceed cautiously, making adjustments in mixing time in increments of not more than five or 10 seconds. By following these basic guidelines, the VCM should work well for you.
What is your opinion of spiral dough mixers?
A: I think spiral mixers are the greatest things since sliced pizza. They are highly efficient and mix the dough well with essentially the same total mixing times as a typical planetary mixer when using second speed. In addition, they will mix doughs from full-size (whatever is appropriate for the mixer) to as small as 25 percent of full capacity.
Because of this, I always suggest to buyers that they purchase a mixer a little larger than what they think they need. The mixer will then have the needed capacity to meet future growth demands. These can mix a relatively large amount of dough with a fairly small power draw, making them highly efficient. They also have a footprint that isn’t much larger than most 80-quart planetary mixers, so they are not difficult to fit into most shops. The larger mixers will typically have a removable bowl on wheels, allowing the bowl to be moved around the shop. However, most of the smaller size spiral mixers don’t have this feature, so the dough will need to be removed from the mixer and manually transported to the work area for cutting and balling.
Most shops using spiral mixers address this issue by simply installing the mixer as close as possible to the cutting bench, as this allows them to easily cut dough from the bowl and toss it onto the bench for cutting as needed. A handy feature that I would like to see more often on spiral mixers of all sizes is a removable drain plug in the bowl.
To clean a spiral mixer, we typically pour some hot water into the bowl and then cover it with a sheet of plastic, allowing the bowl to be steamed, thus softening any dough residue in the bowl. After steaming for about
15 minutes, the bowl can be scrubbed using a nylon bristle pot brush. The bowl is then rinsed and sanitized. A drain plug makes cleaning the mixer a bit easier by allowing the wash water, rinse water and sanitizer to be simply drained from the bowl by placing a bucket under the drain plug and removing the plug. Without a drain plug, you will need to bail the water out of the bowl like bailing a sinking boat.
So why don’t we see more spiral mixers used in pizzerias? It’s probably because they don’t have any provision for changing the agitator; hence, you can’t mix sauce in them. They also don’t have an attachment hub, so you can’t install an attachment for chopping, grinding or slicing to the mixer. But if you’re looking to update your dough mixer, and you can keep your old planetary mixer to do the sauce and cutting chores, a spiral mixer might be just the ticket.
Tom Lehmann is a director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas.
To get the best possible performance out of your fryer, follow these guidelines:
• Use clean oil at all times.
• Bring oil to the proper temperature (350 F). If the temperature is too low the food will absorb too much oil. If it’s too high, you’ll burn your product too easily.
• Food should be frozen, very cold or very dry before it’s lowered into the fryer.
• Shake off excess crumbs, batter or breading before dropping items into the fryer.
• Don’t fry too much at one time. Doing so lowers the temperature, thereby causing food to absorb too much oil.
• After draining food over the oil tank, turn it out onto cloth or paper to drain further.
• Serve immediately as fried items do not hold up well over time.
Yes, they really do work, but they only work as part of a baking concept. You can’t just use the disk and have your pizzas come out of the oven looking like they were baked in a deck oven. To make the Hearth Bake Disks work, you must make changes to your baking time, temperature and possibly finger configuration, unless you happen to be the proud owner of one of the new generation, highly efficient, air impingement ovens. In that case, you can simply plug in the Hearth Bake Disks and go. But for the rest of us, these are the changes we’ll need to make to get optimum results:
The baking temperature needs to be in the 475 to 500F range, with most ovens seeming to work best at about 485 to 490F. At these temperatures, any sugar, eggs or milk in your dough formula will most likely only cause the dough to burn, so you will want to make sure you delete these from your dough formula. The baking time will now fall into the 5 to 6-minute range with 5.5 to 5.75-minutes about the norm. The finger configuration will still remain fully open across the bottom, and open across the top with only the last top finger at the exit end of the oven fully or partially closed. Depending upon the type and size of oven you have, you might need to make some additional changes to the top finger configuration, but this should get you close to where you need to be. When the oven is properly set-up for these disks, the resulting pizzas have a bake that is nearly indistinguishable from pizzas baked in a traditional deck oven. As a side benefit, we have found that many deep-dish pizzas can be baked, in dark colored pans, right along side of the thin crust pizzas when using this profile.
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.
Data theft is a major problem for credit card users
BY PAMELA MILLS-SENN PHOTO BY JOSH KEOWN
Stolen credit cards. Data security breaches. Identity theft and fraud. When customers come to your restaurant or place a phone or Web order, these issues are probably not even on their radar, but they should be on yours. If you’re not careful, your customers, employees, even your business could be at risk of experiencing a ruinous data theft.
Restaurants’ unique characteristics make them particularly vulnerable, says Jon McDowall, president/CEO of the Fraud Resource Group, an international consulting and expert witness firm headquartered in Bettendorf, Iowa. The workforce is generally young and transient, he says. The workload and pace is demanding and the compensation isn’t always commensurate. Orders are coming in over the phone or Web, with payments made remotely (even when dining in, credit cards typically leave the customers sight, sometimes for relatively extended periods).
Also, “the consistent segregation of employees’ duties and managerial oversight found in many other businesses may not feasible,” McDowall adds. “Let’s face it; many pizza establishments have the potential to be a risk-manager’s nightmare.”
Lest you think that there’s nothing you hold of interest to ID thieves, think again, advises Joseph Steinberg, cyber security expert and CEO of Green Armor Solutions, a Hackensack, New Jersey-based provider of information security software. Along with the aforementioned credit card data, there’s sensitive employee information, such as social security numbers and payroll information, he reminds. Don’t forget things related to running the business –– not just processes, but recipes,
e-mails from corporate and so on.
“Then there are those customer loyalty programs that collect information like addresses, birthdates and e-mail addresses,” Steinberg addds. “All this information can be used by a criminal for nefarious purposes.”
Data theft and breaches happen in numerous ways. For restaurants, skimming — the theft of credit card information used in an otherwise legitimate transaction — is a particular concern, says identity-theft prevention expert, Johnny May, owner of Security Resources Unlimited in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. “It’s huge,” he says. “The restaurant is the one place where you lose sight of your card.”
Skimming can involve an employee writing down a customer’s credit card information, or photocopying the card, or using an electronic device (“skimmer”) to steal the data and make a clone card, says May.
“A large percent of data theft is committed by dishonest insiders,” May says. “Companies are often focused on outside attacks but really, the biggest percent comes from inside.”
Dumpster diving is another way data theft happens, says McDowall. Which is why, under Federal law, every U.S. employer, regardless of the size of the business, must destroy sensitive data
before tossing it—this includes credit card information, customer names,
addresses and so on, he explains.
“The most common means is shredding and employers need to have functional shredders in convenient locations so they’re used every time,” McDowall says.
Credit card processors can pose a risk if not handling information correctly, says Steinberg, mentioning that a recent breach involving a Texas eatery may have occurred at a third-party processor. He advises restaurants to verify their processors follow PCI Standards (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards) and to also follow them.
Then there are data breaches caused by keyloggers, worms, Trojans and malicious codes, says McDowall. “Links, photos, attachments, website content and many other common online items can be seeded with malicious code, allowing the code’s handlers to steal sensitive identifying data, banking and credit card data, and to convert this into profit.”
The fixes aren’t necessarily complicated. In addition to implementing layered computer security — for example installing software that protects against malware, viruses, spyware, and offers intrusion detection, and so on — Steinberg advises encrypting all sensitive data; easy to do and inexpensive.
He also suggests that digitally connected, multiple-location operations take precautions to ensure a breach at one site won’t lead to breaches at the others (this may require IT assistance). Also, employees logging into the restaurant’s computer system should have their own personal identification and should only be able to log onto those things that concern them, Steinberg says. For example, a chef should not have access to credit card information or to employee personal data.
“This will help protect against breaches and thefts caused by disgruntled employees and will also limit damage in the case of a leak,” he explains.
McDowall suggests having separate computers for order taking that don’t allow for surfing or e-mailing. He also advises that restaurants establish written policies — and train on them — for how credit card information is handled, including compliant disposal of that information.
Offering free wi-fi, increasingly common, exposes you to a “whole new level of risk,” says Steinberg, mentioning that this should never be provided on the same network as the restaurant operates on.
“One of the easiest ways for a criminal to figure out if they can attack the restaurant is to go in and use the wi-fi to nose around,” he says, adding that it’s not difficult to set up a separate network.
The best protection is awareness, says McDowall. “The most important step
involves acknowledging that a number of risks exist and ownership and management committing to being as secure as possible,” he says. u
One of your first lines of defense when it comes to warding off internal theft is the background check, says Johnny May of Security Resources Unlimited. He reminds operators that employees typically pose the biggest threat to data security. He also suggests restaurants:
Consider video monitoring, especially over registers and where orders are taken. Monitors can prove effective deterrents.
Store employee data in locked cabinets and limit access.
Think about using wireless credit card technology that allows customers to pay at the table. “It’s a simple fix but many restaurants don’t use it,” says May.
Keep audit trails to document and determine who has accessed what and when. There are software programs that will allow you to keep audit trails.
Jon McDowall, president/CEO of the Fraud Resource Group, recommends exercising caution when considering new technologies. “Make sure you’ve explored and adequately understand the security implications. You may want to delay rollout to see how others fare.”
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.
The convenience of ordering pizza online is in such high customer demand that any pizzeria without an online ordering system should question how serious it is about growing business and profits. Offering customers an online ordering system has many benefits, including:
• New customers who prefer online ordering
• Higher ticket averages and sales (our online tickets are worth 25 percent more, on average)
• Increased efficiency due to reduced need for employee order-taking
• Improved customer service because customers can take as much time as they want to place and review an order prior to submission
• Lower marketing investment due to low-cost online ad placement
• Increased ROI due to higher ticket averages, new customers and low-cost marketing
When I first implemented an online ordering system at our pizzeria, online orders grew to 2 percent of total sales just weeks after the launch—and before we sent out a single promotion. Because our online tickets are worth, on average, 25 percent more than our carryout and delivery tickets, online ordering has proven to me that it’s a powerful way to increase profits.
I’ve also learned the importance of choosing an online ordering system wisely in order to maximize profits without requiring a major time investment. The following seven tips will help you select the best online ordering system for your pizzeria.
1. Get A Third-Party Provider
While it's possible to host an online ordering system on your own website, there are definite drawbacks. Maintenance is up to you, and if the system goes down you will have to scramble to fix it—or wait for your web designer to do so at whatever hourly rate he or she charges. Third-party providers specialize in online ordering systems and are therefore less expensive and more responsive to your needs. Moreover, they are accountable for keeping your system running.
2. Excellent Branding
Your online ordering system should allow you to brand the look of the user interface, allowing you to prominently display your logo, address, phone number, website, company colors and other brand markers. The customer experience should be seamless; patrons should not feel they are being redirected to an unknown entity to complete their orders.
3. Ease Of Use
Your online ordering system should be extremely simple for customers to use. They should be able to log in, find what they want quickly and order it in a matter of minutes. It should also be easy for you to update whenever you have special offers, coupons and price changes. The easier your online ordering system is to use the more you can work it to your advantage, and the more customers will enjoy interacting with it. And, ultimately, the more profitable it will be.
4. Selling Tools
Your online ordering system should include selling tools that will help increase your ticket averages. Suggestive selling, interactive promotions and other sales tools should be presented in an intuitive fashion to the users. For example, any customer ordering bread sticks should be prompted automatically to opt for an extra sauce, and all customers should be asked if they'd like to add soda to their orders. Consider your online ordering system to be a marketing investment that carries an expected return.
The best online ordering systems integrate with your POS to make accounting fast and easy. Yours should also integrate with your kitchen printer, which needs to be outfitted with a buzzer so workers there know when an online order comes in. If properly structured, online ordering shouldn't add a lot of work and it can make your kitchen operations more efficient.
6. Customer Service
Before you make your online ordering solution decision, investigate a provider’s customer service. You want fast and knowledgeable support staff to assist you when you have questions and quickly correct any system malfunctions. You definitely don't want to lose an entire night's worth of online sales waiting for a tech to fix your system. Ask for references and follow up to see if other pizzeria owners would recommend the provider you're considering.
Finally, pricing should play a role in your decision. As noted, your online ordering system is an investment that is expected to bring a return. The cheapest isn't necessarily the worst, and the most expensive isn't necessarily the best. Seek an online ordering system that satisfies the other six requirements listed here, then factor price into your decision-making process. The goal is to implement an online ordering system that will help you earn more profits in return for a fair investment.
Making the most of online orders is one of three topics Shawn Randazzo will be covering at Pizza Expo 2013. He will also present seminars on maximizing delivery business and building a winning company culture. He is co-owner of Detroit Style Pizza Co. in St. Clair Shores, Mich., and was the 2012 Pizza Maker of the Year winner at Expo’s International Pizza Challenge.
For more details on International Pizza Expo 2013, visit www.pizzaexpo.com.
Photos by Josh Keown
Years ago, architect Jim Lencioni recalls being called into a casual restaurant concept based in the Southeast. Despite solid marks for its food, business continued falling.
In surveying guests, Lencioni soon discovered that diners preferred carryout because they were so uncomfortable in the dining room, one emblazoned with large photos of pigs over red and blue walls.
“The interior was actually so bad it was driving people away,” remembers Lencioni, head of Aria Group Architects in Oak Park, Illinois.
Lencioni’s tale remains a cautionary one for pizzeria operators. As good as the pepperoni pie might be, front-ofthe- house design problems can easily derail a shop’s prospects.
Visuals, after all, are important, confirms Howard Ellman of Dynamic Designs, a Michigan-based design firm that specializes in hospitality.
“If the restaurant is uninspiring to the eyes, it doesn’t necessarily build confidence in the food,” Ellman says.
Veteran restaurant designers identify the five most common frontof- the-house design missteps and offer solutions.
Design problem No. 1: light. Though lighting can be the most impactful element in a restaurant, it’s too often overlooked.
Some restaurants are too bright and others too dim. Some host uneven lighting, while lighting in others is so consistent it lacks drama.
Lencioni’s advice: “Like the stage in a theater, light up anything you want to control the view of, such as your wine collection or artwork.”
Vision 360 Design CEO Brad Belletto adds that lighting temperature can change the way food looks on the table. Softer light, for instance, can make food look warm and refreshing.
“The perfect color temperature for most restaurants is going to be in the 2800-3200 kelvin range,” Belletto says, adding that temperature information will be available on light bulb packaging.
And know who you are, Lencioni concludes. McDonald’s long kept its surfaces hard and lighting bright to encourage rotation. In contrast, dimmer lighting can persuade people to linger and promote wine or alcohol sales.
Design Problem No. 2: sound. In many casual and quick-service restaurant environments, hard surfaces, high ceilings and rectangular spaces can be the norm. Enter acoustic problems. “You want a particular amount of energy in the space, but it cannot be bothersome,” Lencioni says. “You need to provide some acoustic control.” Lencioni suggests creating “zones of energy.” For instance, the bar area might be more lively, which would make harder surfaces more acceptable. In the dining room, turn to softer materials, such as booths, or angled walls to absorb sound. “There can still be noise in the dining room, but it needs to be controlled enough that people can feel comfortable,” he says.
Design problem No. 3: age. In many cases, age can be a positive for a pizzeria, as longevity can inspire confidence. In the dining room, however, age can be a detriment, particularly when it manifests itself in front of guests in the form of ripped booth upholstery, wearing tabletops, or outdated signage.
“Look at what your diners see and feel when they walk into the space,” Ellman says. “If it’s disorganized, in disrepair, or designed for another era, consider a change.”
Ellman says restaurants should update every five to seven years, a process that need not break the bank. Fresh paint is economical and can do wonders to enliven a dining room, while booth seating can be refreshed for a nominal investment in fabric.
“Provide customers a sense of place that shows you care about their experience and what you serve,” Ellman says.
Design problem No. 4: impractical. Too often, designers agree, operators ignore design common sense. Ellman recalls one restaurant with an S-shaped dining counter looking into an exhibition kitchen. While Ellman considers exhibition kitchens wonderful options for some pizzerias –– “Seeing your pizza made and be appetizing and entertaining,” he says –– the jogging counter limited seating capacity.
Similarly, Belletto recalls one restaurant installing a curved wall in its dining room. While the wall’s presence added design punch, it served no practical purpose. In fact, it actually made it difficult for some guests to exit tables and shortchanged seating capacity.
“Whatever you do, it’s important to balance out practicality and functionality with the design,” Belletto says, also suggesting that restaurants have various seating types to provide drama as well as operational versatility.
Design problem 5: overspending. In designing a restaurant, it can be easy to fall in love with high-end finishes or distinctive design elements. That’s an all-too-common mistake.
“Operators can get easily fixated on something they saw elsewhere and insist on it in their restaurant,” Belletto says. “They’ll buy expensive scraped wood flooring when vinyl plank flooring with a wood simulation would be half the cost and a quarter of the maintenance.”
Belletto cites numerous restaurateurs obsessed with silver table bases.
“But who even sees these? If you’re going to spend money, spend where people will notice it,” he advises.
Operators should match their design choices to both the character of the establishment and its profitability.
“You’re going to struggle to pay for that granite countertop in a place that serves $9.99 pizzas all day,” Belletto says. “Know how much profit you can make on the product and then you won’t need to invest in interior finishes beyond the scope of your profitability.”
Chicago-based writer Daniel P. Smith has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.
Photos by Rick Daugherty
A couple of years ago, an Urbanspoon reviewer wrote that if Oregano’s Pizza Bistro were a movie, it would win an Academy award. The reviewer added: “From the background music to the star line-up of pizzas, sandwiches and pastas, this place has it all.”
Indeed, background music is to a restaurant what a soundtrack is to a movie. “Music is part of the allure. It’s one of the main ingredients in making a great atmosphere,” says Gary Tarr, advertising manager for Oregano’s, which has 12 locations in greater Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff.
Just as playing background music evokes benefits for a restaurant, it also brings legal obligations, if that music is copyrighted.
“The theory behind the law is that music, even if it’s just in the background, is an extra appeal that attracts more customers into a business,” says Henry Abromson, a Frederick, Maryland attorney specializing in intellectual property and entertainment law. “The business is profiting from playing the music, so it should send a little money to the people who created the music.”
Songwriters, composers and music publishers can’t track where and how often their creations are playing and then collect the royalties due them. That’s where the performance rights organizations (PROs) come in, such as the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) and SESAC.
The PROs track music usage and collect licensing fees for the performance rights to millions of copyrighted works. They use that money to pay royalties to the songwriters, composers and music publishers who are members of the PRO. The purpose of licensing is to give music creators a fair shake, says Vincent Candilora, executive vice president of licensing at ASCAP. “If you want to use their property,” he says, “you have to get permission and pay them something.”
Licensing fee rates vary widely, depending on seating occupancy, how often music is played, whether the music is live or recorded and other factors. For a 100-seat restaurant playing compact discs for background music, ASCAP’s yearly fee would be $326, according to Candilora. “That’s less than a dollar a day,” he says. “A soda costs more than that.”
Penalties for violating copyright are hefty, ranging from $750 to $50,000 per copyrighted work, perhaps more if the court decides the infringement was willful. Still, restaurateurs often question why they must pay licensing fees, Candilora reports. They figure if they bought a CD or downloaded songs on their iPod, those songs are theirs to enjoy. That’s true when playing music for your personal use. But if you play it in your business for customers, it’s considered a music performance, and copyright protection kicks in.
But didn’t those music creators already get paid? Why should you pay for playing their music? That line of thinking stems from misperceptions about how the music world works, Candilora explains. People confuse the recording artist with the songwriter, who may be the same person but often isn’t.
“If I mention a song like ‘The Gambler,’ the first person to come to mind is Kenny Rogers,” Candilora says. “But a guy by the name of Don Schlitiz wrote that song. Getting royalties from his songwriting is how Don puts his kids through school. People think if you have a hit, you’re an instant millionaire, but that’s so far from the truth.”
A songwriter, composer or music publisher can belong to only one PRO. So a restaurant paying ASCAP’s fee gains access to the 8.5 million songs on ASCAP’s list, but not to the 7.5 million songs BMI manages. That’s why restaurants often obtain licenses from multiple PROs.
Exemptions from fees exist for specific situations. A restaurant with less than 3,750 square feet (including storage, kitchen, bathrooms, etc.) pays no royalties for playing radio and television music only. A restaurant exceeding that square footage pays no fees if:
- It plays radios and has no more than six speakers total, with no more than four speakers per room.
- It plays no more than four televisions, each measuring up to 55 inches diagonally, with only one television per room. The limit on speakers is six total and no more than four per room.
Other ways to avoid paying the PROs’ fees include:
- Installing a coin-operated jukebox for customer use. You’ll owe a fee to the Jukebox License Office in New York.
- Playing music with expired copyrights. For music written before 1978, copyright protection lasts for the artist’s life plus 95 years. That shifts to the artist’s life plus 70 years for music written after 1978.
- Subscribing to a background music provider, such as Dynamic Media or Muzak. The latter’s Web site quotes a $40/month rate for its “premium” option, plus one-time costs of $299 for a media player and a $99 activation fee.Otherwise, expect music licensing requirements to apply to your restaurant. Just as you pay a florist for the flowers on your tables, pay the music creator for his or her music. “It’s a cost of doing business,” Candilora says, “and it’s the right thing to do.”
Live music is a vital part of the business mix at Mississippi Pizza in Portland, Oregon, which includes a restaurant area, a music room for live performances and a bar/lounge. Double doors separate the three spaces.
“Some people want to come in with their family and not hear live music,” says Philip Stanton, who co-owns the business with wife Stephanie. Those customers can dine in the restaurant area, where only background music plays. But others come specifically to hear live music and end up ordering pizza, too. There are two live shows per night, with no cover charges for 80 percent of the shows.
Stanton pays licensing fees to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC, totaling $4,500 per year. “It’s absolutely worth it,” he says. “The live music brings in people who don’t know this neighborhood and normally wouldn’t come to our restaurant. That generates 60,000 people a year who come here to hear music and now know how to get to our place for a pizza.”
Dianne Molvig is a freelance writer in Madison, Wisconsin.
Photos by Josh Keown
When restaurants get lax on ice machine cleaning, the results can be chilling — from a failed health inspection to gross news headlines about black mold clogging an ice machine at a local eatery to, in the worse-case scenario, sick customers.
Experts say that’s because ice machines provide an ideal environment for microbes to flourish. “You’ve got wet, cold conditions and sometimes infrequent cleaning,” says James Marsden, distinguished professor of food safety and security at Kansas State University, who has studied ice machines and health. “So, bacteria, mold and viruses can colonize in ice machines and when that happens, the ice itself can become contaminated.”
There are a number of microorganisms that have been found in dirty ice machines, he says, including salmonella, e. coli and shigella, all of which are bacteria, as well as a virus called norovirus. These microbes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, can cause a range of gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea or stomach cramps, depending on the germ.
Another type of bacteria, listeria monocytogenes, also has been found in ice machines, Marsden says. It can be especially dangerous to pregnant women and their unborn babies — even causing miscarriage or stillbirth — as well as to seniors, infants and people with compromised immune systems, according to the CDC.
One study done at the University of Texas found that bacteria and viruses survive in contaminated ice — even when an alcoholic beverage is poured into the glass, Marsden says. And the health risk is not theoretical. There have been actual outbreaks of illness caused by contaminated ice. “Once the pathogens get in the ice, they do pose a real human health risk,” he says.
But the chance you could make your customers ill isn’t the only problem that can be caused by an ice machine that hasn’t been cleaned often enough. There’s also another issue: taste. “Maybe the most common thing to find in an ice machine is just plain mold,” Marsden says. “And nobody wants ice that tastes moldy.” Scott Deshetler, director of marketing for the Denver, Colorado, ice machine manufacturer Ice-O-Matic, agrees. “If you’re putting ice in soft drinks and that ice machine hasn’t been cleaned in a while, it will definitely impact the taste,” Deshetler says.
As part of the solution, in addition to regular cleaning and sanitizing, Marsden recommends restaurant owners consider using an antimicrobial device in the ice machine. For example, he did proprietary research for a company in Florida that was having problems with its ice machines. he found that using a sanitizing device that fit into the machines and used ultraviolet light to produce very low levels of hydrogen peroxide vapor solved the problem.
“It works 24 hours a day, seven days a week and creates an environment inside the machine that doesn’t allow bacteria or mold spores or viruses to survive,” he says. Also, because the hydrogen peroxide breaks down quickly, no residue is left behind.
Another benefit is that kind of device can reduce the frequency of cleaning and maintenance, he says. The company Marsden worked with, for example, went from having to clean their machines every few weeks to once a year. “The return on investment would be in a matter of months,” he says.
This could be especially important for pizzerias, because yeast used to make the pizza dough can fly through the air on particles of flour, get into ice machines and grow. “If you’ve got yeast floating through the air, even if you cleaned the ice machine 10 minutes ago, you’ve got it in there again,” Marsden says, noting that yeast is a microorganism related to mold, and also would be kept in check by a sanitizing device.
Even if you do use an antimicrobial device, regular cleaning, sanitizing and maintenance still are crucial, experts say. “Cleaning is important not only from a health and safety standpoint, as well as taste and quality, but also because it extends the life of your machine,” Deshetler says. “There’s an economic benefit to the operator as well.”
Cleaning can be a chore, however, and Marsden says it’s crucial to get your machine 100 percent cleaned and sanitized when you do the job, because certain bacteria — such as listeria monocytogenes, for example — can form a biofilm that acts as a protective shell. “You can pour sanitizer right on top of it, and it can’t get through the biofilm to kill the bacteria,” he says.
Restaurant owners who don’t want to deal with the hassle have several options. They can set up a regular schedule for a professional ice machine cleaning company to service their machines, they can lease a machine, or they can use a subscription service. Heidi Alberti, marketing director for Easy Ice, says a subscription service can have several advantages. For example, the burden of preventive maintenance, routine cleaning and filter replacement falls on the subscription company. There’s also 24-hour customer service and some companies even guarantee that if a machine breaks down and can’t be fixed within six hours, the company will provide bagged ice for free.
“This way, a pizzeria owner doesn’t have to scramble around remembering when the ice machine needs to be cleaned, when the water filter needs to be swapped out, when maintenance needs to be scheduled,” Alberti says.
Allie Johnson is a award-winning freelance writer covering personal finance, business and lifestyle.She lives in Kansas City, Missouri.
Photos by Josh Keown
In a typical day, Woodstock’s Pizza in isla vista, California, will make about 60 deliveries
across the lunch and dinner dayparts.
To homes, office complexes, industrial spots and the nearby campus of University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), a daily staff of 10 Woodstock’s drivers will hit doors across the Isla Vista area. The sheer number of deliveries, including some to less traveled parts of town, Woodstock’s marketing representative Jeff Willis confesses, leaves room for errors, wrong turns and delays.
“When you have that many drivers out on the road, mistakes can happen,” Willis says, recalling one driver who got lost on his return trip from a nearby oil refinery. “he hadn’t been in that area before and mistook a left for a right.”
Fortunately, pizzeria operators and drivers alike have a number of contemporary tools capable of streamlining the delivery process.
With GPS, satellite images, smartphones, and customizable mapping solutions, we’ve come a long way from the rand McNally road atlas. Though
a trusty part of any delivery driver’s arsenal, the traditional printed map has largely given way to tech-charged solutions that make delivery execution more efficient and predictable.
In recent years, many pizzerias, including independent stores like Woodstock’s, have turned to customized delivery maps in which operators identify the center of the map, typically their restaurant, and then select a custom area defined by radius, distance, or drive time. at Woodstock’s, for instance, red lines define different delivery zones and each zone’s accompanying fee.
Featuring large graphics, high detail levels and an a-to-z street directory, these printed maps help staff easily locate an address, verify its place in the delivery area and approximate delivery time. Drivers, meanwhile, can use the map as a large-scale visual tool to plan their route.
Robert Burns, director of marketing at California-based Maps.com, a provider of mapping products to businesses, says that while drivers might utilize a GPS or smartphone to travel from the store to a customer, the customized overview maps assist in the journey’s planning stage and provide a level of detail and reliability absent in digital solutions.
“Print maps provide a quick reference (and) instant answers that digital solutions do not,” Burns says, adding that operators utilizing a Maps.com solution can define the size of their map and finishing treatment. “This really benefits independent and small chains the most, where they have very specific delivery areas or where multiple stores serve adjacent areas.”
At Woodstock’s, Willis has observed a “huge improvement” in driver performance since the store posted its customized map in late 2011. he says many of his drivers use the poster- sized map, which sits directly above the driver’s station, as an easy-to-read reference tool to understand where they’re heading. on the road, drivers can then pull out their smartphone or a GPS unit as necessary.
“Our map has become an essential communication tool. There is now less confusion about driving areas, fewer lost drivers, and fewer mistakes,” Willis says.
Another no-frills, but tech-enabled tool, driver map books provide extensive on-the-go details on specific communities. Often laminated, these portable maps can include a whole territory or different subsets with extensive details for convenience of use.
“These are most popular to break larger territories into smaller pieces and hand out to drivers to keep in their vehicles,” says Jorge Azpilicueta of DeliveryMaps.com, a leading resource for delivery maps and applications.
On the more high-tech side, digital maps can offer the same level of detail and data as the printed options, but be integrated into POS systems.
Digital maps “are very useful for zooming and viewing with more detail any portion of the map,” Azpilicueta says, noting that many single-store operations tend to favor wall maps, digital maps, driver maps or a combination of the three to plan delivery routes, while larger chains invest in more complex applications to automate the routing.
DeliveryMaps.com can also create web applications, the most high-tech — and costly — of all delivery solutions. Typical web applications provide an interactive interface that allows operators to customize delivery routes, provide directions, offer time estimates, and identify alternative routes. Maps can then be created and printed for each delivery.
Azpilicueta says the web application technology is best suited for small chains with five to 10 stores to larger regional or national chains. he adds that operators using web applications have access to a custom-made system to organize deliveries, as well as the ability to match the delivery address against the territories assigned to each store location. The system can then decide which store should receive a given order.
“Clients can improve delivery times, reduce delivery costs, and save all this information for further use analysis,” Azpilicueta says.
As technology continues its charge, Burns says future driver solutions might include enhanced visualizations, as well as mapping of customers and deliveries against demographics.
“This would enable even the owner- operated business to see who the customers are and tailor offers and publicity to suit,” Burns says. “This type of software is currently used by major multiples, but in many smaller stores is the type of data that the owner carries in their head, sometimes inaccurately.”
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
“There may be a hundred different stances and sword positions, but you win with just one,” said undefeated Samurai Miyamoto Musashi in 1643. Mushashi would have been a great pizza guy because he described pan pizza to the letter. Every town, village and territory in the world has their own pan pizza style: Chicago style; Sicilian Sfincione; Detroit Red Top; Tuscan Schiacciata; Old Forge style; French Pissaliadiere; Ligurian Pizza all’ Andrea; Philidelphia’s Tomato Pie; the Abruzzan Pizza Rustica from Renaissance times; stuffed pan pizza and pizza Pugliese. Even the centuries-old Chinese Scallion Pizza is baked in metal and some speculate that it was this idea that Marco Polo brought back to Italy to evolve into…(drumroll please) pan pizza!
For 13 years, I have used the 180 seasoned pizza pans in my small place to bake my own Athens-style pizza. Each pan sees action at least twice every day. During the rushes, they get tossed, slammed, slid, stacked and sometimes knocked over which, I will admit, is not a great way to treat the vehicle that crisps my pizza product (but each pan will again eventually don the high protein cloak of cold-fermented dough that it deserves). My pans have straight sides with a “nesting” indentation halfway up to stack the pans very high without harming the dough. I opted for this feature because I only have 1,200 square feet in my pizzeria.
Unlike pan pizzas on the East Coast, ours are not oiled but are just dusted with corn meal. These pans hold the dough crust vertically for a rustic look as it is docked, proofed, sauced, cheesed and topped before heading into our 475 F conveyor ovens. The pan heats up from 390 to 400 F after seven minutes, pushing the crust temperature to 315 F for a nice browning effect. It isn’t as hot as a wood-fired oven but heats up the 19 ounces of proofed dough nicely!
There are as many pizza pan designs as there are styles. If you are buying more than 50 at once, some companies may discount your order or deliver for free. Always ask (I only use credit cards that offer miles also!)
To find the one best pan pizza for your pizzeria, consider these factors:
- Your comfort zone. Are you and your staff willing to enthusiastically craft new pan pizza styles to generate more revenue?
- Your customer. What are they used to? How far can you stretch their culinary comfort zone? u Your market. Who has the best pan pizza in your area? (Be honest.) How can you beat them? These are very personal considerations for you and your pizzeria, but if you wish to take the leap to pan, let’s first concentrate on where the metal hits the road.
- Steel pans. Old-school steel pans are sometimes found in all their black seasoned beauty in the dark corners of used restaurant stores, these are the undisputed kings of golden crispy pizza pan crusts. The steel is strong (but does not conduct heat as quickly as aluminum) and they have better cook-ability and hold the heat longer. With thicker pizzas and larger pans, they don’t have a middle “skip” zone of un-doneness that aluminum pans have because of bending under heat. Some old pan pizzas were made in tin-plated steel pans, but remember that tin melts at 450 F, so these aren’t good for today’s high-heating ovens. I like the steel pans because some high seasoned sides seem to force a nice heat into the upper cornicione, or crust, of the pizza.
- “Nekkid” steel pans. New “bare” steel pans can be cheaper than coated steel pans, but buyer beware: thicker pizza pans with gauges below 16 are getting harder to find these days. If you are buying online, always ask what gauge the pan is. The lower the steel gauge number, the thicker the pan. These new bare steel pans need to be seasoned, which means you crank up your oven and coat each pan with a thin layer of lard, (really old school) vegetable oil or shortening. These have a low smoke point and you must ventilate your place well while doing this all day long until they turn color and eventually get blackened with carbon. (NOTE: never wash seasoned pans or bake with any liquid on the seasoning. If you absolutely have to wash them, use warm water and a weak soap quickly, then rinse and immediately run through another seasoning session.)
- Aluminum pans. Aluminum transfers heat four times faster than steel but I’ve found from personal experience I get a better golden brown crust in a deck oven from the steel. Because non-coated aluminum heats up fast, there is sometimes a “stickability problem.” Large aluminum pans tend to buckle in one corner under brick oven heat and that can affect cooking also.
- Coated pans. Aluminized steel pans offer both the durability and speed at heating up, while the “Anodized” aluminum pans coated with PSTK or pre-seasoned Tuff-kote improve durability and baking performance. These can either be as an electro-chemical process that converts the outside of the pan to aluminum oxide, or through multiple layers of sealant sprayed on an aluminum base that is absorbed into the pores for a tough, non-stick surface. This pan coating comes under numerous names depending on the company but they are all are twice as expensive as “bare” pans and, as I am finding out, will last forever — 11 years and counting for my pizzeria.
As you can see, many options are available for your perfect pizza pan. I’ve barely touched the surface here and most of my information just comes from personal experience. The best pan information will come from the company itself. If you are looking to open a new pizzeria, consider having multiple styles of pizza and don’t forget the pan.
In the next issue, I will delve into the differences in pan pizza dough styles and how the two most important aspects are achieved with the marriage between dough and pan: taste and texture.u
John Gutekanst owns Avalanche Pizza in Athens, Ohio. He is also a speaker at International Pizza Expo and a member of the World Pizza Champions.
By nature, humans resist change. We’re comfortable with what we know and often rally against new applications and procedures, particularly when it comes to technology’s rapid pace. Operators introducing a new POS system frequently confront an imposing hurdle, namely staff cooperation. Yet, some careful planning can ease the transition and promote teamwork.
• Alert the staff of the impending change and, more importantly, why it’s being done, which includes making their job easier.
• Keep the staff abreast of your decision-making process and provide a calendar of key dates.
• Let the staff see the demos and provide their input so they can contribute to the process; after all, they’ll be using the system most.
• Remind the staff that in learning a new POS system, they’re also gaining a new job skill.
• Be patient and create a non-intimidating environment. Everybody learns at different speeds and mistakes will happen. Remain positive and encouraging.
Honestly, an alarm system with monitoring is fairly inexpensive and gives you great piece of mind. A real must! Surveillance systems have a wide range in price. If you are not in your establishment every day, all day, find one that you can afford. They are both important to have!
A solid carpet care plan is essential, experts say, to keeping carpet looking good, particularly in a busy restaurant setting. There is guidance out there to help you find the right equipment and people.
The Carpet and Rug Institute and the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration maintain databases of experts and equipment that can assist you in caring for your carpet. The Carpet and Rug Institute regularly tests cleaning equipment and cleansers and rates them on their Web site, www.carpet-rug.org.
Look under commercial carpets for their downloadable, PDF guide to caring for carpet, and also for a list of both providers and equipment that has received their seal of approval.
The Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration offers training and certification for those in the carpet-cleaning industry. To access a database of cleaners, searchable by zip code, visit www.certifiedcleaners.org/locator.shtml.
You can offer different styles of crust, but you’ll need at least a double stack oven. You can offer hand-tossed baked on a screen, which does cook quicker than a pan pizza. So you have different cook times and cooking speeds for the different types of pizzas. There are split belt ovens out there as well.
While European waiters have utilized wireless credit card terminals for years, the U.S. market has listlessly adopted the technology.
While the wireless units run approximately $500, integrating the units into a restaurant’s existing POS system brings additional costs.
A few compelling reasons continue pushing the wireless issue to the forefront of operators’ minds.
Processing the credit card in the customer’s view significantly decreases the possibility of skimming and the merchant’s subsequent liability.
Tables often turn quicker as staff members run transactions at tableside and eliminate frequent trips to a workstation.
Customers often appreciate the convenience. DiBiase, in fact, credits the seamless nature of wireless payment with attracting repeat business to Aperitivo Cafe.
Pin-based transactions cost the operator less than credit payments.
When it comes time to purchase a new dishwasher, be sure you get one that fits your capacity needs. Take the number of seats in your restaurant and multiply that by the number of meals per table you serve during your average rush period. After you have that number, multiply it by the number of dishes used for each place setting.
For example, let’s say your restaurant seats 100. If you serve six meals per table during a rush period, take 100 x 6 and arrive at 600. Let’s say each place setting utilizes four pieces of dishware. 100x6x4 = 2,400. That means you need a washer with the capacity to clean 2,400 dishes an hour.
To get the best possible performance out of your fryer, follow these guidelines:
• Use clean oil at all times.
• Bring oil to the proper temperature (350 F). If the temperature is too low the food will absorb too much oil. If it’s too high, you’ll burn your product too easily.
• Food should be frozen, very cold or very dry before it’s lowered into the fryer.
• Shake off excess crumbs, batter or breading before dropping items into the fryer.
• Don’t fry too much at one time. Doing so lowers the temperature, thereby causing food to absorb too much oil.
• After draining food over the oil tank, turn it out onto cloth or paper to drain further.
• Serve immediately as fried items do not hold up well over time.
The average customer spends less than 40 seconds looking over your menu. In that time, the brain kick-starts into overdrive and a purchasing decision is made based on emotion, comfort zone, curiosity and cost.
Some of your menu choices contribute lots more cash to the bottom line than others. Some of your menu items are very popular, as well as profitable. The rest are not.
The trick is to identify which items are winners and which are losers. You may also wonder how you can influence the speed-reading customer to order the most profitable entrees. One thing to bear in mind is this: it is not about selling more pizza — it’s about selling more of the most profitable menu items.
And when you try to identify your most profitable items, here’s another hint: it’s not about the food cost percentage.
I use a system that I call Menu Profit Max. Here’s how the idea works:
Let’s look at your large specialty pizzas. You may offer a Chicken, Taco, Veggie, Margherita, Hawaiian, House Special and my favorite, the Bodacious BLT. You have done the work and have established a Food Cost in percentage and a Food Cost in dollar amount. The cost of ingredients to make the pizza subtracted from the menu price is the ever-important Contribution Margin (CM). These pizzas will typically run between 25-35 percent Food Cost. A few of them will yield higher than average CM ($13-$17 per sale), and some will only yield $7-$11 per pie gross profit. If you were only going to sell a fixed finite amount in an average week’s time, which ones would you like to sell the most of? The high or low CM pizzas?
Let's say my shop sold, hypothetically, 1,000 specialty pies a week. My fliers and menus were redesigned based on historical ordering data from my POS system reports. My new menu design, layout and visual appeal steered my customers to order more of the more profitable pizzas. Twenty cents here, fifty cents there and pretty soon we’re talking thousands of brand-new profit dollars. This procedure is repeated in every category of entrees: appetizers, sandwiches, salads, pasta, beverages and so on.
By renaming, re-pricing, repositioning or removing entrees, your bottom line will balloon with no additional increase of customer counts. This strategy is used by Web-based retailers, airlines, grocery stores and many retail giants. They track the most purchased and profitable items and entice you to order them when you purchase. You only need three pieces of data to make this strategy a reality: menu price, food cost in dollars and the number of times each item was ordered in a month’s time.
Parting thought: 1,000 pizzas times an extra 50 cents CM will add $500 to your bottom line. We haven’t even started on the rest of the menu, like wings and salads. Get started today.
I see a lot of confusion in this terminology in the pizza industry. It seems that we were all taught that if an oven employs air movement to improve its baking characteristics it’s a convection oven. To some extent this is true, but there is a great distinction between air movement as it pertains to air impingement baking and air movement as it pertains to convection baking. This is much like the distinction between a ship and a boat. They’re both “boats” in a sense; but, in usage, there is a considerable difference.
Convection ovens have forced air movement to improve their baking properties, but this air movement is pretty tame as compared to that used by air impingement ovens. Typically, one might see airflows of 400 to 600 linear feet per minute in a convection oven. When we step up to an air impingement oven, those airflow rates jump up to a whopping 1,500 linear feet per minute. Additionally, the airflow pattern in a convection oven is not highly focused on the product being baked, where as the airflow in an air impingement oven is highly focused right onto the product, allowing the heat to better penetrate the product and resulting in a significant reduction of overall bake time. Also, since the air is so highly focused in the air impingement ovens, it’s possible to manipulate the airflow characteristics in very specific parts of the baking chamber by making changes to the “finger inserts” through which the air flows to achieve very specific baking conditions as the product passes through the baking chamber.
Recently, I had a conversation with a small business owner who had purchased an ATM to put in his store. Though he hadn't had the machine long, his early results were glowing. "The thing's a cash cow," he quipped. "I've got four grand in it, but it won't take me long to get all that back, and then some."
A few days later I had lunch at a CiCi's Pizza store in Indiana. Before I go any further, however, a short aside is necessary: Since my paycheck is directly deposited into my checking and savings accounts, I hardly ever have cash in my wallet. Instead, I use a debit card for virtually every purchase I make. As such, I had no cash on me when I entered the franchised CiCi's location. "No biggie," I told myself. "This place will take a debit card."
Wrong. Wisely, debit and credit cards were not accepted at this location - but there was an ATM sitting on the front counter, right next to the cash register. When I asked the cashier about using a debit card, she politely pointed to the ATM and told me I'd have to use it and then pay for my order with cash.
Genius, I thought. I knew I was going to have to pay a nominal fee for the ATM service, and I knew that particular CiCi's store was going to lay claim to all or part of that fee (depending on whether it owned or leased the ATM). I can't recall off the top of my head the exact amount of the fee. I think it was $1.50 or $2. At any rate, it wasn't enough to make most cashless customers turn around and walk out. At the same time - based on the large percentage of restaurant guests who now pay for their orders with credit and debit cards - I knew it was enough to make a noticeable difference on the bottom line of that CiCi's location.
Perhaps the biggest benefit I see to purchasing or leasing an ATM is the fact that, like the CiCi's store I recently visited, the machine enables operators to stop taking credit cards (and therefore eliminates the need to send a percentage of your sales to the credit company).
Of course, there are cons as well. Purchasing an ATM will cost thousands. If you decide to lease, you run the risk of getting stuck with a machine for an extended period of time, even if it doesn't work out as anticipated. And though the footprint of ATMs have grown considerably smaller over the years, you still have to find room for them.
Still, despite these drawbacks, an ATM can be very beneficial in the right setting. As one operator put it to me not long ago, the machines could potentially become "cash cows."
Cooking with wood has been around since the dawn of civilization, so there’s no singular revelation attached to that method of cooking. On the other hand, cooking pizza in a wood-fired oven has been going on only since the turn of the century in this country. In recent years, however, the fire has been banked and stoked until it is blazing hot, as more and more new pizza places (no fewer than ten new restaurants in Chicago in the past five years have gone with wood-fired ovens) continue to embrace the idea of cooking with wood, and promoting the authentic goodness attached to the idea of a wood-fired pizza.
A wood-fired oven is not for everybody, but those that decide to take that route — and it seems as if there are more and more every day — are dedicated to the wood-fired oven and champion the idea that this is an excellent and classic way to bake pizza.
Most of us in the business are familiar with the cooking characteristics of a wood- burning oven as it pertains to pizza, but there are so many other cooking possibilities to consider once the fire in that oven is blazing. Yes, the wood-burning oven can be used to cook almost anything, but I am quick to point out the many considerations that have to be addressed. A famous movie star once said, “If you throw something into a hot oven, what’s to stop it from getting cooked?” There’s a good bit of truth in that statement, but there’s also a lot of danger in taking it too much to heart.
For example, how big is the oven, how much will it hold? A true Neapolitan wood-fired oven is generally quite small and will hold (depending on the size of the pizzas being baked) only four or five pizzas, so this leaves little room to cook anything else. This means we have to look at how to use the oven when the oven isn’t being used. By that I mean using the oven when the oven is hot, but there are not too many pizza orders coming in.
Let me explain this in more detail. You fire up the oven, and your goal is to get the oven to, say, 800 degrees F., the temperature that allows you to bang out a baked pizza every ninety-seconds or so. However, as the oven temperature is rising, why waste the heat? So at temperatures of, say, 400-450 F the possibilities of prepping any number of foods is right there in front of you. Prepping pizza toppings such as eggplant, bell peppers, onion, mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, sausage and chicken. In other words, using the oven and the flavor that comes from cooking with wood to full advantage. (And while I think of it, throw the words “al forno” around a lot, it goes a long way to stimulate the appetite of your customers.) I made that sound real easy, but doing this takes attention to the cooking process.
And there is more, relative to the size of the oven. For example, if the oven cavity is big enough you can put a Tuscan grill grate in it to cook a classic bistecca fiorentina (T- bone or porterhouse steak brushed with evoo and grilled to a turn). On that same grate
you can cook a whole small chicken (partially deboned and flattened; a version of pollo al mattone or chicken under a brick).
Yes, it’s all relative to oven size as to how much you can do with that wood-burning oven. Several side dishes, for example, can be made in a wood-burning oven. An outstanding Italian Mac `n’ cheese baked in a terracotta casserole. A casserole of white beans baked in a terracotta pot (combine cooked cannellini beans with crushed garlic, olive oil, onion, crushed red pepper flakes, chicken broth). Fresh potatoes thinly sliced and tossed with olive oil and black pepper are spread on a sheet pan and baked in the oven. Delicious.
Here are a few ideas and techniques for putting your wood-burning oven to maximum use.
• Eggplant. Wash and stem the eggplant, but do not peel. Slice into thick round “steaks”. Put the eggplant rounds on a sheet pan, brush both sides with olive oil. Roast in the oven (temperature should be around 400-450 F. Turn the slices once. Cook time should be around 20 minutes. Use for eggplant parmigiana or cut into cubes for a pizza topping.
• Bell Peppers. Wash, stem and seed the pepper. Cut in half. Push down hard with your hand to flatten each half. Brush with olive oil. Roast the peppers until the skin blisters and chars. Put the peppers in a big metal bowl and cover tightly with foil or plastic wrap. Let sit for 30 minutes. This steaming process makes it easy to remove the charred skin. Cut or chop as needed to use on pizza or in pasta or antipasti.
• Plum or Roma tomatoes. Wash the tomatoes. Cut in half lengthwise. Arrange the tomatoes, cut side up, on a sheet pan (line the pan with parchment for easy clean up). Drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil. Sprinkle on some fresh herbs (basil, for example) or dried herbs (oregano). Roast in the oven (a slow roast works best, so the early fire of the oven at around 300 F is ideal). Roast until the tomatoes just start to shrivel a bit. Use on pizza (“Slow-Roasted Fresh Tomato Topping”), on an antipasti, or a pasta dish with fresh basil and grated Parmesan.
And one of my favorites out of a wood-fired oven is a giambotta, which is a combination of chunks of Italian sausage roasted with bell peppers, onions, potatoes and olive oil. Throw in some of those roasted eggplant and roasted tomatoes for good measure. Bake it in the oven. Served with a shower of grated Romano cheese. Outstanding.
Fire up that oven and use it in every possible way.
Choosing the right oven for your operation is not always easy. There are a number of considerations that have to addressed up front. First, the oven will probably be your most expensive equipment outlay. Second, the type and style of your oven can ultimately affect the quality of your food and how efficient you are relative to customer service.
I am assuming here that pizza is one of the most important items on your menu, so I will skew in that direction. But keep in mind that any type of oven — deck, conveyor (impinger), wood-burning, rotating deck — has the capability of doing a lot more than pizza. I was consulting for a casual food operation in Philadelphia a few year ago and the owner did not want to buy a lot of equipment. I managed to cook hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, grill vegetables, potatoes (oven fries) and a lot more in a basic conveyor oven.
Answer these questions to make an intelligent buying decision:
• How much money do you want to spend (or that your budget allows)?
• How much space do you have for the oven?
• How many pizzas do you want to produce in an hour?
• What about the help situation in your area?
• Will you be able to find someone who knows how to work with pizzas in a deck or woodburning oven situation?
• What volume do you anticipate?
• Will your operation be table service, take-out, delivery? (Probably all three in most cases).
• Consider fuel source in your area. Do you have natural gas to power a gas conveyor oven? Or a wood-burning hybrid (gas assist plus wood)? If you are thinking straight wood-burning oven, do you have the space to store and stock the wood necessary for continuous operation?
• Consider the reliability of the manufacturer and the service he offers to back you up when something goes wrong.
Once you have addressed those concerns, talk to manufacturers to get answers to questions that might be peculiar to your situation. The asset that oven manufacturers give buyers today is that most of them has test kitchens, so you can go there and bake off a bunch of pizzas to determine if this is the oven you want to go with, one that does justice to the great pizzas you are about to launch on your hungry-for-pizza customers.
Now let's look at several of the most widely used ovens in the industry today and create an understanding relative to pluses and minuses, along with a reasonable span of pricing for each type. Keep in mind that every manufacturer, regardless of style of oven, offers a range of sizes. Keep this in mind, especially so, when it comes to prices shown. One more thing: most every style of oven listed below can be purchased on the secondary market (refurbished, rebuilt or reconditioned at a much lower price than those listed. In most cases, these ovens will perform well (relate it to the purchase of a certified used car).
Price range: Single deck gas $4,300 - $6,795
Double deck gas $8,300 - $13,000
Single deck electric $3,500 - $4,200
Pluses: • Lower cost than all other types of ovens
• Not many parts, so breakdowns are a rarity
• Produces excellent pizza
• Easy to clean
• Can be stacked to increase production
• Excellent versatility for cooking food other than pizza
Minuses: • Experience is necessary to produce consistently good pizzas
• Cooking times are affected by frequent door opening and closings (the temperature can fluctuate wildly).
Price range: $7,175 - $50,000 relative to single, double, triple stack, single belt, split belt, size.
Pluses: • Options galore as it relates to price, size, production
• A no-brainer when it comes to baking pizzas. Put the pizza on
one end of the belt and it comes out on the other end.
• consistency of finished product.
• Versatility for cooking foods other than pizza
• Fast heat up
• Unlimited production capacity
• Minimal fluctuation of temperature
• Split belt models allows for separate cooking times
Minuses: • Expensive relative to other styles of oven
• Can be difficult to clean
• Some models are noisy
• A belt malfunction puts you out of business until repaired
Price range: straight woodburning $5.500 - $12,000 *
Gas assist woodburning $8,000-$14,000 *
* Can go higher relative to installation, facing off or building in the oven.
Pluses: • Visually appealing. Offers a great look and is an asset to any operation, large or small
• Excellent versatility for cooking food other than pizza
Minuses: • Experience is necessary to produce consistently good pizzas
• Cooking times are affected by frequent door opening and closings (the temperature can fluctuate wildly).
Additional oven options.
Rotating or carousel deck ovens are similar to regular decks. By nature of its name, you understand that the deck (baking surface) rotates either like a Ferris wheel or a carousel. Less opening of oven door allows for consistent temperature range, so the energy efficiency is greater. Also, less experience is needed to produce a consistent product. The bottom line is that you can bake more pizza with less help with these ovens. Pizza prep from one side, cut and box from the opposite side.
Infrared ovens offer a technology that is quite interesting. These ovens are energy efficient, quiet when running, and will produce a consistently good pizza (think conveyor/impingement, but with infrared cooking instead of high velocity air). Prices range from $3,000 to $18,000.
I'm getting ready to open my first store soon and I'm looking at the different pizza pans that are available. The anodized finish pans are more expensive than the bright, spun aluminum pans. Are they really worth the extra cost?
In my humble opinion, yes, the anodized finish pans are worth every penny of the difference in cost. When you consider that the bright finish pans need to be seasoned by wiping the pans/trays lightly with salad oil, and then baked in an oven at 425 F for about 20 minutes to begin the seasoning process and as you continue to use the pans, the color of the pans will continue to darken to an almost black color in time. These pans, once seasoned, should never be allowed to soak in a sink of hot, soapy water. To do so can result in the seasoned finish coming off of the pan in large pieces, much like a bad sunburn. When this happens, the only thing to do is to begin stripping the finish off of all of your seasoned pans and starting the process all over again. If you don't strip all of your pans, you will end up with some of the of the pans having a lighter color than others with the lighter and darker colored pans having different baking properties.
The dark colored anodized pans that are available to us today are have an extremely durable finish that holds up well to the rigors of everyday use in a pizzeria. They can be soaked in hot, soapy water, they can be put away wet, and if you dare, you can even use metal spatulas to help lift a deep dish pizza out of the pan without damaging the finish. For the most part, the finish will last as long as the pan.
I just purchased some new anodized finish pans, and the instructions that I got with the pans say to season the pans before I use them. I thought these pans didn't need to be seasoned?
What they mean by "seasoning" is to lightly oil the pans for their first use. New pans of this type should be thoroughly washed to remove any manufacturing residue. They should then be thoroughly dried by passing the pans through an oven for two minutes set at 400 F. The pans can then be put away until needed. To use the pans for the first time, lightly wipe the inside of each pan with a little salad oil, apply your dough, make-up and bake your pizza(s) in the normal manner. Depending upon the finish on your pans/disks, you may never need to oil them again. Some finishes will require that you re-oil the pans again only after a washing. You will need to determine if your pans will need to be re-oiled or not, but in either case, during the course of the day, the pans/disks should not need to be re-oiled unless you are making a deep dish/pan style pizza and in that case the oil is added only to improve the baking properties and to achieve a fried characteristic to the crust, not to facilitate release of the crust from the pan.
I know you've talked in the past of purchasing a POS system. How did you justify the cost? They seem so expensive.
A: It was definitely a huge move. I did a lot of research by talking to other business owners that did similar volume as I was doing. I asked them how they felt about their investment and asked how a POS system pays for itself. I learned so much. There are so many ways that a POS protects your money, and you'd be surprised how much money we as operators lose in the add-ons that our staff forget to charge for. I think some of our most valuable information comes from other operators.
How much should I plan on spending for a two-station POS system?
There are definitely some systems out there that will boast a much less expensive price than the mainstream companies I’ve seen. They don’t include all that you need, however. You want a quality, reputable system with a great track record, and a good known support system. You definitely want caller ID and if you deliver, get the on-screen mapping. I really like processing credit cards and gift cards through my POS system compared to doing them separately. You’ll likely need to spend in the vicinity of $10,000.
Yes, I’ve purchased used equipment. There are times that it works out well and times it doesn’t. Regardless of the used equipment you are considering, do your best to have your own independent contractor to look at it thoroughly, just as you would take a used car to your mechanic to check it out before you buy it. Another option is to get a warranty on the used equipment you are buying.
When purchasing knives for your commercial kitchen, keep in mind that stainless steel with a low carbon content is easier to keep clean and keeps the appearance of newness longer than other types of knives. However, a high carbon content generally means the knives will last longer and hold a sharp edge longer when properly cleaned and maintained.
Regardless of whether you go high-carbon or low-carbon, be sure to purchase a knife that has a sturdy handle constructed from either poly carbonate or nylon material rather than wood. The synthetic materials typically provide longer wear and easier cleanup.
Finally, go with contoured grips, which are easier to use and therefore heighten not only user comfort, but safety.
Several years ago, my wife and I were in a restaurant in Tucson, Arizona. We had heard that the place had really good pizza, so we decided to try it. As it happened, I was sitting where I had a birds-eye view of the oven — a wood-burning oven. I suggested to my wife that we order a couple of appetizers along with a pizza. My wife said, “Why? I thought you weren’t all that hungry?” I said, “There’s no way that we are going to get a pizza too soon out of that oven; the fire is almost out.”
If it had been late into the evening and the restaurant was letting the fire die down I could understand it, but this was around 8 p.m. Admittedly, the place wasn’t too busy that night, but I could see a problem in the making. We ordered appetizers and a pizza. We ate our appetizers and I kept waiting for someone to throw another log on the fire. We finished our appetizers and the fire was still where it was when we first sat down. The server came by and told us that “the pizza was going to be a little while.”
Eventually some more wood went into the oven, and eventually we got our pizza.
My point is that wood-burning ovens can be like two year old kids: temperamental, unpredictable and must always be fed. With wood-burning ovens, there is always something to be done. Stoke the fire, add some wood, rake the ashes, swab down the hearth. The quality of a pizza coming out of a wood-burning oven is in direct proportion to time and effort that goes into it. It takes a real pizzaiolo to make a wood-burning oven worth the cost and effort.
Chicago has a dozen or more restaurants with wood-burning (true wood-burning, not gas-fired) ovens; I have had a pizza (or two) from every one of them. On the whole, I have been pleased, so it’s mostly raves, not rants, concerning those places. And to be honest, today’s restaurant owners that are getting into the wood-burning ovens have a better understanding and respect for how they work.
They’d better. It would be foolish to go with a wood-burning oven (over, say, a deck or a conveyor) and then fall short in using it the way it should be used. Yes, there are wood/gas combo ovens out there, and those should be looked into as well.
I have worked with any number of restaurants that decided to go with a wood-burning oven, so I know what’s involved and what to watch for cost aside. Should you decide that a wood-burning oven is for you and your market then stand by your decision. But you must face other factors and considerations and deal with them square up.
For example, before you do anything, you need to check your local codes as it pertains to venting, oven location, proximity to interior walls and heat exchange. Also, you’ll need to consider the size of the oven relative to number of seats and just how extensive your pizza menu will be. For example, with oven chamber size X, how many pizzas per hour can be produced? Now how does this relate back to the number of seats and the depth of your pizza menu?
In one situation I was brought in to consult after the investors had fired the initial consultant. The size of the oven ordered was way out of proportion to the space involved, to the point where a large portion of the back wall of the building had to be taken down to get the oven into the space and in place. It was a very costly situation.
Then there are a few other matters to be considered: wood storage (inside and outside, away from the elements). What kind of wood works best in a wood-burning oven? My first two choices would be oak and applewood. However, white birch, maple and beech work fine, too. In a nutshell, hardwoods that have been aged for at least six months to one year are the best. Why? Hardwoods, on average, give off three times as much heat as softwoods (pine, fir, cedar). Split logs start easier and burn brighter. Never use pressure treated woods, laminated woods, or firestarters in the oven.
The very idea of a wood-burning oven is to get the oven fired up to 700 F and higher. A wood-fired oven that gets up to 800 to 850 F can turn out a pizza in 2 minutes.
Now, the really good news: a wood-burning oven has the capability of producing some of the best pizzas you will ever taste, provided you understand the way the oven works. Considerations include:
- Tending and maintaining oven temperature by adding wood as needed
- Using the right dough formula for this style of oven (see below).
- Topping placement, such as putting the toppings on sparingly (less tomatoes, less cheese) because the pizza is in the oven for such a short time.
- Pizza placement in the oven — putting the pizza near, far, or t-h-i-s far from the fire
- Rotating the pizzas through the oven (clockwise or counterclockwise, your choice) properly
- Finishing off the pizza by holding it (on the peel) toward the domed top of the oven (where the ambient heat is the hottest).
Having digested all of that, let me add one more, one very critical aspect of working with a wood-burning oven: the dough. All is for naught without a proper dough. And I suggest to you that the dough to be made for use in a wood-burning oven be made with a soft flour (00, for example). A flour low in protein (11 to 12 percent) forms less gluten, provides a crispier crust, and gives that irregular hole structure in the crust that’s so typical of an artisinal pizza (aka Neapolitan style pizza).
But there are options. This recipe in the sidebar works great for just about any oven style, but is ideal for use in wood-burning ovens.
Neapolitan Pizza Dough
Yield: 30 ounces of dough
¼ ounce dry yeast
1 ¼ cups cool (80-90 F) water
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups soft flour
2 cups hard flour
Put the yeast in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer. Add water, sugar and salt. Whisk to dissolve. Add the two flours. Mix for 6-8 minutes, until the dough is pliable and cleans the side of the bowl. Cover the mixing bowl with a damp, clean towel. Let rise for one hour.
Divide the dough into three equal size balls. Cover and put in the cooler overnight. Give the dough at least one hour bench time before forming the shells and baking.