Hand tossing dough is all in the technique or techniques, as pizzaiolos across the country apply their own spin to stretching dough. It's about artisanship and showcasing pizza makers in front of awestruck customers.
Today, Pagliacci Pizza posted a training video showing its toss style.
Pizza Today has visited World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani in San Francisco to learn his tossing technique.
Learn mad pizza tossing skills from World Pizza Games Champions like Kazuya Akaogi.
The Testa Family, of Carmine Pizza Factory in Jersey City, New Jersey, proves that you’re never too young to throw dough like a pro. Michael, 9, and Nicholas, 6, have earned Internet fame. Watch Nicholas toss practice dough at International Pizza Expo:
Be sure to check out Pizza Today articles below about hand tossing dough.
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Photos courtesy of Tony Gemignani
W hen I was 18, I tossed my very fi rst pizza. It was my brother, Frank, who taught me the basics. Then I practiced every day. I noticed that customers were amazed when they came into our pizzeria — and back then I really didn’t do much … just a simple toss and catch. It has been nearly 20 years since then, and I have never forgetten that ‘aha’ moment. I knew there was opportunity there.
So each day I practiced. Having an open kitchen just made my pizzeria that much more exciting. Something as simple as pizza tossing has brought so many different variables for me as an operator. In fact, it has generated millions of dollars worth of revenue and free advertising.
Here are just some of the benefi ts of hand-tossing your dough:
❖ Artisanship. By tossing pizzas, this shows your customers that your dough is made fresh daily and is not frozen.
❖ Ambiance. If you do have an open kitchen, this sheds a new light on entertainment and supports customer satisfaction — especially if you have long lines.
❖ Team-building events. Have pizza-tossing parties or team-building events. This can bring in a lot of volume and can be done before hours of operation, such as between 10 a.m. and 12 noon.
❖ Employee morale. Sanction your own employee competition. Find out who is the fastest pizza maker, who can make it the biggest, who is the best pizza acrobat. Give away prizes. Make it a fun competition to bring up the morale.
❖ Cooking badges. Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts and children’s organizations have events for kids where they can earn special badges for cooking. Approach your local organization and group rate. This can be a continuous revenue stream.
❖ Compete at International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas. I can’t tell you how many operators have come up to me at Pizza Expo to say that having someone from their restaurant compete and represent their city has generated so much excitement and free advertising. Just remember: you don’t have to win to gain press. All you have to do is create a story for local media to bite on.
❖ Free marketing. All of the above could lead to some sort of free marketing for you, but you are going to have to form your own press releases and market it yourself.
So, how do you get started? First, consider your hand placement. Using your hands or a rolling pin, stretch your dough into a 10-inch circle. Place the dough in the palm of your right hand (if you are right handed) or your left hand if you are left handed. Make a fi st with your opposite hand and support the rest of your dough with it (so it stays level to the fl oor and doesn’t fl op).
Now you’re ready to toss. Rotate your hand toward your stomach while rotating your wrist inward. Then quickly push your dough up and fl ing your hand out. The dough will fl y into the air. Get ready to catch it! Close both hands into fi sts, with your knuckles facing each other, and catch the dough with your knuckles. Continue to toss using the same motions. The bigger your pizza gets, the farther apart your knuckles should be for both the toss and the catch.
Always catch wide and start your toss at stomach level, releasing it as you are going up past your head. Catch your dough at chest level — never above your head. Most importantly, have fun! 09.09.09
My mother made pizza once a week, usually on Saturday. In all those weeks and years of watching her make pizza, I never once saw her toss pizza dough. Stretched, not tossed (I believe that would be how James Bond would do it) was how that ball of pizza dough took shape. In fact, we stretched dough the “Italian way,” which means on the work surface. I still do it that way. Sometimes I will lightly oil a flat pizza pan and stretch the dough right on the pan, pushing out and away from me with fingers and palm. Other times I might sprinkle (lightly) cornmeal on the pan (if I am going for that cornmeal crunch) and stretch the dough the same method as with the oil. Or I will sprinkle flour on a pizza peel and stretch the dough right on the peel, ready to top and go in the oven.
Let’s take a closer look, however, at the art of tossing dough. Dough tossing, as in spinning it in the air is more for show than go, but when you have some young tikes watching, their noses pressed to the glass divider that separates the open kitchen from the dough area, the idea of the “show” has great merit.
There are several factors to take into consideration to make your dough tossing go smoothly and effortlessly, so let’s start from the beginning.
We begin with a proofing tray filled with dough balls that have been properly conditioned, meaning the dough had one rise overnight in the cooler, and now it has been out of the cooler for around two hours. Properly conditioned dough will be somewhat soft, almost puffy in texture, and almost to the point where it really looks and feels like it is ready to be stretched. Do not –– I repeat, do not –– punch down or flatten the dough ball. Using a dough scraper (or your hands), lift the ball of dough out of the tray and set it on a lightly floured work surface.
Relative to the moisture in the dough (if it feels moist), lightly sprinkle the top of the dough ball with flour. Now you can push down and flatten the ball of dough, pressing into the dough with the tips of your fingers (this is called “finger docking”), starting at the center and working outward. As you press the dough with your fingers it will start to spread and flatten. Rotate the dough a quarter turn as you go through this step. If you are in sync with the dough, it will keep its round shape throughout.
Keep pressing and docking with your fingers until the dough has almost doubled in diameter. Now, and only now, should you pick the dough up and begin the process of tossing. In fact at this point, the dough should be almost the size that you are going for. But keep on keeping on.
Make a fist. Drape the dough over one hand, then slide the other hand underneath the dough. Using the knuckles of both hands (fingers tucked close to your palm), begin to pull and stretch the dough, moving your hands farther and farther apart as the dough begins to stretch. As you rotate your hands, often the very weight of the dough enables the stretching process.
With the dough now being somewhat larger, and with both hands underneath the dough and in the center, twist your hands, so that one hand crosses over the other while at the same time you are throwing your hands upwards (almost as if an expression of disgust). At first do not go for height; start the tossing process slowly until you get used to the toss. Remember, it’s easy to throw the dough in the air; catching it is another problem entirely.
Repeat Step 5 as often as necessary until you arrive at the size you are going for. At any point throughout the tossing, if the dough feels sticky or is not stretching the way you expect it to, dust the dough with a little more flour. The flour actually does aid in the tossing process.
If you punch a hole in the dough with your finger you can probably repair it by pinching the dough to close up the hole. If you really screw up at first, and the dough becomes a scraggly mess, either discard it and start over or re-ball it. You will really struggle to stretch it at this point, because all of the gluten in the dough have regrouped and will fight you off, so just put it aside for another time, or until it rises again and is supple and soft.
As you get more experience in the feel of the dough, and the tossing into the air, you can go for more height (if it’s the show you are after). I have seen some pizza places where the workers will toss the dough to each other. At one Chicago restaurant, the workers would toss the stretched dough half way across the room, hitting the wall opposite, the stretched dough dropping onto an enclosed shelf just above the prep table, where it sat until ready to be used. Customers loved the show.
OK, so let’s say you use a dough sheeter in your operation. No problem. Sheet the dough in your normal fashion. Now take the pizza shell and do some tossing in the air (if for no other reason than to get the hang of it).
If you really want to see expert, world-famous dough tossing, catch the World Pizza Games Trials at Pizza Today’s Northeast Pizza Show in Atlantic City this month. You will probably not use any of the routines that you will see, but it will surely give you an up close and personal look at dough tossing as done by experts in the art.
Photograph By Josh Keown
Tucked in the technology enclave of San Jose, California, Willow Street Wood-Fired Pizza’s three restaurants draw a hip, sophisticated and highly educated clientele. And with all of that education comes a high demand for not only healthy food, but also customer knowledge about food allergies and sensitivities, says Nancy Reineking, the company’s director of operations.
“We’re an upscale neighborhood: San Jose, Saratoga and (San Francisco’s) South Bay. We have a lot of educated families, so they are particular in what they want and how they want it,” Reineking says. The menu reflects that gourmet upscale clientele, featuring items like pancetta, Thai chicken, Italian sausage, artichoke hearts, homemade pesto and even different types of dough: California and Italian.
During her 17 years with the 21-year-old business, Reineking has “definitely noticed changes” in reports on food allergies, however. “People are becoming more particular and aware to gluten, wheat and dairy and peanuts and shellfish,” she says. In addition to specially ordered gluten-free dough for a tailored gluten-free menu, Willow Street also is careful to keep ingredients in separate containers and separate kitchen utensils so that there is no cross-contamination.
Food allergies are a problem for many diners. Pizza’s customization makes it easier for many to still enjoy their favorite foods, but like Willow Street, you have to be flexible as an operator. How should you deal with customers’ food allergies? What’s the responsibility of an operator to let customers know what’s in their food?
Are food allergies on the increase? Or is it simply better education on the part of both operators and consumers? Although it may appear food allergies are increasing, there is a lack of data, as well as a differing of perceptions of food allergies between the medical community and general population. This makes it difficult to scientifically document, says Manhattan nutritionist Robin Kaiden, who practices private nutrition counseling and is a consultant for medical specialists and fitness centers in the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
The definition of a food allergy is a reaction where the immune system fights protein molecules in food, releasing histamines when (mistakenly) registering a food as being harmful, Kaiden says. It has been noted that four million children have food allergies/intolerances. And there has been an increased incidence: From 1997 to 2007, the number of children with food allergies rose from 3.3 percent to 3.9 percent, according to the CDC. The percentage of kids under 18 testing positive for antibodies, according to a CDC 2005-2006 sample, were: 12 percent milk; nine percent peanuts; seven percent eggs and five percent shrimp.
There is also increased awareness of food intolerance and food sensitivity, however. “Therefore, those who may claim to have allergies may be reporting intolerances and sensitivities. Although reactions may not be life-threatening, they still pose reasons why people avoid these foods,” Kaiden says. Willow Street has trained its staff to discern the difference, Reineking says. “We find people are speaking up, making requests, so we really go out of our way to accommodate that here, as much as we can. We will ask people if they have severe allergies or more of an intolerance,” she says.
Papa Murphy’s, with headquarters in Vancouver, Washington, has established itself as the largest “Take ‘N’ Bake” pizza company in the world — and is now the fifth-largest pizza company in the United States with more than 1,200 stores in 37 states. Like Willow Street, Papa Murphy’s hears from customers about the range of allergies, from wheat to peanuts, tree nuts and soy. Because customers can custom-order their pies before baking them at home, Papa Murphy’s provides extensive information on its Web site about its ingredients, says Laura Lashbrook, quality assurance manager in research and development.
“We recognize ‘The Big 8’ that the FDA recognizes,” Lashbrook says. “We identify those ingredients with allergic proteins, as well as information about manufacturing facilities and whether ingredients are in the same facility as the allergen. There is such a varying degree of sensitivity. With allergens, there are so many varying degrees of reactions, so we definitely are sensitive to that.” Lashbrook notes that franchise owners are trained on cross contamination and that they also display ingredients in each of their stores, in addition to what is posted online. All ingredients from vendors also go to distribution centers. Annually, Papa Murphy’s asks each vendor partner to complete a food allergy sensitivity sheet for its Web site. For example, a pepperoni vendor would list whether the pepperoni has an allergen, was on shared equipment with an allergen or in a shared facility with an allergen. That degree of detail is important, Lashbrook says. “That’s where we want to be in regards to this issue.”
Kaiden likes that in New York City, many servers specifically ask if anyone at the table has food allergies. She also suggests restaurants keep separate refrigerators, cabinets, cookware, cutting boards, utensils and even dishwashers.
“Items that are common allergens, such as shellfish and nuts, should be kept in separate containers, and dishes can be prepared in separate cookware in order to avoid cross-contamination,” she says. “If that is not an option, the menu should contain a disclaimer stating that this restaurant has a kitchen that prepares food with nuts, wheat, soy, shellfish etc.”
The Two-Way Street
Sometimes a restaurant has trouble covering all the bases with food allergies if customers don’t communicate, says Nancy Reineking of Willow Street Wood-Fired Pizza.
“You feel there’s a two-way street. They order it and don’t say any- thing. We have had people say, ‘Oh I don’t want onions on that,’ but they didn’t say it was because of an allergy,” she says. “There are times when I feel like if I was allergic, I would be really careful.”
So what’s a restaurant to do? Have servers communicate that the busier it is, the harder it is to separate ingredients or be vigilant. They should make it a habit to ask customers about allergies, even when customers don’t bring it up, she says. “If you’re in fine dining, the kitchen is going slowly, but we are an open kitchen, and everything is out, and there is flour in the air. You have to let them know that, too,” she says.
Heidi Lynn Russell specializes in writing about the issues that affect small business owners. She is a regular contributor to Pizza Today and lives in Wilmore, Kentucky.
Photographs By Josh Keown
Kim Fiorcello flips on the A/C as early as mid-April at Antonio’s Pizza in Morgantown, Pennsylvania. That’s because even on a mild spring day when temperatures hover at 70 and summer’s dripping humidity is yet to come, the dining area can become rather stuffy. And the kitchen can be downright hot, too.
It’s a challenge to keep the front of the house temperate while ensuring the kitchen crew doesn’t swelter, Fiorcello says. “It’s tough. You can’t have the door open with flies coming in, and the health department doesn’t allow that anyway. But once the door closes you need the A/C,” she says. The kitchen is the worst, though, not just because of oven heat and deep fryers, but also because standing in one place to wash dishes or the physical effort to make dough can generate body heat, she adds.
What’s a pizza restaurant to do? Keep the A/C on too high, and you become known as the place for parkas. Keep it too warm, and customers expect a place to cool off when they eat. But if you don’t have cash for state-of-the-art thermostats or cooling systems, there are other short-term steps that won’t cost as much, experts say. Here are the biggest problems with restaurant temperature and solutions so that tempers won’t rise:
Problem #1: “Temperature” vs. “air flow”. “Sometimes it’s not the temperature that restaurants have issues with,” says Chris Tripoli, president of A’la Carte Consulting Group, a restaurant consulting firm in Houston, Texas. With advancements in thermostats, restaurants can now set temperature “zones,” like the kitchen versus the dining room, he says. There are also timers to manage temperature with peak hours.
However, “what is still a concern is the direction of the air flow, not the temperature,” Tripoli explains. “A customer will say, ‘I can’t sit here! It’s too cold!’ They’re really saying that a vent overhead is blowing directly on their table.”
So, if the airflow isn’t correctly managed, you will get cold spots, even though the temperature is right. “Technically, it’s not cold, but most of the air is being dumped on them. Then the waiter adjusts the thermostat, and oh, my God! Now it’s hot!” Tripoli says.
This is the case for Antonio’s, which has been in an old shopping center since 1996. About two-thirds of the 3,400 square feet in Antonio’s is dining space. Fiorcello relies heavily on ceiling fans, but there are pockets that are still hotter.
“We expanded to the place next door, and there’s not a door in there. We have an archway from the original restaurant into the dining area, and that’s where it can get stuffy. Also, all of our venting is in the ceiling, and if a ceiling fan is close to a vent, that might bother somebody,” Fiorcello says.
Solution: Examine your ventilation layout. Which tables are under offending vents? Hire a professional to analyze how air can be redirected using ventilation diffusers. “They spread the air out along the ceiling and the wall and change the way it is flowing,” Tripoli says.
In his own office, Tripoli has diffusers that look like an inverted pyramid. “I bet they spent $100 to $200 for those, so we’re not talking about a redesign of your venting system. It’s true that big restaurants may need a couple dozen, but a smaller may just need six or eight,” he says.
Problem #2: “Expensive cool air” vs. “air hogs.” Your A/C bills may be higher because your oven exhaust hood is sucking air out of the dining room.
“The amount pulling from outside into the kitchen should be 80 to 85 percent of the amount of volume you’re taking out of the kitchen,” Tripoli says. “The exhaust fan is taking smoke and heat out of kitchen, but if you’re not creating an air curtain to replace the air, you’re taking the expensive air out of your exhaust hood.”
Solution: Do an air balance inspection. The hood must be in balance within itself, and it must be in balance with the rest of the HVAC system. If it is not, it adversely affects the air flow in the front of the house as well as the back of the house, says William C. McBride, kitchen engineer and founder of Hangman Corp. of Stafford, Texas. McBride’s firm provides complete design of commercial kitchens and bars and equipment installation.
“One simple way to know if the hood is robbing conditioned air is to stand in a doorway into the kitchen, or, in front of a pass through window. If you feel a breeze flowing from the front of the house to the back of the house, you have an energy hog in the kitchen,” McBride says.
One of the largest energy hogs is the HVAC system if it is not performing properly. To evaluate all energy burdens, hire an air balance company, he says. Evaluate exhaust hood energy management systems, walk in cooler/freezer temperature modulating systems, energy efficient equipment as old equipment is replaced, maintenance schedules for all refrigeration, air curtains at doors and the exhaust hood over the dish washer.
As for the front door sucking out air? Tripoli recommends a vestibule. “They can be made to look like they’re a designed piece of the restaurant –– like they’ve always been there. You walk into a five-foot space that fits into the wall and then leads to the bar or hostess station. It’s wonderful for temperature management.”
Heidi Lynn Russell specializes in writing about the issues that affect small business owners. She is a regular contributor to Pizza Today and lives in Wilmore, Kentucky.
Photo by Josh Keown
Pizza Antica was not selling much bottled mineral water. The servers at the four-unit concept, part of the Bacchus Management Group of restaurants in San Francisco, were not even mentioning bottled water to customers. So Pizza Antica launched the Bottled Mineral Water Sales contest. The winning server was taken, as guest, to one of Bacchus Management’s fine dining restaurants.
“The server could observe the refinement of the service there,” says Robert Smith, director of operations for Pizza Antica. “This had a great impact on why to suggest certain items.”
The free dinner didn’t hurt. Offering free food and other incentives can help motivate employees to sell more add-ons. Pizza Antica also held a dessert upselling contest, and the winner received a free dinner after their shift. The restaurant used the point-of-sale system to track the items sold. “I find it best to set up a spreadsheet with all participants, which is updated daily with the individual’s performance and posted near the staff schedule,” Smith says. “This creates friendly competition, which in turn creates the best motivation.”
Friendly competition does indeed motivate, says Bridget Keeler, manager of marketing and public relations for Whitewater, Wisconsin-based Toppers Pizza. The 50-unit chain holds quarterly sales contests. Recently the competition centered on which store could sell the most two-liter bottles of soda, as a percentage of sales. Before the contest began, Toppers Pizza sent posters to the stores to generate interest and to explain the contest.
Every week the corporate office e-mailed the current rankings to each store. “The stores liked seeing the results,” Keeler says. “If the list was not out by Tuesday we would hear from them.”
The winning store sold two-liter bottles that totaled approximately three percent of sales, and the store won a $75 gift card to Amazon. Year-end grand prizes include a $500 Amazon gift card. Keeler says the store manager could use the card to purchase a personal item, something for the store, or t-shirts or other prizes for employees. Other prizes have included Live Nation dollars that stores used to buy concert tickets.
Keeler says it helps if the upsold item adds dollars to the sale without much labor. For another promotion, staff had to encourage customers to order extra cheese. The prize, shoes in Toppers colors of red and gold, were a big hit. “Everyone wanted those shoes,” Keeler says. “Employees were getting customers to add cheese to everything, even wings.”
Todd Ordal, a Denver-based certified management consultant, says small prizes can be good rewards for employees, but the operator needs to be strategic about motivators. “Changing behavior is hard,” Ordal says. “To get it to stick you have to get people to buy into this long term. There has to be some sense of pride and value.”
Customers can tell when a server is simply reciting a sales script. The process is more effective if the staffer actually tasted the item, and, even better, they perceive that they are participating in the success of the restaurant.
Or, as Cody Pierce, vice president of marketing for Orange City, Iowa-based Pizza Ranch puts it: “You have to decide strategically what is important to you as an organization and what are the metrics you measure, and how you incentivize around those metrics.”
The 175-location Pizza Ranch offers buffet meals, so it’s up to the phone attendants and to-go staff to suggest add-ons such as Ranch Stix breadsticks, Cactus Bread for dessert, or new items such as freshly made coleslaw. The incentive program compares a store’s rate of upsells to the previous year. The managers from the winning stores earn Disney Dollars, which they can spend at Pizza Ranch’s 30th anniversary meeting at Disney World in June. “It is tied to the restaurant, not to the person,” Pierce says. “We are leaving it up to the restaurants how they distribute the Disney Dollars.”
Other chains also let individual units decide how to incentivize employees. Scott Bauer, a Papa Murphy’s franchisee in Chico, California, says in addition to the official corporate-wide incentive programs, he provides informal awards to managers and crews at his five locations. The add-ons include Cheesy Bread, chocolate chip cookie dough, Cinnamon Wheels and salads. Phone and counter staff are instructed to suggestively sell an add-on that makes sense. “If the customer ordered cookie dough, you don’t offer a Cinnamon Wheel because they already ordered dessert. You say, ‘Would you like a salad?’” Bauer says.
Bauer gives managers bonuses, which they see in their paychecks. To reward crew members, Bauer buys candy, almonds and other snacks and distributes them to the stores. “The crew member comes in and the manager says, ‘Hey you met your goal, go through the box and pick out something,’” Bauer says.
He occasionally buys gift cards too, and keeps the whole program casual. “If you make it too hardcore and technical and they miss their goals, they will give up,” he says.
Pizza Antica’s Smith says it’s important to make workers feel good about upselling. He says: “The key is to show the progress of who is performing well and use it playfully to incentivize others to perform well. Like any good management technique, this is about really celebrating great performance rather than belittling poor performance.”
To get customers to fill out surveys, operators have to turn to their servers. Some operators offer incentives such as movie tickets and gift cards to the staffer who gets the most tables to fill out a comment card or complete a survey. The actual feedback is as important as the number of surveys, so some operators give incentives to servers who score well on the surveys. Newton, Massachusetts-based On the Spot Systems offers mobile data collection solutions, which means surveys that customers can fill out on a smart phone or iPad while they are waiting for their check. “The server can say, ‘Your feedback is important to us, can you scan the QR code on the back of the menu and answer five questions?’” says Ken Kimmel, co-founder and president of On the Spot Systems. At some restaurants, the server who earns the highest scores gets to pick their shift and section in the next schedule. “That doesn’t cost the operator anything,” Kimmel says.
Nora Caley is a freelance writer specializing in food and business topics. She lives in Denver, Colorado.
Photos by Rick Daugherty
Jason Petro, owner of Red Star Pizza Company in Seymour, Indiana, borrows from a popular sales mantra in his approach to closing procedures: “Always be closing.” With a limited staff, it’s a method that has served his small pizzeria well.
“The main thing is time management,” Petro says. “You know what needs to be done. You just got to get it done as soon as possible.” The best way he has found to accomplish this is to make efficient use of his various day parts and his employees’ time while he has them available. “We have a closing checklist,” Petro says. “It’s loose but we have it tiered so that we can get some of it done early and some of it done later.”
Cleaning is one task Petro likes to have completed well before closing. Red Star’s dining room closes at 10 p.m. and his staff may begin the cleanup as early as 7:30 p.m. after the peak of the dinner rush. He makes pre-closing tasks part of staff members’ side work.
Petro warns that his style requires a caveat — pre-closing tasks cannot interfere with the quality of food or the customer’s dining experience.
Adhering to a pre-close technique allows Petro to begin cutting staff members early, leaving himself and a delivery driver to handle the remainder of the closing process.
In 2012, Petro began offering late night delivery service a few days a week. Since he prefers to do his dough prep after closing, he added a delivery driver to help. It allows Petro to concentrate on dough, while the other closer cuts produce, stocks the prep table, reorganizes dough balls by time and date, gathers trash and handles orders and delivery. Since Red Star only offers delivery after 10 p.m., Petro says he feels it’s safer and, without walk-in traffic, they can focus on prepping for the next day.
Carmelo Lamotta, owner of LaMotta’s Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria in Ft. Myers, Florida, applies safety protocols during closing. “I make sure the doors are all locked before I do registers,” he says.
He also wants to be certain his employees are safe. “If the girls walk out to their cars, someone has to watch or walk out with them,” he says. Lamotta takes advantage of that time when the dinner crowd dies down to run through his food-ordering checklist and begin cutting employees.
Inventory counts at night gives you enough time that if you have to put in a rush order with distributors or make a run to the market in the morning you can do it before lunch service. It solves the problem before it becomes one.
After closing, Lamotta’s team focuses on cleaning and prepping for the next day. They clean and disinfect sensitive areas, like around soda machines and beer taps (which attract insects). They pour hot water and bleach down all drains, and three nights a week they hose down the floors with hot water to loosen grease on tiles and in the grout.
Paul Gainor, owner of Pizza Zone in Spring, Texas, operates a carryout and delivery store. His crew floats between the counter area and kitchen. “When it starts to slow down some of the inside people will go to the back and start washing dishes and get the back cleaned up and generally just cleaning the place,” he says.
For night employees who are not designated closers, Gainor leaves their schedules open-ended to create flexibility for late rushes and early lulls. Up to an hour before closing the only employees left will be a manager and two drivers.
Each closer walks through Pizza Zone with their checklist to be sure nothing is overlooked. A manager will conduct a sweep of the restaurant, double-checking that tasks are completed. Security is also top-of-mind with Gainor. He instructs his team to leave registers open after the drawers are pulled for the night. “It’s a good tip because if you leave your cash drawer closed then people are going to get a crowbar and break it open to see if there is money in there,” he says.
He says it’s also important to scan the restaurant to make sure there isn’t anything on that will trip motion sensors, such as fans. It’s a lesson he has learned with a few wakeup calls in the middle of the night from his security system.
Communication with the morning team is vital. Gainor leaves notes for the opening manager when something was not completed or if the store is out of an item.
A well-executed closing comes down to efficiently managing time and resources. Evaluate your procedures to see if there are better, faster ways of finishing tasks. Says Petro: “After you do something for a long time, you can always figure out a better way to do it.”
Just as checklists are vital to opening, they are instrumental to a successful closing, especially with many of the cleaning duties being performed after closing. Below are items that commonly appear on a pizzeria’s closing checklist:
- Check server/counter staff side work and area nightly and weekly special duties. v Cut appropriate staff as business slows.
- Turn off open sign and lock doors.
- Turn off all dining area sound and video systems.
- Check restrooms to see if they are empty and clean.
- Pull registers and count drawers.
- Run end of day reports.
- Balance cash.
- Prepare paperwork for the next day.
- Complete deposits.
- Place all money in a time-delay safe.
- Empty steam and prep tables.
- Clean walk-ins —be sure product is properly stored.
- Turn off ovens, warmers and other kitchen appliances and empty crumb trays.
- Wash all dishes.
- Wash and sanitize work areas and sinks.
- Sweep and mop floor — rinsing and storing mop and buckets properly.
- Inspect freezers and refrigerators to make sure they are closed tightly and the seals are functioning properly and the temperature reads appropriately.
- Conduct a security check of the interior and lot.
- Empty all trash and sanitize receptacles.
- Secure and lock back door.
- Do a final walk-through dining room and kitchen to verify closing checklist.
- Set security alarm and lock doors.
Denise Greer is associate editor of Pizza Today.
Photos by Josh Keown
The hours before opening — while sometimes hectic — are the few times in a busy pizzeria’s day when customers are not continually walking in and the phone is not ringing like crazy. It’s the perfect opportunity to lead the day in a positive and profitable direction. Paul Gainor, owner of Pizza Zone with two locations in Spring, Texas, uses the time to get ready for the day’s rush — making sure the prep table is stocked, turning on the ovens and vent hoods, checking voicemail and the fax machine (which prints the shop’s online orders), pulling dough out of the refrigerator, heating the pizza sauce, counting the safe, bringing all of the washed utensils (pizza cutters, cheese cups, scale, etc.) to their stations, checking inventory and ordering food.
Dough is also made before opening at Pizza Zone. Gainor says mornings are the best time for dough production because there are limited distractions during the delicate process.
It’s the most obvious — but vital — things, he says, that most frequently get overlooked, such as turning on the “Open” sign and remembering to unlock the front door.
That’s where a trusty checklist comes in handy. “The most important thing is that people follow the checklist,” Gainor says. “Otherwise things get forgotten. Give some incentive to your employees that they better use the checklist or they will be in trouble.” He verbally reprimands employees for ignoring items on the sheet. Habitual offenders can even lose out on raises.
Carmelo Lamotta of LaMotta’s Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria, Fort Myers, Florida, says there is no excuse for missing a task that is on the checklist. Having his employees initial each item leaves little room for rebuttal. The sheet is broken down into daily tasks as well as the schedule for weekly and monthly duties.
Lamotta handles many of the kitchen opening duties with one helper. “It saves on labor and it saves on waste and food cost because I control the food cost.”
In addition to kitchen prep, Lamotta brings a server in 30 minutes prior to opening to prepare the dining room. “Hygiene is No.1 for me,” he says. The server is responsible for making sure tables and chairs are sanitized, the floor is swept, menus and special inserts are wiped down, windows are cleaned and everything is stocked in the counter and service areas.
Morning is also a good time to take advantage of the quiet to hold meetings and training sessions. Run through the numbers of the previous day, highlighting the positives and negatives and things like recognizing employees for exceptional service.
Have a new menu item? Use mornings to introduce the new dish to your lunch staff so they can more effectively promote it. The tasting also gives the kitchen crew practice, without having to focus on other entrées.
With a small staff, Jason Petro, owner of The Red Star Pizza Company in Seymour, Indiana, handles opening differently. While Petro focuses on closing duties, his wife, Nicole, opens the restaurant. Petro relies on his evening and closing staff to tackle many of the tasks that some operators would consider opening duties.
The goal, Petro says, is to get everything ready for the next morning so that Nicole can come in one hour prior to open to turn on the ovens and then make a bank run or other errands that need to be completed. Occasionally, he leaves Nicole tasks written on their large checklist wipe boards in the kitchen to be completed before opening.
The Petros also make use of their midday lull to prepare for Red Star’s dinner rush instead of prepping for the entire day prior to open.
There are a number of approaches to take to make daily operations run smoothly. Make a game plan, be ready and execute.
Checklists not only give you a reminder of all of the tasks that need to be completed, it also provides you with accountability when staff members initial each item that is finished. Common tasks on an opening checklist include:
- Check the exterior for security breaches and litter.
- Unlock doors for staff, disarm alarm and lock doors upon entering. u Conduct an interior security walk-through.
- Turn on ovens.
- Double check food orders and inventory levels to be sure the pizzeria is ready for the day’s business.
- Check manager’s log from previous night. Make sure employees clocked out appropriately and review labor hours.
- Check voicemails, e-mails and faxes for advanced orders and employee schedule conflicts.
- Scan the labor schedule to be sure you have enough employees scheduled for each shift.
- Inspect freezer and refrigerator units for proper temperature readings.
- Check appearance of kitchen and dining room, cross-checking with nightly checklist.
- Make appropriate amount of dough and verify prepped dough has been rotated for use.
- Set up steam table and make line and start prep work.
- Count the safe and assign drawers.
- Check deposit slips.
- Verify there is enough cash and change for the day’s operation.
- Go to the bank to make last night’s deposit and get change.
- Review specials and be sure they are displayed in the store.
- Check the restaurant calendar for large parties and/or catering.
- Be sure the dining room temperature is comfortable.
- Turn on lights, fans and television and sound systems.
- Take out the trash and pick up litter.
- Conduct an opening meeting with instructions, training and motivation.
- Do final walk-through of dining room and verify opening checklist.
- Turn on open sign and unlock doors for customers.
Denise Greer is associate editor of Pizza Today.
Meet the Players:
Mother Bear's Pizza
Fresh Brothers Pizza
Los Angles, California
Farrelli's Wood Fire Pizza
Crazy Dough's Pizza
Q: What is the most effective promotion you ran in the last year?
Ferriman: The most effective promotion we ran last year was a bundle promotion of buying one large Signature Pizza and getting a large cheese for $5.
McConn: Our most popular promotion in 2012 was also our most popular in 2011 and 2010 and 2009, etc. I’m referring to our Munchie Madness special (10-inch one topping pizza, breadsticks w/sauce, 2 home-made brownies, and a 2 liter of Pepsi product for $10.95) that’s good 24/7. It offers strong value, fulfills a need in the sales lineup, is very memorably named and is prepared and processed very easily. We have a few others that offer similar value that are aimed at different facets of our customer base.
Krueger: We ran a super successful pizza school series, inspired by Tony Gemignani’s International School of Pizza, which our Director of Kitchen Operations, Michael Rutledge, attended. We asked ourselves how could we leverage that higher learning that Mike had received as it pertained to our guest experience? We recognized that we had an opportunity to better educate our customers on the quality of products we source and the pride we take in the preparation and baking of our pizzas. We figured, why not give our guests the opportunity to go through Pizza School? The idea was to keep it fun and simple at the same time — informative and hands-on. So we came up with three courses: 101 was all about dough … making, rolling, storing and opening the dough. 202 was all about toppings and really getting people to think outside of the box when it came to sauces and ingredients, with an emphasis on quality. 303, or the capstone as it became known, was a competition where the customers would make and present their own pie to a panel of judges that we compiled. The best pie was chosen to be featured on the cover of our menu for the following quarter, and the proceeds from the sale of the pizza were donated to the Washington Restaurant Association Education Foundation in the form of a scholarship for an inspiring young culinary student. Essentially, what this campaign did for us was drive traffic on slow nights in our stores … Secondly, it gave people an experience in our stores that they would most certainly share with their friends via positive word of mouth. It also gave us a bunch of stuff to talk about through our social media channels. Most importantly, though, the winning pizza raised money for a charitable cause which really helped us showcase our commitment to neighborhood nourishment at Farrelli’s.
Shepherd: I am not a fan of gauging success on single promotions. Rather, I like to build out a solid marketing strategy that relies on many small items all working together. But, if I have to choose just one I would go with our Upselling Incentive program for our phone staff and servers. Over the course of a month we were able to increase our check average by over $3! Employees were given incentives such as cash, gift cards, and free food to help them encourage customers to try new pizzas, specialty drinks, appetizers, and desserts. The suggestive selling was backed up by management who would parade eye-appealing food through the dining room, give out free samples, and keep the staff motivated.
Q: What is the most pressing issue facing your business in 2013?
Ferriman: The most pressing issue facing our business in 2013 is keeping our food costs down. Continuous training for proper portion control will help us in this rising commodity world we live in.
McConn: Rising costs. Given the global nature of food, if a gnat farts in Australia, flour rises 2 percent in Chicago, or so it seems. Seriously, we are at the mercy of global harvests and availability of natural resources. When there is a failure in some part of this chain, we all have to pay the price. Given the wild fluctuations of weather and changing weather patterns that we’ve seen in the past few years, I think we all need to be prepared for shortages and the consequent rise in prices.
Goldberg: Our most pressing issue is finding great locations for new stores — a good problem to have. We find that we are competing with major national QSR chains for retail space.
Q: How often do you re-evaluate your menu offerings and pricing?
Goldberg: We evaluate our menu options and pricing twice a year. We’ll add menu items when it’s appropriate, such as our January 2013 launch of the Fresh Brothers skinny crust. New menu items tend to refocus customers’ attention onto the food, and away from price changes. Ultimately, our focus is on our food. Always.
Krueger: We re-evaluate our menu selection and pricing every 3-6 months. We go through a menu engineering process to determine our Stars, Dogs, Puzzles and Plow Horsers so that we can figure out what needs to stay on our menu or come off, or which items need to be put in a better location on the menu or have the recipe or presentation re-tooled to be more effective. We want our menus to always be current and fresh and to do the very best job possible at driving profit to the bottom line. We research the gaze patterns that the human brain will make when staring at different menu layouts so that we can have our most profitable items placed in the sweet spots of the pages.
Gold: We re-evaluate our menu and pricing every three months. We only print 3 months of menus at a time.
Ferriman: We re-evaluate our menu offerings and pricing twice a year when we reprint our menus. We evaluate what pizzas sell and don’t sell, their contribution margin and their ingredient prep time and cost. Pizzas that don’t meet the standard for these factors either get a price increase or face elimination from the menu.
Q: How often do you re-evaluate your menu offerings and pricing?
McConn: Ideally we review menu and prices once a year and make changes to coincide with the start of the university school year. You can go bananas poring over POS data and trying to tweak your menu every week or month. To us it makes more sense to be patient with your new offerings and give them a chance to develop “legs”. Price increases that occur outside of normal seasonal fluctuations are evaluated to determine if they are fleeting or the new norm. Being an independent, we can literally react within minutes to a situation such as an outstanding new product or price consideration.
Shepherd: I generally review my food costs on a monthly basis. Considering the precarious economy, I am very reluctant to raise prices unless I really must. Instead I have been focusing on adding new offerings that are by nature low in food cost to help offset the rising costs in other areas.
My menu is ever changing. I try to update and refresh my menu at least quarterly. Customers want solid consistent offerings, but also want new things that they can get excited about.
Q: What advice would you give new operators who are entering the industry?
McConn: Whenever I read answers to this question, I’m always disappointed by the nebulous, redundant nature of the responses. The reality is that you need money, and of course a passion/interest, and then more money, and experience, and if you don’t have experience then a lot, lot more money. A good location helps, but nothing substitutes for financial depth. Yeah, you can make it without financial wherewithal, but you can also put your money in a pile in the middle of the street and hope it’s there the next day. Nothing, including sweat, intelligence, industry, effort, 80 hours a week, free advice, expensive advice, your wife’s family, your second cousin’s blessing, Aunt Thelma’s secret recipe that came over on the Mayflower, etc., substitutes for having ample cash. That’s just how the game is played. If you can’t play by these rules, then you really shouldn’t play.
Shepherd: You must know your numbers! Know how much profit your location can make, know how much in sales you need to make, know your break even numbers, and know when to call it quits.
Gold: Be realistic on the amount of return on your effort and investment. Be truthful to yourself why you are getting into the pizza business.
Ferriman: My advice for new operators is to first make sure your “Will Power” tank is full, and then become obsessed with learning everything about operational efficiencies, portion control, quality ingredients, customer service and how you put all those together to create success.
Q: How has social media impacted your marketing?
Gold: The return on investment is better than any other type of paid advertising out there now.
Ferriman: Social media has given us a much broader reach for a fraction of the cost. We are constantly creating new pies to sell by the slice and social media is a perfect medium to get the message out about something new and innovative we are doing. I will create say a Filet Mignon pizza and take a picture of it, tweet and Facebook it out and say....“Come in now for a new Filet Mignon slice...and just for trying the new creation I will buy your fountain soda.” Social media also allows us to interact more easily with our customers, i.e. people always put pics of pizzas on Twitter, which I see, and I subsequently direct message with a “thank you” and bogo coupon.
McConn: Social media? What’s that? Although we have a Facebook account, a Twitter account, and advertise on Yelp, we also have a yellow page ad, daily placement in our daily newspaper, and table tents. We really don’t use social media to any great extent. Why? Because we don’t have to! For all the benefits that are purported to be gained from social media, they don’t come free. To be truly effective, you or your designee need to be fairly active in pursuing the different electronic avenues, and creatively developing ad copy for them. This is spelled “time and money”. Our disdain for this venue is also based on our market position. We are acknowledged as the best pizza in 43 states (okay, we’ll settle for Bloomington for now). We have created a system of marketing that has been tested through the years to be exceptionally effective for us. Business is still increasing on an annual basis. If I was starting my first store, I would be highly involved in social media. Since Mother Bear’s has been here for 40 years, we play the game differently.
Goldberg: We consider it a valuable tool alongside traditional marketing tools like print advertising, billboards and radio. Social media is like adding another distribution channel. It allows us to interact directly with our customers, so we’re more engaged and present to our customers, which is very important to us.
Krueger: The thing I often think about is, ‘What would life be like without social media?’ I can hardly remember a time when we weren’t interacting with our friends, family and favorite organizations through various online social networking sites. For us at Farrelli’s, we were early adopters of social media, having a MySpace page for our company early on and since transitioning our efforts to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube & Yelp to name the primary ones. These sites have helped our business to have a stronger brand presence and to engage with existing and potential guests through mediums that they are already using … Additionally, we are hearing about areas of opportunity for us to improve through these sites as opposed to not hearing that feedback at all. It also gives us an opportunity to fix any issues that someone may have encountered in our store to help retain them as a valued guest, sometimes even while they are still in the store, so that we can correct the issue before they ever leave. Our objective with social media is not to utilize it as a “free” advertising medium, as some people might be inclined to do, but rather to stay engaged with our guests so that the next time they think pizza, they think Farrelli’s ... It’s about top of mind awareness.
Shepherd: Social media now makes up the majority of my marketing. I don’t push coupons and specials through social media, but rather use it as a platform to get my customers talking about us. It is instant, free, and makes the customer feel a part of something. We recently started a campaign at one of my stores focusing on getting my customers to know my staff. We take photos of the staff, post on Facebook and the first customer to come in and say the correct phrase to that employee wins a free pizza. Next month we will encourage our customers to “steal” a certain branded item, take a photo of themselves with it at a notable landmark, post it to our Facebook page and then pass it on. I hope I can get the item across the country.
JOIN US: Beer & Bull Idea Exchange® Tuesday and Wednesday, March 19 & 20 4:30 - 6 p.m.
Have you ever wondered what it’d be like to sit at a table with 10 other pizza operators from all over the country—or in a room with 500 colleagues—free to discuss whatever issues are foremost on your mind? It happens every Pizza Expo at Beer & Bull, where attendees wind down from the day with a cold drink and friendly information sharing in a non-competitive environment. You name the topics; you ask the questions—at your table and over the microphone in the larger room. Pizza Today publisher Pete Lachapelle moderates the discussion to ensure that someone will have the answer you seek.
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.
Photographs by Josh Keown
Customers are restaurants’ biggest allies and their harshest critics. They are not shy about expressing their joy, concern or displeasure with an eating establishment. The wilting plant in the corner, the dust on the ceiling fan or the empty paper towel bins in the bathroom are details easily overlooked by operators and staff.
But customers notice everything. When they see a dirty restaurant, they lose their appetite — and operators lose business.
“The cleanliness of the restaurant, small details — in the corners — reflects the cleanliness of the kitchen. This means everything,” says David Kincheloe, president of National Restaurant Consultants in Golden, Colorado.
Christopher Wells, founder of Restaurant Building Blocks, a restaurant management and training company, agrees that one negative can affect a customer’s impression of the entire restaurant.
“Your potential clients trust that you will provide them with a quality product that is safe for them,” Wells says. “If what they see tells them otherwise, it doesn’t matter how great you are with them, at that point you’ve tarnished the relationship.”
Alan Guinn, managing director and CEO of the Guinn Consultancy Group Inc. in Bristol, Tennessee, says dusty plants are just the beginning of overlooked areas that will draw the negative attention of customers.
“Menus that are sticky, have food between the pages, are worn, torn, or tattered offer the opportunity for you to not impress your guests even before they try your excellent cuisine. In most cases where guests are waiting for food or drinks to be served, their eyes immediately are drawn to the light fixtures. There is no excuse to have dusty light fixtures,” Guinn says. “HVAC and cold air returns naturally attract dust because the restaurant environment has micro particles of grease in the air which attach to these surfaces and act as an attractant to any dust in the air. The dust readily builds up and can spread across closely contingent ceiling surfaces.”
Kirk Mauriello, director of franchising for Aurelio’s Pizza, with locations in Illinois, Indiana, Florida, Georgia and Nevada, says other overlooked areas include window sills, trash cans inside the restaurant, the area around the hostess stand and overhead woodwork or decorations, otherwise known as dust collectors.
“The reception area needs to be spotless and organized. Are there tears, stains on benches, broken tiles (or) dirt in the threshold of the door? Front windows and doors need to be free of clutter and smudges. The tops of exposed beams are easily missed areas, Kincheloe says, and “parking lots are often overlooked. Walking up the sidewalk to the restaurant, is there trash lying around and cigarette butts? The back door of the restaurant is sometimes visible. Is there junk lying around, empty crates, boxes, old equipment?”
Wells also adds that chair legs are usually ignored and gum accumulates under the table.
“The floors are mopped, but corners are often overlooked and a dark gunk accumulates. Salt and pepper shakers are often sticky and gross as well as sugar and napkins if they are on the table,” Wells says.
Oddly, customers may decide whether a restaurant is clean not by eating in the dining room but by visiting the restroom.
“One of the first things customers comment on is the cleanliness of the bathrooms,” Mauriello says. Guinn agrees that restroom cleanliness is crucial to a customer’s assessment.
“Bathrooms are the most obvious ‘behind the scenes’ area that customers can visit in your restaurant, and the condition in which your bathrooms present to the customer directly mirrors the customers’ belief of the cleanliness of your kitchen,” Guinn says.
Laurel Roach, account executive of Commercial Janitorial, a commercial cleaning and maintenance company, says the most noticeable problems occur in the restrooms (the bases of toilet seats, walls, tile and grout lines).
Once areas are identified, operators need to act.
“Put cleaning tasks on a side work checklist for servers and kitchen staff to routinely clean. Hire a professional to periodically scrub tile and clean the carpets to keep things looking nice. Some tasks, such as scrubbing out the inside of an oven, cleaning a deep fryer or high dusting, really should be left to a professional,” Roach says.
Kincheloe says cleanliness is ultimately the responsibility of the manager/owner.
“They need to walk in the restaurant from the parking lot through the front door and observe. Sit in the far corners of the restaurant and look around ––top to bottom. Lists are nice and should be completed for communication and accountability of staff; they do not take the place of observation,” Kincheloe says.
Wells says the best system he’s seen is a list filled with weekly and monthly cleaning duties for each staff member to do in their free time. “They get each task signed by a manager when they are completed. Make this mandatory,” he says.
With a little help from technology, Aurelio’s Pizza is keeping on top of cleaning duties with their POS system. Installed for business purposes for credit cards and tracking data, the POS system also has time alerts to notify staff when the restrooms need cleaning.
“The system has a time calculation alert that says when something has to get done,” Mauriello says. “Our employees tend to get caught up in customer service when it’s busy, and when the restaurant is busy, the restrooms are used the most. It’s a great reminder system; it’s like a Google alert.”
Operators who need more elbow grease should consider enlisting professional help.
“Liability is a big reason to hire a professional cleaning company. An operator would be responsible if their staff member fell off of a 12-foot ladder doing the high dusting, or slipped when mopping the floor and hit their head,” Roach says. “When an employee is making a minimum serving wage, $4.75 per hour, it is probably asking a lot to require that they scrape gum off from underneath tables at the end of their shift. The quality of work is often poor or inconsistent. When hiring an outside vendor, an operator is able to hold someone accountable.”
DeAnn Owens is a freelance journalist living in Indianapolis. She specializes in features and human interest stories.
Photos by Josh Keown
When Sara Griffith, husband Joe and partners Shawn and Barb Griffith bought a Sam & Louie’s franchise location in Omaha, Nebraska, in August 2012, Sara was looking to update the pizzeria’s interior. She found inspiration from Pinterest, a visual-based social networking site, to use chalkboard paint to cover the entire wall behind the order counter.
“It’s the first thing customers see,” Sara says. “It really makes an impact.” She created an attractive focal point with half of the wall used to promote Sam & Louie’s lunch specials and the other half to depict colorful drawings related to the season and to highlight the restaurant’s features.
“It’s such a quick update,” Sara says. “It’s new and it’s fresh.” The DIY project cost only $20 for the gallon of chalkboard paint and her time. In the next few months, she also plans to paint a faux brick wall, a signature look in many Sam & Louie’s locations.
“Paint can certainly make a big difference,” says Deborah Ward of Deborah Ward Interiors in Tacoma, Washington. Ward specializes in restaurant interior design.
She cautions to plan ahead — calculate the area’s square footage so you know how much paint the walls and possibly ceiling will require. Depending on the size, painting may cost $5,000 or more if you use a professional crew. Also be sure to use low VOC paint to limit fumes.
One of the most obvious, but overlooked, aspects of a worn dining room is simply cleanliness, Ward says. “A lot can be done with just cleaning it,” she adds.
Go beyond your daily and weekly cleaning routines. While closed, take the opportunity to give your dining room a thorough, deep clean. Wash walls and ceilings, scrub upholstery, steam-clean floors, polish metals and dust all light fixtures and décor. Don’t forget to focus on hard-to-reach areas.
Evaluating the space for repairs and updates is vital to a fresh interior, Ward says. Make a list of everything — from wobbly tables, torn upholstery and ripped and worn flooring to an outdated color palette, poor dining room flow and mismatched decoration.
Some high-impact, low-cost dining room touch-ups include freshening up the front counter with a new pattern of plastic laminate, wood or other finishing material; swapping out outdated menu boards; re-upholstering furniture; touching up any wood elements and applying new stain; bringing new art and wall décor and updating light fixtures.
Prioritize the list. But when it comes to execution, Ward recommends that you make the changes all at once. It allows the grand reveal. “You just have to look at it all at one time — what the place needs — so it works together,” she says, adding that you should try to avoid piece-mealing the changes. While there’s usually additional cost involved, many subcontractors will work around your operating hours.
But if you have to phase in updates, Ward says, plan everything out that needs to be done. Poor planning can result in a look that is not cohesive and exceeds your budget to correct the problem.
“Sometimes you don’t know what you are going to get yourself into,” Ward says. That is why planning is so important. “Get all of your prices together so you know exactly where you are,” she says, adding that planning should be done far in advance. If new furniture is ordered, it may take a month or longer to receive. She adds, “when you start getting into plumbing and electrical, those are big dollar items.”
Some questions operators should answer before embarking on an interior project is: How large of a project is it? How much will it cost? How long will the project take to complete? Will it require a designer, architect or contractors? Is the update ADA compliant? Will the pizzeria be able to remain open during renovations?
When Tony Koehler, owner of Boulevard Pizza in Sparks, Nevada, was ready to replace his retro-looking menu board, he mapped everything out, which resulted in a well-executed finished product and saved him money.
Koehler tapped employees with graphic design and photography talents to come up with the new menu boards. “We outsourced only the printing of the menu files to a local print shop, whom we traded the work for a few pizzas,” he says. The Boulevard team spent nearly 50 hours total on the project that included building the backing boards, affixing the printed menus to the boards, framing to the walls, and installing ceiling mounted light fixtures.
Boulevard’s new menu board cost $325. Moreover, Koehler says, the change is photo-rich, draws attention to higher margin menu items and emphasizes descriptions over price. He says his customers now have a better impression of the pizzeria.
What a customers see
Walking through your dining room everyday means you may not notice its flaws. Restaurant interior designer Deborah Ward suggests that you select a person you trust who will be honest with you to evaluate your dining room. Create a checklist that focuses on the following areas:
Floors: Are they worn to the point of replacement? Are there rips, stains, or cracks and can those be repaired? If carpet is in place, does it look dirty or have an odor?
Ceilings: Are there stained, broken or missing tiles? Are all light fixtures working and have the correct wattage bulb in them? Do the fixtures look dated?
Walls: Is the paint discolored or faded? Are there dings in the wall that require plaster? Is the art on the walls dated? Does the color palette and art best represent your restaurant? Would adding visual blockage to undesirable sightline enhance the dining experience? Does your menu board represent your current offering effectively?
Furniture: Are chairs or tables wobbly or broken? Is the upholstery in dire need of replacement? Can furniture be reconfigured for better dining room flow? If so, will it require moving light fixtures?
Denise Greer is associate editor at Pizza Today.
Photos by Josh Keown
There is something noticeable about the staff’s look at Cocco’s Pizza in Primos, Pennsylvania, — expression of individuality and brand awareness. Employees sport graphic T-shirts with the pizzeria’s name and logo. Owner Michael Cocco says his dress code reflects his crew’s personalities.
Everyone is wearing something just a little different from one another. They can select from new and retro designed T-shirts. With 35 years of designs, they have a lot of options. Cocco works with a neighboring printing company to keep the shop’s designs on file. If someone doesn’t find one they like, Cocco says, they are welcome to buy their own style tops and he’ll have the print shop screen print on them.
“They are able to express how they want their shirts to look,” Cocco says. “I like the individuality of our shirts. It makes us a little different.”
It may appear like the pizzeria doesn’t have much of a dress code, but at closer examination there’s method to Cocco’s casual presentation. The dress code standards are outlined in its employee handbook, though he always verbally reinforces his expectations.
Cocco supplies the shirts — the more days they work, the more shirts he gives. If employees want extra, he charges $5. There is a $10 replacement penalty if employees forget their shirts.
Cocco isn’t too strict about the rest of his employees’ attire. He doesn’t allow sweat pants or gym shorts. There has been confusion on what constitutes sweats or gym shorts. In those instances, he says he makes the final decision. He doesn’t mind a few holes in the jeans, but he has sent people home for wearing pants with an overabundance of holes.
“They just have to use common sense,” Cocco says. “We really try to set a family atmosphere. Customers watch what you wear.”
Having your dress code spelled out in writing, formally stating specific uniform standards — no matter how loose — and courses of action for failures to comply with requirements, is good business.
After all, employees’ appearance reflects a restaurant’s brand. Choosing not to have a set dress code creates confusion, says human resources expert and trainer Roberta Matuson. “You just have to be very specific as far as what does a clean, neat attire look like? The more you can do to eliminate people from having to make those decisions themselves the better.”
Haley’s Pizzeria in Litchfield, New Hampshire, also has a loose dress code. In fact, staff members simply wear jeans and t-shirts. The key, says owner Mike DeMarco, is outlining what is not acceptable — no sleeveless shirts, no low-cut or sagging pants, nothing vulgar or explicit on t-shirts, nothing that shows cleavage or posterior and no Yoga pants or jeans. DeMarco gives each employee a Haley’s T-shirt when they are hired, but it is not a required piece of uniform.
Having a uniform accessible and clean can be stressful for employees, DeMarco says. “I would rather them put their energy into the product and the customers,” he explains.
While Cocco’s and Haley’s take a casual approach to dress codes, Mama’s Famous Pizza & Heros in Tucson, Arizona, and Aldo’s Ristorante Italiano & Bar in Naples, Florida, have stricter requirements.
Mama’s four locations have a dress code, requiring employees to wear kakis or white pants, a brown Mama’s shirt, green apron and hat. Manager Liz Biocca says, “it’s the image that we want them to present and staff appearance should be consistent.” The restaurant supplies one of each, costing the restaurant under $10 per piece. But if the uniform gets stained or torn, Mama’s will replace it free.
Common violations of Mama’s dress codes are forgotten hats and shirts that are not tucked in. There’s a warning process when the policy is violated, Biocca says.
Kelly Musico says Aldo’s goes for a classy, sophisticated look — black button down shirt, black pants, black bistro apron and black non-slip shoes. The uniforms, she says, also make staff easily identifiable to customers, especially when Aldo’s caters off-site.
Aldo’s dress code is always enforced and gives employees multiple chances. “First offense, we will issue a loaner; second offense, employee will get sent home; third offense, employee will receive a written violation; and fourth offense, termination,” Musico says.
It is important to set reasonable standards, Matuson says. Expecting a white shirt to stay clean in an environment filled with red sauce is not going to be effective. Nor is supplying a style of uniform that does not fit everyone. If skirts are a piece of the uniform, she suggests also offering pants as an option. Be flexible.
Success of a dress code, Matuson says, comes down to communicating what’s in it for the staff. “You have to appeal to people’s self interest,” she says.
Also, make sure you and your managers are modeling the attire policy, Matuson says. It difficult to get employees to adhere to the rules when they see management disregard them.
Whether your style is extreme casual or formal, let your employees know how you expect them to dress for work. It is your image that they are representing.
Tips for Success
Dress codes are not complete without appearance standards. Many requirements, like pulling hair back in a ponytail or a hairnet, come down to local health code mandates. Some things like not displaying visible tattoos are image representation.
Where your dress code can get into legal hot water is if it violates federal and state employee discrimination laws. The rules are in place to protect employees from “unfair treatment because of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 and older), disability or genetic information,” enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Make certain that the policy you’ve set into place doesn’t leave you vulnerable to lawsuits. Run your dress code standards by your attorney.
Denise Greer is associate editor at Pizza Today.
Chances are your pizza delivery service represents a major portion of your business profits, but it can also represent a major expense. Because there are many variables that dictate your delivery service profits—drive times, employee pay model, marketing, number of orders in a given time frame—it can seem difficult if not impossible to gain control over this part of the operation. However, when you take the time to develop an efficient delivery strategy, you can enjoy better delivery times, reduced delivery expenses, enhanced branding and marketing, and increased customer satisfaction. The following five tips will help you maximize the money you make with pizza delivery service.
1. Charge a Delivery Fee
Delivery doesn’t have to be a business expense; rather, it can be a profitable income source. Let’s say you deliver within five miles of your location. You pay your drivers mileage at a rate of 15 cents per mile. That means you will pay your driver $1.50 for the 10-mile round trip (hourly wages are static, and so do not have direct bearing on delivery-specific profits). A $2 delivery fee allows you to cover the driver’s fee, plus allow you to profit an additional 50 cents per delivery order.
An even better model would be to eschew mileage reimbursement in favor of a split delivery fee. With an even split, a $2 delivery fee on that same five-mile round trip would allow both you and your driver to make $1 each. Many pizzerias either offer free delivery or give the entire delivery fee to their drivers. This is a missed opportunity for increased profits. If you earn $1 per delivery and average 30 delivery orders per day, in a year’s time you’ll earn an additional $10,950 in annual profits by incorporating a split delivery fee.
2. Always Use Car Toppers
Some pizzerias resist investing in car toppers, and in doing so miss a supreme opportunity to enhance brand recognition and motivate immediate orders. When your delivery drivers display car toppers that feature your brand name, logo and phone number, dozens or even hundreds of potential customers are exposed to your business every single delivery. Your brand name is recognized and hungry commuters are motivated to place orders immediately from their cell phones or as soon as they return home.
Let’s say you have three delivery drivers on a typical shift. If you buy three lighted car toppers at a price of $130 each, you’ll invest a total of $390 to outfit all three vehicles. (Maintenance expenses, such as light bulbs, are infrequent and minimal.) If you average 30 orders per day and each driver passes just 20 people, your car toppers will put your business in front of 600 potential customers every day. A standard car topper could easily last five years or more, which means that your $390 investment could easily achieve more than one million potential customer views over five years. Compare that to the cost of direct mailers!
3. Hire the Best Drivers
Your drivers are critical to your delivery profits. Often, drivers dictate first impressions and play a major role in how your company is perceived. The best delivery drivers are well-groomed and presentable, friendly and courteous, prompt and dependable, and they have positive attitudes. If they drive well-maintained vehicles, even better.
Take the time to carefully screen new driver hires and try to gain an understanding of them. When you’re considering new hires, casual conversation can be far more beneficial than an interview Q and A session. It’s important to make sure your questions are answered, certainly, but it’s just as important to evaluate candidate personalities before making a hiring decision. The best delivery drivers don’t just show up to work on time; they understand the importance of great customer service, which leads to faster delivery times, increased customer satisfaction and more repeat business.
4. Tell Customers You Deliver
Pizza delivery is so prevalent that customers automatically know you deliver, right? Not necessarily. Never miss an opportunity to tell customers about your delivery service. Let’s say you have a five-mile delivery area, but you rarely receive orders beyond three miles. A likely reason would be that customers who live beyond three miles might see your menus but assume you don’t deliver far enough to reach them. Printing your delivery area on your menus makes it clear that you do, indeed, cover their locations and will result in more orders.
If you deliver to local hotels, your menus should not only make it clear that you deliver, but also where you deliver and when. Since travelers are typically unfamiliar with local geography, you should consider listing the specific hotels you deliver to. You should also print your delivery hours, especially if you provide service earlier or later than most of your competitors.
Reminding your customers about your delivery service leads to “a-ha” moments at a later date for customers and greater profits for you.
5. Offer Drop-Off Catering
Much attention is given to residential delivery service, but drop-off catering to businesses, organizations and events can represent a significant portion of your total profits as well. Develop a catering menu that features different types of packages and market drop-off catering for luncheons, seminars, conferences, employee appreciation days, business events, non-profit events, and more.
Businesses, pharmaceutical representatives, schools, churches, and other organizations all host events that represent unique opportunities for you to land large orders with a convenient delivery service. You already have the product, equipment, and staff, so be wise and develop a drop-off catering service to significantly increase profits through your delivery service.
Maximizing delivery profits is one of three topics World Champion Pizza Maker of the Year Shawn Randazzo, of Detroit Style Pizza Co., will be covering at the Pizza Expo in March. He also will present seminars on “How to Build a Winning Company Culture” and “Making the Most of Online Orders.”
For more details on International Pizza Expo 2013, visit www.pizzaexpo.com.
Having owned and operated restaurants for the past 40 years, I have seen my share of scams, schemes and pitfalls—the kind any owner can fall victim to at the cost of a considerable amount of profit. These “situations” are at the outset seemingly innocuous and hardly raise a blip on your management radar. They are, unfortunately, of legal origin and thereby difficult (read “expensive”) to remove yourself from. What I’m referring to are the little service contracts that more and more regional and national vendors want to initiate with you to ostensibly “guarantee” good service and prices—but in reality lock in a potentially predatory relationship.
I have had contracts presented to me for laundry service, trash service, used grease pickup, CO2 gas delivery, extermination services, and phone maintenance—to name a few. In all of these contracts (which I, thankfully, read prior to signing) I had essentially no rights except to pay whatever they charged for whatever level of service they deemed adequate with no cancellation rights. I couldn’t cancel any of the contracts for price increases or poor service or even no service. Even if I went to the prescribed arbitration for disputes (and of course pay my half of the arbitrator’s cost), it was still not possible to void the contract. And when the expiration date approached—and if I did not want to renew the contract—I had to inform them 59 days before it expired, between 3 and 4 a.m. during the waning phase of Venus, all while standing on one leg. If I did not follow their prescribed procedure for nonrenewal, then I was stuck with the automatic renewal clause.
I hope you’re getting the drift of this article: It’s your money, and it’s your job to keep it, because a lot of people will do whatever they can to get it.
“But Ray,” you say, “Joe, my laundry man, has been providing my towels and aprons for years and he would never do something like that.” My reply is that he probably wouldn’t and neither would his company, as they have both grown and prospered because of their local contacts and their friendly and efficient service and prices. They would always take the time to explain in depth to you any need for a price increase and correct any service problems even before they happened.
However, in our current economic environment it would be highly unusual for Joe’s company to stay independent for your entire career. In all probability, a larger linen service will at some time purchase your local company (as happened in my case). This larger concern will feel the need to maximize profit to validate its purchase and start pushing for contracts so it can, supposedly, “get the best deals and pass the savings on to you.” Need I say that the only thing that passes on is your money?
The above situation actually happened to me. We had been with a local linen company for years before the owner retired and sold his business to a large regional commercial laundry. My manager partook of the Kool-Aid of friendship that the new company was offering through old and friendly faces, and without reading it and without consulting me, signed the contract. About six months later I noticed our linen bill had increased substantially. When I got comparable quotes from other linen companies, I realized that we were being overcharged, really overcharged.
When I brought my concern to old Joe, he replied that the prices were set at headquarters, miles and miles away, and now he just delivers the towels. When I contacted the local manager, he responded by saying that we had a contract and I should read it. All of the pitfalls that I mentioned above were in this document. Fortunately for me, since my manager had been the one to sign the contract, I was able to wriggle off their hook. Otherwise I would have been paying literally twice the going rate for linen service with no recourse for the next five years. As I said before (and please repeat this every day—even tape this mantra to your safe), “It’s your money and it’s your job to keep it, because a lot of people will do whatever they can to get it.”
At this point I should probably take a step back and state that not all contracts are evil. You need a property lease (contract) to protect yourself and your location. In many cases, money-saving deals on foodstuffs can be had by contracting to guarantee vendor exclusivity. There are other examples.
Even in a situation that benefits you, however, when you are presented with a contract, you need to read it, think about it, ask questions, and then read it again. Why does this company need a contract to provide you with their service? How will this contract benefit me? How will this contract benefit them? What will happen if I refuse the contract?
Or, more pragmatically, why does a linen company need a contract to deliver towels at a reasonable price? Why does a bottled gas deliverer need a contract to provide CO2? Why does an extermination service need a contract to deal with critters once a month? The answer to all is, “They don’t.” These contracts are only a means of “locking you in” and forfeiting your rights to enjoy the fruits of competition and, consequently, your profit.
My idea of an ideal contract is the unwritten one, where a company provides you a service and you pay them for it. If they keep doing it in an economical, efficient manner, you’ll keep paying them for their service. If they fail in some part of the above equation, then you’ll find another provider.
Your business is in all likelihood your lifeblood. Giving a part of it away because of an inability to use your commonsense is a recipe for disaster. There is no reason to acquiesce to unfair demands. There are more honest companies and honest people than you might realize. It’s your job to find them and, through them, enjoy a successful business.
Ray McConn owns Mother Bear’s Pizza in Bloomington, Ind., a single-unit operation with $3.8 million in annual sales. He will sit on two panels at Pizza Expo in March 2013, the Million-in-One Club and Winning Customer Service, both offered during Monday, March 18, pre-show sessions for new operators and first-time attendees.
For more details on International Pizza Expo 2013, visit www.pizzaexpo.com.
With three corporate pizza behemoths in her backyard — not to mention a dozen other independents, Jeannette Magaro, owner of Mia’s Nikoli’s Pizza in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, knows creative and strategic marketing is a must if her eight-year-old shop is to secure customers and profits.
The “big boys,” as Magaro calls them, can splash their national name on television during Penn State football games and prime-time shows, offering promotions and prices Magaro’s outlet cannot match. Rather than concede, however, Magaro has kicked her marketing into overdrive, touting Mia’s Nikoli’s neighborhood vibe and local roots at every turn; it’s the surest way, marketing experts say, to counter the big boys’ power.
With her husband, Ricci, running the store’s operations, Magaro focuses her efforts fully on attracting business. She makes regular visits to local hotels, often with a pizza in hand, to curry favor with staff and fashioned a cross-marketing venture with a local sports memorabilia store in advance of Super Bowl Sunday.
“You need to have that personal touch the large chains can’t have,” Magaro says.
Mia’s Nikoli’s 2010 “Fall Sports Campaign” stands as Magaro’s most inventive, revenue-generating turn to date. The restaurant provided sports-themed water bottles, outfitted with the pizza shop’s logo and info, to fall sports teams, cheerleaders and band members at Trinity High, a 600-student school located three blocks away. For 30 cents, the wholesale cost of the water bottle, students can fill their bottle with a beverage. The program immediately exceeded Magaro’s expectations, as dozens of students patronized the pizzeria for their refill and food.
“We have students in here every day buying pizza and subs. We’ve gotten close to 100-percent participation from the band alone,” says Magaro, who has recreated the program with Trinity High’s winter and spring programs as well.
While restaurant owners have long been advised to divert two to five percent of sales to marketing efforts, a benchmark more the result of habit than any proven formula, Kip Knight, head of California-based KnightVision Marketing, urges single-store operators to focus less on percentage and more on desired outcomes.
“Regardless of the money you have, think about the goals you have, the competition you’re facing, and the metric you’re trying to push, whether that be the average ticket, increasing the customer count, or referrals,” Knight says.
With a goal in mind, operators can then explore the creative ventures capable of producing results. While every operator will have his or her own goals, these three cost-effective, strategic avenues can maximize the single-store’s marketing dollar and give the local shop an edge:
Reward existing customers. Consider consumer perception of cell phone companies. While many carriers devote exhaustive efforts to securing new business with introductory offers, customers repeatedly express discontent with the company’s follow-up, which drives customer dissatisfaction. Pizzeria operators shouldn’t make the same mistake, particularly with their most profitable, dedicated customers.
“Incentives are the way to show you care. That keeps customers loyal and prompts the word-of-mouth marketing that is gold,” Knight says.
Pizzerias should capture testimonials and encourage a referral system, says Jon Schallert, a Colorado-based marketing consultant. Simplified by technology and social media, restaurants can gain credibility and resist the urge to react to competitors. “It’s as simple as saying, ‘Forward this to a friend. You’ll get A and they’ll get B,’” Schallert says. “Set up a system in which the loyal customers get rewards for repeat visits and encouraging others.”
Resist giving away margin or money, but rather something of perceived value, such as complimentary bread sticks. Whenever possible, defer the reward to a future visit. And don’t be shy about throwing in the occasional surprise.
“The element of surprise can bond a customer to your store,” Schallert says. “Not only will they come back, but you can bet they’ll talk about you.” Seek publicity. Studies show that consumers believe newspaper, TV and radio well above paid advertising. Devote time to pitch your pizzeria’s unique or quirky qualities to the media, specifically local outlets. The publicity translates into free advertising.
A Lakewood, Colorado pizzeria, for example, has collected mounds of media attention for its food challenge: eat an 11-pound, 28-inch pizza in two hours and earn $1,000. In creating a signature item, people remember the pizzeria’s dare and spirit. “Ask yourself: ‘What’s newsworthy in my business?’ Then, tell people about it,” Schallert says. “The big chains won’t do this because they’re on the corporate program. You’re not.”
Value face-to-face opportunities: Never afraid to ask someone to try her product or to pursue a potential partnership, Magaro mingles with places that host children’s parties, such as pottery studios, to create beneficial relationships.
“If you don’t open your mouth, you don’t know what you can come up with,” Magaro says. “The face-to-face interaction is hard work, but so much more effective.”
Such opportunistic, personalized ventures, Knight says, are those that swing considerable favor into the independent operator’s direction.“There’s no reason the single-store operator can’t be strategic and cost-effective at the same time,” Knight says. “As marketing’s evolved, he who has the most money doesn’t win the war.”
Maximizing Social Media’s Pull
Marketing’s version of sweat equity, social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter can be tailored to a specific market and engage customers with the restaurant. Operators can invite customer photographs, highlight promotions, or champion charitable causes, all of which cements customer interaction.
For ideas on best utilizing social media, visit Facebook’s Marketing Solutions page, which features dozens of real-world case studies from business owners using Facebook to their benefit, as well as mashable.com, which offers a range of social media resources and guides.
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
While the traditional pizzeria market keeps considerably regular hours, with a certain contingent venturing into late-night hours, a small but growing segment of the industry goes full throttle with 24-hour service. The first step to opening or transitioning to 24-hour business is determining if there are customers to support a revolving operation. Owners must consider competition from other restaurants in the area, how much will it cost to stay open later, labor, operating, security, marketing and insurance costs incurred, and long-term maintenance of a 24-hour business.
For Ben Darwish, owner of Gino’s Pizza and Brew in Orlando, Florida, extending late-night hours to around the clock service was a natural result of observing the buying patterns of local clientele. “We had the late night rush until 4:30 a.m. or 5:00 a.m., and by the time we finished cleaning up it was 6:00 a.m. and we had to reopen at 9:00 a.m., so I figured getting food deliveries at that time would be more convenient, and just to have the logo saying ‘24 hours’, it would be worth it,” he says. There are three 24-hour Gino’s all within close proximity. Two are currently thriving, and while one location took a bit of a hit from the recession, Darwish is optimistic about a quick recovery thanks to a new civic center in the area.
Running a 24-hour location can help establish a unique foothold, especially if there are no other such businesses in the area. When Tristan Koehler extended hours at the Domino’s Pizza near the University of Dayton in Ohio in August of 2010, effectively launching the nation’s first 24-hour Domino’s location, it garnered positive attention for the Domino’s franchisee. “In general, we’re seeing that people are ordering later at night since they don’t have to order before 3 a.m. or 4 a.m.,” says Koehler. “They’re not in a rush now, they call us when they feel like it, and that might be 6 a.m.!”
Darwish finds the 24-hour model financially viable, particularly because of Gino’s monopoly on all-hours pizza in the area. “We get stragglers and a significant amount of business after everyone else closes,” he says. The shift to a 24-hour model allows Gino’s staff to utilize down-time for vendor-pleasing easy, fast shipments and deliveries, and staff has the time for careful inventory during lulls after the late-night shift, and to prepare for needs that might arise later in the evening.
Twenty-four-hour business owners count on a large segment of consumers for revenue — bar and club goers looking for a late-night bite. Darwish estimates that about 90 to 95 percent of his late-night business comes from partiers, and nighttime business accounts for about 65 percent of Gino’s business overall. Cashing in on this great demand, however, incurs its own risks. “Being open past when bars close is going to have a number of challenges,” says Victoria Shuster, a manager at HoundDogs Three Degree Pizza, a popular all-night pizzeria in Columbus, Ohio.
A 24-hour operation will definitely need to have a security plan in place, whether that means training staff to handle rowdy crowds, which works for HoundDogs, or hiring a dedicated security staff, which Darwish does. Safety issues are a valid concern and often trickier to handle when customers are inebriated. “Some of the newer, fast casual restaurants operating on a 24-hour basis have offered discounts to police, fire and medical crews to provide comfort and safety to patrons and also drive traffic,” says James Sinclair of OnSite Consulting.
For businesses still establishing their client base, there is risk of financial loss during the time it takes to build a dedicated clientele for a 24-hour operation. “Demand for 24-hour service may not be there yet,” says Arjun Sen, president and founder of ZenMango, a Denver, Colorado-based marketing consulting firm working with restaurants, retail, charities and other guest experience-driven industries. “Even if it is, the cost of fulfilling that demand may lead to short-term financial loss.” Though these losses may ultimately turn to wins, the time it takes to market, promote and gain trust in a 24-hour pizzeria is definitely an important consideration when researching such an undertaking. “In the first month, we incurred many one-time costs, including giving away 1,800 free pizzas on campus,” says Koehler.
Staying open around the clock allows for special experimentation that a traditional business can’t provide, such as the rollout of breakfast pizza at the Domino’s in Dayton. While Domino’s reps say there aren’t nationwide plans to open 24-hour locations, Koehler’s success with his model could very well prove to be an inspiration to other business owners. “A 24-hour business definitely profits,” says Shuster. “There’s all kind of people that are out late, and someone wants pizza for breakfast, or they are getting off third shift and they want food that’s not McDonald’s breakfast.”
The 24-hour customers do exist, and their profile varies depending on location, competition, security issues and other factors that are unique to each business. “Fitting in food around a busy lifestyle has opened up a market that is seeing explosive test growth,” says Sinclair. With many fast-food restaurants offering 24-hour service, it’s natural that pizzeria owners will want a share of that business. “The 24-hour restaurant model will be a future industry norm, for a number of reasons,” says Sen. “As geographical boundaries start shrinking, people will be doing more business based on global hours and not local hours. Also, work habits are evolving with more adults working off-site and on flextime hours. Traditional restaurant hours built around traditional business hours will fade as individuals demand access to food at different times.” u
TAKE IT SLOW
Not ready for 24-hour service just yet? Get your feet wet by extending hours on weekends. “Once an operator decides to take the step forward to move to a 24-hour pizzeria, he/she should consider moving forward in steps,” says consultant Arjun Sen. “The journey to 24-hours should not be taken in one giant step, unless the demand justifies it.”
Try staying open later on weekends, and watch how this affects business. Market new hours to customers with a promotional offering, such as specials surrounding holidays, or tied in with events at local establishments such as concert venues and corresponding to activities at local colleges and universities. Moving to 24-hour weekend shifts might be the next logical step.
Lee Erica Elder is a freelance writer in New York City.
Classy Catering Delivery
Big orders require timing, consideration during delivery
BY PAMELA MOLVIG
PHOTOS BY RICK DAUGHERTY
It takes hustle and finesse to get a picture-perfect, palate-satisfying meal from your kitchen to the diner’s plate in the next room. It’s trickier still when you’re filling dozens or even hundreds of plates at an event located miles away.
Such is the challenge of catering. One common misstep is allowing insufficient time for catering delivery, says Jody Birnbaum, former owner of a catering business in Chicago for 20-plus years and president/founder of Caterconsult Inc. in Buffalo Grove, Illinois.
“You also need to think about where you’ll park,” she says, “and how you’ll unload. The logistics are critical. If it’s a large order or an event that requires serving food rather than dropping it off, you absolutely must do an advance site inspection.”
Despite delivery challenges, catering can be a profitable sideline. As an add-on for an existing restaurant, catering is “not a huge investment,” Birnbaum says. Catering work often can be done during a restaurant’s slower hours, using equipment and staff you already have. “Catering can produce a good revenue stream,” she says, “if you do it right.”
Diana Vallorz has catered diverse events, such as pizza for 2,000 people at a high-tech firm and a gathering at a mountaintop vineyard. Her catering radius extends 30 minutes around the San Jose, California location of Tony & Alba’s Pizza & Pasta, which she bought last June from her parents. It’s one of three Tony & Alba’s founded by her parents; her brother now runs the other two.
The catering menu includes pizza, pasta and other entreés — including veal Parmesan, prime rib and more — plus salads, appetizers and desserts. With years of catering experience, Vallorz says getting various dishes ready to go out the door simultaneously is “the easy part.”
“We time everything,” she says. “We make salads ahead and put them in the refrigerator. We prepare entrees last. Then we bag it all up and get it out. That’s not the hard part.”
So what is? Vallorz’s response comes quickly. “Finding good drivers,” she says.
Drivers must pay attention to details, she explains, to make sure all dishes and supplies get into the delivery vehicle. It’s easy to forget items that are out of sight, such as salads in the refrigerator. “If I’m busy in the restaurant,” she says, “I may not be able to check if the driver has everything. Also, drivers must have a good personality. They’re representing the company.”
Jeff Sayers, co-owner with Mark Negro of Mangia Pizza in Austin, Texas, agrees that delivery personnel are key to catering success. “They check the packaging,” Sayers says, “and put the final blessing on the order.”
Mangia caters from four of its five locations. At each restaurant, managers act as overseers to get orders prepared and packaged for delivery. “If it’s an event for 100 or more,” Sayers says, “a manager or owner goes out with the order to be sure everything gets set up properly.”
Proper equipment is also critical for successful delivery. “We have large Igloo coolers,” Sayers says, “and big Cambro insulated boxes on wheels that roll right into the vehicle and then into the event.”
One of Mangia’s catering vehicles is a custom truck with two compartments for food. It’s half warming oven, half refrigeration unit. “We use that for bigger events,” Sayers says. “We can pull up somewhere with 50 pizzas and keep them warm.”
Catering demands careful planning and coordination, Sayers says, from the moment of taking the order through delivery and cleanup. “You can’t take catering lightly,” he says. “If you have a problem at the event, it’s not like you just messed up a four-top. You could make yourself look bad in front of hundreds of people. Catering is an extension of your restaurant and your reputation.”
Equipment and timing are critical elements in flawless catering delivery, says Paul Dzubnar, CEO of Green Mill Restaurants, Inc. in St. Paul, Minnesota. Green Mill, which caters from 28 restaurants in Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Kansas, began its centralized catering operation in fall 2009. It’s centralized in the sense that the St. Paul headquarters handles sales, marketing and store-level support.
“Some say you need to have the business before you outlay much capital to buy catering equipment,” Dzubnar says. “My thought was we needed the right equipment before we could execute catering events properly. We wanted all the tools in the toolbox. We bought a catering van and got it logo-ed up. We got Cambros and other equipment to transfer food, and we bought dinnerware, silverware and so on.”
Green Mill now has four catering delivery vans. Dzubnar says it’s fairly easy to gauge when to add another. “We get bookings well in advance,” he says. “These aren’t overnight pop-ups. We can see when the schedule is filling up and it’s time to buy another van.” Bookings are mostly for corporate events and weddings.
As for timing, “Once you’ve done a certain type of catered event,” Dzubnar says, “it seems to repeat itself.” Green Mill keeps a log for each event, which helps future event planning. All new catering sites get an advance survey to assess logistics and equipment needs, and to check drive time.
Based on the first year, Green Mill projects $500,000 in catering sales for 2011. “With the economy in decline, you need sales,” Dzubnar says. “When sales don’t come to you, you have to go out to get them. Catering is a way to do that.”
Hot on the Spot
Georgia-based Blue Moon Pizza has added a new twist to its catering delivery in the Atlanta area. It’s a 1961 fire truck, painted (what else?) blue and outfitted with a pizza oven, refrigeration and running water. The truck goes to private functions such as movie sets and weddings.
“We drive up and start making pizzas on the spot,” says Kelvin Slater, Blue Moon’s co-owner.
Besides bringing in added revenues, the pizza truck allows Blue Moon to “get our product out there,” Slater says. “People who don’t normally come to our restaurant can get a taste. That’s a pretty good bonus.”
Dianne Molvig is a freelance writer based in Madison, Wisconsin.
License to Drive
Hiring delivery drivers demands attention to detail
BY DANIEL P. SMITH
PHOTOS BY RICK DAUGHTERY
When TJ Banning opened his first Rosati’s Pizza in suburban Chicago in 2000, he carried low standards for his delivery driver hires.
“If you had a pulse and a car, you were hired,” says Banning, who’s swapped his early waywardness for more stringent driver standards at both of his Rosati’s locations.
Banning entrusts his drivers to represent Rosati’s in a positive light, certain that their presence influences customer perception and satisfaction.
“Sixty percent of our business isn’t me, but rather somebody I’ve hired to deliver pizzas and hold money until the end of the night, so you bet I’ve learned to pay closer attention to the drivers I hire,” says Banning, whose delivery crew is a mix of “career drivers,” delivery veterans with at least five years’ experience and part-timers filling either hours or income gaps.
Yet, the importance of hiring responsible drivers extends well beyond perception and deep into an operator’s pocketbook, as ignorance to a driver’s insurance coverage, vehicle condition and driving record can prove costly.
While experience and area familiarity often shoot driver candidates to the top of the employer’s pile, wise operators, recognizing their assets and livelihood could be at risk, activate a number of critical, judicious steps to protect their business and others.
“Our philosophy is ‘hire tough and manage easy,’ ” says Glenn Mueller, whose RPM Pizza operates 150 Domino’s Pizza restaurants in the southeast. “If you get the right people in place, you’re going to save yourself a lot of stress down the line.”
While some operators run driving tests for applicants to assess road decorum as well as street knowledge, three key, universal checkpoints before hiring a driver will help insulate the business from time, money, and emotion-consuming battles. Here are some considerations:
The driver’s motor vehicle report (MVR). One’s driving record provides operators a glimpse into behind-the-wheel responsibility. While insurance companies can access MVRs, EPIC Insurance Brokers’ Cheryl Downey, who specializes in restaurant delivery coverage, suggests operators require drivers bring a copy of their MVR to the interview along with proof of insurance on the car they will use.
The MVR will list moving violations, including citations for driving too close, speeding, or intersection violations. According to Downey, two or more violations could reflect the driver’s personality and prompt reason for concern with operators. Should an accident occur, operators can be liable for putting a driver with a spotty record on the road.
“All programs have their own criteria, but I can’t imagine any provider insuring anyone with three or more moving violations,” Downey says. “And virtually no program will insure a driver with a major violation, such as driving under the influence.”
The driver’s personal insurance.Before hiring drivers and turning them onto the streets, operators should hold current, accurate documentation detailing the driver’s auto insurance coverage. In addition to checking the policy’s expiration date, make sure your applicant is named on the policy along with the vehicle he will use.
“If the driver substitutes a different vehicle that doesn’t have insurance, then the driver’s personal policy, active or not, doesn’t do the operator any good,” Downey says, reminding that operators can amass thousands of dollars in bills for driver-caused damage.
While operators can do this fact-checking themselves, Banning leans on his insurance company to help him hire and retain responsible drivers. His carrier, Hub International, runs MVRs every six months, while also providing updates on drivers nearing coverage expiration and ongoing driver safety training.
The car’s condition. While no one expects pizzeria operators to be auto mechanics, a review of the condition of the driver’s car helps limit unwarranted risk. Many insurance carriers can provide a multi-point inspection form to guide policy holders on basic car safety functions they should examine, such as seat belts, brake lights, turn signals, windshield wipers.
“In the event of an accident, the plaintiff’s attorney will almost certainly investigate if you allowed the driver to use a car that wasn’t roadworthy,” says Keith George, managing director with AmWINS Program Underwriters.
While many long-time pizzeria franchisors have a built-in safety culture culled from years of experience, many independent operations neglect an important piece of the delivery equation: possessing a non-owned auto liability policy that shields the business from damaging claims.
“If you think the driver’s policy is enough, then you’re playing Russian roulette,” George says. “As the employer, you are vicariously responsible for the actions of your employees.”
A driver’s personal insurance usually provides coverage up to a pre-defined limit — $15,000 is typical, Downey says. Even then, however, the restaurant will be liable for claims exceeding that limit. In some cases, a driver’s personal auto policy may have an exclusion for business use or, more specifically, for pizza delivery. As a result, non-owned auto liability coverage serves a critical business safeguard.
“I know if something happens out there with one of my drivers that I’ll likely be the target (of litigation),” says Banning, who’s happy to swap the $8 a day charge for non-owned auto liability coverage for the peace of mind he gains.
TIP: Operators should hold current, accurate documentation detailing the driver's auto insurance converage. Look for the policy expiration date as well as the policy holder's name and vehicke listed.
Chicago-based Daniel P. Smith has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.
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.
When Ray Perkins, owner of Chubby Ray’s Louisville Pizza Company in Louisville, Kentucky, was approached by a group of Girl Scout Brownies to do a pizza workshop for one of their badges, Perkins agreed, even though he’d never really worked with kids before. In fact, his establishment is known more for game day excitement, poker tournaments and live music. Still, Perkins saw an opportunity to cater to new clientele, so he agreed.
Rather than let 15 first-graders take over his kitchen, Perkins set up a conference table in an area usually inhabited by his week-day buffet. He brought out tubs of cheese, sauce and pepperoni, and used personal-pan-sized dough skins his staff had previously rolled out. Though he only had eight kid-sized pans, he used the same size dough on larger screens so each girl would receive the same pizza once baked. He then allowed each Brownie to build her own pizza. The workshop was priced at $5 a girl, including a soda and a tip for each of the two servers who assisted in the project.
“Our kids’ meals are $3.99 plus tax, so that just added a little bit of a tip for the servers,” Perkins says.
The fact that Perkins offers a kids’ meal as part of his regular menu isn’t surprising –– most kids between the ages of 3 and 11 list pizza as their top food choice. But did you know that families with children account for 14 billion meals and $70 billion in sales, according to marketing research firm The NPD Group?
“We do a lot with the youth football and youth baseball here,” Perkins says. “We host a lot of the parties here. It exposes (kids) to a place they maybe haven’t been before, and it’s all about the fun. It’s about the experience –– you want them to come back, and Mom and Dad will come with them.”
Kids are important at Washington-based Farelli’s Wood Fire Pizza, where Clayton Kreuger, director of marketing and communications, says each kid is given an unrolled doughball to play with at the table. “We have a special kids menu that is filled with fun coloring activities and such,” Kreuger says. “We have game rooms at all of our locations with video games and candy crane machines.”
Does focusing on family help the company’s bottom line? “Absolutely,” Kreuger says. “We are even exploring more new ways to engage with kids this year. After all, it is them who decide where their parents take them to eat.”
If you’re not catering to kids, here are some quick tips to get you started:
u Offer at least one healthy meal option. A grilled chicken breast and veggies with a side of dressing is an easy choice.
u Train your staff to alert parents if your meats (pepperoni, sausage, etc.) are spicy. Different brands have different heat levels, and this can be a deal breaker for future visits.
u Offer cups with lids, and train your servers to ask about refills. Since the cups may be smaller than adult-sized cups, they may need more refills.
u Preprinted kids’ menus should be brought to the table upon seating –– don’t wait for parents to ask. And use fresh crayons –– used crayons get grubby, aren’t visually appealing and carry germs.
u If you’re handing out toys, brand them. When they’re taken home, they’re obvious advertisements. “We also have a balloon artist come in once a week to make special balloon creations for the kids,” Kreuger says. “We give every kid a balloon on their way out the door that is branded with our logo.”
u Consider menuing at least one kid-friendly appetizer –– such as breadsticks or mozzarella sticks –– and train your servers to point them out on the menu.
u Offer one or two reduced portions from the adult
menu. “We’ve expanded our menu for the first time to
include a kids’ menu because we’ve gotten so many kids
in here,” says Dave Elliot, who owns New Hampshire-
based Zacky’s Pizzeria.
u Not non-smoking? Consider
voluntarily doing so. Perkins says
although he was mandated to go smoke-free by county law, “it changed our demographic. We were really more adult-oriented. I found out there were a lot of families who wouldn’t come in if we allowed smoking.”
Finally, consider putting together a birthday party package. Zacky’s offers kids at parties a personal pan pizza, a beverage and a bag of chips. They hand out a bottle of their private-label soda as the kids leave. “They’re actually going back to mom and dad and saying ‘Here. This is what’s left.’ ” says Elliot. “We’ve had a lot of parents come back because the kids like it. The parents may never have been here.” u
Mandy Wolf Detwiler is managing editor at Pizza Today.
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
We all make mistakes (ever forgot a birthday or anniversary?). Usually we can make amends in some fashion (roses? dinner out?) and life goes on. In the business we are in, mistakes can cause a deeper problem –– like a customer not coming back –– so we strive to get it right the first time and every time.
Here are some common mistakes that I have experienced in my many years of pizza making and instruction. The point, of course, is to examine how to fix those mistakes once and for all.
Mistake: the soggy crust syndrome.
Solution: It probably has to do with too much water in the tomatoes (canned or fresh) or using more tomato than is called for. Don’t treat a pizza shell like a pond. Know your tomatoes. Topping overload can result in a soggy crust. Vegetables with high water content (bell peppers, mushrooms, spinach), if used too aggressively, can result in a soggy crust, too. Oftentimes, less is better.
Mistake: pools of fat on top of the pizza.
Solution: use a sausage or pepperoni with less fat. Or use precooked sausage crumbles. And don’t overload.
Mistake: Underbaked pizza.
Solution: Oven is not hot enough, or pizzas are placed in the wrong part of the oven. Example: the hot zone for a deck oven is toward the back. For conveyor ovens, check the finger location (impinger fingers). In a wood-fired oven, you are probably not rotating the pizzas closer to the fire. In true Neapolitan fashion, the pizzaiola will finish off a pizza in wood-fired ovens this way: Slide the pizza peel under the fully baked pie, then raise the peel and the pie so that the pizza is almost touching the dome of the oven (because that’s where the oven is the hottest). Finito! Perfetto! Know your oven.
Mistake: overbaked pizza (finished product is too dry and crunchy, no flavor).
Solution: I will say it again –– know your oven. Know where to place (or not) pizzas, especially when using a deck or wood-fired oven. Rotation of pizzas is the key to putting out the perfect pie. Too close to the heat is okay, especially with a wood-fired oven where you sometimes want to present a blistered crust that exhibits some charring.
Mistake: crust is dry, no texture, cardboard syndrome.
Solution: Try using a higher ratio of water to flour. For example, generally speaking, the old benchmark was 20 pounds of flour to 10 pounds of water (50 percent). Try this using 10 pounds of flour and 6 pounds of water (60 percent). The dough will be a bit wetter and a little harder to handle, but it’s worth it. Also, in this situation, use a flour that has a protein level of 13 to 14 percent.
Mistake: miserable veggie pizza (soggy, no flavor).
Solution: Sauté the vegetables –– bell peppers, onion, mushrooms, etc. in olive oil and garlic (that’s the prep). Or, in the case of mushrooms, don’t slice fresh mushrooms too thinly. Also, bury some of the mushrooms under the cheese. Mushrooms are almost 100-percent water, so excessive heat will dry them out and turn each slice into a piece of flavorless cardboard.
Mistake: finished pizza is puffy and bland.
Solution: A puffy and bland pizza shell is the result of rising time and temperature. To avoid a puffy crust, do not let the dough rise at room temperature. After mixing and balling the dough, get it into the cooler as soon as possible. Now let it undergo cold fermentation for at least 24 hours. Give the pizza dough a bench proof time (out of the cooler) of one hour before rolling or stretching. And, this method makes it easier to shape and stretch the dough (it will not shrink or get “bucky”).
Mistake: no flavor fresh basil.
Solution: Don’t chop the basil; rather, tear or snip it using scissors. Also, add the fresh basil after the pizza comes out of the oven. Alternatively, put the fresh basil leaves under the cheese. Keep the fragrance. Add some more basil after the pizza comes out of the oven for the perfect presentation.
Mistake: pizza looks sloppy (tomatoes and cheese running together, because too much of both –– tomatoes and cheese –– were used).
Solution: This happens more often than not when using fresh mozzarella. Don’t use more cheese than is necessary to put out a great tasting pie.
Mistake: dried oregano and dried basil with no flavor or fragrance.
Solution: No, I don’t have a problem with dried oregano and basil. What bothers me is when over-the-hill dried herbs are used. Or a poor brand of either is used. In either case there is no flavor. You might as well be throwing dried grass on the pizza. Use top-drawer Greek oregano, and never use any dried herb that has been sitting around the kitchen or pantry for months on end. u Pat Bruno is Pizza Today’s resident chef and a regular contributor. He is the former owner and operator of a prominent Italian cooking school in Chicago and is a food critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.
Established in 1994, Cornerstone Pizza is owned and operated by my partner, Dave Shearn, and me. Cornerstone is a small delco shop that specializes in pan-baked pizza. On December 28, 2010, I received a call from a customer at the Philadelphia airport. She said, “How fast can you get 50 pizzas to the airport? Can you get them by 2 p.m.?”
Mind you, it was 1 p.m. I asked if she could give me until 2:30, and she agreed. Still, it was going to be a tall task. I began by entering the order in our system when she requested: “We need another 100 pizzas around 6:30 tonight.” As soon as I hung up the phone, we began to rip out 50 pizzas. Our manager, Keith Allen, called in off-duty employees. That initial order of 50 was delivered on time, as promised. But getting the next 100 pizza order out on time was going to be a challenge since we had to get new dough ready for same-day use.
Once we made the dough, we allowed it to rest at room temperature for a few hours (covered, of course) to speed up the proofing time. Then, we sheeted it into the pans and gave it 60 to 90 minutes to further proof before baking. With our crew coming in earlier than usual, we were functioning like a well-oiled machine. But more orders were pouring in due to a rescheduled NFL game. I assisted with the delivery at 6:30 p.m. to express our appreciation. To my surprise, she wanted another 300 pizzas delivered the next day: 150 at 10 a.m., 150 at 6:30 p.m.
While I was excited about the orders, we had a problem: it was 7 p.m., and we had gone through all the flour in the shop. We had an order coming in on Wednesday, but not before noon. We called another pizza shop in town and they were gracious enough to lend us three bags of flour. In the meantime, I called our food supplier sales rep at 8 p.m. to explain that we needed product ASAP the next morning. His response showed me just how dedicated he is to good customer service. Not only did he say, “No problem,” but he went to the plant first thing in the morning and filled his personal vehicle with flour, sauce and cheese. He dropped it off at 9 a.m. Wednesday morning.
On Tuesday night, a couple of us stayed into the wee hours prepping for Wednesday. I returned at 5 a.m. to find one of my valued employees, Kamal, still there making sauce and prepping various items for Wednesday’s normal business. He had been there since 1 p.m. Tuesday. The morning order of 150 pizzas went out without a hitch. Then, around noon, our customer stopped in at the shop and asked to add 30 pizzas to the evening order of 150. She also asked us to repeat both orders again Thursday — 150 pizzas at 10 a.m., 180 at 6:30 p.m.
Again, distributors replenished our supplies. We even had to fill blanks in the inventory at the grocery store. With much help from our cooks and delivery drivers, we successfully completed all the orders. Believe me, it took some managerial juggling to make sure our regular business was not neglected. Our entire crew stepped up big-time. They worked extra hours, they came in early, they stayed late ... you name it.
Local newspapers and our ABC affiliate covered our big order, which resulted in Cornerstone receiving a lot of good publicity. You can find the stories at our Web site, www.cornerstonepizza.com.
As I wrote this column two months later, we were still experiencing quite an upswing in business as a result of the publicity we received. It has been quite a ride.
My Turn is a monthly guest column. This installment is written by James Villas, founder of Cornerstone Pizza. If you are interested in submitting your own column, e-mail Jeremy White [firstname.lastname@example.org] and let him know what you want to say and what qualifies you to say it!
Safe, Not Sorry
Robbery preparedness and prevention training could save lives
BY DIANNE MOLVIG
PHOTOS BY RICK DAUGHERTY
Too often people don't think about robbery until it happens, and then it becomes top of mind," says Matt Martin, franchise training leader for Toppers Pizza, with 36 locations in eight states and headquartered in Whitewater, Wisconsin.
Toppers Pizza keeps robbery prevention and preparedness on the radar. "It's part of our training for everyone we hire," Martin says. "Our main message to employees is 'give the robbers the money. We can make more money tomorrow, but we can't replace you.'"
Security training experts emphasize that a robbery is no time for heroics. Unfortunately, an occasional news story pops up about an employee who fought off an armed robber and became a local hero. Experts emphatically recommend against such actions.
"In most commercial robberies, employees aren't injured as long as they cooperate," says security consultant and trainer Chris McGoey of Crime Doctor in Los Angeles.
McGoey advises against owners keeping a gun in the restaurant. If a robber has a gun pointed at you, you're not going to retrieve yours fast enough anyway, he explains, and quick moves may startle the robber into shooting you. Plus, if other employees have access to the weapon but lack a cool head and gun-handling skills, they could set off wild shots that injure others inside the store or out on the street. By introducing another weapon, "you're bringing more violence into an already potentially violent situation," McGoey says.
Untrained, panicky employees also can trigger violence inadvertently, says John Moore of Armed Robbery Training Associates in Spokane, Washington. He points to an incident in which a man entered a pizzeria brandishing a knife and demanded the cash register be emptied into a pizza box.
One of the two employees at the counter dashed across the room to grab a pizza box. Thinking the employee was running to hit an alarm or call police, the robber lunged for the cash in the register. In the process, and probably by accident, he badly cut the other employee on the arm as she was emptying the till.
"What the first employee should have done," Moore explains, "is say, 'I'm going to walk over there to get a box and come right back.' People get hurt or killed
because nobody trained them in what to do and what not to do."
Besides coaching employees in robbery survival, train them in practices that make your restaurant a less appealing target. Here are a few procedures recommended by security experts:
Keep minimal cash in the till. Make frequent cash drops into a locked drop-safe located near the cash register and securely
anchored in place. Let people see you put cash in there. Assume a robber might have been an earlier customer or former
employee who witnessed cash-handling practices.
Use time-delay safes. These won't open until at least 20 minutes after someone enters the combination. Robbers typically don't want to hang around that long. Post signage that your safes are on time-delay to deter someone who's casing your restaurant for robbery potential.
Don't go out the back door after dark for any reason. Keep back and side doors locked at all times. Going out the back at night is an invitation to robbers. Keep trash stored inside overnight, and let the daytime crew dispose of it.
Open and close using the buddy system. A minimum of two employees should be on duty at all times. One employee enters to check the premises for anyone hiding or anything suspicious. If all's well, the employee remaining outside gets an all-clear signal. Otherwise, the outside employee knows to call police. Then at closing, one employee goes out to check the restaurant's surroundings, communicates an all-clear signal to the other inside, goes to his or her car some distance away and waits to watch the other employee leave safely.
Your restaurant's physical features can attract or deter robbers. "They look for easy escape routes and dimly lit areas," says Furlishous Wyatt, business security specialist with San Francisco SAFE, a nonprofit crime prevention organization. "That's why you should have a security specialist or someone from your police department come out to your restaurant to look at the lay of the land."
Many police departments and crime prevention nonprofits also provide robbery training for employees. Some security companies have training available
online, often for free.
Wyatt advises keeping windows clear of signage, shrubbery and other obstructions. "Create a fishbowl appearance," he says, "so employees can see out, and passing patrol cars and citizens can see in."
Surveillance cameras, prominently announced, also make robbers think twice. Consider placing a monitor in the front of the house so people immediately see they're on camera when they enter. Wyatt suggests placing a camera at the front exit, too, and aiming it to catch a shoulders-and-up image of anyone leaving. Other cameras up in the corners may miss such images if robbers wear hats and hoods. If they have masks, they'll usually remove them on the way out to avoid drawing attention on the street, and you'll get a picture.
Silent alarms are another security tool. Put them in several strategic locations — under the front counter and in the kitchen, office, storeroom, cooler and so on. Be sure employees know to activate an alarm only if they can do so unnoticed.
Finally, one of the best robbery-prevention weapons is vigilance. Train employees to spot anyone who's hanging around inside or outside and perhaps casing the place. "Follow your instincts,"
Wyatt says. "If the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, something is wrong. Call the police." u
Dianne Molvig is a freelance writer in Madison, Wisconsin.
Photos by Scott Weiner
Lower Manhattan is a ghost town. Century-old trees are uprooted, the world’s most incredible public transportation system has ground to a halt and power is out — not just in some buildings, but everywhere south of 28th Street. As I write this, New York is just days removed from the landfall of Hurricane Sandy. Most residents and businesses have remained closed, but several pizzerias have figured out how to keep the lights on both literally and figuratively.
The first challenge for powerless pizzerias is how to make dough without a working mixer. Some went back in time and whipped up batches by hand. A beautiful photo quickly made the rounds on Twitter of Motorino’s Mathieu Palombino, hands deep in a flour trench filled with yeast-clouded water. Employees at Pizza Box on Bleecker Street were proud of their handmade dough, especially because they had never attempted it over decades of pizza making.
Others were fortunate enough to have access to kitchens in electrified parts of the city. I saw Roberto Caporuscio getting out of a taxi with two bags of vegetables and a stack of dough trays. He was transporting supplies from the refrigerator at Don Antonio in the Theater District to his powerless Greenwich Village pizzeria, Keste. A similar task was necessary for Forcella’s Giulio Adriani, who carted dough from his location in Brooklyn to the one in Manhattan. Newcomer Cowboy Pizza in the Lower East Side made trips to Long Island for access to a working mixer at a friend’s pizzeria, even though road and bridge closures made the drive interminable.
Even with mixed dough in hand, the problem of storing it without refrigeration remained. The storm brought a cold front to New York so overnight temperatures are low enough for dough trays to be stored outside. Pizza makers had to tweak their dough formulas to compensate for slightly warmer ambient temperature but I found the slightly softer crust texture to be a welcome change.
Heating ovens is no challenge for pizzerias whose central piece of equipment is fueled by wood, coal or natural gas, but operating them safely with minimal light is another story. Joe’s in Greenwich Village created a system of flashlights taped to poles to provide oven lighting. Percy’s lit its tiny counter by candlelight. Lombardi’s probably had the most complex setup, with a series of car batteries powering lights in the kitchen, dining room and even a couple for the sign outside. Most pizzerias are avoiding the lighting issue altogether by restricting service to take-out and delivery.
No matter what obstacles are placed before them, these pizzerias found solutions. Beyond just being a business, you’re part of a community that depends on you for comfort food in times of need. Seeing how these pizzerias have gone out of their way to serve their neighbors has been a great testament to the resilience and dependability of the pizza industry. Just think about what you would do in an emergency situation so people like me can turn to you for the comfort of a warm slice.u
Scott Wiener owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City.
Underperforming operations need to get SLOPPIE
BY BIG DAVE OSTRANDER
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
If your sales are increasing, give yourself a big pat on the back. If your sales are flat, and you are barely breaking even, welcome to the new normal. If you are afraid of what the future has in stock for your store, the clock is ticking. The longer the restaurant runs unprofitably, the less time you have for a turnaround.
Pizzeria interventions or turnarounds are never the same. I believe that several factors are present when a once-profitable store gets in trouble. Since 1990, I’ve been called in to turn around a hundred or more teetering operations. Next to grand openings, this is the hardest type of assignment I perform. No wonder people are fascinated with Chef Gordon Ramsey’s “Kitchen Nightmares”or Food Network’s “Restaurant: Impossible.” The process can get very emotional and ugly.
I have adopted a model to evaluate existing operations. I grade operations subjectively on the following criteria, with A being the best and F miserably failing.
I call it the SLOPPIE system –– but there’s nothing sloppy about it. In no particular order I look at these areas:
Sales — Is the operation grossing enough to generate a respectable bottom line? How many dollars per square foot of space per year?
Location — Is the location an A, B or C? Is it easy to get in and out? Is it relative to the core market (business, residential, schools)? Does it have busy neighbors that compliment sales? Does it have high visibility and great signage?
Operations — Is it a well-oiled machine or a nightmare when busy? How well is staff trained? Are standardized recipes, portion control, ordering, cash management, scheduling and written job descriptions in place? Are waste, theft and scheduling lean and mean? Are the financials complete, or are huge flags present?
Product — What’s the quality of all entrées? Is the food coming from the kitchen consistent? Is one cook significantly better than the rest? What procedures are in place to guarantee that every pizza, every time, is great?
Profitability — Is the restaurant making money? Are expenses too high?
Image and Identity — How effective is the advertising and marketing? Does the client have a unique selling proposition (USP)? Does the client have raving fans? What is the word on street about your place?
Effectiveness — Do the dollars spent have an effect on sales? Do they deliver on their promise –– or is it a same-old/same-old place?
Every operation is unique and report cards can’t be graded until I ask many questions. When I’m satisfied that I have the unvarnished information, I give each one of the above criteria a letter grade and a corresponding number grade. A’s = 4.00, B’s = 3.00 and so on. Then I add up all of the scores and divide them by the seven criteria and get the grade. When the report card is finished, we are able to address each area and develop a plan to get the place on the honor roll.
The absolute No. 1 area that I see in the field is the lack of accurate financial statements. Financial statements are similar to a medical chart that follows a patient who is under the care of a doctor. The doc needs to be sure that the vital signs are within norms. If the reporting system you use is easy to read, follows generally accepted accounting procedures (GAAP) for the restaurant/pizzeria industry, you are in the top 10 percent. Without a real, accurate financial starting point, all interventions are simply trial and error. Businesses make profit by design. Hobbies make money by accident. If you have never run your restaurant by the numbers you are drifting without a rudder.
The action plan almost always involves doing a food cost analysis. After a day of inputting current grocery pricing, menu pricing and portion sizes we’ll have, sometimes for the first time ever, an accurate dollar amount that each entrée on your menu contributes to your annual profitability. For me personally, this is drudge work. I’d much rather be on the line with my apron on running the crew than entering in a hundred weights and costs. I get very little joy in balancing a ledger by underlining the bottom line with two lines. If you get your jollies by working with P&L programs, good for you. If you are like me, you must have someone, an enlisted bookkeeper, certified public accountant or a like type who understands your business. Accountants either specialize in one or two disciplines or are general practitioners. I love them both, if and only if they can advise me and hold me accountable for profit and loss statements. If you don’t have to answer to someone every month you have no accountability.
This starts the slippery slope of failure.One constant in every profitable restaurant, be it either a single unit or a mega chain, is they have an iron grasp on expenses: food cost; labor cost; occupancy costs; sales per square foot ratios and prime costs. These terms flow naturally from an accountant who understands your business. If you are ever subjected to a scrutinizing audit, you’ll want an accountant in your corner.
Once I have a grasp on where the money comes from and where it goes, I look at vendor pricing. If those expenses are in the national norm I move on.
The next really big issue is the quality aspect of your pizza and other menu items. Is this one of the very best, unforgettable, delicious pizzas I’ve ever eaten? If not, why not? I truly believe that our industry will be divided soon. Customers will choose between inexpensive cheap pies or choose to spend their budget on their perception of the best.
Once I’m satisfied that my client is making praiseworthy pizza we move on to staff service. This is an overlooked area. We are not in the pizza business — we’re in the hospitality business. Right after the quality of the food comes service. It is your fault if any of your staff offends a guest.
Marketing is the first thing to go during economic downturns. I know it is hard to spend money on programs that have lame results. So you must get creative. I’m a huge believer in boomerang marketing. I advocate offering free samples with the understanding that customers will return once they taste a great product. I also believe you must have a memorable USP and tell your personal story. This is the glue that keeps customers returning.
If you are struggling, it likely took years to get to your current state of affairs.
As such, it will take some time to turn the ship around. If you still have the burning desire to succeed, then get to fine-tuning your store and get yourself back on the right track.
Big Dave Ostrander owned a highly successful independent pizzeria before becoming a consultant, speaker and internationally sought-after trainer. He is a monthly contributor to Pizza Today.
If you plan to utilize secret shoppers, be sure they answer the following questions:
• Were you greeted with a friendly smile when entering the pizzeria?
• Was the restaurant clean?
• How long did it take for the food to be served?
• Was the pizza hot and presented attractively?
• Was the service prompt and friendly?
• Did the wait staff try to upsell other menu items such as salads and desserts?
Decision-making for a well-managed bar
BY DENISE GREER, ASSOCIATE EDITOR
PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
& RICK DAUGHERTY
Dram shop laws, underage drinking, over serving, altercation risk, staffing and training: operating a bar within a pizzeria can be a mess of liability. But managed effectively, a bar can enhance your pizzeria and drive traffic with not only alcohol sales but also food sales.
A bar is not something an owner enters into lightly. “Serving alcohol is not just a liability for our servers and the business,” says Keven Kinaschuk, owner of McKinners Pizza Bar in Littleton, Colorado. “It is our civic duty to serve it responsibly so we respect and protect our community. This is our livelihood…protect it.”
When it comes to managing his bar operation, Kinaschuk leads the effort personally at his small shop. “I place all orders, receive, write the checks,” he says. “I put it (stock) away, rotate the old stock with the new stock, and perform the EOM [end of month] inventory count and data entry. I price-check my bottle/keg costs and plug into a price matrix to make sure my liquor cost is working with my menu costs.”
Employees at McKinners handle the day-to-day serving and bartending. Where there is an alcohol product, there’s a threat of an employee swiping a bottle or providing free drinks for themselves or others. It’s important to have procedures in place to limit theft. Liquor is kept in a locked cage at McKinners, removing that temptation. “The only people that can get the key is the bar back and the bartender from their MOD (manager on duty), or I will pull bottles throughout the night.”
Kinaschuk says that he develops a strong relationship with his employees. “I treat them as responsible adults. So, with this, I expect accountability,” he says. But he’s also never far away. “I’m not an absentee owner.”
Training a good staff has become essential for making sure that McKinners follows Colorado’s liquor laws, from maintaining the appropriate hours of bar service to confiscating fake IDs.
Kinaschuk has instituted a solid training program, employee handbook and price list — removing all doubt of company policies. His employees have been certified through either a BARCODE or ServSafe class to give them the tools to help prevent intoxication, drunk driving and underage drinking.
“I train my employees to work as a team, being proactive rather than reactive,” Kinaschuk says. “They need to read guests, communicate and intervene sooner than later on any sign or indicator that relates to alcohol.”
Ultimately, Kinaschuk has the servers and bar staff include him in the decision-making process, but there are times when it’s not possible. “I rarely get angry at a decision they make,” he says. “Sometimes I coach them that there might have been a better way.”
Jeff Constance, COO of St. Louis, Missouri-based Pi Pizzeria, also thinks it’s a good idea to take some of the liability away from a bartender or server to stop serving an intoxicated person.
Pi’s policy does not allow a bartender to cut someone off. “They have to get a manager involved,” he says. “It removes them from the situation because it could be their guest. It allows the manager to make the final decisions. The managers are all trained in our systems of when to make those decisions.”
Missouri allows establishments to give away free drinks and run two-for-one specials, something that many states do not allow. Pi dedicates a small percentage of its bar budget to courtesy drinks. “From a hospitality standpoint, I would rather my bartenders honestly give something away than try to hide it from me,” he says, adding that a manager must approve the offering. “We do that on the front end, so that takes away the idea that they may want to do it for themselves to improve their tips or give something away and take the full tip for it.”
If theft is still too irresistible, Pi locations all have surveillance, making it easy to catch an employee skimming the till, offering up free drinks, or not carding someone who looks under 30, which is the cutoff age to ask for ID at Pi.
While guests see a bar area as a fun place to congregate, it’s serious business for the pizzeria and its employees. An onus on responsibility is fundamental to an operation’s success.
Many states have taken an active role in assisting businesses in developing alcohol policies, procedures and training. Maine has produced “A Guide for Bars & Restaurants Serving Alcohol” to help state businesses comply with state policies and promote best practices from hiring and training staff to alcohol promotion and advertising. While state-to-state rules may vary, the guide suggests considering the following measures:
- Alcohol cannot be given away; this would also cover “buy one, get one” type specials
- Do not use advertising, which contains either subject matter or illustrations, which may induce minors, young people, or high-risk groups, such as college students, to drink excessively.
- Do not plan contests or activities that encourage or contribute to excessive alcohol use.
- Do not use advertising that would be inappropriate or offensive to patrons.
- Do not use advertising that depicts a person in the act of drinking alcohol.
- Do not have specials or contests that require the purchase of alcohol or award alcohol as the prize.
- Check with your state agency to see what resources can help you comply with state liquor laws.
Denise Greer is the associate editor at Pizza Today.
Photo By Josh Keown
Amid Chicago’s pizza-loving populace, Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria stands tall. A frequent stop for Windy City inhabitants as well as visitors seeking Chicago’s famed deep-dish pizza, Malnati’s runs 34 stores across the Chicago area, most offering a mix of dine-in, carryout and delivery.
With such volume, Malnati’s touches thousands of pieces of consumer data each day, particularly credit card info, and safeguarding that data remains a top priority for Malnati’s brass.
“We know the restaurant industry is ripe for data theft and the ramifications of a breach can be enormous,” says Jordan von Kluck, Lou Malnati’s IT director for the last eight years. Data breaches remain an ever- increasing, ever-evolving issue for restaurants of all types. According to Trustwave’s 2012 Global Security Report, the food and beverage industry made up 44 percent of data breach investigations in 2011, the highest percentage of all industries.
While a potential breach can damage both brand reputation and consumer confidence, those penalties take a backseat to the potentially crippling financial consequences. “The credit card companies can make your life miserable if you get hacked,” says Avivah Litan, a fraud expert and analyst with Connecticut-based Gartner. “There are fines for noncompliance, the breach, charge-back fraud, and the credit card companies may even increase your interchange fees.”
John Pearson, director of data security and compliance for NCR Corporation’s hospitality division, says restaurants are frequent data theft targets for two reasons: Americans love to eat and love to pay with credit. “Combined with a low cost of entry and quick turnaround time to hard cash, the credit card fraud business has criminals constantly seeking a supply source of credit card data,” Pearson says.
While most pizzeria operators focus on serving high-quality pies alongside outstanding customer service, few possess the tech-savvy skills to ward off cybercrime. “Criminal hackers know this and target their tools to find restaurants with weak or no security measures in place,” Pearson says.
And the national names can be just as vulnerable as the independents. Trustwave’s report identified more than one-third of 2011 investigations occurred in a franchise business. To address the increasing array of data breaches, the credit card processing industry hosts a set of 12 requirements called the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS). Meeting PCI DSS is required for all who accept and process credit cards.
Assuming a restaurateur is using a validated PCI Payment Application (PA)-DSS POS solution, data theft most often happens one of three ways.
First, hackers snag data at the point of authorization, oftentimes without every visiting the restaurant. As all POS solutions must hold card data in memory just prior to sending an authorization to the processor, savvy criminal hackers can gain administrative rights to the system, frequently accomplished through the Internet connection, and access the POS system’s contents.
Hackers “look for weaknesses in remote access software, the operating system, (or) the lack of a properly configured firewall,” Pearson says.
Criminals might also install a device that steals cardholder data upon the swipe, called “skimming.” In some cases, the device might be a rogue look-alike; in others, the inspection seal might be broken or there may be an additional connector cable.
“Time and time again, these simple security basics are overlooked, which leads to compromise,” PCI Security Standards Council general manager Bob Russo says.
Finally, there’s the risk of old- fashioned data theft by dishonest employees. Some estimates hold that 20 percent of reported data breaches occur at the exchange of the credit card from customer to employee, a particularly contentious point at many dine-in eateries where the customer’s card can disappear from view for minutes at a time.
The best way to minimize data theft, security experts agree, is to follow PCI DSS guidelines, which include simple measures such as changing passwords on the applications and devices used to accept and process credit card payments every 90 days and regularly inspecting POS equipment. operators should alsoseek business partners and technology vendors present on the PCI Security Standards list.“ by doing so, you can keep this data safe from criminals and everyone can avoid the financial and reputational fallout that results from its compromise,” Russo says, adding that the PCI Council has a special Web site geared toward small businesses (www.pcisecuritystandards.org/smb/).
Additionally, operators should use PA-DSS validated software that is supported by the vendor; install a commercial grade hardware firewall that is actively managed and tightly controlled; and use secure remote access only when necessary.
“The best way to cut off a lot of threats is strong perimeter security,” says von Kluck, adding that Lou Malnati’s also purges old information on a systematic basis and educates staff on proper handling of credit card information to further minimize trouble. “PCI compliance is the starting point, but we’ll take the extra precautions to protect ourselves and our customers.”
Operators should also install and update antivirus software, remove unused software, disable unnecessary features, and limit activity on the POS and payments systems to business use alone. “Do these things first, then focus on PCI DSS and re-assess your approach annually to adjust to industry changes,” Pearson advises.
Protect the POS
Like any technology, POS systems continue evolving at a rapid pace, a reality that demands operators maintain and regularly update the POS system to both leverage its profit-building capabilities and protect consumer data.
“POS systems need to be re- viewed regularly to ensure they are operating at peak performance,” says security expert John Pearson. “As a gas stove may become a hazard due to a leak which develops over time, a POS system may become a hazard due to a defect or vulnerability which is discovered in the operating system or in a hardware component over time.”
Pearson calls POS security an “ongoing action” and urges operators to respect two rules:
maintain a relationship with the POS vendor and religiously follow their maintenance advice.
“Any business who does not properly secure their POS and network,” Pearson says, “might as well open their doors and hang
a neon sign to the world saying, ‘Rob me!’”
Chicago-based writer Daniel P. Smith has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.
Why bother with portion control? Well, do you like money? I do, and I like to keep as much of it as I can.
Implementing a simple and concise portion-control program can literally save you tens of thousands of dollars! Tens of thousands of dollars that you already have and are let slipping through your fingers and right out the door in front of you. Right at this very moment pizzas are walking out your door with too much on them. Pizzas loaded down with your cash!
Chances are that right now in your restaurant you have about four different types of offenders who are over-portioning your pizzas. Do you recognize any of these characters?
The Artist: This particular pizza maker is sure that each and every pizza he or she makes is a beautiful work of art. Even though you’ve personally shown this employee exactly how much cheese, sausage and pepperoni to put on every pizza, there are no written guidelines or charts to follow, so he follows his artistic inspiration. Every pizza is different than the last and none has the correct amount of toppings on it. You probably have at least one of these “artists” in your shop.
Mr. Clueless: Food is cheap, right? Cheese is like, what 50 cents a pound or something, right? Or so thinks Mr. Clueless. This is one of your typical employees who thinks because you are a restaurant you get everything really cheap, everything is a “tax write off” and businesses make a ton of money anyway. This is the guy who scrapes all the cheese out of the catch pan and into the trash instead of back into the cheese bin. This is the guy who likes to “load up” the pizzas the way he would like to have them made. How many of these guys are working for you right now?
The Regular Joe: This is a normal guy, just like you and me—the high school kid starting his first job or the new hire who wants to really work hard and impress the boss. This is the guy who would love to make a pizza the right way, a perfect pizza made the way you want him to make it. But he can’t. The key employee that you had training him showed him one way; you showed him another; and then the manager showed him yet another way. His pizzas are not what you want going out your door either. The “Regular Joes” are the bulk of the portion offenders that you have working for you, and they’re trying hard to please.
You: Yes, the worst offender of them all. If you are free-throwing toppings on your pizzas, then I can guarantee that you are either over-portioning or under-portioning your pizzas 99 percent of the time. It’s impossible to free-throw toppings and get them 100 percent correct, 100 percent of the time. Worst of all you are setting a bad example for your staff. (I know you’re thinking, “I’ve been doing this for 149 years and I can put 10 ounces of cheese on a 16-inch pizza every … single … time.” Well, I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but you can’t.)
So, is your staff to blame for you losing money on over portioned pizzas as well as subs, salads, desserts, draft beers, wines, etc? Absolutely not. Most of the time your staff is not over-portioning or under-portioning on purpose or with malicious intentions in mind. It is just a simple systems failure.
Right now I’m paying almost $3 per pound for whole-milk mozzarella and I make about 4,000 pizzas per month at each of my pizzerias. If I were to put 1 ounce too much on every pizza, the cost to my bottom line would be $760 per month or $9,120 per year, per pizzeria! Just in cheese!
How can they be sure to get it right every single time and stop wasting money? It’s very simple really: a portion-control program. Putting together a portion-control program for your operation can be as simple or as complex as you want, but the basics are always the same. Here are the steps:
Information: You need to give employees the information they need. This can be done with portion charts on the make line or recipe books at prep stations. Just make sure the exact portion requirements are printed and in plain site. Staff members need to know, for example, that 8 ounces of cheese is what is expected on that 14-inch pizza, and they need to be able to look that number up immediately if necessary.
Tools: Once your pizza makers know the correct portions they need hit those numbers every time. This can only be done with tools such as digital scales and measuring cups. Their use must be mandatory.
Monitoring: Once you’ve trained your staff on how much of what goes on each item and given them to tools to get it done, you need to make sure they are actually implementing the portion-control system. A close eye on a busy night will tell you who is following the rules and who is not, but you can take it one step further and document ingredients usage with your POS. Taking advantage of the inventory module and portion-control features of your POS will allow you to keep an eye on your inventory and measure how close your staff is coming to hitting your portion goals.
Portion control is simple and easy. Believe it or not, your employees will grow to like it once it becomes routine. It takes the guessing out of their jobs; it makes training easier; and perhaps most importantly of all, they may get a boss who is in a good mood more often.
Michael Shepherd, who operates three independent pizzerias in northwest Ohio, will give an hour-long seminar on portion control on Wednesday, March 20, at Pizza Expo. He’ll also speak on Thursday, March 21, on the topic of low-cost marketing that generates added business.
For more details on International Pizza Expo 2013, visit www.pizzaexpo.com.
Photos by Josh Keown
Pizza delivery can be dangerous, but there is some good news. The job is not as dangerous as people think, and technology can help make the work safer.
Although pizza delivery is often mentioned as one of the ten most dangerous occupations, no such list exists. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, out of 4,609 fatal work injuries recorded in the United States in 2011, 759 of those deaths were among driver/sales workers and truck drivers. Pizza delivery drivers would indeed be included in that category, says Andrew Kato, an economist with the Occupational Safety and Health Statistics program of the BLS. But the segment also includes, for example, drivers who pick up or deliver laundry on a regular route.
“We are not aware of anyone who has data with such a specific occupational coding system that they would be able to identify specifically pizza delivery personnel,” Kato says.
Still, a glance at daily headlines prove it’s not the safest job in the world. The way the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) explains it, factors that put drivers at risk include working with the public, working with cash, working alone, working at night and working in high-crime areas. In addition, pizza delivery drivers risk being injured or killed in traffic accidents, or even slipping on the stairs of a customer’s home.
Operators know they have to do more than tell drivers to carry less than $20 and to turn back if a delivery address looks suspicious. Mark Scriven, district manager for delivery and takeout for Austin, Texas-based Gatti’s Pizza, says 50 to 55 percent of delivery orders are paid with credit cards. That decreases the amount of cash the drivers carry, making them less of a crime target. For the cash orders, the safe box and the point of sale system have controls. “A screen pops up, and you can’t get the ticket for another delivery unless you drop the money,” Scriven says.
Another way to protect drivers is to simply avoid delivering to high crime rate areas. At the Farmers Branch, Texas-based Mr. Jim’s Pizza, some addresses are eligible for delivery during the day and not at night, and other addresses are not eligible for delivery at all. “It’s all geocoded,” explains Jim Johnson, founder and owner of the 53-unit Mr. Jim’s. “If you are in an address where we don’t deliver, the system doesn’t let you in.”
Cell phones can also help keep drivers safe. While some robberies are crimes of opportunity — the criminal sees a delivery vehicle with a car topper and decides to strike — other crimes are setups, in which the caller orders a pizza, directs the driver to an empty, perhaps foreclosed house, and robs the person.
Operators can avoid the latter scenario, says Marla Topliff, president of Elgin, Illinois-based Rosati’s Pizza. The driver can return to the store, or remain in the car and call the store. Then someone calls the customer. “We say, ‘We are about to deliver to you and we want to verify your address,’ or, ‘Our driver is lost, can you describe the area?’” Topliff says. “If the delivery was not valid they will not take the call. They won’t go to all the trouble to reconfirm the order.”
Tragically, a driver for Rosati’s Pizza was killed in 2006. The driver hit redial on her cell phone just before she was beaten to death, a move that helped authorities find the killer, who was eventually sentenced to 81 years in prison. Defense attorneys maintained that the murderer panicked when the driver followed him into the house, a detail that seemed unlikely because drivers for the 150-unit Rosati’s are told never to enter a customer’s home. Not only is it unsafe for the driver, but they can be accused of stealing or worse. “We’ve seen it all,” Topliff says.
Rosati’s Pizza also limits its liability by hiring contractors instead of employees. Drivers sign a form indicating they read the safety handbook and they recognize they are contractors. That can be legally tricky, so check with your attorney about employee versus contractor issues.
There are other hazards besides crime, says Tim Ridout, owner of the one-unit Big Rounds Pizza in Ravenna, Michigan. “It’s dark out here at night, and many customers don’t know what porch lights are,” Ridout says. “Or you deliver the pizza, and as you’re turning around and walking down the stairs they turn off their lights so you’re in pitch black.”
Sometimes when it snows customers with four-wheel drive vehicles ask the deliverer to meet them at the end of their unplowed road. Large chains likely wouldn’t allow this, says Ridout, who delivered for a chain before he opened Big Rounds in 2009, but he says his restaurant is located in a small farming community. “Chances are slim of a robbery,” he says. “The main concern is to watch out for deer and farm animals that get loose.
Johnson says the Mr. Jim’s Delivery Driver Handbook covers driver safety, vehicle safety, and driver security, and maintains that it’s more important to be safe than to get the sale. “It’s just a pizza,” Johnson says. “It’s just money. We are more concerned about their bodies than we are any profit concerns.”
Nora Caley is a freelance writer specializing in food and business topics. She lives in Denver, Colorado.
Photo by Rick Daugherty
The financial boost that comes from catering really and truly can take your business to the next level. There’s so much more to catering than one time monetary gratification. I find that each catered event I complete grows word-of-mouth. I generally get a couple of inquiries from each event. Now some of these events are small and simple, but think about this: a daily catered event for a staff of 18, at an average cost of $10 per person plus tax and delivery charge, adds more than $46,000 to my annual revenue — and that doesn’t include any large events. The good news is you already have everything you need (with the exception of perhaps catering pans) to make this all happen.
Half- and full-size aluminum pans are essentials for your entrées. Use the aluminum lids instead of foil. It’s sturdier and much more professional. Some disposable catering trays are great for sandwiches, cold cut platters and desserts. Make sure you keep them in stock for that last-minute order.
Here are some of the most popular things you can offer:
Baked ziti with meat sauce
Chicken broccoli Alfredo
Chicken Parmesan, Piccata or Marsala over pasta u
Stromboli (sliced on a platter)
Sandwich platters with assorted wraps
Pasta or garden salad
I like to provide bread and salad with two pasta entrées. If you don’t have any kind of dinner rolls, then simply cut your sub rolls into 2-inch-thick slices with butter on the side. I price everything to serve eight to 10 people and I use the half pans for each item.
$12.95 for a garden salad
$5.99 for bread with butter cups
$32 for baked ziti
$38 for chicken & broccoli Alfredo with penne pasta u
$38 for a pan of four-cheese lasagna
$45 for a pan of meat lasagna
$45 for a pan of Chicken Parmesa
Marsala or Piccata over pasta: $65 for a sandwich platter for 10.
Now, if you are feeding a group of more than 10, simply put your food into the full pans instead of halves (which will actually hold enough food for up to 30 people since they are deeper). I use one pound of raw pasta to cook for every 10 people I’m feeding, which initially may seem insufficient but will be enough after adding meat sauce or chicken and broccoli to it. Let me give you some creative alternatives to take your catering menu to a more diversified place than most of your competitors.
Here are some of my favorites:
Chicken Pesto Primavera is a simple variation of our Chicken & Broccoli Alfredo, which is comprised of sliced or diced chicken breast, steamed broccoli, cooked penne pasta and Alfredo sauce. For the Primavera version, simply add some of the other veggies you’ve got in the restaurant. Since we have a dinner vegetable medley that we offer with our entrées that is made up of roasted zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes and caramelized onions, we toss that in with the pasta and a little bit of our pesto. By adding these two ingredients, we’ve created an entirely new entrée.
Chicken Roma is another simple dish with slight alterations that creates a slightly lighter dish version. It’s essentially the exact same dish as the Chicken Pesto Primavera, except this dish has no pesto. Plus, instead of being all Alfredo, we use mostly piccata sauce, which is made with chicken stock, lemon, wine, salt, pepper, garlic and little bit of roux to hold it together. Add a small amount of cream or even Alfredo to bring a creamy texture to this dish.
Chicken Giordano is yet again a creative entrée that can be enhanced from your traditional chicken marsala, which is made with some sautéed chicken breast sliced mushrooms and a marsala wine sauce and chicken stock, salt, pepper and garlic with a little roux to pull it together. Now simply add a very small amount of marinara sauce, sundried tomatoes and artichoke hearts to create this new dish. This would be great served over pasta as well.
There are a couple of important things to remember with these pasta catering dishes. The first is that although it’s best to typically cook our pasta “al dente”, I like to go just one stage more than that and fully cook the pasta (but not overcook it) for catering. The reason for this is because your pasta is still thirsty, in a sense, and wants to drink up any liquid. So in essence if your pasta is al dente, and the amount of sauce on your pasta seems totally sufficient, 30 to 40 minutes later when this office is about to dig into your delicious creation it will be very dry because the pasta will have absorbed the sauce. Don’t be afraid to over compensate just a little bit with your sauce for catering without having the pasta swimming in extra sauce. I also like to use penne pasta compared to spaghetti because it is much easier to serve by the spoonful.
Take your new catering earnings and do something great! Perhaps some beautiful chafing dishes for those big events!
Jeff Freehof owns The Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia. He is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today and a speaker at the Pizza Expo family of trade shows.
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 Rick Daugherty
After my fifth sub-$1 tip, I decided to stop keeping track altogether. I wasn’t doing this for the money, but if I were I would have been horribly disappointed. I was delivering pizzas for one of the Big Three national chains. Despite being a huge fan of all things pizza, I had never actually worked in a pizzeria — so last winter I initiated a long-term project of working a variety of jobs within the industry. First, I worked the line at a neighborhood pizzeria on a busy Saturday night. Then I slung slices at a New York pizzeria during the lunch shift. But the job that surprised me the most had little to do with food. Over the course of three weeks I experienced the ins and outs that come with being the pizza industry’s unsung hero –– the delivery driver.
My first shock was that I was being paid more than the folks who actually made the pizza. As I got to know my coworkers, I realized that older staff members were making deliveries, while students and other part-timers with fewer bills were in the kitchen. This sent a clear message that delivery was important to this company. With most orders being placed via mobile devices and online, the delivery driver was often the pizzeria’s only direct point of contact with a customer. What I always thought of as a menial position was turning out to be far more valuable than I anticipated.
The financial benefit of my gig quickly decreased when I realized how much of the money I was making would end up going into auto maintenance, but some unexpected responsibilities arose as I worked more shifts. Customers would ask questions normally directed toward an in-store manager, but since I was flying solo in the delivery car I was forced into a crucial position.
There were several instances in which my limited training left me unprepared to tackle problems, and the worst time to seek guidance from my superiors was on those busy Friday nights when I needed them the most. Management may have thought I was just a delivery boy, but in reality I was the company’s sole representative on the doorstep of every customer.
The stereotypical disheveled pizza delivery boy I’d always seen in movies driving a beat-up car with candy bar wrappers on the floor who couldn’t care less about the three large pies and two bottles of soda he’s dragging across town was far from the reality of my job. As much as the pizza snob in me hates to admit it, I even felt a sense of pride while wearing my uniform. It made me feel like part of a team, rather than a lowly messenger.
A delivery driver is not only part of your team, but in many ways the most crucial position when it comes to non-kitchen staff. Do as much as possible to prepare them to represent you out on the road and the benefits will be felt throughout your business — especially in the driver’s tip cup.
Scott Wiener owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City.
My manager’s paycheck and my driver’s tips last week both were more than I took home as the pizzeria’s owner. I logged as many hours as both of them, but I don’t have a steady income (sometimes I don’t even make minimum wage). Sound familiar? Many operators relate to this scenario. Why? One forgotten factor is that operators delegate compensation, but not accountability. Who gets the tip for getting that big order out on time? It is delivery driver Joe. But while helping to prepare the order, who paid for the wings Joe dropped, or the smashed tomato at the bottom of the case that we couldn’t use in the salad? All too often the business owner bears the burden of the world as his profits are thrown in the trash.
Let your staff share the accountability. How, you ask? Consider trying a weight chart. Post it by the makeline for all to see. Every time a pizza, sandwich or stromboli is made incorrectly, note it on the chart, along with its value and the identity of the person who made the error. Each time I find a smashed bun or produce gone bad, it is duly noted along with its cost and whose responsibility it was to check in the order, rotate stock and so on.
Daily, if possible, I review and total how much of my money was wasted. I now have the ability to make sure it does not happen again. Was a pizza made incorrectly because our new hire could not take an order properly or read the ticket? Was the crew just goofing off? Do I need to improve my management skills? Do I need to have a better training system?
How about that moldy bun or rotten produce? Does my stock need rotated properly? Did my manager order too much? Am I receiving outdated product? The answers to these questions will point to the problem that needs fixing. Now, I can fill my wallet instead of my dumpster.
The Waste Chart instills in employees a sense of pride and responsibility. How many times would you want your name up there? If it were up there regularly, would you still have a job? I have found that equating ‘Oops!’ into dollars opens eyes. Letting employees know how much they cost you puts them on their best behavior.
I also utilize a Driver’s Performance Chart. Each week, I use my POS system to post a list of my drivers’ performance by the schedule. This allows my staff to see who is the fastest, who took the most deliveries, etc. Once again, no one wants to be last.
What does this tell me about my drivers? Is Graham on his cell phone instead of getting to and from his deliveries? Does he have no sense of direction? Am I bad at giving directions? Was there no phone number on the delivery ticket? Now my drivers are motivated to safely compete for the coveted top position, and I am able to make sure they have the tools to succeed.
The Waste Chart and Driver’s Performance Chart are two tools any pizzeria operator can use to their advantage — and we need all the advantages we can get!
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.
Rather than flipping new staff a book for their self-study or allowing a new bartender to learn the poor habits of a shoddy veteran, integrate these key elements into bar staff training for maximum effectiveness:
Engaging and Interactive: creating a hands-on training experience improves the likelihood that staff will retain and utilize the information.
Pre-Training Ritual: having house policies in place before training standardizes the process and answers common questions such as what to do about fake IDs, taking away keys and designated drivers.
In-house Training: keeping the training in-house rather than sending employees to an outside school for generic training allows an operator to blend the house policies into a general bar training curriculum.
Taste the Difference: allow staff to taste a drink made properly and another with a missed step, thereby offering staff evidence as to why they need to make a drink properly.
Do you know exactly what it costs you to make each of your pizzas? If not, your price structure may not be as ideal as it should be. You can’t begin to calculate your food costs without understanding your ingredient costs.
So the first step is to write down all the ingredients used in a given pizza (or other food product). Next, look at your invoice to see what you are paying for each of the ingredients. Determine the number of ounces in each order so that you can ascertain the price per ounce that you pay for each ingredient.
Once you have that, you’re ready to go.
Begin by weighing your ingredients as you make your pizza and recording the number of ounces you use for each ingredient (dough, sauce, cheese, meat and veggie toppings).
Now, take the number of ounces for each ingredient and multiply that by the ingredient’s respective cost per ounce. For example, if your sauce costs 10 cents per ounce (a purely hypothetical example using round numbers to make the math simple) and you use 7 ounces of sauce on the pizza you are pricing, that means you put 70 cents worth of sauce onto that pizza.
Repeat this method for all ingredients, then add the numbers together for your grand total. Don’t forget to add the price of your boxes if you offer carryout or delivery!
Once you know precisely what each menu item costs you to make, you’re now armed to adjust your prices to maximize profits and keep food costs percentages in check.
I am thinking of trimming my operating hours for the summer because sales seem to slow down. I’ll increase them again in the fall. Does this sound like a smart idea?
Actually, the one thing I notice from experience, is that when you close for a certain day or close early on particular days during a slower time, that when you re-open during peak time, it takes the general public several weeks and sometimes months before they realize you are open again during those times. My general opinion is that it is a bad idea to keep changing your hours of operation. It is too confusing to the consumer and will ultimately cost you money in the long run.
Recently, I was visiting a pizzeria and discussing its menu with the owner. He does a New York-style hand tossed pizza, and he does it well. It’s the workhorse of his menu and he’s very proud of it. When the conversation turned to his appetizer list, he became dismissive. Though he recognizes appetizer sales are red hot right now, he insists he wants to be known for his pizza.
As well he should. But at what price? In today’s market, having great pizza may not be enough. The operator I was speaking with seemed to agree with that point to a small degree. He had a complete menu, but he seemed to treat the non-pizza items as unwanted stepchildren. Case in point: I asked him about his chicken wings.
“Oh,” he said, “those are just on there because people expect us to have them. But we don’t really sell many of them.”
“Hmmm,” I replied. “Most places do. Have you tried having your servers push them a little?”
“It wouldn’t matter,” the operator responded. He then named a competitor up the street. We’ll call the place Dave’s Pizza for this commentary. “Dave’s has much better wings, so people go there when they want those.”
I asked what made Dave’s wings better. The operator answered that they were larger and just flat-out had better flavor. I couldn’t help but ask why he didn’t upgrade his wings to be more competitive. He more or less dodged the question and said he was thinking of taking wings off his menu altogether.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. If you try really hard to sell a product and just can’t move it, then, by all means, take it off the menu. But this was a different story altogether. The operator in question admitted he was serving an inferior product and he didn’t care because he had great pizza and that was enough for him.
As for me, I believe that an operation should strive for perfection on every menu item. Sure, you want the best pizza in town. But you also want the best wings, the best hoagies, the best carrot cake … you name it. If you’re going to serve it, do it right. Otherwise, don’t do it at all.
We all strive for consistency. In sports, you’ll hear players and coaches say all they ask from officials is that they be consistent. The word choice is interesting. They don’t demand accuracy, they demand consistency. In baseball, for example, managers often don’t care if a pitch on the outside corner is called a ball instead of a strike — so long as it’s called a ball all day long and the umpire doesn’t change his tune from inning to inning. Your customers are the same. While perfection is, well, perfect, it isn’t what your customers are looking for. They are looking to get the same product and same service from you every time they visit, regardless of the hour, day, month or year.
If you’re a manager or franchise owner of a store that belongs to a large chain, like Pizza Hut or Little Caesar’s, your customers want the same pizza in Providence as they get in Santa Fe. If you’re a smaller independent, you can’t afford to be inconsistent, either. If you say you open at 11 a.m., you better be open at 11 a.m. every day. Sadly, one of my favorite pizza places is rather inconsistent. At times, the pizza is just the way I want it. I like a lot of sauce, and this place seems to go a little heavier on the sauce than the average Joe. Still, every once in a while I’ll take my first bite only to wonder if they accidentally gave me a white pizza! As a customer, this frustrates me. Maybe there’s a new pizza maker, I tell myself. Maybe they were swamped and had to make this pizza in a hurry. Then, everything I know about the industry comes screaming in my ear: There is no excuse for such inconsistency!
Items as high-tech as sauce applicators and as low-tech as portioning cups allow operators to put the same amount of sauce on every single pizza they make. The same goes for cheese, pepperoni, mushrooms, etc. I’m not saying every pizza should be a cookie-cutter product. That would make the pizza world a boring place. Is it too much to ask, though, to expect a pizza ordered at 7:30 on a Friday night to taste and look the same as a pizza ordered at 2:30 on a Wednesday afternoon? If you answer this question with a yes, you’re in the wrong business. Contrary to popular belief, I do not think today’s customers are overly demanding. Sure, they’re tough at times, but they only want to be treated with respect and get what they pay for in terms of food quality. A smile, a warm hello, and a hot, quality pizza that tastes the same time after time will win you more customers than any amount of marketing or advertising.
A well-placed ad, after all, may get a customer in your door once…but it will never get them back a second time if you don’t live up to your end of the bargain. Here’s to creating consistency!
History tends to repeat itself. Ten years ago, I wrote an article regarding my personal experiences dealing with soaring delivery costs and associated expenses. Big Dave’s Pizza had a sales mix that approximately half dine-in and half delivery. This ratio, now more than ever, is critical.
In the past decade, associated delivery expenses and wages have almost doubled. Those of you who are delivery intensive have seen frightening decreases in bottom line profits. I’ve even spoken to operators who haven’t seen any significant profit since last fall.
Ten years ago I was challenged by my accountant to figure out how much money it cost to provide home and business delivery. At that time everyone was doing it for free. With my accountant’s help, we did the work and found that, on average, my out-of-pocket costs were $2.52 per delivery.
We came to that amount by capturing the last 10,000 deliveries from my POS system. Then we calculated how much direct payroll we paid our drivers and added in the soft costs (employer matching social security, worker’s comp, unemployment, meals, etc.).
I did the same math this weekend with current assumptions: hourly wage at $7. I added another dollar for Social Security, Medicare and Unemployment. Non-Owned auto insurance and meals are subject to regions and generosity, so I factored them in at another .50 cents an hour. On top of this we need to also look at how much we pay our drivers per delivery or mile and then subtract any delivery fees we charge the customer. My rough math has calculated that, on average, it costs between $8.50 and $10 an hour for delivery staffing. During peak times I aimed for my drivers to deliver orders at the rate of 3 times an hour. During slow times it was much less. If we assume that two deliveries an hour is average, then my generic math indicates that it costs between $4-5 to deliver an order.
Who is footing the tab for delivery? You are, unless you’re charging a $4-5 delivery fee. You are also spreading the costs to your dine-in and carryout customers — and your drivers are more than ever extremely dependent on tips to keep gas in their tanks. Since this high of a fee is going to be perceived as gouging and unreasonable by our customers, who are currently cash strapped, we have a problem.
I believe that pizza delivery, as we know it now, is fading fast. The costs have become so high that we need to rethink and offer other options to our customers so our sales don’t bottom out and we recapture profitability. Here are some options:
- Reward customers who order carryout and dine-in.
- Consider a drive-through window, if possible.
- Create a Grab and Go concept to be available during peak drive times.
- Revisit promoting the proven take-and-bake concept.
- Outsource delivery to a legitimate third party meal delivery company.
- Raise your delivery fee to cover all of your costs.
- Eliminate delivery altogether like some chains.
It’s time to redo the math and see if you are making money.
Credit card processing companies call almost every day trying to “save me money”. How do I know who’s legitimate and who’s trying to rip me off?
I know it’s enough to make your head spin. About every six months, I give a real close look at a couple of companies that are known to have a good reputation. Credit card sales are not something to be taken lightly since they make up a big part of our sales. Give them your volume and make them quote rates without seeing any statements. If they’re not willing, they’re not worth the consideration. They will all claim to undercut who you have now — but they won’t necessarily keep their word.
Sometimes, I just shake my head in amazement at the “customer service” I receive. Thankfully, I rarely receive poor service in a pizzeria. In fact, I visited both ends of the customer service spectrum this week — and the pizza shop was on the winning end.
Let’s start with the bad, shall we?
Like many people, my home phone, Internet and cable television connections are all sourced to one company. The bundle saves me money every month, and I haven’t had much trouble with my service. Until recently.
My home phone stopped working on a Thursday night. On Friday, I called my service provider. It was late in the day, so they couldn’t get out to fix it that day. But they could send someone on Saturday. Unfortunately, I had to be out of town on Saturday. I requested a Sunday appointment. I was told the company doesn’t make calls on Sunday, which I understood. So I took a Monday appointment. You know the joy: they’ll be there between 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.. Nice.
One problem: they never came. So I called to get to the bottom of it. I was told my appointment was actually for Tuesday, not Monday. The somewhat mechanical lady on the phone explained to me that I never had an appointment scheduled for Monday. I had one scheduled for Sunday that I had rescheduled to Tuesday.
“What?” I asked. “I thought you didn’t do Sunday appointments.”
As it turns out, they do in fact schedule Sunday appointments when the problem is the phone, I was told. Now I was really upset. My phone could have been fixed on Sunday and I wouldn’t have had to waste my time waiting for the company to show up on Monday only to find out they made a scheduling error and weren’t coming until Tuesday.
It gets worse. A company representative shows up on Tuesday and fixes my phone in two minutes. After he’s gone I realize that though my phone was up and running, my Internet was now down for the count. So I call customer service once again and am put on hold several times. Finally, the problem gets fixed. No one had a good answer for this question: “Shouldn’t the technician have checked that my Internet and cable were still working after he tinkered with the phone?”
A few nights later, I call my favorite pizzeria to place a pick-up order. The friendly, perky voice on the line informs me that “We now have curbside service, sir. Would you like me to bring your food out to your car?”
It was cold and raining. A no-brainer for me.
I pull into the designated spot 25 minutes later. I barely have time to get the vehicle into park before the aforementioned employee is standing next to my window, a big smile on her face and two bags of food in her hands. I look up to see how she spotted me so quickly and notice the camera pointed towards the three curbside pickup parking spots. She got it right the first time and did so with a smile on her face. I wish my cable company could learn a lesson from my favorite local pizzeria.
Now, more than ever, customer service is critical. Make sure yours is up to par.
Considering the prices of pizza-related commodities today and the state of the U.S. economy, I understand the temptation to find a few corners here and there to cut. Slashing costs, after all, should theoretically result in a heftier bottom line.
Don’t fool yourself. It doesn’t work that way.
Truth is, cutting corners is a dangerous game. I firmly believe an independent pizzeria wins not on value or gimmicky marketing, but on quality. Sure, there are multiple factors that determine a pizzeria’s success, ranging from ambiance to speed of delivery. Make no mistake, though: quality stands head and shoulders above all others.
In these uncertain times, resist the temptation to cut quality. It’s a dead-end road. You may achieve greater profitability in the short-term, but trust me when I say the financial benefit won’t last long. Today’s consumers are savvier and more demanding than ever. They can discern the differences between quality ingredients and run-of-the-mill cafeteria pizza. They’ll seek out the former time and again.
To illustrate my point, look no further than America’s love for wine. Thanks to a prevalence of snobbery and difficult-to-understand descriptors and terminology (what exactly does it mean that a wine is “flinty” or “grassy”?), wine has not always been accessible to newcomers. Over the past decade, though, its popularity has grown by leaps and bounds and today’s consumer knows more about it than ever. The point is that our palettes, even when we don’t consciously know it, have become more refined. We demand a better dining experience. We expect quality. We are willing to pay for it.
Move to a cheaper cheese or less expensive meats and you might get away with it for a few weeks, then your customers will move on and abandon you.
I know a pizzeria that recently stopped using white-meat chicken on its specialty pizzas and replaced it with dark meat. Let’s just say the result wasn’t fantastic. Long-time customers noticed right way and were peeved. New customers were disappointed from the start and didn’t return.
Don’t make the mistake of cutting quality. You can’t afford it.
Right behind food cost is your second most expensive controllable expense: labor. Labor cost, or L/C, is usually referred to as a percentage of gross sales. I stayed on top of hourly labor like a hawk. My point of sale system served as my time clock and provided real time labor amounts in dollars as well as percentage of gross. My manager’s pay was a combination of salary and bonus based on performance. The biggest area he was in charge of was achieving an ideal prime cost. Prime cost, or P/C, is defined as the combination of total food cost (F/C) and labor cost. Every operation varies somewhat because of service style and prevailing wages. At Big Dave’s Pizza, the prime cost was 55 percent. We ran about a 30-percent F/C and a 25 percent L/C. These percentages could move just as long as the P/C stayed at 55 percent. Most operations I work with hover around 60-percent prime.
To accurately state the correct labor percentage one must take into account several areas. The first is salaries and wages, both management and hourly. In addition, one must add in payroll taxes (FICA-Medicare) worker’s comp insurance, any medical insurance and other benefits. These expense categories should be grouped together under payroll on your profit and loss statement.
The snapshot that you get from your POS labor screen usually doesn’t reflect anything but labor that is on the clock. The above soft costs usually will add 5 to 6 percent of additional costs to the real number that will be reflected on your financials.
The steps we implemented to achieve a terrific labor cost were written in stone. Every week my manager and scheduler projected the next week’s sales based on prior weeks’ same-sales. Once that dollar amount was determined we knew how much money we had in the budget to spend on labor. Hypothetically, if a store had weekly gross (less sales tax) sales of $10,000 and their ideal labor cost percentage is 30 percent, you’ll have $2,500 to spend on wages and salary. The soft costs will add another 5 percent, so you’ll hit 30 percent when the week is said and done. The first days we scheduled were Friday and Saturday. I wanted to have those two very busy days covered with my most productive, trained staff. I call it “put your aces in their places.” I slotted my fastest pizza-makers, drivers and counter crew in their most productive slots for the shift. These days were normally two or three times as busy as weekdays. During peak sales shifts my productivity increased. Everyone on staff was working full speed. I often recorded 12 and 13 percent labor hours. These highly productive sales bursts helped shore up high labor days when sales were low. It still takes a minimum amount of staff to deliver great service and food. During slow weekdays, I couldn’t help but run higher than average ideal labor. The trick is to have the week or payroll cycle balance out.
Consistent numbers are almost impossible to achieve unless your staff is highly trained. One highly trained cook or driver can out-produce two or three under-trained employees. One of my fastest pizza-makers was Mark H. This guy could hand stretch, spin, sauce and cheese a 14-inch pizza and put it in the oven in 19 seconds. His only request: “Don’t let my table run out of ingredients and stay out of my space.” Mark was trained and mentored by Cookin’ Correlle. Sarah F. could take a phone order, repeat it back and suggestively upsell extra cheese or breadsticks in 48 seconds. The customer never felt rushed. Sarah was trained by my manager, G.I. Joe. I was the slowest order taker at 63 seconds. My head prep cook, David J., could mix, weigh out, roll and refrigerate a 75-pound batch of dough singlehandedly in 21 minutes. I trained David J. He was a nut case and required gentle handling. These folks had one thing in common: they shared a fundamental principal of Big Dave’s –– a high sense of urgency. They also had time expectations they shot for. We timed every operation in the store and knew how long it took to complete almost any task. Tasks that are measured improve. If you don’t have the bar set, times will vary.
Every one of my superstar eagles started out on the bottom of the schedule when they were a probationary newbie. Ninety-percent of all new hires were sponsored by an existing eagle. After you worked for me for six months, you could sponsor a new hire. After a deep and through background check and a group interview, the newbie was brought into the family. The newbie’s sponsor took on the responsibility of transforming their friend into an awesome, competent, quick and smiling customer-pleasing crew person. Every sponsor entered into a handshake contract with me at the time we hired in their friend. If their friend was doing well at the end of 10 weeks I gave the sponsor a $100 bill from my wallet. If for any reason the newbie wasn’t with us at 10 weeks, the sponsor gave me $50. I never got any half-hearted endorsements. These folks put their money where their mouth was. If no one would sponsor a potential new hire I assumed there was a good reason … and passed on the hire.
Cross-Training is Key
When the majority of your staff is cross trained so they can perform tasks and duties outside of their normal job, you’ll never fear being understaffed for any rush. Although you are paying more, the pure productivity of this kind of crew will cost much less than staffing with average people. This is how we held our labor percentage very close to 25 percent.
This intensive training costs money. You have to decide if you want to invest the time and money into new hires. You may think, “What if I get them all trained up and they quit?” I say, “What if you don’t and they stay?”
My son just over a small bar/restaurant and really wants to offer hand-tossed pizzas. Can they be cooked in the convection oven?
A: You can bake a decent pizza in a convection oven, but you can't bake it in a pizza pan. See, in a traditional pizza oven, you have about 85 to 90 percent of the heat coming from the bottom of the deck. That's why a pizza pan works well. But in a convection oven, you have very even heat all around the oven, so if you tried to bake a pizza in a traditional pizza pan, the pizza would look done from the top, but because you didn't have enough heat on the bottom of the pie, it would be white and doughy on the bottom.
Solution: Bake you pizza on a pizza screen at between 400 and 425 F, or use par baked pizza dough.
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.
On a typical consulting assignment, I rise and shine early in the morning. I hook up with my client and we usually travel to their location. I can get a lot of work done before the phones start ringing and the lunch shift arrives. Imagine my awe when I arrived at a store at 8:30 a.m. and eight cooks are cranking out food for delivery. They have a large order for a business that needs 40 giant pizzas by 11:30 a.m.. Another order is for 100 box lunches. The dining room tables have been re-arranged in an assembly line as the orders are assembled. I have never seen anything so impressive.
Just before the official opening time of 11 o’clock, the owner does a sales reading on the POS system. Almost $4,000 in sales. I was impressed and curious.
I asked my client to explain to me how the phenomenon happens. Off-premises lunch catering sales like this are very rare. He told me today wasn’t that extraordinary. His restaurant performs like this two or three days a week. Do the math: that’s almost $4,000 before he even turns on the sign and unlocks the door. After they opened and the tables were put back into their places, they jammed hard for two more hours.
He explained the secrets to his success in the next few minutes. When he first opened, his lunch sales barely held their own. Sales were dismal and often were less than labor expenses. At this point they decided to go for broke. The owner’s wife decided to take off her apron and get out into the community. She started knocking on doors and inviting dozens and dozens of office people to join her for lunch. She also pulled out her four most powerful weapons:
- Fast, on time delivery. You can never ever be late.
- Great value for the price.
- Free samples of her most popular entrees.
- A line of communication directly to her.
Calling a few businesses a week and providing the office staff with a sampling of your good stuff will reap you huge rewards and goodwill. The rub is this: you have get out of your restaurant and troll your neighborhood to get the sales. They won’t just show up. For much less than any other form of marketing, this tactic will offer a huge return on investment.
I want to get involved with local schools more. How do I approach them to team up with them somehow?
Landing school accounts to provide pizza on a daily or weekly basis is an awesome thing, but it helps to first build a relationship with the local schools. Being a business partner with a school is a great way to start. It simply means you provide coupons or gift certificates for students to be used in a reward program created by the school. It may be a free kid’s pizza or two slices of cheese pizza. It’s well worth it, even if you’re giving away 500 coupons — because, nine out of 10 times, there’s another purchase for the rest of the family when the coupon is redeemed.
Employee theft is a problem for any business owner. Some statistics indicate that employee theft causes thousands of businesses each year to go under. Here, I’d like to offer Pizza Today readers a copy of a very important document I used at my pizzeria: my Loss Prevention Statement.
The following Statement of Loss Prevention Responsibilities must be read and signed by each employee, and a copy of the signed memo submitted to the General Manager.
The single most important asset of Big Dave’s Pizza & Subs is its people. It is our responsibility to protect this valued asset by providing understanding, direction, and support for high standards of business conduct.
All of Big Dave’s Pizza & Sub’s assets — merchandise, property, information, recipes, services, cash and people — are intended to be used in a manner that contributes to sales, profits and customer satisfaction. Using, diverting, damaging, or taking a company asset for personal use or benefit is an abuse of the business’ intended use of that asset.
The purpose of this Statement of Loss Prevention Responsibilities is to help Big Dave’s Pizza & Subs people make correct decisions and judgments regarding activities that are considered workplace abuse. This statement is a company policy, as well as a guideline to help each employee define workplace abuse in their area of responsibility. The list of examples is not all-inclusive. Each employee should add to it from his or her understanding of workplace abuse. Any violation of this contract is grounds for immediate termination and prosecution.
Definition of WORKPLACE ABUSE:
Workplace abuse is any illegal, dishonest, irresponsible, or counterproductive act that causes loss or harm to a company, its employees, or customers.
Examples of WORKPLACE ABUSE:
1. Unauthorized taking or use of company merchandise, cash, materials, equipment, or services.
2. Taking or damaging a co-worker’s property.
3. Intentional damaging of company inventory or other property.
4. Assaulting or harassing customers, suppliers, or co-workers.
5. Stealing from or cheating a customer.
6. Giving unauthorized discounts or buying merchandise at discount for a person not authorized to receive a discount.
7. Using, possessing, selling, buying or being under the influence of illegal drugs or alcohol on company premises or during work hours.
8. Borrowing or using company property, vehicles, or tools without proper authorization.
9. Unauthorized acceptance or solicitation of gifts from suppliers.
10.Operating or having a major investment or relationship in a business that competes with Big Dave’s Pizza & Subs.
11. Falsifying payroll time records, or other company records.
12. Unauthorized use or dissemination of company proprietary information.
13. Intentionally allowing merchandise to leave the physical control of the company premises without proper paperwork or financial transaction.
14. Failure to report known workplace abuse.
15. Gambling, or any other illegal activity on company time or on company property.
16. Rudeness to a customer.
17. Failing to strictly adhere to all traffic laws. Reporting any traffic stops to manager immediately.
I have read the above Statement of Loss Prevention Responsibilities and I understand my role in loss prevention and security at Big Dave’s Pizza & Subs.
[x] (Employee’s Signature)
Printed Name & SS#
[ x ] witnessed
This document is an important first step to protecting your business. Put its policies in force today.
How do you determine portion sizes? How much difference should there bebetween lunch and dinner portions?
Well, first you need to determine what food cost percentage you want to run. Then you’ve got to cost out your raw product by the ounce. Make sure you include the cost of everything that comes with it such as complimentary garnishes. You can figure at the price point you want to sell each entrée at, and then determine the portion size according to the food cost percent you are striving for. Another option is to determine the portion size first, then cost that out, and now you can come up with your entrée selling point. Many restaurant have the same portion size for both meal periods. If you feel you have the type of business that you need a separate lunch menu that is less expensive menu, then of coarse follow the same rule of thumb.
If you don’t know what it costs to make your pizza, how do you know your menu prices are where they should be?
In the last month I’ve presented workshops and seminars to several thousand owner-operators in eight cities. The overriding theme of the seminars is getting back to restaurant business basics. In every single seminar I’ve asked the attendees to answer the following question: “How much does it cost you to make a 14-inch cheese, pepperoni, mushroom and ham pizza, including the box?”
In a typical room of 200 people or so, only two or three will raise their hands and announce the answer. This is scary to me. I realize more than a few are shy and may be embarrassed answering the question in a public group setting. At the same time, though, I lost most of the eye contact in the rooms. Folks were praying that I wouldn’t call on them to answer the question.
Now it is your turn. I’m addressing that identical fundamental question to Pizza Today readers. Write down, right now, how much it costs you to make that pie.
Don’t know the answer? Then you’ve failed the test.
If you are not sure of your exact food cost in percentage, as well as dollars, how can you price your menu? One way is to gather up all of your competitors’ menus and spread them out on your kitchen table and take an average. You don’t want to be the highest or the lowest. But when you do that you are assuming that the other guys have done the math and have a handle on true costs. I wouldn’t bet the shop on it.
Computing the cost of a pizza is not an easy task. Especially when the cost of the raw ingredients is constantly changing. You know you have to do it. Your entire future is on the line. It is time to stop the guessing. Let me describe how it is done.
First, you will need to set aside several blocks of uninterrupted time. I recommend three sessions of two hours. Session one will be devoted to assembling your last two months’ food invoices. You’ll also need to weigh out your topping weights for every pizza, salad, appetizer and any other entree on your menu in ounces (grams). I do this task with a digital electronic portion scale that has a tare (zero reset) function. I first write down my doughball weight, then move on to sauce, cheese and other ingredients as I build the actual pizza on the scale. By using a corrugated pizza circle instead of a dough, I can recycle the toppings after every weight and not waste them. I call this information the Weighout Sheet.
From your invoices you’ll need to determine price per ounce on each ingredient. If you purchase your cheese by the pound you’ll need to divide the price per pound by 16 to get price per ounce. If you buy your onions by the fifty-pound bag you’ll need to compute the edible yield ounces (EYO) per bag. You’ll take into account for how many ounces per bag or box of onions or peppers is trim and waste. Do the same on ingredients that are packed in one-gallon jars and number ten cans like ripe olives and banana peppers. Drain off all of the liquid and weigh the EYO of all of these toppings. This should do it for session one.
Once you have done the math on the weights and cost per ounce on your pizza as well as salads, sandwiches and other entrees you’ll need to start doing some addition. Welcome to Session II. For pizza boxes, packaging and other things like sheeted dough and disposables, you’ll need to give the ingredient a unit/each cost. This is right about where I personally dropped the ball.
So far I got the math right, but finding a place to assemble all of the info is a problem. At first I forced myself to use the huge green accountant’s columnar work sheet paper. Printing tiny and writing all of those numbers in those itty-bitty boxes was almost too much for this ADD pizzaman. After I bought my first computer I transferred all of the data to a spreadsheet program like Excel. This was a giant leap from pencil and paper until I inevitably entered a value in a wrong cell and crashed the sheet. But since I spent hours and hours doing the algebra for the cells I usually could find out where I went wrong and fix it. I used this system for many years. I searched the world over for a better way and found none.
After you’ve created and formatted your worksheets you can now start seeing how much it costs to assemble a pizza. You’ll add the sum of the dough, sauce, cheese, pepperoni, mushroom, ham and pizza box. Divide this total into the menu selling price and you’ll finally know the real ideal foodcost for that pie. This will do it for session two.
Session III is the OMG session. On paper you should be running, hypothetically, a 30 percent (or less) food cost. In reality, your financials are showing a 37 percent food cost. How can this be? Where is the missing seven percent? That’s a lot of money. It’s quite often the difference between success and failure, real income or living on credit card debt. The key here is replicating each pizza exactly as you did in session one. I’m talking exact portion control by using scales, spoodles or cups to dole out every ingredient, every time. If you are not weighing it, you are winging it. Every ounce counts. Especially in these days of rollercoaster pricing and escalating expenses.
The difference between ideal and actual foodcost is the sum of the following: non-food items on your weekly invoices like hand towels, garbage bags, soap, etc. These purchases should be classified as supplies and not charged to food cost. Most distributors break out non-food items on invoices. I intentionally added in the cost of a pizza box and recommend it if an operation’s gross sales exceed 50 percent in carryout and delivery.
The next area to be concerned about is employee waste. This can be significant. I allowed my managers 1.5 percent here.
The final dark area is theft or under-ringed/reported sales. Every time I visit a pizzeria client and the food cost is way out of whack, I begin scrutinizing these areas right away. You’d be wise to begin doing the same today. Otherwise, you could be leaving thousands of profit dollars behind.
Now, back to the original question. How much does it take you to make that pizza? If don’t know, get started finding out right now.
We are in a cash business. We have cash everywhere. In the cash drawers, delivery wallets, petty cash box, night deposit and office. I wouldn’t begin to estimate how much cash has been stolen from me. The amount would probably make me ill. I can document close to a hundred thousand dollars. It’s been said that 25 percent of your employees wouldn’t take anything from you. 50 percent will occasionally take something if the chances of getting caught and prosecuted are slim. The remaining 25 percent are constantly figuring out ways to rip you off.
The National Restaurant Association attributes 30 percent of all restaurant failures to employee theft. According to them, restaurants lose more than $9 billion dollars a year to theft.
There are many reasons employees steal: they have a psychological disorder or think you’re rich or need money urgently, etc. They don’t just take cash, but will steal food, inventory, trade secrets, personal possessions, equipment and supplies and database information.
Their methods are diverse as well. They’ll under-ring orders and pocket cash or under report delivery sales. Petty cash is an easy target. They’ll give away unauthorized comps to their friends or intentionally mess up an order. They’ll leave you and take your recipes or mailing lists to competitors.
By far, cash is the primary target. In today’s tough economy even saints can be tempted. Technology has again helped by developing an online behavior trait test for all new applicants. In 30 seconds after a quick quiz a manager can get a numeric score on an applicant and see what their ethic / honesty number is. Here are some successful tactics I used to minimize cash theft.
If I suspect that a cash drawer is being pilfered, I’ll do two things. First I’ll over load the starting cash by $20 or so. When we reconcile the drawer to the register reading, it had better be twenty bucks over. Then I’ll do surprise drawer swaps in mid-rush. The under-ringers keep counters in the drawer. They ring up $10 and charge the customer $20. They quite often keep track of how much the till is over by placing coins in an unused slot in the drawer. Before the shift is over they pick the time to pull the under ringed cash and pocket it. A surprise random drawer switch and count will often show the overages. Overages are more troublesome to me than shortages.
For many years anyone could ring up sales at my pizzeria. Since we didn’t assign and hold responsible one person on a drawer, shortages were quite common. If you assign a drawer to one person, they become solely responsible for the drawer balancing. Things that are measured always improve. If the cashier can’t make the drawer balance within one percent of perfect on three occasions, then they won’t be allowed to touch any more money. I know this will slow down your system. If your bank and every major retail operation in the country can do it, tell me again why you can’t. You may need to bring in one more person for 10 hours a week to accomplish this. Whenever you allow a free-for-all in the cash drawers you might as well put up a sign that says “Take all you need. Just leave me a little bit to pay the bills with.”
Petty cash and night deposits are tempting targets for the criminal element. Again, accountability is key. Only the manager has the key for petty cash and two people count the deposit and sign the deposit slip at closing. I’m a much stronger believer in using technology as a deterrent. CCTV (closed circuit television) has been the difference between success and failure in many operations. New technologies will allow owners and managers to watch the operations remotely on their computers from anywhere in the world. I like a camera over the cash register, one over the make line and one at the front and back doors. At one time I resisted CCTV because of privacy issues, but I made a new decision after helping catch thieves that had come close to bankrupting several of my clients. When a cash drawer or driver is being balanced you never tell them how much they owe. They count it and you see how close to perfect they are. If you tell them in advance they will force the number every time.
Even more valuable than your cash is your mailing list.
This data is the lifeblood of your restaurant. It usually contains every customer’s name, address, phone numbers; email addresses, lifetime and period purchases. How much would you be willing to pay for this data from your most hated competitor? If you could put your hands on this info you could target market to these families over and over until they tried your pizza. I have legally obtained this info from my competitors because they were sloppy. It cost them dearly. Password protect your lifeblood — otherwise disgruntled or low ethical employees could download your info and sell it.
Employee theft with delivery drivers has almost taken down several chains. Before POS systems were customized for pizzerias it was relatively easy to steal big money every week. POS systems made this challenge a lot more difficult but certainly not impossible.
Coupons are generally deducted at the time the drivers settle up. They can cut and pass off coupons for legitimate discounts and often do. My stance was whatever was quoted to the customer at time of order was collected. Once in a great while a customer produces a coupon they forgot to mention when they ordered. Drivers may not honor them at the door. The customer must call the store manager and get the discount approved on their home phone. The coupon shuffle really drops off after you implement this. Assigning deliveries to another is another way unscrupulous drivers penalize their fellow workers and personally profit. I think the fingerprint recognition at terminals is the only way to go. Passwords are shouted across the store but fingerprints can’t be altered. I made it a practice to call back delivery customers and survey them on meal quality and service. I asked open-ended questions and asked them to give us a number between 1-10 based on their experience and then I asked them why. Great information is gathered this way.
To Catch a Thief – Delivery
• Have a Zero tolerance policy on unpaid deliveries
• Coupon Shuffle
• Call back customers and survey them
• No co-mingling of cash, (drivers must keep personal and company money separate at all times)
• No assigning deliveries to others
• Watch for Un-authorized discounts
Shhh! It’s a Secret.
Equally important as your cash, perhaps more so, are your trade secrets. They should be protected by confidentially and non-compete agreements. In the old days it was a visit from a bone breaker if you forgot. Now you will need to stay above the law and sue in civil court. I’ve been an expert witness 3 times and the court has always found for my clients. Protect all of your sensitive date and lock it up. Employees aren’t managers and seldom need to know all of the details.
It’s time to think strategically about the new year. If you want to achieve growth you need to organize your tasks, set clear goals and implement a plan of attack. Each business has different needs, but there are some things all operators should take into consideration when making their New Year’s Resolutions. Here, then, is a list of 10 things you should vow to get done as soon as possible.
- Get Your Financial House in order. I can’t count the number of operators I work with that use really sorry financial statements. Most of them are unreadable and give little or no timely, useable information. Most of us aren’t accountants. Most of us despise paperwork. Most of us can’t critique a good or bad balance sheet or P&L. Still, you can and should hire someone who will do the job or enroll in a college level accounting course. One of my many mentors was a CPA. My books were such a mess he refused to take my case until I passed two semesters of Accounting. Don’t let this happen to you.
- Get a System that organizes you. I’ve been using a Franklin - Covey Planner since 1990. It’s with me, always. Every contact, calendar and promise made is written down. My daily to-do list stares at me several times a day. When you get organized you can get your managers and key people on the same system. Now you’ve created a delegation and measurement tool. My manager knew what I was doing and I knew what he was doing. We were literally on the same page. We set deadlines, goals and objectives and met them — but only because they were written down. Today’s newer technologies almost make the written word a thing of the past. Look into hand held organizers if you are techno savvy. Little floating pieces of paper don’t cut it anymore.
- Get a Grip on Food and Labor Costs. The importance of portion control and tight scheduling will make or break your operation. The tools are out there to pretty much automate the process. You can only make menu and financial decisions based on timely information. There is no excuse for running a business that leaves the two biggest expense categories to luck. On the low end you’ll receive a $200 a week raise. On the high end I’ve helped clients pocket over a thousand a week. Don’t wait until it’s too late to make pricing decisions. Income has to rise faster than expenses or you’ll go broke.
- Develop an Annual Marketing Plan. Every one of us has said, “The reason XYZ restaurant is so busy is because they advertise all the time. Take away their marketing and they wouldn’t be able to maintain market share by selling mediocre food.” Marketing is the only expense that creates and increases sales. Develop a 12-month plan and budget it, just like rent and utilities. Your message will eventually get imbedded in the minds of your market and influence new customers to buy from you. The trap here is to figure out what marketing strategies work for you. Every campaign needs to be graded according to its return on investment. The strategies that are lame get tossed aside. The brilliant ones get tweaked and repeated.
- Over-train your employees to the point they don’t need you around anymore. Remember; EO or CEO. You make the choice. This may take half of your time in the shop. Trust me; the rewards will be worth it in the long run. Hire the best, pay a little more. Expect high productivity and less attitude. Fire the rest. Foodservice is not for everybody.
- Set achievable personal and business goals for next year. Write them down. I put sticky notes all over my bathroom mirror. Share your business goals with your crew. Reward them when the team achieves them.
- Review your insurance policies with a professional agent and possibly your attorney. By not doing this I had to cough up over $150,000 after a big loss. You are undoubtedly underinsured for a worst case scenario, just like I was. Spend the extra few hundred bucks a year and sleep easy.
- Be a Student. Somebody knows something that will change your life. It may come to you in a seminar, book, video or mastermind group. Every three years it seems that my knowledge base increases twofold. I’m always looking to friends and strangers to challenge the way I do or see things. Ask questions of successful people. They are most often happy to share their secrets. If you were arrested and charged with impersonating a professional restaurateur, would there be enough evidence to convict? All professionals religiously attend educational retreats and workshops. This is where the newest information and ideas are found.
- Plan two or more vacations for next year. At least one should be designed to completely relax you and quiet your mind and body. Make it long enough to get the job done. Plan another working vacation. Fun, friends and excitement folded into a learning environment. I can’t think of a better place to get the job done than Pizza Expo. Budget for it. If you can save 20 pounds of cheese a week and shave an hour a day from your schedule, you’ll have all the money you’ll need to have a life.
- Be fearless and have fun. Don’t allow anyone to steal your dream.
Okay, okay, too complicated. So, trust us. We’ve done the math for you. A 10-inch pizza is comprised of 78 square inches, while a 14-inch pizza has 154 square inches.
What that means is that a 14-inch pizza will contain nearly twice the amount of sauce, cheese and toppings of a 10-inch pizza. When setting your menu pricing, this is a critical point.
Now, let’s say you offer 14-inch “small” pizzas and 16-inch “large” pizzas. A 16-inch pie is 201 square inches — approximately 31 percent larger, in terms of area, than a 14-inch pie. Just like in the example above, what this means is that your 16-inch pizza, though only two more inches in diameter, will require 31 percent more sauce, cheese and toppings in order to look and taste like your 14-inch pizza.
Does that mean your 16-inch pie should carry a price point that’s 31 percent higher than your 14-inch pie? Perhaps. If a 14-inch cheese pizza is priced at $8.99, for example, then a 16-inch cheese pizza would be marked up to $11.75.
Unfortunately, customers in many markets aren’t willing to pay $11.75 for a cheese pizza when they can get one loaded with toppings from a major chain for under $10.
Ultimately, the best method for determining the final price of your 16-inch pizza would be to figure your food costs, then find an acceptable markup from there. You likely won’t make as much per pie as you do on your 14-inch pizzas, but your customers won’t feel overcharged and alienated, either.
Finally, if you are resigning yourself to making more profit on a small pizza than a large, there’s no need to fret. By pushing your 14-inch pies in your marketing and bundling small pizzas with breadsticks or wings and soda, you can increase sales of these pizzas.
The next two months usually are welcome periods for pizzeria operators, particularly those located next to high school and college campuses. As kids return to school in August and September, business invariably picks up. The Memorial Day to Labor Day lull is a great time to tinker with the menu and try new marketing promotions to see what will and won’t work in the upcoming months. Once school starts, though, it’s all about handling the rush.
There’s nothing like a wave of fans hitting your shop on Friday night after the local high school football game. But to handle the increased business, you must be adequately prepared. From increasing your staffing levels to ensuring there is enough product to get you through the evening, those first few Friday nights each season can be a challenge. Still, it’s exhilarating, isn’t it?
The good news if you’re amongst the thousands of operations looking to cash in on high school and college students: they have more disposable income than ever before. The bad news: they still spring for the discounts, despite the cash in their pockets.
What’s an operator to do? That’s where bundling comes in. Take a cue from McDonald’s and other fast food giants by offering “after-school specials.” Package a personal pizza, breadsticks and a soft drink together at a price moderately less than the cost the three items would command if they were separate sales. This spares you steep discounting, but still provides you with a marketing message that appeals to the young audience.
Of course, these package deals appeal to other demographics as well. Which is one reason why the aforementioned Burger Giant does so well with a streamlined menu that doesn’t even need words. Think about it, a photo of the “bundle” and a corresponding number is all it takes. Talk about efficiency.
Our society has three new years annually, when you consider it: the calendar year, the fiscal year and the academic year. With the 2005-2006 academic year dawning, now is the time to attack new menu items and your marketing plan with zest and vigor.
Now also is the time to think about seasonal menu items. With fall around the corner and winter behind that, heartier sandwiches, heavier dishes and soups are going to experience an increased demand. Halloween offers unique marketing opportunities and the day before Thanksgiving is one of the biggest days of the year (in terms of sales) for the pizza industry. If you want your shop to be the food and service provider of choice during this stretch, you better get to work on it. Your competition has already done so.
My favorite restaurant is quickly becoming “my old haunt.” That’s right, I’ve just about stopped going there. At least with any real frequency, that is. I used to try to stop in once a week to chat with the owner over a bowl of pasta or eggplant parm. Now I’m down to once a month. It just isn’t the restaurant I fell in love with.
It all started two years ago when the proprietors switched to a cheaper bread. It was a warning shot, so to speak, a foreshadowing of what was to come. Not long after that they opened a second location. When I noticed my eggplant was still frozen in the middle — not once, but twice — I was furious. They’d always used frozen eggplant, and that was fine. But the new crewmembers obviously didn’t know how to prepare it when some of the veteran kitchen staff transferred to the second store.
Sure enough, the service began slipping next. I used to know the servers. They were friendly and helpful. Now, I recognize only about half of them. The kitchen has slowed and the service level is clearly inferior to what it was just 12 or 18 months ago.
I’ve always longed for a regular spot, a Cheers-type atmosphere where “everybody knows your name.” I had it briefly. But, alas, change is the way of life.
I’m glad this particular restaurant was able to grow, but can’t help but wonder if it sacrificed its soul in doing so. It just isn’t the same, plain and simple. I’m not alone, either. I know lots of folks in my area who feel the same way and have moved on. It’s sad, really, and it’s eventually going to catch up in terms of declining sales. I don’t want to be there to say “I told you so” when it happens, which is why I’m moving on.
I suppose the moral of this story is to get it right before you grow. Get the proper management in place. Have a solid training program. Make sure you can add stores without having to sacrifice quality. After all, what’s the difference between one $1 million location and two $500,000 locations? Nothing in terms of sales, but there’s a big difference in terms of responsibility.
Don’t get me wrong: I encourage growth. But it must be done right, or else it really isn’t growth at all.
‘Tis the season to be frugal? Consumers are finding their disposable cash at an all-time low. The reality of a recession has hit home. Consumers now have to be more discreet than ever or change their ways — and change does not come easy. Dining out is still a large part of the American lifestyle, but its trends often mirror the economy.
Many operators in the pizza industry are experiencing drops in sales and profits. How can an operator adapt to the changing times and keep his customer base alive and well? Here are a few suggestions adopted from trends I’ve seen throughout the restaurant industry.
Rebates – People love them, like an operator, a consumer looks at the bottom line. How can you offer rebates? Maybe you already do and all you need to do is adopt some consumer friendly language, such as ‘Buy 5 XL pizzas and receive a $5 rebate check good on your next pizza purchase’.
A rebate can be as simple as a gift certificate. Obtaining a rebate is a consumer motivation. This tactic can increase the frequency of a consumer’s purchases. We tend to call such buying incentives “reward programs”, but in trying times consumers’ loyalty can wane. Renaming your program will attract a consumer with language they are becoming increasingly familiar with. Using gift certificates as your rebate will also heighten awareness of this ‘product’ on your menu. Statistics show that an average of 16 percent of gift certificates are never redeemed — pure profit for you. Those that redeem their gift certificates for full value can usually be upsold another 15 percent.
Value Menus – Fast food giants present their value menus to masses and find success. It is widely acknowledged that upon taking your family to a fast food joint, your wallet becomes $25 lighter. You did not experience quality or value, yet you still go. Why, because they have successfully positioned themselves as a value meal replacement.
Can we do a similar thing? Sure. Take your quality product and create a $9.99 Menu. I am not advocating deep discounts. I am promoting that you take the time to ask yourself “What can I offer for 9.99?” This will give the perception that we are not only a quality product, but a value, too — and value is a top concern for consumers in a recession. Try to come up with five items: a small pizza plus sodas, a medium pizza, an XL pizza with a thin crust and lite cheese (lower food cost, health benefits) and so forth. Once we attract the price-conscious consumer, the sale comes naturally. Ask yourself, “Did I order from the value menu the last time I went to a fast food joint?”
Another trend we see in fast casual is that $5.99 seems to be the magic number of what the market will bear for a meal. Once again, can we apply that to our operation? Can you offer a sandwich, chips and drink for $5.99? It doesn’t have to be a steak or bacon. Why not ham, or a veggie, or a smaller version of one of your signature items? People are looking for an affordable way to get through these times without making major lifestyle changes. Position yourself to be a reasonable option, then work to increase their frequency as you gain top-of-mind awareness.
Consumer Appeal — Combo ads with perceived value still remain the most popular in our industry. It now takes a little more to get them in the door, though. Add a tag or ‘bottom headline’ to your ad. You may also have to communicate your message in more appealing ways. Take this short letter, for example.
“Make your pizzeria a trick-or-treat stop. Bring your kids to my pizzeria on Halloween and receive a 'treat' — plus, get your picture taken with our mascot (costumed employee....). We will e-mail you a copy of the picture.”
Now, you have their e-mail address in your database. The marketing cost? Minimal. The same tactic can be applied to any holiday, and it’s an excellent way to show some goodwill, create traffic, build a database and communicate your message in a very cost-effective way.
YOU - Zig Ziglar once alleged, “You cannot tailor-make the situations in life, but you can tailor-make the attitudes to fit those situations”. The media is full of gloom and doom. Your positive attitude in the face of adversity will project to consumers that you are a thriving survivor. If you are not personally adding value, you are decreasing the profits of the company.
Your pizzeria may not be all things to all people, but you can be all things to your customers if you put yourself in their shoes and adapt your persona to appeal to their interests.
I recently had a bad review in the local paper. What can I do marketing wise to overcome the bad press?
If you are a successful business with a strong customer base, the review won’t hurt you at all. Now if you are new or if this article has had a negative impact, you’ve got to come out with a promotion. Before you come out with a special offering, you need to really look at the areas the bad review gave you and focus on making them better. That must be the priority. If you run an ad for a great 2 or 3 pizza combo deal, and the issue of a bad pizza dough or sauce recipe is the issue at hand, running the ad and special will not help one bit. Once you’ve refocused on fixing the issues that may have gained you a bad reputation, you may want to even give the impression that the shop is under new leadership.
Often, seasonal employees help operators maintain service and food quality levels during particularly busy periods. Before you decide to up your crew during the upcoming summer break or the winter holidays later in the year, however, ask yourself these questions:
• Could existing staff handle the workload with increased hours?
• Is the existing staff willing to work extra hours?
• Would the cost of overtime for regular employees be greater than the cost of using additional, seasonal employees?
• What’s the labor pool situation like in my community?
• Will the season involve extended operating hours or just a heavier workload during regular operating hours?
• How many additional employee hours will it take to handle the extra work?
Does it make sense to grind my own cheese, or should I buy it already done?
A: Both make sense to do. It really depends on your space and the complexity of your menu and other food preparation techniques. I tend to have a large menu with a pretty big prep list. Therefore, it made sense for me to buy my cheese already diced. Remember: It costs a little more, but you save it in labor cost
The checklist is long and daunting. You know you want to open a new pizzeria, but you don’t know where to begin. And that’s after you’ve already done it once or twice before, let alone if you’re a first-timer.
So, where do you begin? With a plan of action and a realistic attitude, that’s where. For starters, it’s important to come to grip with a few indisputable facts: you’re going to have to do a ton of research; there will be mountains of paperwork; the project will cost much more than you anticipate and will take longer to complete than you estimate.
Sound frustrating? Wait until you actually get started. Your anxiety levels will instantly spike by 200 percent. But while the cost of pizzeria ownership is high mentally and physically, it can be rewarding if you are able to offset your investment risk with good product, service and marketing. But we’re getting way ahead of ourselves here. There’s so much to do before you can open. And none of the tasks that must be completed en route to opening a new pizzeria is more important than getting the funding necessary to get the project up and running.
Assuming you know the type of pizzeria you plan to open, the first step is to figure out how much capital you’ll need. That amount will vary widely depending upon your location and the type of service you’ll offer (full dining, delivery/carryout, take-and-bake, etc). A small, independent delco unit in a small Midwestern town may get started for under $100,000. A 250-seat, full-dining parlor in a large city could exceed $2 million. You can figure out roughly how much it will take to get started by talking to realtors, brokers, equipment dealers, food vendors and consultants. Once you know how much money you’ll need, it’s time to figure out where to get it. Some options include:
Pros: Partnering with investors won’t tie up all of your capital, and it may be the only solution if you lack the necessary investment funds.
Cons: While sweat equity is viable, money talks. Most investors won’t back a project unless the owner puts down 10 to 25 percent of his or her own money. It shows you have a stake in it.
Make sure you have a really good partnership agreement, because most partnerships are based on monetary contributions. Whoever puts up most of the money generally has the most say. You will have to answer to your investors if things don’t pan out, and they could direct you as to how they want you to run your business — or ultimately buy you out of the whole affair.
• Family and Friends
Pros: These are the people who believe in you and may provide funds at little or no interest.
Cons: You’ll lose friends and the support of family members quickly if you lose their money. Always make sure that whatever you borrow can be given comfortably. Explain to them that it is a gamble and that they may never see anything from the money. Personal loans are tricky, so avoid them if you can.
• Venture Capitalists
Pros: This option provides a quick infusion of capital. These people are generally in and out of your business. Or, if you’re looking to grow into a small chain, they would likely be a source for capitalizing additional units once you have established yourself.
Cons: Venture capitalists look for a quick return on investment of two or three years, and they usually invest in someone with a proven track record.
• Small Business Administration
Pros: The SBA has multiple programs available for small business owners. If you are a woman or a minority additional programs are likely available to you.
Cons: Your business plan must be detailed and solid (is this really a con, come to think of it? Shouldn’t it be solid anyway?). The SBA wants to see previous business ownership and employment in the industry. There is a mountain of paperwork to wade through during the entire loan term. Most importantly, SBA money is not cheap. The interest rate often is higher than on conventional loans. That said, the SBA also offers a degree of protection should you find yourself in trouble.
Pros: Loan rates are lower and commercial lines of credit are useful.
Cons: Conventional bank loans are next to impossible to get for a first-time venture. Usually, they simply won’t fund high-risk investments like restaurants.
Your access to capital and investors will depend largely upon your business plan. As previously mentioned, you’ll want it to be as detailed and accurate as possible. It’s important be realistic with your numbers (don’t expect $1 million in sales in your first year or a 20 percent profit margin). In order to arrive at your key figures, it’s going to take a lot of research. You’ll have to eye a site for your location and know its demographics inside and out. What trends are influencing the area? Is the population growing or shrinking? Is the neighborhood in which you’ll do business safe? How many other restaurants and pizzerias are in the trade area? Is there a good business base for catering or to provide a lunch rush? What is the traffic count and pattern like? Is there much foot traffic during the day? What about at night? How many homes are in the trade area? What’s the average age of the area’s population? What’s the average income?
You’ll also need to understand the city’s codes and regulations. If there’s a sidewalk, can you encroach on it for outdoor seating? Are there restrictions on operating hours? Restrictions on signage? How does your concept fit in with the city’s general plan (and every city has one)?
Your chosen source for funding will scrutinize your business plan from every angle and will smell a rat if your numbers aren’t realistic and feasible. So be conservative when it comes to estimating profit. Your best bet would be to project a seven percent profit, but you may be wise to offer three business plans. A conservative one would call for five percent profit and an aggressive one would plan for 10 percent profit. Show your prospective lender all three projections. They’ll appreciate your thoroughness.
Your lender will become one of the many “partners” on which you’ll depend as you seek to get your concept off the ground. Even if you don’t form a true partnership and own the business yourself, you’ll need to collaborate and rely on a host of others: an accountant, a banker, a financial advisor, a business lawyer, possibly a tax lawyer, contractors, designers, possibly architects, city officials, food vendors, equipment suppliers, marketing and public relations consultants … this list goes on and on.
The point is, opening a new pizzeria, even when you’ve done it before, is far from easy. The road to success is ripe with pitfalls. There are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of decisions that need to be made (some menial, others huge). It’s a long trek that can be rewarding, but only the strongest survive.
Sunday sales have been fluctuating recently and tapering off. I’m thinking of closing Sundays for a while and may revisit opening back up at a later date. Does that sound reasonable?
I think businesses that keep changing their hours are just shooting themselves in the foot. Once you close on any given day, your customers and the community are used to you being closed. If and when you try later to open, folks are used to you being closed and it is very difficult to build it back up. If your sales are slumping, then create a great promotion to build that Sunday shift back up.
The pizza business is currently drifting in unchartered waters. The old model of making, baking and serving a praiseworthy pizza with a smile just isn’t enough to pay the bills anymore. What are we to do to prosper in the future? I’ve heard this question a thousand times at International Pizza Expo and other events this year. Here is my take on how to deal with the “new” normal way of thriving in the pizza business.
I’m going to make a big assumption here. Your pizza, salads, sandwiches and other menu offerings are absolutely the best. If you have any doubts on your products, you’d better be working on raising the bar. I’ll make another big assumption –– your entire staff is on their game. They have emotionally bought in to your way of doing business, have the service mentality DNA gene and have been trained to over deliver service.
Praiseworthy pizza as well as memorable service is the new watermark for being recession proof.
The overwhelming majority of operators I visit and work closely with are at the top of their game in product and service. The big roadblock that keeps them in the “just getting by” lifestyle is, in my humble opinion, accountability.
Who do you answer to when your profitability tanks? Do you know where to look for and how to follow the money trail? Or do you play the blame game? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked the question, “What are you doing different to change your status quo?” Well….what are you doing different? Have you developed an iron grip on portion control? Are you getting timely accurate financials from a real accountant that really understands your business? Do you understand accounting? Does this person ever challenge your financial decisions and percentages? I predict that in the future only the business savvy entrepreneurs will thrive.
Nobody ever told me that I would need a depth of knowledge that would rival a lawyer and accountant when I opened the first Big Dave’s Pizza in 1972. Back then in the dark ages, all you needed was praiseworthy pies and service with a smile. You also had to enroll in the School of Hard Knocks. My personal tuition bill ran into the six figures with all the bad decisions I made. I know I have an MBA and probably a PhD if I ever quantified the money I lost, left on the table and just plain stolen from me in my career. Then again, there was no one to ask and nowhere to go for answers. Now, there is.
I’m getting ready to open our first store next month. Do we have to have extensive training or can we just get by with a day and work out the kinks in our first couple of weeks?
The single biggest mistake independent operators make, in my opinion, is that they don’t realize that properly training the entire staff — with at least one practice day feeding the locals or friends and relatives for free — is the most important investment they can make. Most independents don’t set those funds aside or just get too anxious and want to start generating sales immediately. Poor training will create a negative word of mouth that your business most likely won’t be able to sustain. So do it right and make the perfect first impression in your community!