You shouldn’t have to sacrifice one for the other
Good and evil. Dark and light. Rich and poor. Mets and Yankees. The world is filled with dichotomies and we often find ourselves defined by the side on which we stand. In the case of pizzerias, the ultimate battle pits two diametrically opposed forces against one another: speed and quality. A great pizzeria will balance these mighty opponents, but the real world rarely makes possible such a scenario. Instead, you’re pulled between your desire for one and your customers’ demand for the other. How you handle this challenge will define your brand, your position in the market, and what customers expect from your restaurant.
Just last month, I visited a pizzeria in Italy often touted as the best in the world. The place was packed and I can only assume, based on the crowd outside, that they would remain that way until close. I never mind waiting when great pizza is imminent, but from the moment I got inside I felt like I was already being pushed out. The arrival of an uncooked pizza further supported my suspicions, so I took a closer look at the kitchen. Just as I feared, an overwhelmed pizzaiolo was packing so many pizzas into the oven that they didn’t have time to fully bake. In this case, a pizzeria known for the quality of their product lost cachet when it opted for speed.
Just a couple weeks after this experience, I was conducting a pizza tour for a pair of pizzeria operators who came to New York in search of production methods that could help them up their product quality. Every time we noted a move that could help achieve their goal, they lamented that it would slow down their service time. With a consumer base already demanding faster turnaround, the operators felt conflicted about doing anything that could potentially add time to their process. Their own desire to pursue quality was squashed by their customers’ demand for speed.
While I completely empathize with the pizzeria operators’ frustration, there’s something to be said for giving the people what they want. Your location has a lot to do with how your business is defined in the eyes of a customer, so consider how that might play out in terms of expectations. In areas with heavy foot traffic, I might prefer a quick takeout slice. When the restaurant is large with seating and a view of the oven, I don’t expect to have my pizza within three minutes. Think about what your customers want and you’ll know pretty quickly what kind of pizzeria you have to be. Confusing those two identities will lead to major problems.
A friend of mine in the film business tells me there’s a mantra in her industry called Cheap Fast Great. Everybody wants all three, but the vast majority of projects can achieve only two. If you want to make a pizza that’s fast and great, it’s not going to be cheap. If you want it to be cheap and fast, I’m not going to waste my time standing in line for it.
Scott Wiener owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City.