2010 August: Pizza Gets Personal

The appeal of personal pizza is simple: It’s designed for diners craving something tasty and inexpensive, delivered to the table rather quickly. By definition, a personal pizza should be an adequate serving for one person’s meal. While there is no definitive size, individual-sized pizzas usually range between 6 to 8 inches, says Tom Lehmann, director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas.

Operators can rejoice at the fact that personal pizzas bake at the same oven temperature as regular-sized pies. According to Lehmann, the average dough weight for an 8-inch thin crust personal pizza is 4¾ ounces. Dough weighs 6¾ ounces for an 8-inch thick crust personal pizza. Since larger pizzas take a few more minutes to come out of an oven, smaller pizzas means faster delivery to diners and more tables turning.

Chris Presutti, sales manager at Tomanetti Food Products, a par-baked crust manufacturer and distributor in Oakmont, Pennsylvania, says their 7-inch pizza crusts have grown in popularity more recently. “With the economy, everyone wants something inexpensive on the menu. A small pizza is very inexpensive,” he says. “It keeps people eating out for lunch. The food cost for the pizza on average is 80 to 85 cents, add in a drink and small side, and your food cost is only a few dollars. That’s a nice profit margin.”

Vito Racanelli, Jr., chef/owner of Onesto Pizza & Trattoria in St. Louis, Missouri, says: “Personal pizzas are a great way to get people to try more pizzas. They definitely help us sell more specialty pizzas.”

One year ago, Racanelli added his version of a personal pizza — a 10- to 12-inch pizzette ($6.95, with up to three toppings for 75 cents) to the menu. For $8.95, diners can order mini versions of specialty pizzas such as the margherita, chicken pesto or mad Cajun. The pizzette’s food cost is lower than regular-sized pizzas, says Racanelli, since it requires fewer ingredients, but the labor cost is higher since more pizzas need to be made.

At the Fox’s Pizza Den location in Lagrange, Georgia, the 5-inch Bambino was originally geared toward children, but so many adults requested it they added it to the main menu. “We sell 25 to 30 Bambinos a day,” says franchisee Dave Dopp. “We definitely couldn’t take it off the menu. A lot of people would be mad at us.”

Dopp estimates the Bambino has a 27 percent food cost. “It’s as simple to make as regular pizza,” he continues. The pies especially help operators capitalize on lunch specials. “The markup and profit for personal pizza should be the same as regular-sized pizzas, but if you only offer full-size pizzas during lunch, you may be losing business to sub shops and fast food restaurants who offer lunch specials,” says Lehmann. Instead, he suggests, operators menu a $5 personal pizza lunch special that includes a soft drink and chips. Lehmann also advises limiting the offering to the lunch daypart. “It erodes away from bigger meals,” he explains. “An individual pizza costs around $3 for dinner, while a 12-inch small will cost around $7. I’d rather customers order a small and take it home.”

Racanelli limits pizzettes sales to lunchtime since dinner service produces larger check averages — with the exception of Monday, which is “Customer Appreciation Day”. “When people split a pizzette at lunch and I get a smaller check average, it doesn’t bother me. But I do want to increase the check average at dinner.”

However, operators may want to consider restricting delivery orders to a minimum of two personal pizzas or limiting personal pizza for dine-in and carryout business only. “What does it cost to deliver a pizza? Add in insurance, gas and delivery charges, and I’d have a problem purchasing it as a buyer,” says Lehmann.

“Personal pizzas are definitely worth the time,” he continues. “You could probably sell slices just as well, but most people perceive individual-sized pizza better than slices. They think fresh-baked and are willing to pay more.” ?

Personal Pizza Tips
? Control your sauce. “The hardest thing about individual sized pizza is over saucing because it’s so small. Really watch when you sauce. If you put too much sauce on it will become soupy, and the toppings will slide off,” says Dave Dopp, owner of a Fox’s Pizza Den franchise.
? Consider using a cake pan. “An 8-inch personal pizza corresponds with a common cake size. If you are looking for individual-sized pizza pans, go to a used bakery equipment supplier and buy individual cake pans,” says Tom Lehmann, a director at the American Institute of Baking.
? Start small. “When you first introduce personal pizza, limit it to one meal period and see how it goes,” recommends Vito Rancelli, Jr. chef/owner of Onesto Pizza & Trattoria.

Melanie Wolkoff Wachsman is a freelance writer in Louisville, Kentucky. She covers food, business and lifestyle trends.