We’ve learned long before now how important it is to please our customers. “Overwhelm the guest” is how I like to think of it. What I find quite fascinating as our economy has tanked is that the smart operators –– whether it be the big chains or the independent restaurants –– have been forced to sharpen their pencils when it comes to being creative and are finding new ways to get customers in their restaurants. The reason it has been so challenging is because folks are spending less, which usually means eating out less. These particular circumstances have the consumer thinking differently as well. Let’s face it. Even though we are operators, we are also consumers. The last thing I want to do after cooking all day is to go home and cook dinner. We all love to go out to eat. There are more choices and more avenues and venues than ever before in history. So, consumers have figured out that if they change their spending habits by spending less money on each meal, they can continue to eat out as often as they used to, while spending less than they used to. I’ve never seen so many people using coupons in my life. I think the pizza industry is about as recession proof as any other food business.
The interesting thing that has happened during these changing times is that the consumer has increasingly become pickier about how they want their food prepared. Sure, we’ve been making half and half pizza for decades in virtually hundreds of different combinations. Half cheese with the other half pepperoni is no problem. Lots of times, folks would get a couple of medium pies, one for the kids and one for the parents. These days, to be as frugal as possible, we’re noticing that families realize that one large pie is sufficient and economical for the whole family. The problem is they now want to have half one kind of specialty pie and the other half another. Ten years ago, I used to tell guests that on the specialty pies, especially ones with different sauce, that we could not do them as half and half pies. I knew the sauces would run together while the pizza baked. It wasn’t so much of an issue then and they would order one of each. Today, it’s almost too risky to say no and potentially lose the sale. So we put on our thinking cap, and make it happen, continuing on with the tradition of “overwhelming the guest”! The baking of a half cheese and half classic pizza is difficult because the baking time would be different for these pies if they were separate pizzas. If you use a conveyor, you simply push the pizza half-way back in the oven, cooking the loaded side an extra minute or so. If you have a deck, you find that sweet little hot spot to finish that side of the pizza. It’s certainly more complicated than separate pies, but at the end of the day, saying no could result in the customers’ dollars ending up in your competitor’s cash register instead of yours. Now that would be a bummer! Besides, we all know that folks who read this magazine have the best pizza in their town, and why deprive your guests of that?
Here’s where things get tricky –– but don’t panic, I’ll walk you through it. Say, for instance, a table wants half a Buffalo chicken pizza and half spinach Alfredo pizza. It used to be a nightmare to even imagine the complaints that could roll in if we even attempted such a thing. We all know the sauces will run together, and it could turn out to be a nightmare. Who wants a spicy Buffalo Alfredo pizza? Yuck! There’s an easy solution which will simply take you an extra 60 seconds to overwhelm your guests. Go ahead and stretch out your dough. Before you place it in your pizza pan or on your screen, take your pizza cutter and trim a quarterinch edge off of your pizza dough to place down the center of your stretched pizza to use as a barrier. Place it right down the middle of your pizza. Now go ahead and sauce and top each side. Have no worries about your Buffalo sauce mixing with your Alfredo, or your BBQ sauce mixing with your pesto. I think it’s the best way to please those picky customers who only want to buy just one pizza instead of two. If you sell slices, you can also use this technique to create just four slices of two different kinds of gourmet pizza. That keeps your pizza slices as fresh as possible, while allowing you to offer some gourmet choices where you may not have attempted to before.
Now, we all understand that on a crazy busy night, it will take an extra minute or so to create this “two-faced” pizza. So just make sure your staff explains to those customers that you are delighted to accommodate their special order, but because of the extra preparation time, that you’ll need a few extra minutes. It’s easy to resist this kind of change. Staff doesn’t like to do anything harder than they need to, but as I have shared a hundred times before, as operators, we need to ask ourselves a very important question. What separates us from our competitors? Along with all the other amazing things that you already do, like providing freshly made dough, high quality ingredients and toppings, now you can add that you custom-make pizzas for your customers, even if it’s creating a half and half specialty pizza with two different sauces.
No matter how much extra you are willing to do for your customers, they will always find a new way to push you a little further. Before you refuse, give it some serious thought and do your best to provide them with all they want, as long as it doesn’t compromise your overall business! ?
Jeffrey Freehof, owner of The Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia, is Pizza Today’s resident expert.