2011 May: Ask Big Dave

Dave, I have a full-service pizzeria with a fairly big dessert menu. My desserts have been pretty successful, but they slow table turns. Do you have any tricks up your sleeve that will help me move customers through a little quicker without losing those dessert sales?

Shannon Weaver
Chicago, Illinois

I’m so glad to hear that your dessert line is popular. The real issue seems to be how you can raise your gross sales if you have guests squatting in the dining room, nibbling on dessert. Understand that your guests are looking for a dining experience, not a meal. Rather than try to cut the experience short so you can get another table turned, I’d be glad they don’t want to leave and would simply raise the rent. I’d train my wait staff to suggestively sell paired wines and upscale coffees along with the dessert. The longer the guest stays, the more they spend if your wait staff is effective. Bundle your desserts with a story and a beverage or raise prices. When a guest feels like they are getting “the bum’s rush,” something clicks in their subconscious. They reward your behavior by not returning as often. If they really have a bummer experience they may never come back. Most people will excuse a bad meal from time to time, but not indifferent or snooty service.
At International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, my eldest son and I dined at Emeril’s at the MGM Grand. We were greeted, seated, watered, menued and treated to a small sampler of desserts to share in the first 5 minutes. Our server immediately scored huge points. He accomplished Awareness and Trial in one quick surprise move. During the course of dinner, he ascertained we were conventioneers and brought over a dessert wagon with the pastry chef to refresh our memories on how wonderful the free pre-meal samples were. He offered to package any dessert for the road. We bit and oinked out in our room an hour later. Also, you may want to look for ways to expand seating. My good friend and client, Joe Moore of Totora’s in Huntsville, Alabama, made a beautiful outside dining area that is used nine months of the year.

I will be opening my first pizzeria this summer. I’m really struggling with the dough, but want to make it myself in-house. I need a fool-proof recipe. Can you help me?

Daniel Warren
Lincoln, Nebraska

I’d be happy to. If you contact me (888-BIG-DAVE), I’ll send you my formula for “Old Faithful” — the dough I used for 35 years. It’s great dough for hand-stretched, medium-crust pizza that performs well in a deck oven. I also have other formulas available. Dough is a living organism. It has a birth, maturity and death. Dough management is as important as the recipe. You really should arrange to intern a day or so with a teacher to really understand and get it. It is very hands on. I spent a week learning classic Italian and Neapolitan dough making at Tony’s International School of Pizza in San Francisco last summer. To make great dough, you need to first learn the chemistry of what every ingredient does. The interaction that takes place between the ingredients will determine color, mouthfeel, elasticity, ease of opening the dough ball and so on. Like my mentor Tom Lehmann says: “Ninety percent of all dough problems can be fixed with a cheap thermometer and a scale.”

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. You’ve got questions … our expert has the answers.

Submit your questions via e-mail to Jeremy White (jwhite@pizzatoday.com) — make sure to put “Ask Big Dave” in the subject line. We’ll pass the best questions on to Dave each month for his highly sought-after advice.