2009 December: Ask Chef Jeff

Q: I’ve had several students try to do a school internship in my restaurant. I’ve avoided it until now, but I’m reconsidering. Would this be good or bad for my business?

A: Depending on the student, it could be a very good situation. It does require a little extra time to complete their paperwork and ensure you provide them with the proper learning environment. Make sure you interview them properly to see that they are really interested in the business, otherwise it will be a complete waste of your time. I had a student once who did such a bad job that, after explaining it to the school, they removed her from the program. On the other hand, I’ve hired excellent people after their internship was over.

Q: I’ve been in business since 1973 and have had a steady and successful career. I see new pizzerias opening with all kinds of new ideas and pasta dishes, and my sales are starting to slump. How do I keep up?

A: It’s so easy to get complacent and stick with the “same old, same old” or “if it ain’t broke, don’t fi x it” mentality. Then there are those who stay ahead of the curve with cutting-edge new ideas. That’s what I like to do. Get creative. There are probably 10 new dishes you can create in your restaurant right now without having to add one single ingredient. Look at other menus. Check out the recipes in Pizza Today and on PizzaToday.com. Experiment with ideas and try them out on your existing customers. They’ll be honest and tell you what they think! This is why the chains are always coming out with new products.

Q: I need to raise prices, but I don’t think I can for fear of losing customers. Is there another way to protect my bottom line?

A: In times like these, a different approach is necessary. Constantly be looking at new products that offer the same quality (or better) at less cost. Find small ways to cut costs by using portion control and trimming portion size just slightly — but keep the price the same. Taking steps to eliminate waste and preventing theft by properly taking inventory and other controls will ultimately help your bottom line.

Q: There’s a terrible pizza place next to me that offers a ‘Buy 1, Get 1 Free’ on Tuesday nights. I can’t compete with them. Since our Tuesday nights have dropped in sales, I’m thinking of closing that night. Is this the right thing to do?

A: You could close if you really want to let your competitor control your destiny. Take control of the situation. You say they are terrible. Then promote the fact that you have a higher quality pizza, and use exact justifi – cations that show your marketing audience why your pizza is better. ?

Jeffrey Freehof, owner of The Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia, is Pizza Today’s resident expert. Send your questions to: Ask Chef Jeff, c/o Pizza Today, 908 South Eighth Street, Suite 200, Louisville, Kentucky, 40203.

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