2009 October: Ask Chef Jeff

Q: I read that most pizzerias aren’t using Facebook and Twitter yet. What is your experience with social networking in your business? How do you use it?

A: Networking is critical to restaurants. I have always been involved with networking groups where we actually meet in person, socialize and pass referrals to one another. It’s been an integral part of building my business and incredibly benefi cial in getting my name, face and product in front of community. Internet sites like Twitter and Facebook are new to me and are not part of our culture. Honestly, I’ve avoided them until recently. It takes a little bit of time to build a good following, but you need to be consistent in offering valuable discounts and info about your food for it to be effective! I offer Twitter followers something for free if they come in with the printed version of our offer. Or they can show us the text on their phone and get the freebee.

Q: Tell me if a gas convection oven is any good for baking pizzas. I can buy one at a great price.

A: A convection oven is not traditionally a great pizzabaking oven, but it can be done. You must use screens or disks, however. It’s best to fi nish the pizza on the bottom fl oor of the oven to give it that last bit of crisp. So the answer is yes, you can, but it really wouldn’t work well for a high-volume pizzeria. It would be good if you added some pizza to a bar menu or if it were a smaller percentage of your menu sales.

Q: We’ve added some grilled sandwiches to our menu using a household grill. They’re really catching on and I think it’s time to invest in a more practical panini grill. What’s your advice?

A: Panini are a great addition to a menu, but don’t be suckered into buying a $500 grill that will hold one or two sandwiches. A fl attop grill that you may already have can be used for Panini. Simply use a steak weight and keep it on the grill so it’s hot. Grill the sandwich to order with the weight on top of it and you’ll have the same result: a pressed, grilled sandwich!

Q: How do you pick the right applicant out of many?
I find that they can say all the right things but end up being useless! How can you tell which one will actually work out?

A: I have implemented an observation day. After interviewing someone that I think is a great candidate, I have them come in for a paid observation day. I explain that it is not simply to stand back and watch, but it really is like the fi rst day of training and tell them you want them to show you what they are capable of. It’s their chance to observe our business and our chance to see if they have what it takes to make it. If they don’t impress you, don’t hire them! ?

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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