October 1, 2011 |


By Denise Greer

Imagine this scenario: You’ve just launched a series of four pesto-inspired pizzas. To promote your new menu items, you gear up for a one-day promotional event, practically giving away the pizzas.
You’ve advertised the heck out of the promo and even received local media coverage.

But are you ready to handle the big day?

Executing a limited time promotion is an intricate operation. The difference between success and a flop lies in the planning, says Richard Allum, director of marketing at Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria Restaurants in Montara, California. In March, Amici’s drew more than 1,000 people to a two-hour autograph event with 19 NHL San Jose Sharks players at its Cupertino location, raising $14,400 for the San Jose Sharks Foundation.

“It’s very important to make sure everything is set up with the team, everything is set up with various media partners, and obviously internally within the organization to be able to handle the volume of business that we think we are going to be able to get on that day,” Allum says.

Anticipating volume is one of the more challenging aspects of planning a large promotion. “You have to plan for the best case scenario in terms of being absolutely swamped,” Allum says.

This year in Brooklyn, New York, Chipp Neapolitan Pizza offered a free six-inch pizza to nearby Kingsborough Community College’s student body of more than 20,000. Owner Lenny Veltman circulated 5,000 fliers on campus.

Milas King of DaVinci’s Pizzeria in Smyrna, Georgia, took a limiting
approach to the volume for his combined “Take Over Smyrna” and “Facebook friends eat free” promotional day last fall. DaVinci’s offered a free small pizza to 540 people who “liked” the restaurant on Facebook. The company also partnered with 50 Smyrna businesses, which gave their customers 1,500 free small pizza coupons redeemable for that day only. Creating a finite number to work with made it more manageable. Also, King says he can now project a 30 percent redemption rate after going through several successful runs of the event. In the beginning, King says, he figured a 15-percent redemption would constitute a good day.

Once the numbers are projected, it’s time to move on to logistics. Months leading up to the promo are spent calculating product supply orders for your promo week based on volume projections and normal orders for the day.

Kitchen prep is the focus a day before and especially the morning of an event. “We prep everything at 5 a.m.,” King says. Doubling the amount of meats and vegetables, DaVinci’s staff chops and seasons all morning. “We have tubs that we rotate,” he says of how the kitchen organizes supplies. “It really keeps from having inventory problems.”

Inventory and kitchen prep for most operators is the manageable part. The big question becomes: how can your restaurant handle the volume you’ve projected while keeping with your standards of quality?

For Allum, Veltman and King, honing in on their restaurants’ capabilities and capacity made all of the difference. There are so many components that affect the efficiency of the promotion from the selection of product(s) offered during the promotion to the layout of the restaurant.

Veltman wanted people to try Chipp’s pizza in its truest form, making the offer dine-in only. “The real taste is 100-percent straight from the oven to your plate,” Veltman says.

Veltman adds: “You never know what exposure you are going to get. But no matter what, I was ready.”

There were operational considerations at Chipp’s with the promotion. With one 800-degree oven built for speed, cooking 10 six-inch pizzas in about a minute, Chipp’s provides quick service. Even with a small dining area, Veltman turns tables over rapidly due to the size of the product and the lack of wait time to fill orders.

DaVinci’s promo was the exact opposite, made available for carryout only. King says the limit helped to not disrupt their regular dine-in and delivery business, saved on labor costs and optimized the store’s layout. “Our restaurant is shaped like an L,” he says. “So they place their order on one side, get their pizza and go out the other door. So it creates this flow.”

Allum knew that the Amici’s location wouldn’t seat 1,000 people in a few short hours, so the restaurant made a few deviations. He brought in staff and managers from locations near two major venues, because these employees were accustomed to dealing with high volumes in short time periods. And even though Amici’s doesn’t normally offer slices, they did for the event. “It’s just a great way to get people to sample our product,” he says. “We sell two slices for $4. It was very inexpensive. We know from experience that there is no better advertising for what we do than to actually get people to eat the pizza.”

Though high volumes may be chaotic at times, lines outside your restaurant aren’t a bad thing, according to King and Allum. Amici’s and DaVinci’s are on busy roads, so the lines create, as King puts it, that “what’s going on over there?” buzz.

Denise Greer is associate editor at Pizza Today.