December 16, 2013 |

Low Cost Crowd Favorites

By Jeffrey Freehof

Cheap eats -- low-cost menu items can still please customers, dessert


Friends, I’m here to tell you that it’s time to stop talking about adding some new items to your menu and just do it. Putting it off is no longer an option. You’ve probably been talking about menu changes or additions for a year now. Sure, our mornings usually start with a well-planned day, filled with all the important things that need to get done. Then the phone calls and interruptions start. The second you finish handling the barrage of setbacks efficiently and effectively, a whole new set starts all over again. So let me help you carve out just a little bit of time to create some new grub for your guests that keep them coming back more frequently than ever and with a higher check average than usual!

We need to keep our customers intrigued and help create some extra excitement around the dinner table. With all the restaurants out there boasting menus with great variety –– and then adding conveniences like curbside pick up –– there are many folks, believe it or not, that make multiple stops on their way home for dinner so they can please everyone at the table (spoiled brats). They might pick up a House Specialty Pizza from your place, but did you know that some of your customers are stopping just down the street for your competitor’s fantastic Greek salad, because yours just doesn’t compare? Then they add in a quick visit to the bakery for something sweet, just because you haven’t figured out that a pre-made cookie isn’t really the way to make anybody say “wow!” I want to share a couple of desserts with you for starters because they’re quick and easy, low cost to make, utilize readily available ingredients and bring in additional sales with high profits.

When sub rolls have reached that point where they are just not a superior product anymore because they’ve lost their freshness, some throw them away. Still, many of you have fallen victim to that food cost ball and chain, needing to improve the bottom line, leaving you serving something inferior. My solution is to make some AMAZING bread pudding out of something that a lot of operators would have thrown away. The smart ones were making croutons for the salads (good job by the way), but bread pudding (when made right) is one of those comfort foods that just soothes the soul –– and it’s something most customers can’t resist.

To make it, cube up your not-so-fresh sub rolls. Make a custard mixture of milk and eggs, sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla and pour over the bread to soak it well. Bake it at 325 F for about 40 minutes or until the custard in the center is fully cooked. Portion it, chill it if you need to and heat them up to order. You know the place down the street with the awesome Greek salad? Well, you’re the place their customers will start coming to for your bread pudding! (Now, just improve your Greek salad and you’ll win them over entirely.)

Most of you have a fryer, and you all have pizza dough, so why aren’t you selling zeppole? You just need to cut your pizza dough into small pieces and then fry them and either sprinkle them with powdered sugar or toss them in cinnamon sugar. They take about a minute to fry, so adding this practically no-cost dessert to your menu is a no brainer! Fancy them up a bit by adding some whipped cream and drizzles of chocolate and caramel sauce.

I love my opportunities at Pizza Expo to chat with so many operators who are looking for new menu ideas, and I was so surprised to find out how many operators that sell pizza aren’t selling calzones. This is so easy that it should almost be illegal. Take your medium dough ball (about 12 ounces), and stretch it out as if you were going to make a pizza. Let your customer choose their filling (which come from your pizza toppings list) and fill the bottom half of the stretched out dough. Put your cheese and just a couple of tablespoons of pizza sauce, fold down the top of the dough and crimp the edges and make a slit in the top to let the steam escape while baking and bake it like a pizza. There, now you have calzones!

Garlic knots are an excellent upsell, and from what I can tell are usually found in the New York area. It’s an alternative to breadsticks, and honestly a whole lot better. Cut some one-ounce dough balls, roll them out to a few inches long and then tie them in a knot. Dip them in some melted butter or margarine and sprinkle some freshly chopped garlic on them. If you have an opportunity to make a dozen orders up a day, in pans and let them rise for about an hour, that will make them a bit lighter and amazing. You’ll probably sell out of these daily!

One more suggestion that I want you to start making is homemade pesto. The beautiful thing about it is that it’s fast and easy to make and can be used in so many different applications. Use pesto as your sauce for pizza, toss it with your pasta, add it to Alfredo to make a creamy pesto and add it to mayo for a new spread for sandwiches.

In a blender, add one pound of fresh basil with two cups of olive oil, five cloves of garlic, one tablespoon of salt and ½ cup Parmesan. (Pine nuts are traditionally used in pesto and would be added after it’s pureed). Pulse the blender until all the ingredients are blended into a beautiful pesto.

You can make all this happen within 24 hours, so stop scratching your head in wonder and do. Here’s another exciting tip for you. Most of the things I taught you here can be seen in my Pizza Today You Tube videos. Just search Chef Jeff Pizza Today!

Jeff Freehof owns The Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia. He is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today and a speaker at the Pizza Expo family of trade shows.