April 1, 2018 |

Portion Theory

By Pizza Today

shredded mozzarella cheese

It’s simple — you wanna throw money away or pocket it?

This magazine has a lot of articles on why you should portion your product. There are several arguments for the practice, with cost savings and consistency being the two most obvious. There is no good argument against it. None. Laziness is not a good argument. If you don’t monitor your costs, then you don’t own a business — you own a hobby (one that won’t be around for long).

The fact that YOU right now are reading this shows that you do care about cost savings. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be the type of operator to read up on how to get better. You would be the operator who thinks they have it all figured out and everyone else is doing it wrong.

So, at this point we can agree on portioning and that it’s a good thing to do. Now I’m going to give some insights on the different ways to go about doing it.

Weighing cheese

The most important thing to portion properly and get savvy about is your cheese. This is the biggest absolute must. You and your staff need to respect every single shred of cheese like it’s gold (because from a monetary prospective, it is).

Here are some ways to weigh cheese (If this seems overly thought out, know that it is because I have seen several ways to screw this up):

  • The Cup Method. This one is a cut from the “Big Dave” play book. Buy regular cups that can hold your cheese portion. So if you sell a 14-inch pizza that uses seven ounces of mozzarella, then weigh out a bunch of seven-ounce cups of mozzarella as part of prep duties. It’s basic, dependable and very controlled. If you purchase a pre-cut cheese that is consistently the same volume, then you could use a line on the cup as a fill limit that typically equates to the same ounce weight each time. But this method is not fool proof, so I don’t endorse it.
  • By Weight to Order. This is the more typical way to portion cheese. Beware of how it is done, though. A digital scale under your whole pizza is great, so long as the weight is easily viewable and the tare of the scale can occur every time. When you have multiple pizza sizes this gets more confusing.

Also, you’ll see cheese getting dropped on the ride from bin to hand to bowl if the bowl is not over the bin. Pans and racks to catch loose cheese are good fail safes, but ideally the cheese never misses the pizza to begin with. Another very important tip for this method is to drop the cheese into the center of the pizza and then spread.

Your procedures will not be followed consistently if you do not have a security camera on the scale. Ideally, use a high-enough resolution camera to see what the measure is so that your staff is not just acting out the movement of weighing for the camera. Also, testing staff on what the weights are is imperative. Having a list of the weights right in front of the scale is ideal, but can turn into a crutch. If a staff member disobeys the proper portion, you need to do a statement firing announcing that this will not be tolerated so everyone knows this is not up for debate: you will portion no matter how slow or busy it is, no matter how long you have worked here or what you did at your last job. All staff must respect this as the law of the land.

For all other toppings, this can get a little tricky. You want staff to portion, but you are afraid that if you make it too hard no one will do it. It all boils down to how you quantify each topping.

Here are the increments I use:

  • Ounces. I measure mozzarella/cheese in ounces.
  • Grams. I use grams for all my detailed prep recipes. But in the mix of a prep-line rush I use ounces because it’s easier. For doughs and specific prep items like sausage or meatballs, however, grams are best.
  • Slices. The total quantity of salami can be done easiest with slices (20 slices on a medium, for example). Having a photo of proper placement is ideal to make sure the staff places them the distance apart from each other that you want. Choosing slices of green bell peppers vs. cup measurements depends on if they are diced or circular slices.
  • Cups. Mushrooms, olives, etc. are hard to count out and are better in a cup measure. If you want to buy half cups, that’s fine. Or if you have multiple sizes it might be a 1  / 3 cup or ½ cup for some items and full cup for others. This is not perfectly even, but having multiple sizes of cups on the line might be too much for your crew if you have many different sizes and specialty pizzas.
  • Tablespoons. I like tablespoons for garlic or finishing cheese like pecorino Romano. Scoop it, level it off and move on. Brush it from that point on for garlic or shake it out on top — as long as it’s measured to start.
  • Teaspoons. Good for very finite, small amounts of something like powders or salt.
  • Drizzle Lines. For items like olive oil or balsamic glaze, you can’t use a cup measure. But seven progressive lines zig-zagging on a medium pizza is a good way to gain consistency. 
  • Ice Cream Scoop. For items like ricotta, raw sausage or raw ground beef, you can use a set leveled-off scoop from an ice cream scooper to then take the product and place on as you see fit. The ones with the lever that scrapes the inside of the scoop work best.
  • Pieces. In tandem with the scooper, you can say a 16-inch pizza has six ounces of raw sausage, which equals two three-ounce scoopers, for example. Once you have the right amount, it should be 34 pieces on the pizza. This also helps to define via pictures and training on how you want the placement and look of the item to be.
  • Dollops. Ricotta is best for this. And just like sausage, define the height, circumference and distance between each.
  • Spoodles. Some operators hate these, but they do deliver better consistency than a spoon alone. Even a ladle can be problematic. Spoodles mean consistency for sauces.

Items I do not use and would never suggest because they are undefined: handful; skosh; dash; shake or pinch.

Everyone’s hand size is different. Also, each person’s tendency to do it “their way” will lead to mixed results with these undefined measurements. Avoid these.

Most of all, lead by example and know the measurements yourself. Have a book on what each pizza should have. If you have a small menu, put it right in front of the crew on their make line with pictures. Watch staff on camera and consistently quiz them. Walk in and say to your new and seasoned crew, “So how many pepperonis on a small?” and “How many cups of mushrooms on the combo?”

Keep them on their feet and you’ll get results.

Mike Bausch is the owner of Andolini’s Pizzeria in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He is a frequent speaker at the International Pizza Expo family of tradeshows.