Learn more about your competition and the industry by touring other pizzerias
Let’s pretend for just one page in this magazine that you aren’t 100-percent satisfied with your pizza. You’ve been making it for years but a little voice in your head tells you there’s more out there than you ever thought possible. You ignore the voice at first, but eventually it grows so loud that you must give in and set out on a journey of epic proportions. This, my friends, is a pizza crawl. I’ve noticed a recent trend in which restaurateurs are embarking on massive pizza-research excursions and building stronger businesses and products because of it. As someone who makes a living leading people on such trips, I’ve put together a short set of tips and guidelines for organizing your own pizza crawl:
• Plan your route. Make a list of all the pizzerias you want to hit and be sure to note their hours. I’ve made the mistake of visiting pizzerias at noon when they don’t open until 5 p.m. and it’s embarrassing. Next, plot your stops on a map so you’re not doubling back on the same ground. I like Google Maps for this because I can list my stops and swap their order until the route looks clean. Factor in transportation time between stops and do some research about the pace of each pizzeria to minimize downtime. I once visited 19 Chicago pizzerias in two days and it was only possible because we preordered deep-dish pizzas, which baked as I found my parking spot.
• Eat and drink carefully. Stick with simple pizzas and order the same thing at each stop; you want to compare apples to apples. If a pizzeria had a particular specialty, definitely order it. Just pace yourself. Going overboard at the first stop is a rookie mistake that could cost you dearly. If you don’t like something, stop eating it. If you’re ordering several pizzas at one stop, ask to have them staggered so they don’t all reach the table at the same time. Wood-fired pizza tends to get tough a few minutes out of the oven and so it’s best to give each one a fair shake. As for drinks, avoid beer and soda. Water is your best beverage bet if you want to go the distance without filling up. Nix the ice –– it could cool your stomach to the point where it hardens cheese, making it more difficult to digest. Also skip the straw –– it’s going to pull unwanted air into your stomach and we need that space for pizza!
• Bring a crew. This might be your staff, managers, significant others or even a dedicated customer. Just be sure you have some civilians (non pizza pros) so there’s an unbiased voice in the group. The more people you have, the more pizzas you can try at each stop. Just keep in mind that seating is tough with large groups, but if you go off-peak you should be OK. Be sure nobody in your group is wearing your pizzeria’s shirt (or any pizza shirt for that matter). That’s like wearing a Mötley Crüe shirt to a Van Halen concert. Don’t be that guy.
• Keep an open mind. I know you make the best pizza in the world and you’re going to want to point out everything that isn’t as good as your pizza, but that’s a waste of a trip. Notice the aspects of each stop that are different from what you’re used to; there’s a good chance you’ll see things you like.
Pizza crawling is a lot of fun and extremely educational. It’s easy to get so used to your own operation that you forget what else is out there, but the most successful businesses adapt and stay current with the needs of their customers. There are lots of pizzerias out there and each of them has something special that you’ve never even considered. Take some time to see, and taste, for yourself!
Scott Wiener owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City.