I just read a quote that completely terrified me –– and for once it wasn’t spoken by a politician! In late 2015, the head of a major food company suggested to investors that their ailing pizza chain should concentrate less on making good food and more on making their food easier to buy. As someone who enjoys eating delicious food, my heart sank when I read his words. Not that I was surprised to learn that a huge pizza chain was more concerned with the bottom line than they were with their product, but the blatant disregard for the end product really hit me. Independent pizzeria operators often follow the cues of their biggest competitors, but this one feels like the shotgun bang at the beginning of a race to the bottom.
The real problem I have with saying that easy is better than good is that the two are not inversely proportional. This is pizza, after all. It’s a handful of ingredients mixed together, flattened, topped with a few other ingredients and then baked. It couldn’t get much simpler. There’s why I’m offended by the idea that making good pizza is just too hard to do when you’re trying to maximize another part of your business model.
On the upside, I completely agree with the concept of streamlining the ordering process. Sloppy menus with too many items overwhelm me, so I appreciate brevity in that respect. This is one of the main reasons for the growth in fast casual. It takes complex processes and reduces them to their components. A dish is no longer a fully realized product; now it’s a choice of pasta shapes, sauces and proteins. Maybe it’s a choice of tortillas, beans, proteins and salsa heat levels. Or perhaps it’s a choice of crusts, sauces, cheeses and toppings. As soon as your chef’s ego heals, you’ll admit it’s easier for the customer. This is not my preferred way to experience food, but I can see the allure for a business that’s concerned with speed.
Last week I challenged myself to investigate this new restaurant trend by visiting two concepts that utilize a streamlined ordering system. One was a Greek restaurant in New York and the other served poké (Hawaiian raw fish salad) in Seattle. Both were extremely simple, with menu boards clearly defining each step of the ordering process. Both ordering processes were super simple, and I was at my tables with fresh meals within minutes of arriving. Now for the bad news: only one of the dishes was any good. Taking the easy way out only gets you so far before everyone realizes that the emperor is not wearing any clothing.
It’s highly effective to put yourself in the mind of your customer to better understand your pizzeria’s flow. Any bottlenecks in the system can and should be fixed before they clog up the whole place. Just remember that the customer probably won’t come back for your easy ordering system if the pizza they get tastes like garbage.
Scott Wiener is the founder of Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City and SliceOutHunger.org.