How pizzerias are thriving in strange times
When restaurants nationwide began trying to figure out how to sustain business during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there were more questions than answers. And though it remains overwhelming and there still are so many questions, pizzerias have done a really excellent job of adapting to “the new normal.” Perhaps it is because the industry is already well suited to handle carryout and delivery on a massive scale. But there just may be more to it.
Let’s start with being in the hospitality industry. I have personally visited probably 1,000+ pizzerias over the years now from coast to coast. And one thing I constantly encounter is this fact: pizzerias get it. You know how to be hospitable. You take care of your customers. You take care of your staff, who in turn perform admirably on behalf of your company.
Then there’s food quality … most of you get high marks there, too. You take pride in letting your ingredients shine. And, yes, you know how to produce a product that travels well. Most styles of pizza withstand the rigors of carryout and delivery (sometimes by a third party) far better than other types of food.
When we’ve spoken to pizzeria owners lately about how they’ve thrived in 2020, one thing that often comes up is this: a streamlined menu.
“We saw it as a must,” Tony Gemignani told us recently while recording an episode of The Hot Slice podcast. “We had to get lean and really think about what we could efficiently pull off in our kitchens and get to the customer who was picking it up or using a delivery option.”
Scott Sandler of Pizza Head in St. Louis did the same thing, but streamlined a bit differently than he thought he would.
“We have sold a lot of slices, historically,” he explains. “People like to come in, get a slice or two and a beer, hang out a minute and move on. But with the quarantine and without all the foot traffic, we’ve gone to whole pies. It just made sense for us as we were handling online or call-in orders vs. people stopping in.”
The result is that Pizza Head’s ticket average and revenue has increased, but Sandler nonetheless was left a bit conflicted.
“Sometimes it does bother me, because slices are how we had built our business,” he says. “But you have to change with the times and this was just a part of that. We wouldn’t survive on online slice orders, I don’t believe, but we are thriving and doing great with whole pie orders. So while slices have been our identity, we’ve had to completely change how we do things to focus on filling orders for whole pizzas.”
There may never have been a better time than now to perform a menu analysis. Go over each and every item on your menu and figure its cost (you should already have that info available) and contribution margin. How does each item play into your menu mix? Look at your historical records pre-COVID. Since the quarantine hit and new procedures took over, how have sales of that item changed. Is it more popular? Selling less? Is the effort to produce it still justified? Does it travel well?
You may inevitably find there are old favorites that need to be paused. You may be shocked to realize an item you previously undervalued is now more important than ever to your menu mix. If you aren’t diligently poring over the numbers, you’re probably missing out on something.
“When we made some changes to Capo’s after re-opening, they were pretty big changes,” Gemignani says. “We completely re-did the menu. A few people were caught off guard. They wanted to know where this dish went or where that item went and why it wasn’t still on the menu. You end up taking off someone’s favorite item and you hate that. But I would explain to them what we did and why we had to make the changes and people understand. They know we are in different times.”
JEREMY WHITE is Editor-in-Chief of Pizza Today.