There is a consensus among pizzeria operators, “We will come out of this a stronger pizzeria industry.” Moments of crisis force business owners to take a hard look at how they operate. Many pizzerias adapted to dining restrictions, not by shuttering, but by changing the way they do business or taking what they excel at and doing it better.
We witnessed curbside pick-up come out of the fringes and dominate the market and menus change on a dime. Months long processes have been instituted in a day.
This moment has created a time of reflection to streamline business and institute operational strategies that will help them be more efficient and effective long term. We reached out to five high-performing pizzeria owners from around the U.S. to find what they are taking away from this crisis.
Jon Bortles of Woody’s Wood-fired Pizza in Golden, Colorado, has used this time to advance his pizzeria. “We’ve been in business for 27 years,” he says. “This pandemic has taught us that we cannot rest on our laurels. The motto ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ has been turned on its head. We are now in a perpetual state of ‘fix,’ or evolution, which stands to raise the bar for us all.”
As the state of Colorado instituted restrictions, Bortles and his team had to act quickly to help compensate for its 80- to 90-percent dine-in business. “Among the most beneficial of changes we made were technological in nature; utilizing handhelds for curbside order taking and payments, adjusting prep times for online orders in real time, integrating third-party deliveries with our POS, and developing an expo system using our Kitchen Display Screen (KDS) were all game changers for us,” he says. “We are a volume-dependent business, so these efficiencies are crucial.”
Once full dining capacity resumes, Bortles says, “Honestly I don’t see any of these new systems going anywhere. To echo an over-used term, this is indeed the ‘new normal.’ Whereas before maybe we could afford to lose a few covers during peak times, now we need to capture as close to 100 percent of orders to compensate for sales we’ve lost elsewhere.”
Adding text messaging has been pivotal for Back Road Pizza in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Cheshire Pizza and Ale in Cheshire, Connecticut. Both pizzerias added the service to free up their jammed phone systems.
Piper Kapin, who owns Back Road Pizza says, texting and curbside pick-up will live on at the pizzeria after the pandemic subsides. “We switched quickly (before dining got shut down) to a 100-percent no contact curbside pick-up system with a text # for folks to send their name when they arrive. The text line has opened up our phone line, which was impossible to get through when this all started with everyone calling when they were there to pick up.”
Cheshire Pizza co-owner Dimitri Magriplis says they “send out automated text messages to customers once their order is ready to be picked up, which has mitigated the long wait times due to high volume. High volume during peak hours has been the biggest issue most pizza places have had to face because of COVID-19 (resulting in disgruntled customers).” Automated texts will definitely remain, he says.
Last fall, Magriplis says, Cheshire launched in-house delivery. It’s a move that has paid off well shifting to DELCO only amidst COVID-19.
Online ordering has been a critical during the COVID-19 crisis and customers will continue want to order online. Reese Browning, who owns the three-unit Old Town Pizza in Auburn, California, focused on making it easier for customers to order both online and over the phone. “We will continue to work on improving online ordering and encourage this even for dine in customers,” he says.
Honing in on menu strengths has been echoed by countless operators. Jeff Janik of Milton’s Pizza in Raleigh, North Carolina, drastically cut menus at his two locations presenting an opportunity to dial in his training program. “The biggest thing for us is more direct, clear, efficient and consistent training,” he says. “In order to make that happen we have had to greatly change our menu. We are going to try and stop being everything to everyone. We are getting back to our core business. The items that we sell the most of have remained constant for 40 years. We will focus on executing those well FOH and BOH.
“Training consistently and following up with same expectations helps all staff to succeed. When we try to teach and train that so many things are important…nothing stands out as important. We are better now!”
How will we as the pizzeria industry grow and evolve from this uncertain time?
Jeff Janik: “Guests will remember how well they were treated by their favorite local pizzeria during the crisis. So many pizzerias treated the community with KGR ..Kindness Gratitude and Respect and the guests will be more than willing to pay that forward. We have all been essential. We have helped to keep the community fed. I am proud of the work and innovation that has been shown by restaurants and super excited to grow as the world gets back to work!”
Piper Kapin: “We are a vast industry and the growth and evolution will look different for many along the spectrum. For small/medium size independent operations I believe our resilience, community relationships and scrappy hard-working ways will get us through these challenging times and into a brighter future.”
Dimitri Magriplis: “The hospitality industry is suffering greatly. Amazingly enough because of the systems that certain businesses have put in place it has been an amazing opportunity to grow our customer base. Always have the capability to pivot and make it a goal to stay ahead of your competition.”
Reese Browning: “Be increasingly easy and quick to do business with. Being actively involved in the communities we serve helped build loyalty that then got paid back to us with the support we received during this time. We will not stop giving back and supporting our communities. Our customers are passionate about many things and it just makes sense for us to support their passions since they support us and our passion.”
Jon Bortles: “Pizza is a cuisine that weathers all storms. When the economy is booming, people eat pizza. When the economy crashes, people eat pizza. The question is how can we adopt/adapt sustainable safety standards for dine-in while exploring a business model that demands more and more off-premise sales.”