Forgetting Full Service
For some pizzerias, the front of the house looks and functions a bit differently these days.
Pushed by the pandemic and labor market forces, operators across the U.S. have reevaluated their in-store service models. For many, this reflection spurred a shift, including doing away with the traditional full-service model in favor of hybrid models incorporating elements found at quick-service eateries.
Three veteran operators talk about the unique service models they employ.
St. Angelo’s Pizza, Atlanta
For a dozen years, Sean Rowe ran his flagship St. Angelo’s Pizza location in Atlanta as a traditional full-service operation. Anticipating potential upheaval from a bubbling public health crisis overseas, Rowe assembled his team in February 2020 and detailed plans for a new fast casual-like service model. No more servers. Across-the-board raises. Required tip sharing.
When indoor dining resumed after a nearly two-month pandemic-induced shutdown, St. Angelo’s unveiled its new service model.
After guests order at the counter, they receive an Italian-themed placard for their chosen table – some feature Italian celebrities like Joe Pesci or Robert DeNiro while others host relevant imagery like the map of Italy – and await food delivery. Staff then travel around the dining room with handheld tablets to follow up with guests and fulfill any additional requests.
“We didn’t want to lose that element of guest engagement,” says Rowe, who eased into the new
service model by first incorporating the handheld devices before renovating the 2,500-square foot restaurant to alter traffic flow.
Even though Rowe’s labor costs have climbed about five percent, he holds no regrets about switching service models. Besides vanquishing his constant hunt for capable servers, Rowe says the move has transformed employee morale at St. Angelo’s, bolstered staff retention rates and enhanced teamwork since everyone is incentivized to hustle – all of which has elevated the guest experience.
“A better culture and an improved guest experience only helps us,” says Rowe, who maintained full-service operations at the 6,500-square foot St. Angelo’s in Cartersville, Georgia, given that restaurant’s large-group business.
A tip for his fellow operators: “Carefully consider the impact of any change on your employees and your guests. If you’re the only one benefiting from the change, then you’re going to have a problem.”
Park Street Pizza, Sugarcreek, Ohio
After operating as a carryout and delivery spot for five years, Rocky Shanower built a new home for Park Street Pizza in 2008 featuring an eight-table dining room. Quickly, though, Shanower realized he erred.
“Full service just wasn’t my jam,” he says.
So, Shanower adopted the familiar quick-service model. Guests ordered and paid at the front counter, where they also received their drink cup and a buzzer alerting them their meal was ready for pickup.
“But that caused a cluster at our pickup counter,” Shanower says.
So, he shifted gears again.
Today, Park Street customers order, pay and receive their beverage cup at the counter before selecting a seat in the eatery’s 100-seat dining room or on its 50-seat patio. Using a table tracking device, staff then deliver food to the table. Staff also roam the dining room delivering carryout boxes and bussing tables.
Shanower says this service model puts guests in control of their experience, eliminating two frequent customer pain points when dining out – waiting on a check or a refill – while also driving faster table turns.
“We do everything we can to make this experience as seamless as possible for our guests,” Shanower says.
Park Street staff are cross-trained, which empowers them to problem solve and contribute to steady,
efficient operations. A touchscreen expediting monitor near the kitchen allows staff to quickly fulfill orders while a subtle reserve sign system accelerates guest seating. An orange sign indicates a table needs to be cleaned; black signals a table is ready for guests.
“All team members are engaged in customer service, so there’s no one person making or breaking the experience,” Shanower says.
A tip for his fellow operators: “Make sure you’re building in a focus on the guest experience. If you strip things down too much and rely too heavily on technology, how are you driving an emotional connection and winning the heart of the guest?”
Regents Pizzeria, La Jolla, California
One of the nation’s highest-revenue, single-unit pizzerias, Regents Pizzeria is a Southern California staple for tasty pies and craft beer, the latter being what drives the 150-seat restaurant’s unique service model.
Upon entering Regents, guests are directed to the rear of the eatery. If guests only want food, they veer left to order at one of three registers. If guests want food and beer, however, they head right to the Regents’ bar, which also hosts three registers.
“We force a choice,” Regents owner Bill Vivian says.
San Diego’s savvy and sophisticated beer crowd wants a beer authority sharing knowledge and smart recommendations, Vivian says. As all of Regents’ bartenders are Cicerone-certified beer servers, they can hold their own discussing the pizzeria’s rotating 32-tap selection.
“You can’t BS a beer nerd,” Vivian says, who calls this model best for Regents’ beer-loving customers as well as its bartenders who receive tips on food and drink. (The three food-only registers tip pool.)
After guests place their order, they take a number to their table and await tableside delivery. If guests wish to grab another beer, they return to the bar. Though Regents experimented with roving bartenders, that practice failed to click.
“We found our guests preferred walking back up to the bar for another interaction with the
bartender,” Vivian says.
A 40-year veteran of the restaurant business, Vivian says the Regents’ model mixes the speed,
efficiency and cost savings engrained in quick-service operations with the product knowledge and high-touch service present in successful full-service restaurants.
“It’s a model that gives us the best of both worlds and enables us to focus our resources on the quality of the food and personnel,” he says.
A tip for his fellow operators: “All guests are looking for a fun experience and to connect with other people, so think about ways you can foster both to deliver on expectations.”
Daniel P. Smith Chicago-based writer has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.