In the lead up to the 2018 Pizza Pasta Northeast show in Atlantic City, I was asked to lead a seminar called “I Am Your Customer and This is What I Want.” It sounded like a simple enough request since I spend quality time with pizzeria customers every single day, but when I sat down to outline my thoughts I was a bit overwhelmed. How could I possibly summarize conversations with thousands of pizza lovers in an accurate way? It wasn’t going to happen, so I enlisted the help of modern technology and circulated a survey featuring all the big questions I thought would be useful to the average pizzeria owner. I reported the complete results from more than 400 responses at Pizza & Pasta Northeast but whittled it down to the most significant takeaways for this month’s column.
I divided my survey into categories, the first of which offered a series of questions regarding pizzeria discovery. I wanted to know how people hear about new pizzerias and what factors influence their decision to actually visit them. Responses were pretty consistent among all the questions: word of mouth is huge. More people place greater weight on word of mouth than they do on TV and online shows. Articles and reviews are second in the priority list and social media comes in third place, but word of mouth is the strongest response to questions about how people hear about new pizzerias and why they choose to visit them.
The next section deals with experiences while at a pizzeria. In order to gauge the importance of various categories on a pizzeria menu, I asked people to indicate their interest in salads, appetizers, pastas, desserts, etc. Pizza beat them all. According to this survey, pizza is by far the most important menu item at a pizzeria. I also asked respondents to select one element as being the most critical to their enjoyment of a pizzeria. With a whopping 92 percent of the vote, Food Quality beat out Convenience, Service, Ambiance, and Value.
The next section posed questions about returning to pizzerias after an initial visit. Out of 424 respondents, 71 percent consider themselves regulars at their local pizzeria. THAT’S HUGE! These regulars come back because of the consistency of a pizzeria’s food. In fact, when asked to rank the importance of factors that influence them to return to a pizzeria, the clear leader is Food Quality. Service is a clear second place, but Ambiance, Value/Price and Convenience finish at the bottom. I also asked how many negative experiences one needed to have before they would stop patronizing a pizzeria, to which over 85 percent responded that it only takes one or two bad visits. Yikes, that’s not a lot of wiggle room!
The big takeaway from this survey is pretty uplifting. Customers are far more interested in quality food than they are in anything else. It’s why they enjoy a pizzeria, it’s why they return to a pizzeria, and also the most important encouragement for them to recommend a pizzeria to friends and share on social media (so say 90 percent of respondents). Food quality therefore influences the entire loop of your customer flow. I take comfort in knowing that your customers, or at least those who responded to my survey, aren’t distracted by deep discounts, carefully calculated locations or Instagramability. They care about the actual physical product you’ve created, crafted and delivered to their taste buds. The other elements are riding the ship, but great food remains the captain.
Scott Wiener is the founder of Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City and SliceOutHunger.org.