I would be lying if I said it was all about the pizza. As much as I’d like to say every ounce of effort should go into your food — that dough formulation and oven skill were all that mattered — the truth is that even the greatest pizza cannot sustain a business by itself. I get an interesting perspective when visiting pizzerias on pizza tours because my guests instinctively become more analytical of the entire experience, from the cheese-to-sauce ratio of the pizza to the lighting in the dining room. One recent tour taught me that bad service has the power to undermine excellent pizza.
About a month ago, I took a small private tour group to a set of pizzerias in Brooklyn. Our first stop was nearly empty, with just a couple of tables seated. It was the perfect situation for a pizza tour because we didn’t take up valuable space that could have been used for groups ordering full meals. Our group sat at a table by the door and placed our order almost immediately. When I told the server we would have one large pizza Margherita, he shot me a disappointed look and asked, “That’s all?” He ignored us for the remainder of our stay. We actually ended up staying longer than expected because he was hard to find when the time came to ask for our check. The pizza was great, but the overall experience was not.
The next stop was just a few blocks away, in a different section of the same neighborhood. I knew it would be jam-packed, so I reserved a table in advance. We placed the order while they were still cleaning the table as not to take up valuable space for longer than necessary. We ordered our usual one pizza and I braced myself for disappointment from the server, but she didn’t flinch. Just the opposite, she was super attentive. My group was so comfortable and happy, they clearly noticed the contrast from our terrible service at the previous stop. They even ordered drinks!
As soon as we left the second pizzeria, I asked the group what they thought about the first two stops. Despite the fact that they all preferred the food at the first pizzeria, they unanimously agreed that they would much sooner revisit the second stop. I was shocked at the power of the server’s poor attitude at the first stop and how it was off-putting enough to undermine the quality of their excellent food.
It made me think about a Danny Meyer quote I read recently. “While the customer is not always right, he/she must always feel heard.” My tour group didn’t feel heard at the first pizzeria. A guest who doesn’t feel important will just go somewhere else. Your goal as a pizzeria might be to make the best food possible, but your goal as a business should be to keep customers coming back for more. The best way to make that happen is by remembering that serving comfort is just as important as serving a great slice.
Scott Wiener is the founder of Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City and SliceOutHunger.org.