By Tim McCallum
Ok, confessions to start! This is my first blog, and while I am wondering what the people reading about pizza in Cambodia or some other very remote part of the world will think, it is pretty exciting and yet mortifying. So please welcome me to the blogosphere.
I own a restaurant and spend my evenings talking to real customers about all kinds of great issues facing our business today. But by day, I run a media company, Combustion Media, where I dream of new ideas and new ways to communicate and talk to customers and build new sales techniques, and then on those nights and weekends I get to actually try these things and put them into action with real customers getting their perspective on things every day.
Recently, while working in my fast casual European-imported pizzeria, Vapiano, I wondered: What makes one pizza different from another? As I listened to that “clink” and “clack!” of the plates and the live music in the background, the high-pitched sound of wine glasses toasting the end of a another long week in the hot Texas sun, and those ladies at table number five gawking over the lead singer, I realized that the difference between take out and delivery, versus fast casual and the fancy full service joints was pretty simple. I mean after all, all the pizzas are round right? Well, maybe not, I did eat an overpriced oblong pizza last week on a piece of paper and thought, “Wow, these guys really are proud of this pizza considering I’m eating off a piece of paper!” Luckily for me, pride stops just behind our teeth when your food actually has to taste good!
What a concept! Good food? Well, most of us realize that great food -- whether delivered or picked up, sat down for, or carried to a table -- has to please us as consumers right? Then why are some segments suffering while the big three can discount away?
And why is fast casual growing without the discount? I think I figured it out this week.
It’s all in the round thing -- no, not the pizza, the plate! That’s right, the plate! The plate is the smallest symbol of your atmosphere. And that helps separate good food from great food, and a struggling pizza chain, sometimes, from a sleek fast-casual cash cow.
So what is atmosphere? It is everything. It’s your box and the driver if you deliver, it’s the phone call if you take orders, and it’s the small cost of a real plate instead of a metal tray if you have dine-in -- and please no paper! Yea, I said it! Get rid of your metal pizza trays! This is the new millennium! People want value, but they don’t want to think the value comes from us being cheap as operators. So upgrade your fare wear, and while you’re at it, try some forks that shine.
So here are a few other things to think about, all at low cost, but high impact:
Create some specials, and then tell people about them. Try new flavors, new toppings, limited time offers. People will come back and hate that you dropped their new favorite, but use this to build your database to make them aware of when it will come back!
How about music? I found local musicians who work for small fees ($50-$100) with a pizza and a beer thrown in, and it transforms the dining experience! Focus on glassware too. Next time you have to order compare prices. I bought pint glasses for soft drinks for the same price as plastic. The difference, better atmosphere!
If you are carryout or delivery, you’re saying, “How does the atmosphere thing apply to me?” Well, you may not be able to compare with the big three, but you can do what they can’t imagine. Start with your delivery vehicle -- no, not the 1978 rusted-out Ford Pinto with a 454, Flow masters and posi-traction, I mean the box. I met with my paper supplier and upgraded from their standard box to a sturdier box. It keeps the pie better and doesn’t grease up. The cost is minimally different but the impact is incredible.
Lose the generic Italian design too. I printed stickers, because I can’t buy 20,000 custom boxes. The stickers fit my boxes, bags and other marketing pieces. The stickers have my logo, address, website and tag line on them. In between shifts we sticker boxes and we are off!
Next, perfect your delivery. Have the pepper, parmesan and the rest ready, but add in a few peppermints or something unique to you. I use gummy bears from Germany -- really! They’re a big hit and make my pie memorable. Most importantly, they creates an atmosphere superior to my competitor.
My grandmother always said, “It’s the small things that count.” I believe that…small things make a big impact on atmosphere and create one of a kind branding identifiers.
Tim McCallum owns the first American Vapiano pizza, a well-established, high-tech pizza chain based in Europe. He plans to expand the brand across Texas. McCallum also runs Combustion Media, the media company responsible for the blockbuster rollout of the iTunes card.