The cost of cheese is at or close to an all-time high right now, according to many consultants at the North American Pizza and Ice Cream Show earlier this week in Columbus, Ohio. That's why it's more important than ever to teach employees to quit "free throwing" pizza toppings.
Dave Ostrander, an industry consultant, said pizzerias started the free-throwing habit — eyeballing topping portions for each pizza — about 20 years ago. Because of this technique, when Ostrander asked audience members in his "Perfect Portion Control" session how many ounces of cheese they use for a 14-ounce pizza, just two out of the packed room knew the answer.
"You can have the best pizza in the world. But you can lose your shirt if you're not careful," he said. "If you ain't weighing it, you are winging it."
While many operators habitually weigh dough balls, nothing provides a pizza operator with more margin/cost control than weighing their cheese portions. Cheese costs exponentially more than dough ingredients, he said, particularly in the winter when cows aren't producing as much.
A case study of portion control
Ostrander said it's important to keep cheat sheets for employees to remind them how much cheese to use, and even have the cheese pre-weighed in cups for them. This allows an operator to ensure consistency and to know the cost of every single pizza. The difference, for example, of 7 ounces and 10 ounces of cheese can be 60 cents per pizza.
He also suggested adding a weighing scale that is easy for employees to use. Training and incentivizing is important for employees, who may free throw either through habit or to save time.
"You have to enforce it or the employee will sabotage you. Make sure everything is there (pre-measured cups, for example) for the employee," Ostrander said.
Ostrander went from free throwing to portion control after a 30-day pilot using cup portions with his employees. He incentivized them to use the pre-measured cups of cheese and promised a bonus of however much money was saved through the experiment.
At the end of those 30 days, the concept saved about 200 pounds of cheese totaling $1,200, which was then split between the four employees as a bonus.
Ostrander now even has pre-measured cups (he uses 3 ounces) for customers who order extra cheese. Not only does such consistency save money on an expensive commodity, it's also "really good for your brand because you want to be consistent," he said.
Micky Wheatley contributed to this story.
Photo provided by Wikipedia.
Read more about food cost control.
Alicia Kelso has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com has been featured in publications around the world, including Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, Consumerist.com and Franchise Asia magazine.