Profiting from pizza parties

April 14, 2008
Pizzeria operators seeking to pump up the bottom line might consider doing so by throwing a party.
Business-building parties can range from on-site catered events to a school pizza party, wedding rehearsal, office party, meeting, school function, birthday party or fundraiser. Each one, although different in scope, has the potential to create catering opportunities for pizzeria owners and their businesses.
"One of our best events is a kid's make-your-own-pizza party," said Steve Lieber, director of operations for Coal Mine Pizza in Boca Raton, Fla. "The kids get little chef hats and aprons, they get their own dough, their own sauce and their own cheese. People like seeing the kids in their chef's hats and the kids love doing it."
According to a 2007 study released by Chicago-based Technomic Information Services, off-site catering to the business and medical market alone represented an $18.5 billion market opportunity last year, more than half the size of the $31 billion pizza market. Each new business- or medical-catering customer an operator brings in can represent potential annual revenue of $8,000 to $14,000, the study found.
According to Technomic's report, representatives of pharmaceutical companies topped the list for total spending on catered events. Advertising and public relations firms ranked second for catering spenders. Schools and businesses also are good sources for boosting a catering business.
"One or two of our guests actually have pizza ovens at their houses," Lieber said. "So, we go to their house, people come up and tell us what they want on their pizza, and we make them to order. We've done three of those in the past year. It's nice exposure for us."
Maintaining quality is key
While Coal Mine Pizza mentions its catering business on the restaurant's menu and Web site, the bulk of its new catering business comes by word of mouth, Lieber said. People who have been to an event catered by Coal Mine Pizza are one of the restaurant's best sources of new catering business.
While word-of-mouth marketing works for some, Ross Marzolf, director of local marketing and events for Everett, Wash.-based Garlic Jim's Famous Gourmet Pizza, recommends the creation of community flyers advertising a pizzeria's catering offerings.
"There are many corporate offices just looking for new options and they're thrilled to find one," he said. "Another selling aspect is offering to do a sampling or tasting of your product. These do extremely well in getting future business."
Make sure your customers understand your level of service as well, said Joseph Kintz, owner of Serioz Pizza and a Pasquini's Pizza location in Denver.
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"We do 'casual catering.' No staff, disposable utensils and so forth," he said. "We could offer more, but it is not our specialty."
If you already serve a good product, develop a method to make it in bulk, Kintz said. Along with pizzas, offer high-profit items that are easy to hold, such as pastas, salads and meat and cheese plates. Also, know your limits.
"The hardest part is making enough food all at once to insure a warm, quality product," Kintz said.
Prepare for the worst
Being organized is the best way to help ensure an event goes off without a hitch. Lieber recommends making a checklist to keep track of the hundreds of items an operator will need to pull off a flawless event.
"There is nothing more disappointing than getting to a property and nobody has a serving spoon, and you are serving people with plastic forks," he said.
Operators also need to make sure they have the staff lined up to support catering efforts.
Despite the best planning, though, every catering event has the potential for adventure.
"I just did a business networking party at Bloomingdale's and I set up the chafing dish myself," Lieber said. "They had provided the tablecloths, and when I was adjusting the Sterno it splashed onto the table."
The tablecloth caught fire and Lieber had to bat out the flames with his bare hands. Although the party continued, the incident served as a lesson.
"We will do more cold items in the future," he said.

Topics: Financing and capital improvements , Independent Operation , Operations Management

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