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Many pizzerias feel the pinch of a stubbornly slow economy. High gas and food prices have many families cutting back on dining out or trading down to less expensive alternatives. In the pizza, QSR and family dining segments, kids drive the decision where to eat. For the kids, the decision is often based on secondary issues like, toys, freebies, video games and a fun atmosphere.

How can you capture an increased share of slowing dollars? Top strategies include reduced or free meals, meal kits, toys and parties.

KIDS EAT FREE With upward pressure on food costs, many restaurants are taking menu prices and price points up. A coupon for dollars off discounts your price but more importantly, your market position. "Kids Eat Free" offers the opportunity to maintain your price integrity and still offer a great deal. The big chains offer "value" prices and raise drink prices. Develop tactics to bring in a family of four, even if you only are paid for three. Those incremental dollars pay overhead and keep your cash flow positive.

KIDS EAT FOR 99 CENTS This is similar to the above strategy but easier on your food cost. You must know your core customers and their sensitivity to price. Measure different scenarios between free and a buck. Set up a spreadsheet and play "what if" games to determine which price generates the most gross profit dollars. Survey customers, even informally, to gauge their reaction.

MEAL KITS ROCK McDonald's has taught us all if you offer kids something uniquely their own, they'll line up for it. Look at your core offering for kids and pair it with fun. A brightly colored box with a toy on a special menu gets kids tugging on mom and dad's sleeves. If you are a pizza operator, for carry out or delivery, develop a take and bake dessert kit. Package a dough ball, a small container of cinnamon for home baking. This creates fun at home tied to your name. If the family is cutting back on meals out, this strategy captures carry-out dollars.

HAVE YOUR BIRTHDAY PARTY HERE Kids' birthday parties are events. Most families spend considerable money on their children's birthdays. Pizza parties offer a fun and controlled atmosphere. Market combo packages with set prices per person. Include pizza, cake or ice cream, drinks and toys. When the other parents drop off or pick up their children, give them an info kit or brochure to host their next party.

FACEBOOK Like it or not, Facebook rules for kids. Setting up a Facebook page is easy. Maintaining it is not hard but requires a commitment to work it constantly. Kids (and parents) like Facebook, but you must keep your page and messages fresh or they will move on. Use the page to offer Web-only promotions; this will tell you how and if your strategy works.

There is no doubt the economy is in a slowdown. Consumers are worried about their jobs, their home budgets and increasing costs. Nevertheless, parents will keep their kids happy. While your competitors spend time complaining about costs, now is the time to develop strategies to win in these trying times.

Ed Zimmerman is a pizza industry veteran and President of The Food Connector. His almost four decades of foodservice experience includes food manufacturing and distribution leadership, food industry technology, marketing services and restaurant and grocery operations management.

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Ed Zimmerman
Ed Zimmerman is a pizza industry veteran and President of The Food Connector. His almost four decades of foodservice experience includes food manufacturing and distribution leadership, food industry technology, marketing services and restaurant and grocery operations management.
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