Taming your toppings use

April 9, 2006

If you think portion controls aren't important, ask customers if it bothers them to get a heavily topped pizza one day and a scantily topped one the next.

Yet many operators choose to free-throw their toppings, thinking speed of throughput is more important than standardization of product. Don't count Matt Tuck among that group.

As the regional director for Hungry Howie's Properties, a 40-unit franchise group of Hungry Howie's Pizza, Tuck is a portion-control perfectionist who ties his managers' bonuses to portion-control goals. He's even tweaked his POS system to calculate toppings usage to the penny.

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Burke Corporation

If that sounds a bit Draconian in the pizza business, where multiple toppings per pizza make standardization difficult, think again, said Tuck. Before his stores used POS systems, his crews manually calculated the variances of each topping needed when customers ordered multiples.

"We used scales to figure that out, and then we posted signs on the line showing how much of each topping went on with, say, one or three or five toppings," said Tuck, whose company is in Madison Heights, Mich. "We eventually took all those numbers and plugged them into the computer so we could track them. But we still use scales on the line to make sure they're not under- or over-portioning."

As important as it is to customer satisfaction, good toppings control boosts profits. A shop pulling down an average of $600,000 a year in sales could boost net income by $12,000 by lowering food cost a mere 2 percent. Is that possible through tightening toppings controls? Tuck said yes.

"It's worth it to stay on top of it," he said. "We really believe in it for our business."

Controls are good

Liz Hertz has heard operators speak negatively of portion controls in her role as marketing manager for Burke Corp., a manufacturer of fully cooked meat toppings.

"Cost control doesn't mean skimping. It means managing your products well," said Hertz, whose company is in Nevada, Iowa. "If you want to put out a meatier pizza, that's OK if you price it accordingly. Going heavier doesn't mean you have to lose money on it."

Nor should it slow down the pace of pizza production. Many strong operators pre-weigh and cup their most costly items, such as cheese and meats, and have them stacked and ready for the rush. When portions are organized for quick use, she said, pizza throughput speeds up.

Using fully cooked and individually quick-frozen toppings can help portion control and speed of production simultaneously, she added.

"Working with raw toppings, you have to hand pinch it, which takes a lot more time than just sprinkling on a fully cooked topping," said Hertz. "And if you can put together a pizza faster, throughput is increased and you can serve more customers."

For operators who've not standardized their portion controls, Hertz suggested downloading the "Choosing the Right Pizza Toppings" guide at PizzaMarketplace.com. In this detailed guide are suggestions for serving amounts of the most popular toppings and pie sizes.

"That's a really good resource," she said, "and a great place to start if you've never standardized yours before."

Topics: Operations Management , Pizza Toppings

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