By Charlie Lewis
Culinary Supply Chain Specialist/Consolidated Concepts
The rate of change in foodservice has always been swift, but technology is propelling the pizza restaurateur's rocket forward today at a pace that challenges the speed of light. It's not just about what the next sriracha will be, but now pizza players must know whether it can withstand the rigors of delivery, or even — in the age of Instagram —photograph well. After all, in an increasingly tech and social media-driven world, platforms like Instagram can be great sources of free advertising, but only if the new dish you deliver also delivers good looks on the plate.
Here then are three big questions for pizza culinary planners must consider this year, in order of the increasing complexity.
1. What will replace the chicken wing?
An increasing number of pizza concepts see the value in augmenting their pie offerings with some alternatives and the chicken wing has been an eternal favorite. Now, with March (wing) Madness looming in the distance, operators are forced to reckon with the wing shortage.
The solution comes down not only to sourcing, but also to anticipating the next big appetizer. There are plenty of worthwhile options to satisfy the saucy chicken craving market, including, of course, boneless wings. But a smarter option is hiding right below our beaks: Chicken drumsticks. After all, they are a more cost-effective choice that offers bone-in authenticity and greater plate coverage at a lower price-per-serving.
2. How will the off-premise boom affect menus?
All restaurants will be challenged to craft menus that work well as dine-in or take-out meals. This requires a close eye on portioning and side dish options, as well as temperature and moisture control. Pizza restaurateurs would do well to become experts in which items "travel well" and which don't.
The wisest operators will be those who steer their menus to be take-home friendly or offer a separate set of offerings for the to-go set. Many restaurants who rely on atmosphere and plate appearance are losing customers to takeout or delivery offerings that just don't make the trip "home."
To-go packaging also is quickly becoming one of the most important categories of items in your weekly order. Not only must operators focus on packaging quality, but also know whether the chosen wrappings, boxes, bags and containers ensure temperature and food texture retention.
Likewise, restaurant processes and kitchen lay-outs must be factored in to permit the increased number of packaged items your brand is certain to deliver. Kitchens may need rearranging to accommodate storage, as well as activities like packing, holding, delivery and to-go order retrieval.
Furthermore, as the sheer quantity of third-party delivery platforms grow, pizza operators are being challenged to make new investments in technology infrastructure. And make no mistake about it, this is not an area to cut corners.
Technology requirements of various ordering platforms, POS systems and kitchen display systems must be taken into account, all while preserving the experience for dine-in guests. A reduction in front-of-house labor or dedicated space can diminish the guest experience and, ultimately, the number of guests themselves. And remember, dine-in guests may well turn out to be take-out clientele on off-nights.
3. How far should automation go?
Customers, especially young adults, demand a smooth technological experience from restaurateurs these days. But it can be difficult to know where to stop.
For instance, if you have servers, are you prepared to allow tablets and technology to take their place or replace some of those now waiting tables? The implications are not only far-reaching, but can be tough to fully understand without undergoing expensive testing in advance of decisions.
For instance, at your restaurant could tablets -- with their capability to share great pictures and provide predictive recommendation algorithms upsell menu items any better than a charming server with a set of well-honed sales skills? While many might argue that tablets can perform more consistently, overall profitability remains a big question mark.
The key then, with these types of issues, is gaining a full understanding of your restaurant's current demographic in order to offer technology that suits that population well. For instance, a family-oriented crowd at a casual pizza restaurant might most prefer the many time-saving and child-distracting benefits of an iPad. But an older and more "buttoned-up" dinner crowd would most likely much prefer a traditional server. But, then even there, the sophisticated millennial cocktail and small-plates set might lean toward even other options.
And then there's that ever-present bottom line to consider. The technology investment is going to be costly upfront but amortizes well over time. After all, technology can't leave you for a better job or for a chance to follow its dream of a professional kiteboarding career.
But always keep in mind, that until you test that technology in a real, live restaurant scenario, there will always be some unknowns about whether the increase in tech will actually result in an increase in sales.
Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Catering, Customer Service / Experience, Delivery, Equipment & Supplies, Interior Décor, Kitchen Display, Online / Mobile / Social, Online Ordering, On the Menu, Operations Management, PCI Compliance, Pizza Sauce, Pizza Toppings, POS, Product Reviews, Service, Staffing & Training, Systems / Technology, Trends / Statistics