Q: We are a dine-in pizzeria forced to offer delivery and carryout (DELCO) for the first time due to the pandemic. How can we make our pizzas suitable for DELCO without changing our dough formulation?
A: There are a number of changes that can be easily implemented to improve the quality of your pizza under the conditions to which they are being subjected.
Baking the pizzas for a longer time will help to provide a drier pizza with a potentially crispier crust once your customer gets the pizza home.
Consider trying one of the boards/mats designed to hold the pizza off the bottom of the box. They allow air to circulate under the pizza and help prevent sweating, which results in a wet or soggy bottom on your pizzas.
Although you might be pressed for time in getting the pizza cut and boxed, remember to place the oven-hot pizza on a screen or rack to “steam off” for about 30 seconds before boxing it. Nothing good comes from trapping all that steam in the box with the pizza.
Speaking of pizza boxes, make sure your boxes have steam vents and that they are punched open when you put the pizza inside the box.
If DELCO is just a temporary strategy for you while the pandemic lasts, consider using pizza bags with a corrugated pizza circle as opposed to pizza boxes. You may find them to be cheaper and easier to store than boxes.
How about some good news? As the pandemic rages on, your customers are making a dedicated trip to your store to pick up their order, and they will most likely return straight home rather than running other errands along the way. That means your pizzas are not being subjected to a long dwell time in a humid environment, which is so harmful to pizza quality. So if your pizzas are already fine-tuned for DELCO, they are likely faring better than usual during these hard times. And even if your pizzas are not particularly well-suited for DELCO, they still might be faring better than you think!
Additionally, many customers have more time on their hands now, so they are generally more receptive to taking extra steps that they might not usually take. For instance, when you or your staff get a phone-in order, offer the customer a bit of advice for freshening up the pie when they get it home. Tell them to heat their oven to 300°F and place the pizza inside for just a couple of minutes before eating it. This can do wonders to refresh and dry off the top of the pizza, making for an improved pizza experience. You can also provide written instructions on a flyer attached to the box or placed in the bag.
One last note: Since local stay-home orders went into effect, I’ve been experimenting with carryout pizzas that we buy from local shops. It takes about 20 minutes to get a pizza back to my house, so the pizza takes a sweat bath in the box. These pizzas are boxed with a corrugated pizza circle underneath. I have found that I can safely remove the pizza from the box while keeping it on the circle. Then I place it in the 300°F oven (still on the circle) and heat it for three minutes, resulting in a significant improvement in pizza quality. I can’t say for sure that this will work for your pizzas, but it’s certainly worth a try!
Tom Lehmann was the longtime director of bakery assistance for the American Institute of Baking and is now a pizza industry consultant.