An appetizing update

Customers don’t order food items individually as in any other type of restaurant. You can only add so many additional toppings to your menu. The answer to this dilemma—add appetizers to your menu. An average ticket can jump from just a large pizza and a possible bottle of soda to a pie, drinks and an order of breadsticks or wings, increasing your bottom line.

We ran an article asking “How Appetizing is Your Menu?” in the Spring 2002 issue. Here are some bulleted points from that story. For the whole story on how appetizers can increase your ticket sales, go to and read up. Check out the newly updated resources as well.

Pizzerias have a couple of advantages to selling appetizers. With pizza comprising the entire meal, there are no side items to be ordered ala carte. The second advantage is the length of time that passes between when the order is placed to when it arrives at the table or the customer’s door. Your customers are going to be even hungrier when the order arrives. If the ovens are running behind an appetizer will hold guests over.

What’s Hot and What’s Not?

The top performers seem to be hot wings, cheese and bread sticks, stuffed jalapenos, salads, toasted ravioli and calamari. Fries and onion rings appear to perform, but not as well.

La Nova began marketing to the new low carb craze at the NAPICS Show in Columbus earlier this year with their “no carb” wing. One of the great things about wings is that they can be fried or baked in the oven, so any operator can add them to the menu. Wings fit right in with pizza because they are a finger food. They also work great as bundled items. Drawbacks are: wings aren’t a low-cost item and are best served with some sort of dipping sauce, which can cut into their profit margins. However, customer demand is there and sales of this item are strong.

Cheese and breadsticks also have great appeal in pizza operations. Advantages to breadsticks are: you can use existing ingredients (your regular dough, sauce and cheese) to make them, they are low-cost (usually well under a buck to make), they are quick to make, they compliment Italian food and customers order a lot of them. In a recent Tuesday Night Chat on, Tom Lehmann gave some new ideas on how to use ingredients you already have like dough, cheese and pepperoni as appetizers. Check it out at 

Because breadsticks and cinnamon sticks are relatively inexpensive to add to an order and taste great, customers are open to suggestive selling of the item. The Big Four all have their own versions of cinnamon sticks or breadsticks covered in cheese. Domino’s regularly runs a promotion for CinnaDots® and CheesyDots®, which are dots of dough covered in cinnamon or cheese.

Marketing Appetizers

Okay, so you have your appetizer menu set, now how do you kick-start the sales? Customers first have to know you have added an appetizer menu or new menu item. Even then there’s no guarantee the orders will start pouring in. Humans are creatures of habit. If you have a POS system, look at order histories. Regular customers tend to order the same thing each time they visit your restaurant. It may not be that they only eat a pepperoni or supreme pizza, it may be that they just haven’t tried anything new or discovered new combinations. It’s your job to entice them into trying it the first time. Then it can become part of their habitual order. Bundled packages including a pizza, appetizer and drink option are a great way to get customers eating appetizers. Many appetizer companies offer table tents and promotional materials for their products. Ask your distributor about them.

Probably the best way to increase the average ticket order, but one that is neglected is having your employees ‘push’ the items. Every person that calls should be up-sold and encouraged to try a new item you have added or be encouraged to add a side and a drink to the order. Customers won’t order it if they don’t know about it. See TJ Schier’s article on page 30 about how to get your employees suggestively selling appetizers and side items.

Increasing sales can be accomplished three ways: increase the number of customers, increase prices or sell more to the customers you have. Higher prices can cause you to lose customers, and increasing volume takes time and money recruiting new patrons. The simplest and easiest way is to sell more to existing customers. It’s difficult to get them to buy more pizza, but through bundled deals, promotions and a little creativity, additional appetizer sales can be the tool that increases average ticket sales $3, $4 or $5. Multiply that times the number of orders each week!