Because of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, many pizzerias have had to change the way they do business to conform to the mandated public health regulations intended to control its spread. This month I will share some of the related questions I have received from operators across the country.
Q: We’re a dine-in and carryout restaurant, but we now have limited our operating hours and closed our dining room due to the coronavirus pandemic. Do you have any suggestions for improving our carryout pizza?
A: Keep in mind that some pizzas are better suited for carryout than others. As a rough guide, those that are baked at high temperatures (above 750°F) are generally less well-suited for carryout. Those pizzas that are baked at a lower temperature (450°F to 600°F)—and essentially all pizzas baked in any type of air impingement oven—will be better suited for carryout. By no means does this imply that pizzas baked at high temperatures are not suitable for carryout—they’re just not as well-suited and may require special handling by the consumer once they get their pizza home.
Reheating any DELCO (delivery/carryout) pizza will do wonders to improve its quality. This step, in my opinion, is the salvation of a high-bake-temperature carryout pizza, because it helps to re-crisp the crust and dry the top of the pizza. Make sure to educate your customers by including an instructional note with each pizza that reads something like this: “For maximum enjoyment, remove pizza from packaging and place into a 300°F oven for X minutes before serving.”
To make reheating the pizza easier for your customers, place the pizza on a square piece of ovenable parchment paper laid out in your pizza box. This will allow for easy transfer of the pizza either directly into the oven or onto a pizza pan or cookie sheet for reheating.
Above all, you want to offer a drier pizza for carryout. Air impingement ovens are champs at removing moisture from a pizza, but to provide the necessary throughput, they are sometimes pushed too hard when it comes to baking time. If at all possible, slow your oven down—even 15 seconds can make a significant difference—and lower the baking temperature slightly if you need to.
If you work with a deck or stone hearth oven, you might want to try baking your pizzas for the first couple of minutes on a seasoned screen or an anodized disk. This may allow you to bake them a little longer without changing the oven temperature. Also consider placing the baked pizza on a screen or rack to let it steam off for 30 to 60 seconds before cutting and boxing. Finally, consider using a box insert designed to hold the pizza off the bottom of the box or cardboard circle. The insert will help both the flavor of the crust while reducing its tendency to get soggy after being boxed/packaged.
Q: Now that we sell pizza strictly on a carryout basis, do you have any suggestions that might help us increase our profits?
A: While I’m not a marketing expert, I’ve seen a few things that work well in cases like this. I think bundling is a good idea right now. Try to bundle complete meals with your pizza by including drinks, an appetizer and a dessert (even if it’s only a cookie) for a set price. You can try some “value-added” options, too, such as including a free order of breadsticks with each pizza. And if you simply brush your breadsticks with melted butter as soon as they come out of the oven and then dredge them in a cinnamon mixture, they can become a quick and easy dessert item.
Above all, let your customers know that you appreciate their business. A simple handwritten message on the box top can do wonders!
Q: We’ve got a small slice shop. We hold the slices in a heated cabinet, and when a customer buys one, we reheat it to crisp the bottom. Do we need to do anything different to sell our slices for carryout only?
A: The only change I might suggest would be to add a little extra cheese to the slice at the time of reheating and increase the reheat time to ensure the added cheese is thoroughly melted and that the bottom crust develops a nice crispness to it. That will result in a pretty good slice that’s ready for the customer to enjoy at home. And, as mentioned earlier, be sure to bundle your slices with a drink if possible.
Tom Lehmann was the longtime director of bakery assistance for the American Institute of Baking and is now a pizza industry consultant.