Selecting the right hot bag for your precious pizza cargo is essential to keeping your customers satisfied.

If you offer delivery, there’s a pretty good chance you also have a collection of hot bags on hand. You may not think too much about them—you just know you need them for keeping pizza hot on the way to a customer’s home. But, by choosing durable bags and handling them with a little care, you can keep those bags on the job longer than some of the drivers who carry them.

While there are several types of hot bags to choose from—including disk-heated, induction-heated and internally heated options—many in the industry prefer thermal insulated bags. “A well-insulated thermal bag is more than adequate for keeping the average pizza—delivered in 30 minutes or less—hot,” says Jenny Sanios, vice president of Bag Solutions in Yorkville, Illinois. If a bag with a heating element/disk is more up your alley, Al Roma, president of Livonia, Michigan-based National Marketing, says heating elements usually warm up in 10 to 15 minutes and can retain heat for about 30 minutes. This type of bag may be helpful in event catering situations or in cases where you have a lot of deliveries in one run or have to travel a longer distance.

The most important feature of any hot bag is its ability to keep a pizza hot and dry on the way to a delivery. Insufficient or moisture-inducing lining can cause a soggy pizza. When selecting a hot bag, Sanios says, operators should ask about moisture-free insulation and lining that help to prevent the dreaded sogginess. Finding bags that are as close in size to your own pizza boxes will also help ensure a hot and dry pizza upon arrival. Too much extra room around a pizza can spell disaster, causing a pizza to shift around in the box and never make full contact with all of the heating elements at the same time.

“Operators need to know the number of pizzas in their typical delivery order and use it as a guide for  determining bag sizes. Consider buying a larger size bag to accommodate pizzas, wings, subs and other offerings.”
– Dave Breen, RediHEAT

Choices Aplenty

In most cases, you won’t need different types of bags if you offer different types of pizzas. However, because you may offer different sizes of pizzas, plus side items and possibly catering, there are a number of sizes to choose from when purchasing hot bags. Most manufacturers suggest that pizzerias should stay fully prepared by keeping a mix of bag sizes for accommodating pizza, sides and large catering orders. Every pizzeria will have different needs, of course, but a good rule of thumb is to start off with two bags per driver. “We suggest starting out with a couple of regular bags for each driver and a couple of high-quantity bags that hold six to 10 boxes,” Sanios says. “Then you’re set if you have a big event pop up.”

Romo’s Pizzeria (romospizzany.com) in Glenmont, New York, makes about 100 deliveries per week. Owner Brittany Ruede says her pizzeria uses three hot bags for pizza and a deeper, sturdier one for sides. Spring, Texas-based Pizza Zone (pizzazone.cc), on the other hand, does a booming delivery business, averaging between 650 and 700 deliveries per week. “We have approximately 35 of the regular thermal pizza delivery bags, and we also have approximately six sandwich-type thermal delivery bags to use if the delivery includes mini-pizzas, pastas or wings,” says Pizza Zone co-owner Debbie Taggart Gainor.

Rio Vista Pizza Factory (orderpizzafactory.com), located in Rio Vista, California, makes about 125 deliveries per week and uses 15 thermal insulated hot bags, according to owner Dennis Sheil. “When I’m purchasing a hot bag, I will look at price, quality and features, such as tag window, pockets for cheese and peppers, etc.,” Sheil says.

Handle With Care

Many bags get lost before they ever have a chance to wear out, but if your bags stick around for a while, there are ways to extend their lives. Start by purchasing bags that have a sturdy construction, well-sewn handles and straps, and stain-resistant fabric. Then make sure to clean them at least once every six months (see “Lather, Rinse, Repeat,” at right). “Pizza bags are used several times every single night for most pizzerias,” Sanios notes. “With regular cleaning and a little bit of care, you should be able to use a good bag for years. Buy an affordable, quality bag that you can replace when it starts looking dingy, because this is the first thing your customer sees when you make a delivery.”

So how long will a hot bag usually last? Rio Vista Pizza Factory’s bags normally last 18 to 24 months, according to Sheil. Ruede says that Romo’s bags usually stay on the job for about a year. “The only problem is that they sometimes rip,” she says. “I think the quality of the bag has more to do with its durability than driver care.”

Delivery drivers at Chic Alors! in Quebec, Canada, prepare to hit the road on a chilly winter’s night.

Gainor agrees. “We try to buy the best quality bag at the most reasonable price,” she says. “We also purchase dark green and black bags, which don’t show wear-and-tear or dirt as much as the red bags we used to buy in the past. Our delivery bags typically last between one-and-a-half and two years. We need them to be reasonably priced because somehow the drivers always seem to lose them—we still haven’t quite figured out how yet.”

Before purchasing any new bags, assess your needs, do your research and ask about money-back guarantees in case you find that the bags are not a good fit for your pizzeria. Choosing the hot bags that will carry the precious cargo that is your pizza should not be a decision that’s taken lightly. 

Liz Barrett is PMQ’s editor at large.