Selling sandwiches

The true originof the sandwichis murky, but onepopular myth pointsto English nobleman JohnMontagu, the fourth Earl ofSandwich, who, during a lengthy cardplayingspree in the 1700s, requested a mealthat he could eat without getting his hands dirty—or interrupting his game. In 20th-century America,sandwiches grew to be associated with different regions of thecountry: grinders, heroes, hoagies, po’ boys, submarines, torpedoes.The quintessential American meals—hamburgers and hot dogs—are in factforms of the sandwich: a filling between bread halves. Lately, restaurants and fastfood outlets across the nation are revamping the definition of the word by introducingbreadless “sandwiches” (i.e., KFC’s Double Down, with chicken breasts replacing thebread), placing fillings between two donuts or waffles, stacking them sky-high, andtossing everything but the kitchen sink into them.

The history and continuing evolution of the sandwich, ofcourse, speaks to everything that is desirable about this foodcategory: It is portable, quick and easy to make and eat, inexpensive,and can take on seemingly endless variations. No wonderthe sandwich has long been a favorite the world over—theBritish Sandwich Association reports that Britain alone sawmore than 3 billion sandwiches purchased from retail and restaurantoutlets in one year. For pizzerias, however, the sandwichalso provides an alternative, especially for lunchtime patrons, topizza, as Domino’s (dominos.com) found when it introduced itsline of oven-baked sandwiches in 2008. When customers areon the go or have a mere 30 minutes for lunch, this menu item,with its amazing versatility, can satisfy both guests and yourbottom line.

Bread With Benefits

Sandwiches offer your customers an option that, especially ina rocky economy, is an inexpensive alternative, during certaindayparts. “We offered sandwiches from the beginning, becausepeople wanted another choice besides pizza, especially atlunch,” says David Smith, executive chef at 900 Degrees NeapolitanPizzeria (900degrees.com) in Manchester, New Hampshire.“Our 14” pizzas have a higher price point, so a sandwichallows them to come in for a $7.95 lunch that includes a sideitem.” The pizzeria offers sandwiches only at lunch because itsone oven became too crowded at dinner with sandwiches, pizzasand pastas going in and out, and because they proved morepopular with the lunch crowd.

Jeff Varasano, owner and operator of Varasano’s Pizzeria(varasanos.com) in Atlanta, also wanted to offer a wallet-friendlyoption alongside his more expensive pizzas. “For us,deciding to offer sandwiches was about hitting a different pricepoint, because we do a Neapolitan-style pizza, which is hardto do in a smaller size and doesn’t last long when sold by theslice,” he explains. “Our basic pies go for $11 to $15, and wewanted to hit a lunch price point in the range of $7 to $8, plusdrink.” He adds that his personal love of sandwiches and theculture of delis in New York influenced his decision; the foursandwiches he offers—San Gennaro’s Sausage & Pepper, ItalianDeli, Caprese and Sopressata—are ones he made at home himselffor years (the sausage-and-pepper, however, has proven tobe the bestseller).

Hannah Erich, manager at Warrior Gourmet Pizza and IceCream (warriordriveinandpizza.com) in Ontario, Ohio, saysthat customers also like the quickness and convenience of asandwich. “A lot of people get them for lunch; we have a drivethrough,and even though we make them to order, sandwichesare faster than pizza,” she notes. The pizzeria entices customerswith a daily special that features one of its sandwiches (morethan a dozen are on the everyday menu) and includes a drinkand French fries.

From Make Line to Marketing

Sandwiches have multiple benefits but, as with any menu item,you also need to consider the logistics of adding them—yourprep and space needs, how to ensure smooth production duringbusy times—and then, of course, get customers to try them.“Sandwiches require more multitasking, which is a differentskill than pizza making,” says Scott Jewitt, operating partner ofNick’s Pizza & Pub (nickspizzapub.com), with two locations inCrystal Lake and Elgin, Illinois. “Also, the timing of sandwichorders with pizza orders is a challenge.” Jewitt recommendsthat owners who are getting into sandwiches for the first timestart small and add items as guests request them; using high qualityingredients and keeping sandwiches simple will alsohelp streamline the process and attract customers.“For the preparation of sandwiches, you have to have everythingportioned out and ready to go, and you need space—not only tomake them, but in the oven if you’re offering warm subs,” addsSmith. “You might have to warm bacon for an order while toastingthe bread; make sure you can handle everything you haveto do!” He suggests that pizzeria owners consider their averagechecks before adding sandwiches—for example, is it more profitablefor you to sell an $8 sandwich to one individual or havetwo or more customers split a pizza? Customers are less likely tosplit sandwiches, which may up your check averages.Varasano finds that one challenge was baking his own bread;he uses his pizza dough, but still had to perform the extra process,plus the different prep steps for sandwiches. To bake thesandwiches at a different temperature than the pizzas, he alsopurchased a salamander. However, he made the menu additioneasier by using ingredients already on hand. “Definitely try tomake use of what you already have in the pizzeria,” he says. “It’sfine to source a few extra ingredients, but in general, use whatyou’ve got!” He also fi nds that, having added sandwiches afterbecoming known for pizza, it’s challenging to get his pizza devoteesto try them.

However, you can entice customers to try your sandwichesthrough several efforts. Jewitt mentions that Nick’s offers lunchspecials and different promotions that emphasize lunch items,and posts specials for the pizzeria’s 4,200-plus Facebook followers.Smith also uses Facebook (he might post, “Come byfor lunch—we have a great meatball sandwich!”) and writes updaily chalkboard specials for panini sandwiches. Varasano advertiseson table tents and offered a special price for the annualSan Gennaro Festival. But ultimately, says Smith, your sandwicheswill bring people in the door by their mere presence onthe menu. “Sandwiches bring something else to the table in apizzeria,” he says. “They give people another reason to come toyour restaurant.”

Tracy Morin is PMQ’smanagingeditor.