The art of selling pizza

I like to call it the three G's. That is Great food, Great service and Great entertainment. Any one of the three will make me come back to a restaurant. Great food makes me more tolerant of poor service or a boring atmosphere. Entertainment and great service from the staff creates the power of redemption for a less than desirable meal. Give me great food and an atmosphere that's fun and I'll serve myself. Naturally, you're not going to open a restaurant, or at least keep it open if the food is not great. Controlling the quality of service your staff is providing may be an exercise in futility. The decor and atmosphere can be created.

Deciding on the decor of your restaurant is a difficult task. The motif can either excite or bore the people who dine in your restaurant. If you get a motif that has people mingling with other tables talking about it you have a winner. There is a little town in Arizona named Oracle where you can find a textbook example of what I'm talking about here. Frank Palazzolo is the owner and the pizzeria is Nonna Maria's Pizzeria. What is it about his establishment that has the town coming in to see what the talk is about? Art. The food brings them back. Frank is an Italian restaurant owner and part of a close family who spent time growing up in Sicily. As a child he was taught the basics of drawing by a nun, took that knowledge and expanded it. Inspired by the pop art of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, he began painting with a similar style using bold, bright colors as a way to relax.

"I started painting characters from old movies and television shows I watched as a child," Frank says. "I started painting them eating pizzas because I watched and enjoyed these characters and wanted to do something that would keep them from being forgotten and give people, especially kids, a taste of the past. What can a kid relate to better than pizza? This is my way of saying thank you to these characters I loved as a kid. I also want it to inspire a younger generation to go out and rent some of these old black and white movies and discover what it was about them that made us love them."

Displayed in his pizzeria are more than 50 paintings of everyone from The Little Rascals and Frank Sinatra eating pizza and pasta to The Honeymooners and The Blues Brothers. What makes the decor such a great concept is that it invites customers to try and figure out who all the characters are displayed around them. "It's like an appetizer before the food," Frank says. "It's great because customers immediately start talking about all of the characters, their favorite episodes and movies in which the actors appeared. What's really great is customers at one table start talking to other customers about the people in the portraits and trying to identify all of them before their food gets to the table. People like the paintings and the settings I put the characters in so much that I often get customers requesting me to paint them eating pizza or a specific television character they loved from their childhood."

Frank isn't the only one to see the advantages of art in the workplace. Mark Gold and Louis Siecinski, owners of Milwaukee's Pizza Shuttle have incorporated art into their restaurant. One of the unique pieces of art in their pizzeria is a signed silk screen of Andy Warhol's Cow and is one of only a hundred or so signed by the artist. "Andy Warhol was a unique artist; Cow is a unique piece of art, and we're a unique restaurant," said Mark. "It just made sense to me."

Louis says Pizza Shuttle is located on the east side of Milwaukee, an area filed with artists and a diverse community. He says the Warhol print fit their clientele and their extensive custard menu. The Warhol isn't the only unique decoration at Pizza Shuttle. Outside, they have a 20 by 20 foot version of Salvador Dali's painting, The Persistence of Memory, that substitutes pizzas for the melting clocks of the original. "We've gotten a lot of positive comments about the Dali," Mark said.

"You can have a restaurant that looks like a hospital or one that's nicely decorated," Louis says. "Color brings out comfort and friendliness. It's an important part of the business. We have also hired employees who are artistic and creative. Some of these employees have paintings that are in our restaurant. It gives them a way to express their talents and get their work out there. There are other benefits, too. We have this one guy, Jason, who also paints and he did our doors and windows. The advantage is if they don't do a good job all you have to do is scrape it off."

There are other ways you can employ art in your restaurant, too. As Louis said, artists are always looking for ways to express themselves and get their art out there for people to see. Purchasing art to display can be an expensive endeavor. One way around purchasing art is to locate local artists and have them place their art that is for sale in your establishment. Simply put a small card next to the artwork or in the corner of the frame telling the name of the piece, the artist and the price. This is a great way for the artist to get his or her work seen, and possibly sell a painting or two. You get free artwork to cover the walls.

Another idea is to have several artists bring some of their work in and have a showing one night of local artists. Contact the local arts council and let them know what is going on and usually they will pass the information along to their members so they can come out and support the arts community. Most arts councils have newsletters they send out on a regular basis where they can promote events such as this. They may also be willing to help promote the event and informing the local newspapers is sure to gain some free publicity.