By Tracy Morin

While food quality will always remain a top priority in pizzerias, perhaps the true holy grail of operator success is guest satisfaction. After all, you can control what goes into your food, but you can’t control every last personality and preference of the customers who walk through your doors (not to mention the staff members who interact with them).

What you can do, however, is use a wide range of tactics to help ensure guest satisfaction. From loyalty programs and employee training to technology assists and “surprise and delight” extras, the options are seemingly endless—and every pizzeria, chain and independent alike, employs its own unique blend. Here, we’ll explore a few super-smart strategies that are grabbing sky-high ROI from brands of all sizes, in their own words. Use their success stories to inspire the optimal approach for your business.

Dedham House of Pizza owner and operator George Panagopoulos uses a wide range of marketing tactics, including menu innovations, like limited-time-only pizza bagels made in partnership with a local bagel shop.

The Independent Hustle 

Dedham, Massachusetts-based Dedham House of Pizza owner and operator George Panagopoulos explains how he taps the powers of technology—and every other advantage possible—to better serve his customers and succeed as a single-location independent.

Our multifaceted customer satisfaction strategy includes a robust loyalty rewards program and targeted SMS and email marketing, coupled with a commitment to staff training. We’ve implemented online platforms to streamline the ordering process, minimizing human errors and leading to a notable increase in the average ticket price.

Examining the transaction data for December 2023, a clear trend emerges, with a nearly 10% surge in online transactions. The breakdown reveals user preferences: kiosks (average sale $15.50), website ($35.80), in-store ($24.15), app ($31.19) and third-party ($34.18). This data underscores the importance of a robust online presence, with a significant portion of customers opting for the convenience of digital channels.

“Post-order surveys on our website and app provide invaluable insights. This guides our efforts to continuously improve, with monthly reviews of feedback and [coupons] for winning back [unhappy] customers.”

George Panagopoulos, Dedham House of Pizza

Meanwhile, post-order surveys on our website and app provide invaluable insights. This guides our efforts to continuously improve, with monthly reviews of feedback and a strategic coupon program aimed at winning back customers who have encountered issues.

Catering has also proven to be a standout success. After introducing catering in 2022, sales started at $8,300. In 2023, we created an official catering menu, and by January 2024, we featured catering on third-party platforms, resulting in a remarkable sales increase, to $17,700. The emphasis on presentation, including branded boxes, serving utensils and an expanded menu with unique offerings, has undoubtedly contributed to this growth.

Staff training remains a challenge at our bustling pizzeria, but the introduction of comprehensive training handbooks with visual aids in multiple languages addresses this issue. The use of laminated pictures and group text messages has proven instrumental in bridging language gaps.

The Servant’s Heart

With a title like “chief happiness officer,” Tom Sacco (also CEO and president) of Happy Joe’s Pizza & Ice Cream, based in Davenport, Iowa, knows a thing or two about satisfying guests. He explains his key principle, the servant’s heart, and why it works across his company’s dozens of locations.

For team members and franchise owners, we look for individuals who lead with a servant’s heart. What does that mean? It means that we will walk a senior citizen to their car after dining with us. We’ll help a mom with a child carry her diaper bag out to her car. We will go pick up a fellow team member if they don’t have a ride to work. We’ll offer beverages and pizza to our vendor drivers on hot days.

We want to be pillars in our community by giving back to those with needs, serious illnesses, disabilities, personal tragedies or financial hardships, whether they’re team members, guests, vendors or strangers. When we’ve disappointed a guest, we go out of our way to show and assure them that we will fix the issue—with the most positive attitude and with a servant’s heart. 

Servant leadership skills offer a huge advantage in growing sales, building brand fans and coaching younger team members. You don’t have to spend advertising and marketing dollars to convince your guests, because you give something even more valuable, more respected and highly trusted. You give them your heart, and you put others’ needs, services and pleasures before your own.

“Servant leadership skills offer a huge advantage in growing sales, building brand fans and coaching younger team members.”

Tom Sacco, Happy Joe’s Pizza & Ice Cream

Being a servant leader is a full-time commitment; the sincerity of purpose can’t be turned on and turned off. Rather, it takes a 24/7/365 commitment to truly take hold, become a part of you and be effective over the long term. I never force the philosophy. But for those who can change their lifestyle to accommodate the fundamental principles of servant leadership, I can personally and professionally attest to the efficacy and rewards you will be gifted because of the impact you have on others.

We address the omnipresent challenge of false reviews and negative experiences on social media with a proactive approach. Customers sharing positive feedback on third-party sites receive a $5-off coupon, fostering engagement and mitigating potential damage to our online image.

Our holistic approach to customer satisfaction, coupled with strategic initiatives and a keen focus on continuous improvement, has positioned our company for success in an ever-evolving market.

An Instagram post picturing the Tie Dye pizza from Hungry Howie’s skyrocketed likes by a whopping 2,500%.

Secret Menu Success 

With more than 535 stores in 21 states, Hungry Howie’s, based in Madison Heights, Michigan, takes a “surprise and delight” approach to guest satisfaction. Jeff Rinke, vice president of marketing and product development, details its runaway-success secret menu.

To celebrate Hungry Howie’s 50th anniversary, the brand announced the August 2023 launch of its Secret Menu: a variety of new, customized pizza offerings available exclusively through a QR code. Each item on the limited-time menu pays tribute to the brand’s history while offering a twist on its Flavored Crust roots.

To access the menu, customers are prompted to scan the QR codes displayed exclusively on Hungry Howie’s pizza boxes and in-store cash registers around the U.S. This interactive component unlocks the five Secret Menu pizza options in 3-D, along with fun “surprise and delight” features, and redirects customers to an online ordering page with their chosen items.

In August, Hungry Howie’s sold 49,334 pizzas from the Secret Menu across all stores systemwide, resulting in more than $515,000 in sales (1.42% of total sales). Additionally in August, the brand saw an increase in direct website sales traffic, gaining 5,200-plus new users and a user return rate of 19%. More than 5,000 unique QR code scans were tracked from August 1 to 31, driving the majority of traffic, while organic search was the most engaged source of traffic, with an engagement rate of more than 67%.

Our Secret Menu’s popularity also created an increase in social media engagement. A post of the Tie Dye pizza on Hungry Howie’s Instagram saw a 2,500% increase in likes, compared to recent posts. Overall, this initiative was not only successful for sales, but in terms of current and new customer interaction. Hungry Howie’s intends to continue and expand the menu in 2024.

The buffet-driven concept Cicis Pizza prioritizes collecting customer feedback and solving issues on the spot through its Cicis Listens program.

Listening Skills 

Coppell, Texas-based Cicis Pizza, with nearly 300 restaurants in 30-plus states, recently launched Cicis Listens, a platform that collects guest feedback and allows operators to solve issues in real time. Whitney Cartmill, director of customer experience, explains the program.

We can’t improve our guests’ experience until we learn to see Cicis through their point of view. Collecting feedback, good and bad, helps the entire Cicis family—guests and team members. Cicis Listens is a strategy for collecting and circulating guest feedback, which allows us to serve guests better—in ways we may not see in a regular shift.

Our operators have the platform on their phones in the form of a mobile app. They are notified immediately of a negative guest experience score and are able to contact the guest via phone call. This allows our operators to hear from them in more detail and solve the issue with the guest. We are able to get ahead of potentially negative online reviews, and the real-time element allows for a quick resolution.

The results have been fantastic! Of course, there are areas for improvement, but we’re hearing stories of team members going above and beyond for guests, and they’re being mentioned specifically by name. We share this feedback with operators and store managers, who then share with the team member mentioned. Praise and recognition are contagious motivators. Not only are the specific team members receiving recognition, but other team members and operators are hearing examples of ways and ideas they can use to wow guests next time.  

Tracy Morin is PMQ’s copy editor.