Training Tips: Topping a Pizza With Consistency and Precision

  • With so many topping choices and several different pizza makers in your store, you need a plan for delivering the best, most consistent pizza every time.
  • It starts with correctly prepping your products so your staff can handle busy periods more smoothly. 

Related: Train your employees to apply pizza cheese correctly and consistently 

It’s the question that turns nearly everyone into a liar: “What do you want on your pizza?” If you had a dollar for every time someone responded, “I don’t care—I’ll eat anything,” you’d be rich. The truth is, everybody cares, and this gets proven as soon as the pizza arrives and everyone starts picking off the toppings they don’t like.

Toppings really do matter. And it’s crucial to the continued success of your pizzeria that the correct toppings are placed on the pie in the correct portions—and that they are distributed evenly around the entire pizza, every single time.

Your dough, your sauce and your cheese make every pizza individually yours. That core recipe helps set you apart from your competition. When your customer adds his choice of toppings, it becomes his pizza. If you offer 10 topping choices, that gives your customers hundreds of thousands of possible combinations! With so many choices and several different pizza makers working in your store, you need a plan for creating consistency that includes expectations, training, tools, tips and techniques to deliver the very best, most consistent pizza to your customers every time they order.

This plan needs to be all-inclusive, from initial expectations to execution, resulting in the perfect pizza for the customer. It should include:

  • Proper ordering and receiving
  • Correct dating of all products
  • Shelf life knowledge and tracking
  • Proper and consistent prepping practices
  • Fully stocked work stations
  • Tools (portion guides, prep work sheets and scales)
  • Preventing cross-contamination
  • Consistent portions
  • Itemization order
  • Proper distribution
  • Visual final inspection
  • Controlling Inventory

Creating great pizzas begins when you place an order with your supplier. You should have a system in place that tracks your inventory so you can determine what to order. The next step is to properly forecast your business needs for the upcoming food delivery. And you or your manager should be at the restaurant when the order arrives, ready to check it in and ensure that you received everything you ordered (and nothing you didn’t order). As you check in the order, all of your items should be marked with a “received” date and then properly rotated after you put them away. To maintain the highest-quality product, it’s important to keep a current list of all ingredients and their usable shelf lives. You should make this list available to your staff, and everyone on your team should regularly check the shelf lives of all products.

With proper edge-to-edge itemizing, that last memorable bite will still have all of the great-tasting toppings that the customer ordered, creating a satisfying pizza experience and ensuring his repeat business.

Perfect Prepping

Correctly prepping your products allows staff to handle those busy times more smoothly. Consistency in prepping will help you attain your goal of consistency to your customer. You’ll want to implement standard operating procedures for everything you prep and place prep work sheets at all work stations to support your kitchen training regimen. Scales should also be utilized at the prep station to ensure consistency of product.

Additionally, we want to keep our customers safe. We’re food handlers, and that is a huge responsibility. Make sure you train your team members on proper prepping techniques that will prevent them from cross-contaminating any food items, especially if you offer gluten-free fare. All prepped products should be dated. And keep in mind that a product’s shelf life typically changes once it has been opened. Proper shelf life management will keep your product fresh and your customers safe and happy.

Read on PizzaVegan.com: Pizza, pop-ups and punk rock with Chris Bertke

As rush time approaches, your work stations should be fully stocked and ready to go. They should be stocked not only with product but with scales, all of the necessary utensils, visual aids (such as portion charts and prep work sheets) and, of course, well-trained, energetic team members. As basic as all of this sounds, it won’t just happen on its own—it requires a carefully considered plan, execution and continuous follow-up.

As the owner of the store, it’s your job to set expectations for the perfect pizza and communicate those expectations to your staff. Proper training sets, calibrates and reinforces your expectations. Visual job aids, such as portion charts, support your expectations, as do posters that depict your vision of the “perfect pizza.” (Pizzaskool.com offers free customizable portion templates to its customers.)

Item by Item

Now it’s time to get down to the nuts and bolts of itemization, so that each customer receives a pizza that is uniquely his own. Itemization requires consistent and proper portioning, consistent and proper distribution of toppings, and consistent order of itemization. Once the portions have been set and the team members trained, you should perform periodic checks to ensure that your standards for consistency are being met and to ensure proper cost management. Every pizza should be looked at before it goes in the oven and before you close the box. Too much food on the pizza means decreased margins; too little food on the pizza means decreased top-line sales!

In other words, consistent portioning is a driving factor in your continued success. To make sure you get it right, portioning should be done by counting flat meats (such as pepperoni and sliced ham), using a bowl and a scale to weigh every item. No “guesstimating” should be allowed! Train your employees to take the time, utilize the tools and get a handle on portioning techniques.

Portion distribution is just as important as portioning. Center loading is a common error amongst pizza makers. Here, the employee distributes all of the toppings toward the center of the pizza, leaving the edges with nothing but dough, sauce and cheese. But most of us eat pizza from the center to the crust. With proper edge-to-edge itemizing, that last memorable bite will still have all of the great-tasting toppings that the customer ordered, creating a satisfying pizza experience and ensuring his repeat business.

Topping order makes a difference, too. To deliver consistent results, the pizza maker should always put the toppings on the pizza in the same order every time. Some of the best pizza makers in the business use this order as a general guideline:

  • Flat Meats
  • Flat Vegetables
  • Bulky Meats
  • High-Moisture Vegetables
  • Extra Cheese
  • Raw meats

Following these guidelines provides a consistent look for every pie and ensures that all of the toppings are properly cooked. To help out your pizza makers, set up your make table in that order and provide visual aids to jog their memories.

Practice makes perfect pizza makers, so here’s one more suggestion: Organize itemizing competitions for your crew during slow times. Place a clean sheet of parchment paper on a screen and see how fast your pizza makers can properly portion and distribute toppings. Make it fun, create a scoreboard, and award prizes. By emphasizing your expectations for quality and consistency and following up routinely to enforce your standards, you’ll instill the desire for quality and consistency in your pizza makers as well.

This article by Dan Risner, the now-retired president of PizzaSkool, was originally published in the March 2014 issue of PMQ Pizza Magazine.