Business Insight
Image of outdoor pizza stand

Learnings from lockdown – independent pizza operators speak out

Key Points

  • Pizza businesses have fared better than some other foodservice sectors
  • Even operators who didn’t previously offer home delivery have managed to adapt
  • Quick-thinking adaptation has led to new business opportunities for some
  • Established customers have stuck by operators and told them to hang in there

WITH SOME PIZZA BUSINESSES still under lockdown and others now trying to rebuild business to former levels as they welcome customers back through their doors, Club Perfect caught up with some Perfect Italiano pizzamakers to find out what lockdown has meant for them – and how they’ve managed to navigate the last few months.

ADAPTING TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF HOME DELIVERY MARKET OPPORTUNITY

The good news is that pizza businesses have fared better than some other sectors of foodservice, thanks to pizza’s popularity in the takeaway and home delivery channels. Even those operators who didn’t previously offer home delivery have been able to adapt, like Sam’s Gourmet Pizza in the Brisbane suburb of Kuraby. “We are predominantly takeaway, so our business model didn’t have to change much except to introduce extra sanitisation measures and ways of minimising customer contact, such as contactless payment,” explains Zain Ghumra. “But we did introduce a new online order system and signed up for deliveries using Uber Eats and Door Dash. That’s helped us avoid losing customers to other outlets which would have been able to deliver their favourite pizzas while we couldn’t.”

With in-store numbers necessarily restricted, Sam’s introduced a system to get orders out to waiting customers: “When customers order online or by phone we give them a receipt number. Once they’re parked out front or nearby they phone us with their receipt, number plate and car description and we run the orders out to them. Ordinarily it’s hard to find parking near our store but there was much less traffic during lockdown so most customers have been able to park close by.”

A key focus was to reassure customers regarding hygiene. “We are normally very clean anyway but we put in extra touchpoints, wiped down after every customer and had dedicated staff making sure everything’s sanitised. We have also been very diligent with our own staff – anyone with a cough or even what may be an allergy has been told to stay away for 14 days. But generally we have not been hit too badly – we initially downscaled to a skeleton staff, but orders have picked up and now we’re pretty much back to where we used to be.”

MOBILE CATERING VANS REDEPLOYED AS POP-UP PIZZA STORES

Dino’s Pizza in Glenmore Park, Sydney, is a great example of a business adapting quickly to lockdown requirements. When orders for its mobile catering sideline dried up due to restrictions on gatherings, the business redeployed its oven-fitted Toyota HiAce vans as pop-up pizza stores in local shopping centre carparks. “We had to close the eat-in side of the restaurant,” explains Denise Hodge, “but we just switched over to takeaway and delivery mode, and business actually increased if anything because people couldn’t go out so they ordered in.”

Although Dino’s initially had to stand down 40 mobile catering staff, three-quarters of those were back at work within a fortnight in the pop-up pizza stores. “We got permission from Southlands shopping centre and Glenmore shopping centre to set up our van with the gazebo outside on Friday and Saturday nights,” Denise says. “We got a great response from that, it’s started to die off a little since restrictions have lifted but it’s still doing OK.”

The pop-up stores even generated a new business opportunity which Dino’s was quick to take advantage of. “We were doing pop-ups in Southlands car park and the management came over and said, ‘we’ve got an empty shop, would you be interested?’ So we said yes and we’re opening a new Dino’s there the week after next, offering pickup and takeaway.”

INTRODUCING TWO SEATINGS PER NIGHT TO BOOST CUSTOMER NUMEBRS

Marryatville Pizza Antico Forno, east of Adelaide, initially lost around 50 per cent of business turnover with the closure of its dine-in restaurant and upstairs function room – but kept its takeaway business operating and opened seven nights instead of its former six. “The takeaway side did pick up,” Eric Catalano affirms, adding: “We advertised more heavily on Uber Eats, we used our food stocks to make up takeaway packs of steaks and hot chips as well as the usual pizzas, and we put posts up on Facebook to let customers know what we were doing. The good thing is we’ve been around for 40 years, so our regular customer base is pretty big and they stuck by us – they told us to hang in there and that was really good to hear.”

Adaptation was again the order of the day – “we’ve had to switch to disposable menus, put up barriers, make sure staff are sanitising and following hygiene procedures, and we’ve gone over to an entirely cashless business model. In the last two weeks we’ve gone back to 50 per cent seating capacity and for the first time we’re doing two seatings per night – we have a 5.45 seating and a 7.30 seating, which is helping to get the numbers back up. We’re also now dedicating one server per table, just to reduce contact between staff and customers. It’s become more labour intensive and you hear different things about what you should be doing, so we have been relying on the government Covid helpline for advice. Things keep changing, every stage is different and you just have to keep rolling with it.”