'Build your own pizza' concept capitalises on new customer trend

Key points

  • With menu customisation a growing trend, customers are responsive to the opportunity to choose their own pizza toppings or design their own pasta creation.
  • Fresh ingredients and effective portion control are key elements in making the concept work
  • Sydney pizza and pasta business is successfully offering ‘build your own’ pizza and pasta with a range of fresh gourmet ingredients and one-size bases

GIVING CUSTOMERS the opportunity to build their own pizzas — choosing their own toppings and flavour combinations rather than ordering from the standard menu — is a trend that’s growing in overseas markets, and now Aussie establishments are starting to get in on the act.

With McDonald’s ‘Create Your Taste’ burger concept having shown that many customers are keen to take advantage of the opportunity to choose their meal ingredients, smart foodservice professionals are recognising that this approach can work just as successfully with pizza and pasta.

The key challenge is that of effective portion control of ingredients in order to keep meal production costs standardised while meeting customers’ desires for recipe variation.

This has been successfully tackled by Pizza Pasta Please restaurant at Campbelltown in Sydney’s outer west, a relative newcomer to the pizza and pasta business.

Founder Morney Schlebusch says the ‘build your own’ concept is particularly appealing to local diners who are time-poor and looking for fast, value for money meals that the whole family can enjoy.

Morney points out that the key element in the restaurant’s success has been to ensure the process is clearly explained to first-time customers.

He explains how it works: “When a customer walks in the door, the first thing we do is ask if they have been here before, and if not, we explain to them how it works.”

Customers pick their choice of pizza base — traditional, gluten free, wholemeal, flaxseed, or red chilli — then their sauce. Pizza Pasta Please makes its own sugo in house and customers can also pick from sauces like pumpkin, bechamel or barbecue.

Next step is to choose the cheese — and here Pizza Pasta Please has developed its own inhouse P3 blend of Perfect Italiano Cheeses, which is the most popular choice. There’s also regular Mozzarella, Goat’s cheese and other choices.

With these core ingredients assigned, customers then pick from fresh vegetables or gourmet meats to top their pizza. The process is similar for pasta dishes.

“Pizzas start from $9.95 and we guarantee that the pizza is ready in one minute and forty-five seconds,” Morney explains. “Typically the pizza is ready by the time the customer has paid their bill.”

The concept is so new to the Australian market that it sometimes takes customers a little time to get their head around it. “We always watch when new customers come in — they get their order and walk out with a ‘what just happened?’ look on their face,” Morney smiles. “They didn’t have to wait — it was fresh, it was fast and it didn’t break the bank.”

The issue of ensuring effective portion control of ingredients so as to maintain pricing is one that Morney has successfully solved.

He carefully developed each recipe with each single ingredient weighed, measured, portioned out and costed appropriately. “The idea is that every time a customer orders a particular sauce or topping, all the staff have to do is measure out the correct amount and make sure it’s spread evenly over the pizza.

"Our rule of thumb is we put our toppings right to the edge — because customers want no gaps on their pizza toppings, that’s what tells them they’re getting value for money. The other important point is that every ingredient must be represented in each bite of the pizza — in other words, spread consistently across the base.”

This process minimises preparation time and makes it simple for kitchen staff — all they do is pick up the measuring scoop and spread the toppings across.

Further standardising the process and removing complexity is the fact that Pizza Pasta Please’s pizzas are all the one standard size.

‘Build your own’ pizza also presents the opportunity to provide healthier nutritional choices which diners appreciate and which can extend your potential customer base.

With a range of toppings on offer, customers can design their pizza to fit their individual dietary requirements. In the case of Pizza Pasta Please, this extends to offering customers a gluten free base and vegan cheese options to accompany their choice of vegetarian toppings.

While Pizza Pasta Please is predominantly a takeaway operation, it does have in-house seating for 80 people and the build your own concept can work just as well for dining in as it does for takeaway.

Perhaps the biggest indicator of the popularity of ‘build your own’ is the fact that Pizza Pasta Please has built up a successful business without spending a single cent on advertising.

Simply through word of mouth, news of the availability of a build your own pizza restaurant has spread like wildfire throughout the local area and this, complemented with social media presence — Pizza Pasta Please’s Facebook page — has led to the business being so successful that the owners have received strong franchise interest.

Clearly the 'build your own' pizza and pasta concept is here to stay!