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Any pizza operator who does home delivery knows that it can be the most challenging part of the business. From training your drivers to ensuring your product arrives piping hot and on time, there are endless variables to juggle, particularly when you’re running a restaurant at the same time.

“There are definitely a lot of drawbacks,” says Lou Maio, owner of Pizza e Cucina in Berwick, Victoria. “If you asked most pizza operators I think they’d say they’d rather do without deliveries. You tend to find that you get 90 per cent of your complaints from the delivery side of the business.”

Maio says that, as a small independent store, the biggest challenge is finding reliable drivers with reliable vehicles. But even the best drivers can’t always ensure that pizzas are delivered to customers on time. “Our deliveries span a large area and around peak times, say between five to six pm, roads can be quite congested,” he says.

One technique that Pizza e Cucina has employed to assist with this is keeping records of peak days (Australia Day for example), and referring to them the following year in order to predict the number of staff and drivers they’ll need on hand.

“You need to have the right amount of drivers to cope with the demand, but on the other hand, if you have too many on, and it’s not busy, you’re losing money,” he says. “Another thing we take account of is the weather, because of course more people stay home when it’s wet.”

Then there’s the challenge of delivering pizzas in prime condition. “We tend to find that the pizzas that don’t travel well are the soggy style pizzas, such as a Marinara seafood, or the ones with double toppings. We try to adapt the delivery pizzas to be a little bit drier so they travel better.”

Pizza e Cucina’s menu has a wide selection of items other than pizza, so they face additional issues around making sure those dishes also arrive in good condition.

“We find that pasta stays warm a lot longer, as it is sealed, whereas the pizza in a box pretty much starts losing heat as soon as it comes out of the oven. We also deliver a lot of salads and gelato. The ice cream comes straight out of the fridge and the longest it should really travel in a car is five minutes,” says Maio. “Obviously this means that there’s a limited area you can serve, but I think that trying to go too far is a big mistake many people make with home delivery.”

For the same reason, Maio recommends staggering advertising and making sure each major drop is confined to one geographical location, in order to make it easier to cope with the resulting demand.

According to Costa Anastasiadis, managing director of the successful Crust Gourmet Pizza franchise, it’s at 30 minutes out of the oven that the quality of a pizza really starts to drop. “When we see it climbing to an unacceptable level [from oven to door] then nine times out of ten it’s an issue with staff and how efficient they are,” he says.

For this reason, Anastasiadis says he now “rules with a bit of an iron fist”. “We’ve had experiences in the past with people from other pizza stores wanting to do things their own way. It’s very important to make it clear to staff that you have a system in place for a reason and they have to follow it and not improvise.”

Anastasiadis also believes that the durability of the dough and how it’s prepared is extremely important. “I’m taking my recipe to the grave with me but there are things you can do with your product to make it withstand half an hour,” he says. “There’s technology out there you can buy, such as thermo bags and hot pads, but the most important thing is really the dough.”

In the bag

Ryko Valance, national manager for First Pack, a company that specializes in food packaging products, including pizza supplies, says that the company brainstormed its latest pizza delivery bag for a year and a half before testing it in the marketplace.

“We’ve come up with a bag that’s easy for the driver to carry. It has big straps that allow you to keep the box horizontal … it also has a solid base to ensure it stays flat and straight so the product doesn’t move around. That way they can put pasta or other products in there as well,” he says.

Valance notes that the big trend in pizza packaging over the last year appears is more advertising. “We are finding that more and more people are wanting their own print [on the boxes],” he says. “So we’ll be rolling out a new product that incorporates your own branding on the pizza box.” (Details will be publicised on First Pack’s website, www.pizzaboxes.com.au, when the product is available.)

Mirotec Pizza Delivery Bags, which are a big seller in the US, were launched in the Australian marketplace in 2007. Slightly more expensive than standard nylon delivery bags, Mirotec bags are made of a metallised material with micro-perforations, which helps reflect heat back onto the pizza while allowing it to breathe.

“We’ve found that they’re different to other bags on market,” says Joe Cassisi, managing director for Euroquip, distributors of Mirotec in Australia. “We’ve found they hold temperature a lot longer and the pizza doesn’t get soggy because it disperses the moisture. They’ve been a very popular item for us.”

“We’re always looking for better packaging for products,” says Fadi Kurban, Chef Pizzeria at Colombo’s Pizza. “Next week I’m heading overseas [to China, Hong Kong and America] to check out trade shows and talk to distributors.”

However, Kurban notes that pizza supply manufacturers sometimes miss the mark. “A lot of manufacturers don’t deal directly with people who produce and deliver food to the customers. They’ll tell us something is fantastic, but when we use it it’s not user-friendly,” he says.

“For example, the electric-heated bag systems. I’ve got three of those that I bought six or seven years ago but they take up too much bench room. Those units cost me around six thousand dollars and now they’re downstairs in the basement.” Instead, Colombo’s uses foam-insulated bags. “They are more breathable than nylon. We find they absorb most of the moisture.”

“People don’t realise that delivery is really, really hard. At the end of the day the key to success is to keep it simple. If you make things too hard that’s when it all starts to go wrong.”

The right system

Having the right Point of Sale (POS) system in place can make a world of difference to the delivery side of your business—whether it’s knowing what your regulars order, and when, or keeping track of where your drivers are heading.

Crust Gourmet Pizza made its POS system a priority right from when the first of its stores opened, deeming it an essential part of the company’s plans for expansion. Managing director Anastasiadis says that it has been “absolutely crucial” to the business as a whole, but particularly when it comes to managing home deliveries.

“The biggest thing for us was creating a system that would allow us to flow; to get pizzas out there and keep an eye on how they were doing and to create very clear roles and responsibilities amongst our staff and especially our drivers,” says Anastasiadis.

“I think the best investment any small business or company can make is to work with another company that specialises in this field. It’s very important that who you work with understands your needs and future growth. We don’t skimp on our software or development … some of these tools allow you to analyse things such as delivery cost, deliver reach, where you go to most frequently and your delivery time-flow, which are obviously all very important.”

Anastasiadis emphasises the importance of having a system that is user-friendly. “One of the big problems in this industry is high turnover of staff, so you don’t want to waste too much time training people up,” he says. “Someone with basic customer service skills can be trained up within half an hour on our system and be very confident taking orders.”

However, Anastasiadis does note that there is currently not a lot of choice when it comes to generic POS software and that therefore it can be something of a “Catch-22” for small businesses who wish to grow, and need better technology to do so, but can’t yet afford the capital outlay necessary to develop a customised system.

But while it may cost a significant amount initially, some believe that a good system will ultimately pay for itself. Colombo’s Kurban says the new POS system they’re developing will save time and increase efficiency. “At the moment we’re developing a POS system with a navigating system for our drivers. I’ve got twelve drivers on during the rush hour and I’ll be able to tell exactly where they’re going and when,” says Kurban.

“The hardest part is knowing where a driver is going. They can’t just come in and grab one bag, they have to be carrying four or five at one time, so it’s more efficient to have the drivers going in one direction.”

Kurban says currently this mostly comes down to the experience of the person running the delivery system. That person allocates addresses and has to pinpoint where drivers should go.

“So that comes down to the training of that person. But with the new system it will be done automatically, so if ten orders come in within ten minutes the system allocates them automatically and he can pinpoint it straight away … it will be very efficient and will allow us to provide better service to our customers.”

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