June 1, 2014

Respecting the Craft: Lean and Mean

I had to make an executive decision. I realized at the 11th hour that my kitchen at Tony’s of North Beach in the Graton Casino would not be able to handle the original menu I planned for it prior to opening. Simply put, we would not be able to execute it perfectly due to a variety of factors. Well, perfect execution is what I expect. In order for my new staff to be able to provide that to our guests, I decided that I would need to take roughly 30 percent of the items off the menu.

One hiccup: I’d already paid to print menus. Still, I couldn’t let a few grand derail our opening by overwhelming our staff and therefore providing poor execution. So I had new menus printed — at the cost of $3,000 — just three days before we opened. Was it a total necessity for me to spend $6,000 on two menu printings?

Yes, it was.

Funny thing is that this is the third time I have done this when opening a new restaurant. You would think that I would have learned something about menu development for a new pizzeria by now, wouldn’t you? But here’s the thing: as an owner you are so eager to open your restaurant that it becomes difficult to slow down the flow of “great ideas” that fill your head.

Still, opening a restaurant with a menu that cannot be executed is a huge mistake. I fully believe that once you hire your kitchen staff and have training, that’s when you understand your team’s limitations and what it is capable of accomplishing. Like I said, I have been known to downsize my menu before an opening at three other locations. While it may have caused me to spend more at the beginning, the move definitely saved me customers and thousands of headaches all three times. First impressions are everything, especially to a new customer.

As a pizzaiolo I really want to show off everything on the menu. Yet, in the midst of it all I seem to come to reality and say to my self that the customer won’t get around to sampling 20 to 30 percent of the menu until their fifth or sixth time in. So why not keep my most popular items and delete the rest?

This is not only good for execution, by the way. It also gives writers something to hype on your behalf about six months down the line when you add the 30 percent back to the menu. And it satisfies regulars who are beginning to look for something new from you at about that time. So don’t be afraid to cut your menu a bit when you go for that second or third or fourth location.

RESPECTING THE CRAFT features World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani, owner of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco and Pizza Rock in Sacramento.  Tony compiles the column with the help of his trusty assistants, Laura Meyer and Thiago Vasconcelos. If you have questions on any kitchen topic ranging from prep to finish, Tony’s your guy. Send questions via Twitter @PizzaToday, Facebook (search: Pizza Today) or e-mail and we’ll pass the best ones on to Tony.