Easy innovation in your kitchen: Think pizza!

Your in-house restaurant acts as a beacon for guests looking to unwind with a fresh meal close to home base, thus improving the overall quality of their stay. This is common knowledge. But recently what I’ve found is a trend towards standardization of onsite eateries. Every hotel restaurant I visit seems to offer the same general assortment: salads, pasta, burgers, pizza and a few meat entrees. It’s rare that I find anything new or bold.

Frankly, most hotel restaurant menus are becoming rather boring, and in an industry where excitement is a key facet of success, this needs to change. You should have a minimum of one or two select dishes that can really wow your guests. These are dishes that will delight the senses as well as offer a distinctive experience. Again, the goal here, on top of repeat business, is to generate word of mouth by giving your visitors something worth talking about.

Fortunately, there’s a quick solution that might be worth a try. Just about everyone loves pizza. It’s fun, it’s filling, it’s sharable and it’s loaded with flavor. If your kitchen can craft one right, then it’s all the more reason for a positive appraisal at the end of a guest’s stay.

True, any part of your menu can be modified. You may even deem it necessary to revamp the entire restaurant with a renovated look and a grand reopening. As you well know, this is expensive. I offer up pizza innovation as, more or less, a Band-Aid solution to get the ball rolling and gauge consumer response prior to any other more substantial upgrades.

The beauty of pizza, apart from the aforementioned advantages, is that it isn’t too hard to get the basic recipe right, and the ingredients aren’t too costly, either. There will always be those people who only want the perfect margherita or pepperoni slice, but beyond these two staples, pizza is prime turf for adventure seekers. People want bountiful toppings and tasty, creative combinations of sauce, cheese, meats, veggies and, in some cases, even fruit.

Take the “meat lovers,” for example (bear with me, vegetarians, this isn’t just about pork and beef). What comes first when you imagine this combo? For me, it’s a minimum of three meats, likely consisting of salami, ham, bacon or ground beef, all piled high over cheese and dough. Good on the tongue, but not so much on the arteries. Now picture my chagrin when the pizza is served and it resembles a pepperoni with a few added slices of cured meat. A friend at the table asks how it tastes, and my answer is a brusque, “It’s good.”

Not exactly the response of someone who’s going to remember what they ate 24 hours later, let alone go out of their way to extol such a meal. In this day and age, “good” isn’t good enough, even when it comes to something as simple as tomato sauce lathered over bread. Too many restaurants have gussied up the pizza to its extremes, especially when it comes to the unbridled excess of the meat lovers combo. Our expectations are high. In order to positively impact your guests, you have to go beyond — with pie and everything else on your menu, for that matter.

Again, a large part of your success is to get creative. Any restaurant can offer a do-it-yourself pizza bar to outsource this ingenuity, but many will always be inclined to try a menu’s pre-packaged flavors — the expert’s opinion, if you will. And if you can offer an array of truly savory topping combinations, then it will only act in your favor.

Pizzas are also a great way to expand into some more vegan-friendly territory. Think whole wheat crust, pesto sauce, fresh veggies and a layer of baked spinach — healthy as can be. Be inclusive, and keep in mind that vegetarians are just as bold as carnivores when it comes to their pies. If available, focus on locally grown ingredients and describe accordingly. Experiment with different types of tomatoes, peppers, leafy greens and sauces, and find a mix that is unique to your restaurant. 

Plus, pizzas tend to be at the core of the late-night ordering-in crowd. If you are known for good pie, then perhaps your room service will beat out Dominos, Pizza Hut and any other fast food delivery pizza conglomerate that caters to this demographic. Be known for making great pizza. At worst, it beats not being known for great pizza! Just remember that pizza quality is inversely related to the length of time between taking it out of the oven and first bite. Coordination of room service delivery is essential.

Lastly, your CFO will be pleased with your decision. Pizza costs — even with premium ingredients — will rarely exceed 20% of selling price (white truffle variants aside), making this a very solid decision financially. Now, I’m not suggesting you specialize in pie, but given that it’s a staple of many modern diets, being proficient in this area will definitely be a plus. My advice to you is to eat out at another restaurant around town that actually focuses on pizzas and see what they do. Learn from the best, and then innovate as you see fit.