How to balance speed and service

custom pasta

Customization may be a sales driver, but it also can complicate operations. “Seventy-five percent of our business is build-your-own orders, and it takes three visits to get your perfect pizza,” says Jim Bitticks, executive vice president of operations and training at fast casual Blaze Pizza. From start to finish, the Blaze process takes only eight to 10 minutes—not much time to connect with the guest. So servers need to be equipped to walk guests through the process in that short period while still delivering hospitality.

Whether that is helping a customer know what to order or making eye contact to build a personal connection, operators need to train their staff to perform, even when the line is 10 guests deep. For Blaze, that means teaching authenticity—servers know the menu in order to make suggestions and build a proper pizza, but they don’t rely on a script. Instead, they learn to help guests through ice breakers and mock orientations. 

Italian fast casual Fazoli’s added choose-your-own pasta and salad combinations as well as menu samplers to gain more traction in the market, but found the assembly line service didn’t work for its brand. “We train our cashiers to be menu experts,” says Vanessa Naso, director of training for Fazoli’s. “We want them to partner with the guest and make the experience the best they can.”

Either way, if guests are customizing down an assembly line or with a cashier, operators need to have tricks  and tactics to keep the line moving without making customers feel rushed. 

Start with one question

“Have you been here before?” It’s the first thing Blaze employees ask every customer. “We want to host them through the experience, so they don’t feel intimidated,” says Bitticks. Return guests are invited to start their order. If the answer is “no,” staffers mention Blaze’s signature pizzas and that all toppings are the same price.

Encourage muscle memory

Cashiers who can touch-type their way through the many menu options will keep their focus and eye contact on the guest. Fazoli’s POS training starts with practice exercises on where menu items are located, followed by the more complex entering of orders with modifications. 

Know how it cooks

Pepperoni is the slowest topping to put on a pizza, but generally the first one guests ask for. Blaze employees ask about other meats and place the faster ones—like chicken or sausage—first. They put on half the pepperoni, then hand the rest to the next station, which finishes placement while asking about the next toppings. 

Think beyond the line

Blaze staff try to always touch the table once before guests leave. “‘Can I get you a box?’ is the low-hanging fruit,” says Bitticks. “This is their last connection with your team, so take advantage of the clear and easy exchanges.”

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