This is the eighth installment of a multi-part series on how to plan, start and grow your pizzeria business

authentic-detroit-style-pizza-1-OptimizedYou probably have a good idea for what your main menu items will be; now you need to fill out your menu with side items, desserts, and beverages. You might even consider diet-specific options, such as a gluten-free pizza or vegetarian options. The following details how to create your menu and work with vendors to maintain high-quality and low costs.

NOTE: Ideally, you complete this step as part of your business plan to account for menu-related startup and operating costs.

How to choose your menu items

You already know you’re going to serve pizza, but do you know what style? How about variations: crusts, cheeses, toppings, etc.? Side items like wings, subs, pastas, or salads? Desserts? Beverages? How about table toppings like crushed red pepper or Parmesan cheese?

If you’re not sure how to fill out your menu, you can study menus from other restaurants and search online for ideas. Don’t limit your search to pizzerias; other types of restaurants might spark inspiration for unique ideas that fit your theme or help differentiate your pizzeria from competitors.

Vendor representatives are also excellent resources for building your menu, especially since they have insight into perennial bestsellers and contemporary trends.

Create your recipes

Once you have a list of menu items, you need to formalize your recipes. Write down exactly how to make each menu item, including an itemized ingredient list, then test them out. Debating between different recipes? Recruit friends and family for a taste-testing!

Make sure you have the ability to scale your recipes; a recipe that serves four should be scalable to serve 40.

For each recipe, create an ingredient list. Consolidate your ingredients into a single list; which will serve as the order guide you’ll use to get quotes from vendors.

How to find vendors

A quick online search will help you find big regional vendors like Shamrock, GFS, and US Foods, but keep in mind there are also local and specialty vendors you can reach out to for specific ingredients. Contact five or six vendors and set up appointments with their vendor representatives.

When you meet with your vendor rep, have your menu and ingredient list in-hand (you might even consider emailing these ahead of time to get the ball rolling). Your vendor rep will use your list to offer an itemized quote for each ingredient on your list.

Don’t share a quote from one vendor with another; instead, have each rep quote your ingredient list individually. You want to see how they compete on quality and pricing without being influenced by another company’s prices.

Generally-speaking, you want to pick the vendor that offers the best quality products at the best pricing. Here are some other tips to help you get the most out of your vendors:

  • Ask about what’s called a “prime vendor relationship.” These arrangements offer discounted and fixed pricing in return for your commitment to give the vendor 75 percent or more of your ordering business. Do this before you decide which vendor to choose, as the discounts from a higher-priced vendor could be steeper than those offered by a lower-priced vendor.
  • Take a hard look at any vendor you’re considering working with. Small vendors might be good for a couple of niche menu items, but there could also be issues with consistency, stocking, and sourcing. Also make sure the vendor is the right fit for you. If you’re big on technology but “Joe’s Meat Shop” looks like it belongs in the 1950’s, you might be good fits for each other.
  • I recommend having at least two vendors, as no single company has the best quality for every category or the best pricing for every ingredient. You might have a different meat vendor and a different dairy vendor, for example, or a dedicated produce vendor. You’ll also need a vendor for paper supplies and other disposables. Find the right balance for your pizzeria, but keep in mind you can only have one prime vendor relationship.
  • Think of your vendor as a business partner, and vet them as such. Understand their customer service policies, support process, and reputation. Know where they source their ingredients and how they handle damaged items and returns. Strive to be on the same page as the people you’re growing your business with, and do not discount your vendor rep as a valuable resource for business growth.
  • Communication is key. Make your expectations clear and understand theirs. If you notice a competing vendor is offering better pricing, don’t just jump ship – discuss it with your vendor rep. A good vendor representative will work with you and help you grow your business (they have a vested interest in it, too, after all). Be sure to maintain perspective; leaving a good relationship for a ten-cent price difference is usually not a good idea.

Once you’ve identified your vendors and figured your pricing (both vendor pricing and menu item pricing), you can work those figures into your business plan. Do the legwork to set up beneficial vendor arrangements now to build a foundation for your pizzeria’s future success.

Helpful links

Shamrock Food Service

Gordon Food Service (GFS)

US Foods

Food Service News (online publication)