Canadian Pizza Magazine

Features Business and Operations Finance
The Pizza Chef: July-August 2016

Recipe mapping to success


The last two columns I wrote for this magazine were about marketing as an independent operator. This is something I learned to do the hard way, meaning that I did it very badly in the beginning, copying the big guys on the block, thinking that would automatically lead me to good results. I couldn’t have been more wrong in that assumption.

Luckily, I sought out mentors who taught me about direct response marketing, how to craft offers and campaigns, and how to track the results of the marketing piece. I learned to expect accountability from all my marketing.

But just because I know these things now, doesn’t mean I am immune to repeating my mistakes. Have you ever caught yourself repeating a mistake from a lesson you’ve already learned?

We are in the process of updating all of our menus at Diana’s Cucina and Lounge. That means our take-out menus, our lounge menus, our drink menus – all of them. We increased our prices last year and these menus were meant to update to current prices. It’s interesting to learn all about menu engineering: where the customer’s eye flows when they open your menu and where on the page to place your top sellers. It’s fun to switch up the format and to put new pizzas and appetizers on the menu. It’s even wonderful to have new pictures taken. But none of that work is where you should start when it comes to designing or updating a menu. It’s fun work and you can easily get swept up in the idea that all those changes will increase sales and customer counts and all your worries will be solved. But if you start with these tasks, you’ll be missing the most important step in your menu’s success. Overlooking this step almost certainly creates many more problems than it solves, often building in a fatal flaw you will never recover from. Most independents miss this step or rush to get menus created thinking they will do this step at a later time. But later never comes.

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I almost repeated this very dire mistake in the process of updating all of our menus. I almost forgot to start at the beginning, with the math. Nothing else matters unless the math works.

What am I talking about? Recipe mapping.

Yes, I know it’s a lot of work. It’s numbers, measurements and portioning – all the stuff that none of us “creative types” really want to work on. But the lack of knowledge about true costs is what causes most operators to go out of business. It’s not lack of sales; rather, it’s a lack of accountability for the sales you do.

Most independents get into business, get menus printed, get inventory and start bringing in sales. How do most decide on what prices they charge? Well, they Google it, or they get a copy of the big guys’ menu and decide to be a dollar cheaper. On everything. This is all very exciting, except that when there is no money left in the bank account to pay rent, hydro, suppliers and even wages, these same independents believe the way to success is to increase sales. But that’s false thinking, because if your menu prices don’t cover your recipe costs, then it doesn’t matter how high your sales climb: there still won’t be any money left in the bank for your rent, hydro and wages. It happens more often than you might think. I know a guy who did $1.8 million in annual sales and didn’t make a dime of profit because his menu prices didn’t cover the costs of his ingredients. He didn’t start with the most important aspect of his menu first.

Finally, after 15 years in business, we did it right. We started at the beginning. “The definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting different results,” Albert Einstein once said. And so, for my own sanity, I delayed our own menu printing and went back to the beginning. I built a new spreadsheet and mapped out each recipe as it was intended to be made, with an updated cost per ingredient.

Turns out we almost went ahead with ordering a huge number of printed menus that underpriced our large pizzas. Imagine if I had rushed ahead with the printing and mailing of these menus. All of my team members would be working so hard, and at the end of the day, there wouldn’t be anything extra for them – and absolutely nothing for me except unpaid bills. I don’t know about you, but I chose this business as a way to earn my living. Not to fail at, but to succeed in.

Good thing I remembered to start at the beginning, with the math.


Diana Cline is a two-time Canadian Pizza magazine Chef of the Year champion, internationally recognized gourmet pizzaiolo, partner with Diana’s Cucina & Lounge in Winnipeg and a director for the CRFA [now Restaurants Canada] from 2009-2013. In addition to creating award-winning recipes, Diana is also a consultant to other pizzeria owner/operators in menu development, creating systems to run a pizzeria on autopilot, along with marketing and positioning to help operators grow their businesses effectively and strategically. She is available for consulting on a limited basis. For more information, contact her at dianaslcline@gmail.com.