Let's Do Lunch

By Dave Ostrander

Does anyone remember how we ever got into serving lunch? Pizza was not considered a lunch option for the first thirty years of its growth. You couldn't order a pizza for lunch if your life depended on it in most of the country. The general public perceived it only as a dinner or late night/day meal. It was not compatible with the 30 and 45 minute time constraints of those who ate out at lunch. It simply took too much time to drive, park, order, wait (usually twenty minutes), scarf it and get back to work on time. Then around the late 1970s, Pizza Hut launched a huge campaign. Lunch in five minutes, or it's free. This took all of the fear out of having pizza for lunch. It was very successful and the rest is history. Currently, pizza ranks in the top three or four choices for lunch. Thanks, Pizza Hut.

I embraced lunch at Big Dave's. My annual sales were only growing at slightly above inflation. I stayed open until three in the morning on the weekends to make ends meet. I remember being at work and watching the sunset and still being there at sunrise. After perfecting lunch sales, my gross sales increased 35 percent and I was able to scale back my closing hours to a more reasonable time. I really had my fill of the bar rushes anyway.

From your customers point of view, you must provide three things to earn their lunch business. They are; Speed, Convenience and Value. To really compete, delivery is not an option. Drive thru windows and guarantees finish out the package and will help to make your store a lethal weapon at lunch. Let's take a lesson from our big brother, the burger, on how it's done. They handle thousand-dollar lunch hours every day and rarely get in the weeds.

In the past three weeks, I've consulted with four pizzerias that wanted to jump-start their lunch sales. They were not maximizing their profit potential and asked for my advice. Whenever I mention jump-start, think massive increases in sales. Here are some of the field notes I took. "How can I increase my lunch sales? I don't think it's worth it opening for lunch. I don't generate enough sales in the hour and a half to make it worthwhile. I have a hard time scheduling."

Now it's time to bring out our secret weapon. Our ability to deliver the meals separates us from the pack of competitors. Lunch delivery areas that can make a big difference to your bottom line should focus on higher than average guest check averages. Delivering meals to multiple customers at the same address is the key. Instead of waiting for the phone to ring and delivering the two sandwiches and sodas here there and everywhere all at exactly noon, try this approach. Create a short list of nearby businesses that already occasionally order from you. Categorize them into professional office, retail, service company and industrial.

Start with the medical clinics and doctor's offices. These are the most lucrative areas in which to start. Pharmaceutical manufacturer sales reps conduct in-house service and staff training on an ongoing basis with the clinical providers all of the time. Software companies hold in-house services with the clerical staff to keep them up to speed on insurance and record keeping. These are usually working lunches. Did I mention that these companies have very deep pockets? Time is money in a clinical setting and they will only have an hour to impart a lot of information.

When these sessions are being scheduled the rep will often ask the office manager who will cater in lunch. The answer is you. You'll need to design a B&I (business & industry) menu. This menu will be one page and describe your most popular, profitable and easiest to prepare entrees. I've had the most success with bundling items, such as 2 slices of pizza, salad, fresh breadsticks, soda and a cookie. I've also served lasagna, fettuccini, and upscale sandwiches that were bundled to make it a complete meal.

The office manager doesn't want to survey every staffer with individualized orders. It's probably time to put yourself in the order person's shoes. He or she has a couple of fears about ordering from you. The first one is that you'll be late. The food must be above average. It is vital that the food be delivered at the right temp, on time every time. The price is not that important. They frequently have a per person budget to work with. Her reputation is on the line to insure all of the staff will totally enjoy lunch.

Secondly, most drug reps prefer to pay by credit card. If you aren't accepting plastic you should be. Ordering this way tends to be a nightmare for all parties. It's too easy to mess up. I like the bundling system that McDonalds uses with Value-Meals.

Now print up some copies on your PC and hit the bricks for lunch. Call the office manager and tell them that their office/department has been randomly chosen to be the "Business of the Week" by yours truly and their reward is free lunch tomorrow. Set a limit on how many you'll comp. If they blow you off (they won't) keep dialing.

Who says TANSTAAFL? This stands for 'their ain't no such thing as a free lunch.' When you arrive at their office, strut in like a hero announcing that you have FREE LUNCH for Ms. Smith's group, handing out your new menus and office cube (refrigerator) magnets that have your logo phone fax and "Who says TANSTAFL?" mantra printed on it. I like to have my drivers wear buttons that are imprinted with the slogan also. We've had our guests ask to keep one. If you're up for it, for a dollar more, you can get the same information imprinted on a mouse pad for the decision maker. Leave behind lots of this stuff. You will be the talk of the building if you do it several times.

The next time they order charge them accordingly. Now you have broken even on food and labor cost. The third time they order really blow them away with the Tijuana Toss. When you get to the delivery point of contact, take out a silver or new gold dollar and tell them if the coin comes up heads lunch is on you, tails and they pay. Get the most important looking person in the vicinity to do the toss? No matter the outcome you'll be famous overnight.

All of this for less money than a small newspaper ad costs. This strategy will work every time and gives you the courage to get out of the store and drag in new, profitable business. Businesses that fax their orders in before ten in the morning get the delivery charged waived. Another nice touch is to give the office manager a gift certificate for a free pizza to be presented to the employee of the month.

Who says TANSTAAFL?


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