Menu development: Why Dodo Pizza is going beyond pizza

We started in 2016 with a radical idea of selling only seven pizzas. It worked much better than even our friends predicted. And we’ve been quite reserved in our menu development, having introduced only two new pizzas since our grand opening. But now the Dodo team’s going rogue, adding salads and milkshakes to the table in our second shop in Southaven. In this post, I want to explain the logic behind our revamped menu strategy and also open a conversation about how new dishes should be invented, tested, and launched by a restaurant team.

If it were up to us restaurateurs, we’d be having only one meal on the menu

That might sound a bit extreme, but I’m just trying to make a point. We at Dodo Pizza didn’t invent the idea of a limited menu. Many restaurateurs aim to offer as few options as possible—and for a good reason. Perfection requires focus—you can’t be a jack of all trades. For example, London’s acclaimed Burger and Lobster has only burgers and lobsters (surprise!) on its menu.

By limiting the number of ingredients you employ, you reduce not only the chances of mistakes but also waste that impacts your food cost. A small menu allows you to buy fewer ingredients, too, and in bigger batches—for a better price. So the best menu is indeed the one consisting of only one dish. Okay, plus one drink.

When it comes to the menu, restaurateurs and their customers are at odds

Here is the rub—people can’t eat only one thing all the time. They need variety—physically and mentally. And they have different tastes. When a company of friends decides where to go for lunch, they choose a place that offers something enticing for each of them. So from the point of view of our customers, the more options we have on our menu, the better. A dozen? Might work, or not. Two dozen? Sounds more interesting. A hundred? Wow! Now, I will have some trouble picking something, but no matter what I say, I love the pain of making a choice (if it weren’t so, Amazon with its unlimited choices wouldn’t be the ruler of the world).

As with everything else in life, menu development is all about balance

So I guess, when it comes to menu development, every one of us restaurateurs is trying to strike a balance between giving choices to customers and keeping things manageable for the team and profitable for the business. Domino’s has found its balance at around 40 options, Papa John’s at about 25, and we were pretty happy with just seven pizzas, at least at the beginning.

Then we saw our sales decline and we heard our loyal customers say they would have ordered more often if we had offered more options. Last fall, we launched the Chicken BBQ and introduced the Sausage pizza this summer. Now we’re aiming at having around a dozen pizzas and launching full customization for our pies some day. But in Dodo Pizza Southaven, our second store that is currently in the works, we’ll go beyond that.

Every new product should serve a purpose

There were times when we thought that you could add a product to your menu just because it was cool and looked like it fit. Now we understand that every meal you put on your menu must be on a mission; it has to pursue a clear objective you set for it. This objective will determine the shape of the dish, its look, name, and pricing—everything. At least that’s how we came about introducing salads even though we had been hell-bent on sticking with just pizza in the beginning.

A greater purpose of our brand-new salads

To name the purpose our salads serve, I need to take a step back and explain the changes we made in the shop’s entire concept. Dodo Pizza Oxford, our first pizzeria, is a delivery with a carryout option. In Southaven, we want to gamble on opening a delivery with a small dine-in area.

Our dine-in has its own mission: to boost sales in the daytime when the demand for delivery is lower. We aren’t entertaining any plans of venturing into full-service business to compete with restaurants in the evenings. We aim at lunch money, but having just pizza on the menu won’t be enough to woo the lunchers. As we hope, our new additions will do the trick. A pizza with a salad with a soda or milkshake constitutes a good American lunch.

Construction work in full swing in Southaven
Construction work in full swing in Southaven

What waits ahead of us in menu development: recipes, tests, calculations

You need to dig into our history to take in how big a deal for us, true pizza aficionados, this is. Some of you might remember that in the beginning, we had a flub trying to introduce milkshakes for delivery. We didn’t think it through and had to hit the brakes.

Now we have more experience and time to make everything right. Having an idea of a product is obviously just the first step. We’ll have to come up with the recipes, test them, tweak them, test them again, find the suppliers, calculate the food cost, train the team, make sure that the new stuff won’t hinder our kitchen efficiency, and finally, launch the products. And we’re going to share all the details of this process here on the blog for the sake of the people who are facing the same task of menu development and creating new dishes. The links will be added to this post—so you’ll find them easily.

Southaven is due to open at the end of the year. It will be a quick ride: get on board!