Hacking the American pizza: how we tried to invent a better “build your own pie” service

Hacking the American pizza: how we tried to invent a better “build your own pie” service

02 November 2017

Maxim Kotin

Chief storyteller

Maxim Kotin

So stupid of us: Americans love picking toppings and making their own pizzas, and we didn’t allow them to do that.


To answer this question, let me ask you, dear reader, a few of my own.

How often have you:

  • ordered a pizza with the toppings of your choice and got a totally messed up pizza with some ingredients missing?
  • tried ordering a customized pizza online and gave up because the process was too complicated?
  • gotten your customized pizza that looked ugly and tasted like shit?

In our experience, all these things happen—and happen often.

Customization makes both ordering and processing orders too complicated and decreases kitchen productivity, and too often, it leads to getting a piece of crust with a pile of incompatible toppings on it instead of an awesome pizza made in accordance with a well thought-out recipe.

How do you make pizza customization awesome?

When we opened our first American pizza delivery in 2016, we didn’t know that.

So we decided to cut customization off at Dodo Pizza Oxford (MS). Basically, we told our customers: choose one of our recipes—or order somewhere else. With our menu development, we focused on introducing more recipes and allowing customers to exclude some ingredients from them.

It was very un-American of us. So half a year ago, we started grinding away at our next-level “create your own pie” service. This week, we launched it.

Here is our very first fully customized pizza, with ham and banana peppers.

[big_small_image image=“14666” select_size=“img-normal”]

Those who tried creating their own pies on the go will appreciate it: the order was placed on mobile in less than 30 seconds. It was done in 10 minutes with no mistakes. What is even more important, it looks like a pretty decent pizza.

So, what did we do to improve the customization experience for our customers?

Customization hack number one: introducing layers

What undermines the taste of many customized pizzas? Putting toppings in the wrong order.

If you put pepperoni on the cheese, it will burn. If you put bacon under the cheese, it won’t be crunchy.

When following a recipe, the kitchen crew knows the proper order. With customized pizzas, people usually just randomly top the pizza with the ingredients.

To tackle this problem, we’ve come up with the concept of five layers:

  1. for toppings that go on the sauce
  2. for meat and non-meat toppings that go under the cheese
  3. mozzarella layer
  4. for meat toppings that go above the cheese
  5. for non-meat toppings that go above the cheese

Customization hack number two: using a bit of AI

Managing a restaurant or delivery is messy work by itself, so we didn’t want to complicate it even more with customization.

It’s pretty awesome that our crew doesn’t have to memorize the succession of toppings. Because we taught our tracking system the concept of layers.

On the kitchen tablet, the system shows the toppings of each customized pizza in the proper sequence. You don’t have to think about what goes after what—just follow the instructions on the screen.

[big_small_image image=“14680” select_size=“img-normal”]

So, pizza 6–1 (meaning the first pizza in the sixth order) has to be topped in this sequence: marinara sauce, pepperoni, ham, mozzarella, and jalapeno peppers.

Customization hack number three: color-coding

Of course, we want to make sure that our crew will immediately recognize customized pizzas. We want these orders to stand out.

So we’ve made some tweaks in the tracker’s design. Customized pizzas have no names, and they show toppings in purple instead of black, which shows toppings that should be excluded from our recipes (if a customer orders a Supreme with no olives, for example).

Customization hack number four: simplifying ordering

A 30-second mobile and online ordering tool was our goal from the beginning. So we did our best to keep it as simple as possible.

Our “build your own pie” section doesn’t boast any animations or fancy images (you know what the Pepperoni looks like, right?). Everything you need to choose from is on one page. All the toppings are divided into two sections: meats and non-meats.

Hacking the American pizza: how we tried to invent a better “build your own pie” serviceDodo Pizza Customization Mobile 2














Another awesome feature others don’t have: you see the final price right on the screen. When you add a topping, the price changes immediately.

[big_small_image image=“14685”]

Try it yourself at Dodo Pizza Oxford website.

So, what’s next

In 2016, people said that without customization, we would be out of business in a few months. This October, a year and a half ago, Dodo Pizza Oxford saw $62,000 in sales.

What will happen in November with this brand new customization option available?

In a month, we’ll come back to this topic with a full report.

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