Pizza Delivery and the Economics of Reputation

A wood-fired Neapolitan pizza from Motorino, in a (GASP!) pizza box. [Photograph: Robyn Lee]

I got into an interesting Twitter discussion last week about pizza delivery. Not the ordinary Papa Domino's Hut delivery that thousands upon thousands of Americans order up every day, or even delivery from mom-and-pop NYC-style pizza joints. Most people order those without thinking anything of it.

I'm talking about delivery of wood-fired-oven (WFO) Neapolitan-style pizza.

If you're new to the obsessive world of pizza enthusiasts, you'd be excused for not knowing this, but boxing a WFO pizza seriously compromises its quality. It's accepted as fact that a Neapolitan pizza is at its best in a very small slice of time between the oven and your mouth. Even allowing it to sit on a plate too long, purists say, affects quality. The crust quickly loses whatever crispness it may have had and can even start to turn chewier than desired.

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I saw @ilcornicione tweet about a debate he'd been having with a friend about this. Il Cornicine's friend argues that a WFO/Neapolitan pizzaiolo should offer delivery as an added revenue stream on top of in-pizzeria business.

Il Corn's argument against that is to cite all of the above-stated drawbacks.

I've gotta say, I don't know where I stand on this, which is why I'm opening it up to the 7 people out there who care about this deeply enough to weigh in. (Admittedly, this debate is a bit esoteric and germane to a segment of a segment of the pizza-eating population. It's fun to think about nonetheless.)

My thought is that, yes, a pizzeria should offer delivery and/or take-out if that's what the customer wants. The old "customer is always right" argument. I know that's not popular among some of the hardline Neapolitan-lovers and pizza-makers out there. But my take is that when you're a small pizzeria with small margins to begin with, why not expand your dining room in the virtual sense and your cash flow to boot?

How many Average Giuseppe pizza-eaters are going to notice or care?

Here in NYC, we see at least a couple well-regarded WFO pizzerias offering the service -- Motorino in the East Village and Fornino in Williamsburg do a healthy amount of delivery. And Paulie Gee in Greenpoint offers take-out when it's not too busy in the restaurant itself.

But the fear among some pizzaioli is that the degradation in quality due to boxing and oven-to-mouth lag time will also erode their reputation. That delivery customers will perceive the substandard crust as the default state and not a form of compromise between awesomeness and convenience.

In the end, it comes down to whether the possible hit to pie-makers' pizza cred is worth the added revenue in deliveries. And that's the kind of calculus each independent pizzeria needs to do for itself.

What say you, Slice'rs? Of course you're savvy enough to take the degradation into consideration. But do you think the typical pizza-eater cares?

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