After 5 years of planning the Feast of St. Pizza in various cities (I’m currently in the planning process for year 5), I’ve become a bit of an expert on planning pizza crawls. And, since I love to spread the pizza love, I want to share my secrets with all of you. My original intention was to tack this onto the end of my Old Forge recap post, but it ended up being way too much info and deserved a post of its own.
While our pizza feasts always include ten spots, you don’t have to be crazy like us – Feel free to take these tips and adapt them to your own needs. Even if you’re only visiting five places instead of ten, a lot of these tips should still apply to help your day go more smoothly. If you have questions or thoughts I haven’t addressed, please let me know in the comments and I’d be happy to answer them.
PICK A DATE
First and foremost, you must settle on a date pretty well in advance. If your friends are anything like mine, they all want to join in on the fun but they’re also all extremely busy. Get a date figured out (ideally one that works best for your core group) so everyone can get it on their calendars, ask off of work if necessary, etc. You can fill in the rest of the details later. I make a Facebook event and invite my friends to get it on their radar, and then I just fill in the details on there later as it all comes together.
Now here’s where the real work begins: figuring out which pizza places you’ll actually go to. If you’re doing your pizza crawl in your hometown or a nearby city where you have a lot of friends, I like to start by asking for personal recommendations. If you ask the locals what their favorite pizza place is, the answers are usually pretty solid. (Facebook is helpful for this as well.) I also go the typical route of just googling “Best pizza places in [name of city].” TripAdvisor and Yelp will help you out in that department, but sometimes you’ll also find articles from other publications, or perhaps a profile on a specific pizza place. Oh, and obviously – TAKE NOTES.
MAKE A MAP
When I start to narrow down my research I like to make a custom map with Google Maps. This can be really important because in some cases (like with our Lancaster feast), location can be a primary factor. If you want everything to be within walking distance or in the city proper, you’ll want to make note of their actual locations to help you decide. Plus, once you’ve picked your ten places, the map comes in handy as you plan your route for the day.
MAKE YOUR SELECTION
Once you’ve done all the pizza research for your chosen city, it’s time to narrow things down. For my crawls I’m always narrowing it down to ten, which is usually quite difficult. If you’re going to fewer than ten places you’re going to need to be especially ruthless. I often have about 3-5 that are definite choices, like the places that are obviously most popular, or perhaps a newer place that’s making a name for itself, and therefore I know I want to throw it into the mix.
The second half of my selection is where it gets hard. Usually during my research I keep a tally of how many times each place is mentioned, and the ones mentioned most often make the cut. Overall, though, I go with my gut. Some of it is a numbers game but ultimately I have to make the decisions about where we’re going, and part of it will be subjective. Again, some if it might depend on location (see above). Feel free to come up with your own system, but this is how I do it. Keep in mind, though – it’s not a bad idea to have 1 or 2 backup options in case a place is totally packed or closed for some reason.
DO SECONDARY RESEARCH
After you’ve nailed down your ten places you’ll need to do some further research to help with your planning. This means making note of opening and closing times for each place, whether or not they are cash only, if you’ll need reservations, or if you can/need to order ahead of time. Do you need to wait in line before they open (like we did with Pizzeria Beddia in Philly)? Is a certain place usually swamped at a certain time, so it might be better to go there at off-peak hours? These are all things to keep in mind.
PLAN YOUR ROUTE
Now this is the REALLY hard part. Here’s where you have to take into account hours of operation, reservation times AND location. I obviously start with whatever place opens the earliest, and I try to keep the place open the latest for last, just in case we’re running behind schedule. In between you have to factor in everything else while also trying to plan a route that makes sense. I usually try to allow for as much walking as possible. But then you might also have to consider how to get back to your starting location if people left cars there. (Or you might be able to use a ride sharing service or public transportation.) Sometimes it helps to kind of start in the middle and work your way around so you end up back in the middle. It all really depends!
This part can be difficult but I weirdly enjoy figuring out this puzzle. And because I’m a spaz I also color code my pizza map in a rainbow pattern so I know which order we’re going in. The first stop is red, second is red-orange, third is orange, fourth is yellow, etc. (See below.) It makes it easier for me to visualize our route on the map.
MAKE A TIMELINE
With your route nailed down you now have to make a more specific timeline. In order to stay on schedule you’ll want to know exactly when you’re aiming to be at each location. I shoot for a minimum of an hour per location so we’re not rushing around too much. If two places are just a five minute walk between each other, you could easily shoot for being at stop #2 an hour after the first one. We did this a lot during our Lancaster feast since everything was so close. If you’re going to a fancier place where you might have table service and you’re ordering drinks, etc., then plan for more time at that location. Also keep in mind if you’re doing a long walk from one place to another or if you have to drive, etc. This timeline step kind of happens in tandem with the previous one. If a place only opens at 5pm and you want to get there when they open, you’ll have to factor that into your route.
MAKE NECESSARY RESERVATIONS
Once you have the timeline figured out, make reservations wherever you might need them. This is where it also becomes important to know exactly what time your friends may be joining you. My numbers often fluctuate throughout the day. In Lancaster I had anywhere from 12 people to 30 people, depending on the time of day. This is also the time to place an order ahead if necessary. (This is not as common, but I’ve had to do it a few times over the years.)
PROVIDE INFO FOR YOUR ATTENDEES
Make sure your friends are aware of the official timeline. If they can only join you from 12-3, that way they’ll know exactly where to find you when they’re joining the group. Let them know if there are reservations so they don’t just show up without informing you.
It’s time for the big day! This goes without saying, but … stretchy pants are a must. Wear comfy shoes if you plan to be doing a lot of walking. My friends and I often wear some of my #feastofstpizza branded t-shirts, which are available in my Society6 shop. You’re going to be out all day (these usually take about 13 hours total), so wearing layers for the chillier hours is a good idea. Bring a water bottle to stay hydrated, and you might want to bring containers for leftovers if that’s a thing you think might happen. You might also need sunscreen … we learned this the hard way.
Download a payment app like Venmo so you can pay your friends back, and bring some cash for cash-only places. As far as payment goes, we’ve found it’s easiest for one person to pay at each place. We then divide the amount by the number of people at that spot, and everyone pays their share via Venmo to the person who paid for it.
STAY ON SCHEDULE
Now that you’re moving along and eating your pizza, it’s very important to stay on schedule. If you’re running a little late for each place, that will add up and set you way off schedule by the time you get to stop number ten. As the official organizer I’m always in charge of keeping everyone on schedule. My friends are very accustomed to me yelling a ten-minute warning so people can chug the rest of their beers, close tabs, grab the check, etc. Everyone is here for the same cause so as long as you have one taskmaster to be in charge of keeping everyone together, people tend to fall in line. Just make sure there’s at least one person keeping a close eye on the clock.
This really goes without saying, but please be considerate of the establishments where you’re enjoying pizza. In our experience most of the places have been extremely happy to have us, but it can still be overwhelming for twenty people to show up at a mom-and-pop corner pizza shop. We usually fill people in on what we’re doing, and most pizza shop owners are excited to play a part in it. Just be courteous and I’m sure you’ll have a great time.
HYDRATE AND PACE YOURSELF
It’s easy to feel excited as you get going on this journey, but once you hit stop 5 or 6 you’ll probably start to feel some pizza fatigue. Drink as much water as possible and take your time. If you’re somehow ahead of schedule, just take it easy. No need to rush. (This is why walking helps so much.) Ideally you should be able to fully appreciate each pizza place – You don’t want to be forcing pizza down your throat with 3 more places to go. Enjoy the ride, my friends! Also, pro tip: we will often order one pizza and ask for it to be sliced into 12 or 16 pieces instead of 8 (if possible). This helps dramatically with portion control.
DOCUMENT IT (IF YOU WANT TO)
Obviously one of the best parts about these pizza crawls for me is taking pictures, making podcast episodes, writing blog posts and documenting the whole thing. It’s fun for me to have these posts to share with all of you, but also just for my personal memories and enjoyment. If you’d like to share your pizza crawl, please feel free to share with the hashtag #feastofstpizza. I want to see!
REST AND RECOVERY
Congrats! You’ve just completed your first pizza crawl. If you’re able to, schedule plenty of time for R&R the day afterwards. Get plenty of sleep, continue drinking tons of water, and maybe avoid pizza. (Although I’ve been known to eat pizza the day after on more than one occasion.) Maybe have a salad ready for you in your fridge, because you might be craving it. But also remember to be proud of your accomplishments, ya know?
So that’s it: my system for planning the yearly Feast of St. Pizza. Apparently I had a lot to say on the subject. Please let me know if there’s anything I didn’t cover. Happy feasting, pizza lovers!
Illustration at top created with pen and Photoshop.
Prints of my illustrations (plus other products with my work on them) can be found in my Society6 shop.