Riva's Pizza: An Object Lesson In Impressive Food Marketing

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Riva's Pizza
408 Evans Street, Williamsville, NY 14221
Web: Riva's Pizza
Phone: 716.633.5777
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"Of the items we sampled from Riva's, we were most impressed by the fried fare: the thick pepper in the wings struck us as just right, reminding us of solid B+ takeout joints from high school days."

Great modern design is rare in Western New York, so we make a special effort to spotlight design-conscious restaurants whenever we spot them. This week, it was an advertisement of all things - one in the dying print format, no less - that caught our attention: within seconds of spotting the ad, we knew that someone at Riva's Pizza understands the marketing power that great designs can have. Though its website is comparatively threadbare, Riva's menu and advertising use clean, elegant layouts to suggest a far larger operation than you'll actually discover if you walk in the door of its Evans Street location in Williamsville. This is a fairly smart move: Riva's two locations - the other's in Depew - are primarily designed to be take-out and delivery businesses; people are more likely to come upon the ad than the actual storefronts, so if their first impression of the place is what they see on the menu, they'll be curious enough to place an order. That's exactly what we did, as we wanted to know whether Riva's food was as good as its marketing.

Great On Paper. In other cities, Riva's promotional materials wouldn't be all that amazing, but around here, they look like a million bucks: the modern fonts, mature colors, and catchy slogans convey the design savvy of a restaurant chain with a huge marketing budget - or just good taste. Western New York restaurants, take note: investing in the look of these materials does matter… and so does your web site, which has become an increasingly important tool to reach out to your customers, sometimes even taking their orders or reservations. If Riva's actual storefront, web site, or take-out boxes had been as special as these items, we'd have truly been wowed - however, the Williamsville location turns out to be an absolutely plain pizza joint with just enough seating for a handful of couples or families, and the tables and benches look as if they haven't been updated since the 1980's. Walking in, the impression created by the printed materials evaporated - at least Riva's got part of the equation right.

Strongest In The Fryer. Of the items we sampled from Riva's, we were most impressed by the fried fare, starting with a standard order of ten extra hot Chicken Wings ($7.49). They weren't spectacular in any particular way, but something about the thick pepper in the wings struck us as just right for the way they'd been ordered, evoking memories of the solid B+ take-out wings we enjoyed during our high school and college years. The best we've had locally? No, but they were big, meaty, and spicy enough to satisfy us. We ate them soon after our pick-up, but guessed that they'd be even better straight out of the kitchen.

So-So Pizza. We were both less than thrilled by the Pizza ($7.49) we ordered, which used our standard cluster of ingredients - pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, ham, and peppers - and came out of the box looking somewhat dry. Riva's uses a slightly tangy tomato sauce, a moderately thin crust, and a cheese that was a little too scarce and rubbery. The toppings were generous in number, but only the ham really stood out on flavor. A close-up shot of the pizza shows the small, dried ingredients. It was interesting that Riva's printed materials didn't glamorize the pizza itself, and we felt that what we got was a fair reflection of the plain-looking pie in the advertisement.

A Beautiful Salad. One thing that we really liked about Riva's was its smart inclusion of forks with items that needed them: a clear salad container was instantly ready to eat, apart from the dressing, which comes in a cup and gets poured on right before you dig in. We noticed and really liked that the raspberry vinaigrette dressing came in a generous portion, so there was no need to skimp on its flavor.

But Is Beauty Only Skin Deep? We were initially really impressed when we opened the salad container: we'd ordered the MJS Cran-Raisin Pecan Salad ($8), which arrived positively loaded with cran-raisins, gorgonzola chunks, caramelized pecans, and chunks of what was described as grilled chicken - at best, it was very lightly grilled, but didn't have any obvious marks or flavor of actual grilling. When we really dug into the salad, however, we were grossed out by the old, wilted romaine lettuce, less than thrilled by what turned out to be processed chicken rather than a sliced fresh chicken breast, and not especially taken with the overall combination of flavors. It went from "wow" to "that's really not great" in a matter of minutes; it looked a lot better than it tasted.

Back To The Fryer. Thankfully, an order of Boneless Chicken Wings ($7.49) was there to hit the spot. The ten pieces weren't big, but they were packed with the same very good sauce that we enjoyed on the wings, albeit milder as we only ordered them hot. As with the full wings, the Boneless version came packed with a plastic baggie of carrots and a cup of bleu cheese; a fork was again helpfully included as they weren't designed to be finger food.

Riva's full menu also includes subs, fries, onion rings, salads, and wraps, plus a small collection of $8.79 chicken, shrimp, or fish fry dinners. Should we return in the future - we're up in the air on this - we'll sample more, report back and issue a final rating. For now, Riva's strikes us as a standout on marketing materials, which should hopefully inspire other local restaurants to aim higher, as well.

Riva's Pizza Subs & Wings on Urbanspoon Riva's Pizza Subs & Wings on Urbanspoon

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