Advice from the pros

Business advice from pizza experts, as compiled by Big Dave Ostrander.



Some of the best pizza professionals in the world answer our burning question;

"What advice would you give to someone going into the pizza business?"

"Pizza Paul" Nyland
Pizza Operations Customer Counselor for Gordon Food Service for over 12 years

"Before you build or do a kitchen layout, you should have some idea of a menu, recipes and potential supplier to work with you in that area. Much too often, by the time a customer contacts me, it's, 'My pizzeria is built and I'm opening in three weeks, but I don't have a menu yet, and I don't have a dough recipe, and what toppings should I use?' etc. You get the picture. A potential menu is a must just to know what equipment to purchase and how to set up the kitchen to obtain the proper flow."

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Big Dave Ostrander
Former Owner of a Top 25 Volume Pizzeria, business consultant, trainer and speaker

"Make excellent pizza. It has to be great. There are too many great pizzas already out there. Learn from a master pizza maker. Surround yourself with a group of trusted advisors: an accountant with restaurant experience, a good business lawyer, a helpful and knowledgeable banker, business advisor and other pizza people that will share experience with you.

Partner with suppliers. Interview them, visit their facilities, interview current customers and find strength and weakness. Narrow your suppliers to one or two so that you have your primary and backup suppliers and be loyal. The days of adversarial purchasing are gone.

"Be a quality and service fanatic, set the standards of quality and service very high and don't deviate. Train your people, train your people, and train your people and accept no excuses. Beware of hardening of the attitudes and be open for fresh new ideas."

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Tracy Powell
Author of "Getting Your Slice of the Pie"

"Stay informed. It's easy to get bogged down within your four walls in this business, which leads to all the undesirable aspects of operating your own shop, such as high food costs, outdated menus and endless work weeks. Keeping your ear to the ground regarding the pizza industry allows you to stay competitive. Always at the forefront of your focus are strategies to cut costs, increase quality, trying new products or price points, and above all, using various management techniques with your people � all this can only be had when hearing what other operators are doing, and seeing what brings results."

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Ian Boughton
Editor of Pizza and Pasta Magazine, England

"My suggestion would be to give them a copy of the best man-management book in the world � Best Boss, Worst Boss by Big Jim Miller of Arlington, Texas. About twenty years ago, Big Jim bought a stationery store for $6,000, and in the 90s he sold it for, I believe, $60 million. Along the way, he developed a method of getting the very best out of his staff by simply being considerate, encouraging and supportive. He, too, would give newcomers a kit� including a mirror, to show them whom to believe in. There would also be a bottle of harmless drink labeled �enthusiasm.' Staff were encouraged to take a swig whenever they needed it, and limitless refills were available from the manager."

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Alexander Platzl
CEO Pizza Mann, Austria's Largest Pizza Chain

"Know your numbers! Know them by heart. Create indicators and stick to them. Make everything possible measurable! Set goals, not just for yourself, but with your employees, too. And do not worry about reaching a goal, worry about if the goal was set too low! The boss must know his P&L statements. It is not just a sheet that will be handed out by the CPA, it is the employee's pay-check! It is the operators own performance guide!

"If you talk about leadership, it does not matter if you sell pizza, shoes or anything else. Maybe my advice sounds easy, but it really is a big challenge. Your employees must be great. Successful companies are operated by their employees and not by the CEO."

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Ed Zimmerman
President, Success Foods Marketing

"The keys to success for the independent pizzeria operator are local roots, better quality product and consistent marketing.

"An independent can shine as part of the community in ways that a national chain simply cannot do. Sponsorship of local teams, relationships with schools and churches bring good will and good business. As the politicians are fond of saying, 'All politics are local.'

The product offering simply must be better quality than the chains. An independent cannot compete on price, therefore buying better quality ingredients and charging more is the only sensible strategy. Selling beer and wine, and lots of it, will provide the additional profit margin to afford higher priced ingredients.

"Marketing, marketing, marketing. Tell local people what you do that is different and better than your competition. Tell them often, and be creative with a sense of fun and flair. If what you have to offer is a coupon, close your doors now. A free salad costs less than 'One dollar off' coupons and adds value for customers. Steady high quality and repeat customers buy benefits that are tangible. Price shoppers go to whoever sends the next coupon.

"Position your pizzeria as local, sell quality, tell your unique story often and finally...back them all up with great service and a smile."

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Tony Gemignani
Owner, Pyzano's Pizzeria and Five Time World Pizza Tossing Champion

"Be passionate. Passion is something that comes from the inside and drives you to be the best. It never lets you give up and will always be the answer to your questions. Passion will be seen in your product and retrieved by your customers. Anyone who has a passion in there occupation usually is a very content person. Passion will make you successful. Having the passion for pizza will lead you to the research of pizza, whether it be ovens, cheese, prep tables, etc� With passion, you will want this knowledge making you a leader and a scholar in what you do."

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Hugh Philippin
Pizza Entrepreneur Extraordinaire and PMQ Cover Story Summer 2002

"I would advise anyone to 'just be true to your character'. Sell to the people who resemble you the most. Don't try to be all things to all people. It is much simpler to satisfy yourself and your customers when you all like the same things."

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Duessa Holscher
FireFly Technologies, Makers of POS systems

"Know your numbers on a daily basis! Too many operators wait until the end of the month to really evaluate their profit and loss. But as a new restaurant, that's too risky. Today's technology lets you keep on top of those important figures on a daily, even hourly basis, so you can adjust instantly. If sales aren't what you were hoping for, you can adjust your labor costs instantly, rather than waiting until it's too late. This way, you conserve your resources so you can survive!

"Conserve cash! You are going to need every penny to cover food costs, payroll, things that you can't finance. So, even if you think you have plenty saved to open your restaurant, hoard your cash and finance everything you can. Leasing equipment and your initial build out lets you pay as you go for those assets, and keeps cash on hand for your monthly expenses.

"Get personal within your five-mile circle. Your customers are all around you, but you have to reach out to them. They are stuck in their old habits and as a new operation, you have to work extra hard to get them to change their behavior. If you are not a national chain, your biggest asset is you, the owner, a local figure that they can feel personally connected to. So get out there, get visible in the community, even knock on a few doors yourself to introduce your business to the neighborhood.

"Make your employees your ambassadors. As a new restaurant, you want to do everything possible to make that phone ring and get those customers in the door to try your products out. Make your employees the word-of-mouth kings by giving them an incentive to invite people to try you out."

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Jeff McGuire
Vice-President, Bellissimo Foods

"Choose the best products you can afford, and work to make your finished product the best, not simply the cheapest. Remember that many of your new customers will be giving you one chance to offer them something your competition can't. By walking in your front door you know they are already motivated to try your product so don't disappoint them. You may not get a second chance.

"A good food distributor service representative (DSR) should be able to provide guidance as to what products work in your market, and what doesn't. He should also be able to provide menu ideas and solutions to problems you might encounter with preparation. Different cheeses have different browning and oiling characteristics that may depend on your oven, and your DSR should be knowledgeable about this too."

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Jay Siff
President, Moving Targets

"Don't do any advertising until your product and service are refined enough to give the customer the experience they expect. Recognize that without a well-thought-out and executed marketing plan your business will have trouble surviving, let alone prospering."

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John Correll
Pizza industry analyst, consultant and author, pizza chain founder and president, training director and inventor

Make a personal vow to have THE BEST pizzeria in town. The world doesn't need another less-than-best pizzeria...and what the world doesn't need, the world won't support.
To deliver the best pizza every time, install: (a) a simple menu or product mix, (b) great recipes, (c) quality ingredients, (d) a controllable production system, (e) a trained crew, and (f) ownership and management that demonstrates exemplary personal performance at all times. Missing any one of these six items will result in delivering less-than-best pizza. In deciding on a standard for your pizza, remember that the only standard that counts is what your pizza public likes, not what you like.
To deliver the best service, install: (a) a simple order-taking and service-delivery system (which relates to having a simple menu), (b) a trained crew, and (c) ownership and management that demonstrates exemplary personal performance at all times. Missing any one of these three items will result in delivering less-than-best service.
To have the best staff: (a) hire people who have good personal references (especially from current crew), (b) train team members starting with "minute one," (c) enlist the help of qualified team members to assist as on-the-job trainers (which will require training team members in the techniques of on-the-job training), (d) cross-train all team members, (e) provide team members with immediate positive reinforcement, or sincere appreciation and praise, after every incident of personal progress or "right action," (f) communicate often to team members your desire for and commitment to having THE BEST AND GREATEST pizzeria in town, (g) ask and expect each team member to make the same commitment, (h) never tolerate unacceptable performance from a team member when that team member knows what should be done and has the ability to do it but chooses not to do it (allowing this situation to exist is the poison pill of business), and (i) personally demonstrate exemplary performance at all times. Missing any of these nine items will result in having a less-than-top-performing team.
Along with being the best, make sure that the pizza-buying public perceives your pizzeria as being DIFFERENT from all others. If your pizzeria is not somehow distinctively different, pizza buyers will not remember it - and if they don't remember it, they won't patronize it. To create and maintain a memorable difference: (a) DISCOVER a point of difference about your product or company that can be translated into a unique consumer benefit, (b) DEFINE that difference in terms of a brief statement, (c) PROVE the truth of the statement through a logical argument or fact, (d) PROCLAIM the statement everywhere and project the point of difference through every aspect of the business, and (e) PROLIFERATE and protect the point of difference by installing differentiation-builders on an ongoing basis. For further insight, read Jack Trout's Differentiate or Die.
In conjunction with suggestion #5, study the differentiation strategy and marketing approach of Stanislaus Food Products (i.e., Dino Cortopassi). Then adapt that strategy and approach to fit your pizzeria enterprise and, finally, apply it vigorously. (This tomato company's marketing concept is a perfect model for an independent pizzeria to emulate and use for achieving maximum competitive impact.)
Always keep your competitors in sight. Respond quickly to anything that they "do right" or that poses a competitive threat. In a nutshell, glorify your pizzeria's strengths and hide its weaknesses and, conversely, neutralize your competitors' strengths and highlight their weaknesses.
Keep a vigilant eye on your costs and when something goes "out of line" react quickly to bring it within an acceptable range. Retain the services of an accountant that understands the restaurant/pizza business. Set up accounting procedures that enable you to get accurate, timely financial statements (i.e., income statement) within a few days after each month end. Compute food cost based on "beginning inventory + purchases ending inventory," not on "invoice total." Take an accurate, complete food inventory at each month end. Take at least a "key products" food inventory at each week's end. Apply portion control procedures for key ingredients, such as cheese and meats.
In addition to having a good accountant, find a good insurance person and a good attorney who are willing to understand your business situation and to advise you, when needed, for a reasonable fee.
Stay abreast of current trends and concepts in the pizza industry by attending expos and reading Pizza Marketing Quarterly and other informative journals.
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Tom Lehmann
"The Dough Doctor," lecturer and instructor at the American Institute of Baking

"All too often I find that someone just getting started will have a dough formula/recipe that they begged, borrowed, developed or in many cases, inherited from a previous owner. Now they're going into the business with hopes of producing a consistently great quality pizza on a consistently crispy crust. It might start out that way if they're lucky, but in time they loose those distinguishing characteristics of their crust, and to their customers, they are perceived as serving a whole different pizza.

"My advice to the new operator is to learn as much as you can about your dough. If it is presently given in volumetric measures, convert it over to weight measures. The same goes for the application of toppings. Begin weighing them rather than depending upon the infamous 7-ounce handful. Pay attention to your finished dough temperature as it comes off of the mixer and try to keep it consistent. Pay attention to times and temperatures and strive to keep them consistent. Your customers will appreciate the consistency, as will your bottom line each month. Do as much as you can to provide a consistent product to your customers and they'll never be disappointed. Think about it. Without consistency, what do you really have to offer your customers? And don't forget this also applies to pricing your pizzas, too. Don't fall into the trap of offering "twofers" (two for the price of one) during slow times of the year. Instead, toss in a free order of breadsticks, or some free soda to entice the sale. This way the pricing of your pizzas will be consistent, and customers won't be misled into wondering to what the true value of the pizza really is.

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