Canadian Pizza Magazine

Slow-season buster: The Pizza Chef

Diana Cline   

Features Business and Operations Marketing annex diana cline pizza chef pizza marketing pizza promotion

In every pizzeria there’s always a period when your sales are going to slump. For many of us it’s January and February – right after Christmas – when our customers get their credit card statements that remind them of the spend-happy ghost of Christmas past.

Other customers make the common New Year’s resolutions to eat out less and work out more often.  Some of us have seasonal businesses that rely heavily on the yearly influx of tourists, and fall is their official slow season. While it’s important to track the trends and the ebbs and flows of your sales, there are several marketing strategies that, if used correctly, can not only bump that slump, but even increase sales over the previous months.

One of my favourite marketing strategies that always increases sales in January and February is what we call our “No Peeking” red-envelope promotion. Have you ever had a scratch-off card for a department store that could only be scratched by one of their employees once you were paying for your items? This is a similar kind of promotion that we call “No Peeking” because it’s a sealed red envelope with a winning certificate inside that’s good for one of five prizes. The sealed red envelope has “No Peeking” printed all over it, gives instructions on how the promotion works and also lists the five prizes that might be in the envelope. The reason we use a red envelope is so you can’t read the certificate inside and to tie in with Christmas, which is the time of year we run it.

Our five prizes are a free two-litre, a $5, $10 or $25 voucher towards their order, and the grand prize of $100 in gift certificates from my pizzeria. You can choose any prizes you’d like to give away for your pizzeria but keep in mind that the majorityof the prizes are the $5 voucher with a smaller percentage of the bigger prizes. We have more than one qualifier for the grand prize to help ensure that at least one person wins it. It would be a shame if the winning envelope never came back.


We give the customer a sealed envelope with every order in December and instruct them to bring it back unopened beginning in January. This is where it’s important to have scripting for your staff. What I mean by scripting is that you should provide your staff with the words to say as they hand out the envelopes; otherwise, they’re likely to botch the explanation and confuse the customer. “Every envelope is a winner,” my staff will say. “The catch is that it’s not valid before Jan. 2 of next year and that it must be presented unopened to one of our delivery drivers or in-store staff. Good luck – and no peeking!”

Of course, there are always a few people who rip open the envelope immediately after my staff member has explained the promotion and handed them the sealed envelope. In those cases we tear up the opened certificate, hand them another envelope and calmly explain the promotion again, asking them not to open this envelope and to put it in a safe place until the following year. My regulars enjoy this promotion and new customers like to play along, especially when they know their good behaviour will be rewarded. It’s like that present that you’re not allowed to open until Christmas day and you’re very excited to see what it is, but you can’t peek.

The exciting part begins in January, when the envelopes are valid, providing that they are presented unopened to my staff. My customers have had one or more of these envelopes in their homes or vehicles since December and by this time they really want to know what prize is inside. Especially when they’ve been told that they’re holding a winning envelope. In my restaurant, December is typically very strong for sales and this promotion is a great way to encourage all those customers to come back in January. We’ve been running this promotion every year for five years and it has consistently helped to increase our sales every January over the previous year. Once you understand the dynamics of this promotion, it’s easy to adapt it to other similar slow-season busters. I’ve had small business owners of other industries contact me to ask how to adapt this one strategy for their business. Perhaps the biggest lesson to keep in mind is that it’s not up to your customers to remember your pizzeria; rather, it’s up to you to make sure that your customers do not forget your pizzeria.

Diana Cline is a two-time Canadian Pizza magazine Chef of the Year, three-time winner of “Canada’s Best Pizza Chef” at international pizza competitions, a judge for international pizza culinary competitions in Las Vegas, Italy and France, and a partner with Diana’s Cucina & Lounge in Winnipeg. In addition to creating award-winning recipes, Diana is a consultant to other pizzeria owner/operators in menu development, creating systems to run a pizzeria on autopilot, along with marketing and positioning to help operators grow their business effectively and strategically. She is available for consulting on a limited basis. For more information contact her at

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