Canadian Pizza Magazine

The pizza Chef: June 2013

By Diana Coutu   

Features Business and Operations Marketing

Winning the marketing game

The greatest challenge for any independent pizzeria is marketing, or getting the word out.

The greatest challenge for any independent pizzeria is marketing, or getting the word out. It’s common to think that as long as the pizza is great and the service is friendly, customers will come back again and again, and tell their friends and families. But that’s not a marketing plan – that’s a company mission statement.

A marketing plan consists of new customer acquisition, lost customer reactivation and customer retention strategies. Independent and chain pizzeria owners can be unsure about how to attract a customer in the first place and how to keep them all coming back.

We put all the responsibility on the customer to come back to see us. Many independents will copy the chains and send out thousands of glossy flyers with coupons and hope that sales will follow. The best-case scenario for unaddressed ad mail is a three to four per cent response rate, with 96 to 97 per cent waste. That’s not exactly what I’d call an efficient sales strategy. It’s more like a lot of wasted money.


As an independent pizzeria owner, it’s your job to make sure your customers remember you, and with busy family and work schedules, it is very easy for customers to forget about you. Customers have lots of options to choose where to eat and where to spend their money. Why should they choose you over the next pizzeria? That’s the big money question.

Why are you special, and what can you offer your customers that other pizzerias can’t or are unwilling to? Your unique selling proposition, or USP, is the answer. If you are unable to answer that question, then your customer really has no compelling reason to spend their money at your establishment over another. After all, if you, the owner, don’t know what sets you apart, then why should they?

Give customers several reasons to visit you. Do you make your dough on site and prepare everything fresh? If so, it’s important to let your customers know that, especially if your competition is mostly large chains that prepare very little product on site. Do you offer a gluten-free or vegan option on your menu? Are you open for lunch or late at night? Do you offer catering? Do you have a take-and-bake option? Is your chicken whole muscle, while others are using chopped and formed chicken? Do you make and blend your marinara yourself while your competition uses sauce from a can? Do you use 100 per cent dairy cheese while the other guy uses imitation cheese? Is your mozzarella low fat? Tell your customers why you’re different from the competition.

Everything inside your store is also a potential marketing strategy: even simple things, like having a uniform for your staff and maintaining a spotless restaurant.

Your level of customer service is vitally important as well. Do you treat each and every customer as you would like to be treated? Better yet, does your staff? All it takes is one bad employee to sabotage your business and cost you thousands of dollars in future sales. How you handle complaints is another marketing strategy. Mistakes happen, and it takes just one upset customer who isn’t well taken care of to tell hundreds or thousands of others about it through social media and damage your otherwise stellar reputation. In this business, everything you do is marketing.

New customer acquisition strategies and lost customer campaigns are important, but customer retention can make or break you. It costs much more to attract a new customer than it does to reactivate a lost customer. In comparison, it costs very little to keep your existing customers coming back again and again. Marketing isn’t just one or two different things; marketing is everything you and your staff do in your shop and how you interact with each customer. It’s a daily battle that you must win if you want to survive in this industry. As long as you give your customers valid and compelling reasons to continue to order from you, and you make things right in the event that someone did drop the ball, you’re certain to stay on the winning side.

Diana Coutu is a two-time Canadian Pizza magazine chef of the year champion, internationally recognized gourmet pizzaiolo, co-owner of Diana’s Gourmet Pizzeria in Winnipeg, Man., and a board of director for the CRFA. In addition to creating award-winning recipes, Diana is also 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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