Canadian Pizza Magazine

The Pizza Chef: Slow season busters

By Diana Coutu   

Features Business and Operations Marketing

Slow season busters

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

Other customers make New Year’s resolutions to eat out less and work out more. Some of us have seasonal businesses that rely heavily on the yearly influx of tourists, and fall becomes the official slow season. It’s important to track the trends and ebb and flow 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 month’s. 

Our ‘No Peeking’ red envelope promotion is one of my favourite marketing strategies that always increase sales in January and February. Have you ever had a scratch card for a department store that could only be scratched by one of their employees when 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 envelope has the words no peeking printed all over it along with instructions on how the promotion works and the five prizes that might be in the envelope. The reason we use red envelopes is so customers can’t read the certificate inside and the colour ties in with the time of year. Our five prizes are a free two litre, a $5, $10 or $25 voucher towards an order, and a grand prize that’s typically a $200 gift card to an electronics store. You can choose any prizes that you’d like to give away for your pizzeria but keep in mind that the majority of the prizes are the $5 voucher and the smallest percentage is the bigger prizes. We have a small number of qualifiers for the grand prize because if we only had one certificate it would be a shame if the winning envelope never came back. 

We give the customer an envelope with every order in December with specific instructions to bring it back unopened beginning in January. This is where it’s important to have scripting for your staff. This means 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 will rip open the envelope immediately after my staff member has explained the promotion. 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 next month. Almost all my regulars enjoy this promotion and new customers like to play along, especially when they know their good behaviour will be rewarded. 

The exciting part begins in January, when the envelopes become valid, provided 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 prizes are inside, especially when they’ve been told that they’re holding a winning envelope. In my pizzeria, 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. Perhaps one of the biggest lessons 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 Coutu is a two-time Canadian Pizza Magazine chef of the year champion, internationally recognized gourmet pizzaiolo and co-owner of Diana’s Gourmet Pizzeria in Winnipeg, Man. In addition to creating award-winning recipes, Diana is also a consultant to other independent 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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