As you’re reading this you’re either on your way to Pizza Expo, currently at Pizza Expo, reminiscing about the great time you had at Pizza Expo, or experiencing Expo FOMO. Everyone who has ever attended knows that it’s impossible to experience every product, panel and demo on the schedule, so I’m using this month’s column to give a summary of my New Operator Monday seminar about common mistakes I’ve seen made by new pizzerias (and sometimes even established ones). There’s a lot to think about when opening a new restaurant and you’re bound to trip on your feet along the way, but you can easily avoid some big mistakes by learning from the mistakes of others. Here are four of the 10 major fumbles mentioned in my seminar:
SOUR PARTNERSHIPS. There are too many idioms about the pitfalls of business partnerships to fit on one page, so I’ll leave you with this horrifying example: I recently visited a pizzeria that had made several extremely important decisions based on the urging of one partner. Just one month after opening, that partner split and the pizzeria was left with the wrong name and the wrong location. Now they’ve been forced to rebrand and figure out a way to salvage a lease. Partnerships are tricky, so make sure you put everything in black and white with nothing left to chance, even if you’re going into business with someone you’ve known for a long time.
REVIEW DRAMA. Even if you’re running the best pizzeria on Earth, you’re going to get negative reviews. I’ve met pizzeria owners who refuse to read their reviews, but leaving bad ones unanswered implies to everyone reading them that the writer is correct and you don’t care about their disappointment. On the other hand, replying with anger and aggression will only make you look bad. A brief and sincere response from an owner who cares about their customers goes a long way to show other users of the review site who they’ll be supporting when they patronize your pizzeria.
SOCIAL MEDIA FLUBS. I love that social media has allowed everyone to be a part of the global pizza community, but it’s also gotten several pizzerias into hot water. Remember that every photo, tweet and comment you post is now in the public record, so be careful what you say. Did you really want to use that kind of language? Did you intend to make that political statement on behalf of your entire business, or did you just forget to switch accounts? Is that really the best photo of your pizza? Make some guidelines for yourself and anyone you hire to run your social accounts.
TRAINING. I recently had an operator tell me that their customers should not expect consistency because every pizza maker has their own style. I almost choked on my slice. You didn’t hire someone to make THEIR pizza; you hired them to make YOUR pizza. Individual style is great for some businesses, but customers like restaurants with consistent food. Not everyone is going to remember that Donna makes the best pizzas and she only works on Thursdays and Sundays. And if that’s what they do remember, it’s not very good for the other days of the week.
Opening a new pizzeria is a project that will pull you in a dozen different directions at the same time. It’s easy to lose focus on important parts, so I hope that learning from the mistakes of others will help you navigate toward the right practices for your business.
Scott Wiener is the founder of Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City and SliceOutHunger.org.