The restaurant sector suffered from a high failure rate even before the Covid-19 pandemic brought trade to a halt.
However, running a pizza restaurant or delivery operator is arguably a safer bet than most.
For one, pizza is enormously popular, with 75% of Canadians eating pizza at least once a month, according to a 2018 report by Technomic. Moreover, the circular, dough-based dish is comparatively quick and cheap to make at scale.
Buying a pizza restaurant
And if specializing in pizza is a promising route into the restaurant business, then buying an established pizzeria lowers your risk further – when restaurants fail they tend to do so within the first few years of trading.
A history of profit and losses gives you a means by which to evaluate a restaurant’s value, as well as a reassuring indication of the takings you can expect in your first few weeks in business.
Nevertheless, some experience of working in the foodservice industry is advisable. At the very least, you should partner with, or hire, someone with a background in the sector. It’s particularly important to seek the advice of other restaurant owners – ideally including some who run pizzerias – if your exposure to the restaurant trade is limited.
Once you’ve acquired a pizza restaurant or delivery/takeaway operator, your first priority should be to learn how to run the business and ensure that current standards – in terms of food quality, turnaround time and customer service – are upheld.
To this end, convincing an outgoing owner to commit contractually to staying on in an advisory role for a period after handing over the keys can help smooth the transition.
Learning from local rivals and residents
Only once you are settled into your new role – and you have a sense of the business’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats – should you think about making significant changes. Visiting local competitors can offer some pointers for how you might improve your operation.
Any changes should be designed with the tastes and budgets of your local community in mind, as well as whether a particular niche is underserved or saturated. For instance, you might modernise the interior and introduce special offers for students in a bid to attract a large and growing student population living locally.
Perhaps there’s a gap in the market for home delivery of ‘authentic’ pizzas by independents rather than just Domino’s and Papa John’s. Or maybe your prices are too high for what is a relatively low-income area. Hiking prices is a much riskier proposition and should be done modestly or with an accompanying improvement in quality.
The pizza menu
Generally speaking, the larger the menu, the greater the threat of wastage, mediocre food and long waiting times. Fortunately, this axiom is less true of pizza, which remains a simple, consistent concept: a round, flattened base of leavened dough generally (but not always) topped with cheese and tomato sauce.
But within that template, there’s immense variety in the base and toppings – from stuffed crust and Neapolitan-style pizzas to vegan, gluten-free and low carb options. Again, update your menu with the needs of your local market in mind. Which are the bestselling and roundly ignored items on your menu – and those of your competitors?
Technomic’s report might also offer some pointers – for instance:
- 45% of diners wanted pizzas to be more authentic
- 31% wanted a wider choice of seasonal toppings
- 22% were more interested in unusual toppings or ingredients than they were two years ago
- 22% – rising to 27% in the 18-34 age bracket – would eat pizza more often if healthier options were more widely available
“In addition to authenticity, there is continued demand for innovation,” said Kelly Weikel, director of consumer insights for Technomic, in response to the findings. “Operators and suppliers must balance demands for innovation and authenticity to appease consumers and stay ahead of competition.”
Pizza passion is not enough
Realising your culinary vision will depend on the quality of your ingredients, cooking equipment and staff. Equip yourself accordingly by keeping abreast of the latest trends and innovations in the field, with Canadian Pizza magazine one notably useful resource.
There are also plenty of pizza preparation training courses in Canada, specialising in niches like wood-fired pizza or cooking pizza the Italian way, to upskill yourself and your kitchen staff.
Finance and marketing
Few businesses are more all-consuming than food service, so it’s all too easy to neglect commercial imperatives like marketing or cost control.
“Financial projections must be comprehensive of all liabilities,” according to Michael Androw, a veteran pizzeria restaurateur.
“All too often operators pay careful attention to big liabilities” like rent, utilities, payroll, taxes and food costs, but fail to account for things like insurance, credit card processing fees and paying the guy who cleans the beer tap line, he continued. These miscellaneous costs “can account for thousands of dollars every single month.”
If you’re hands-on in the kitchen and out front with customers, then pay for whatever additional help you can afford for the back-office stuff.
Nevertheless, it’s important that you step back occasionally to consider marketing and business development ideas that might boost takings. This is crucial for building the value that you can eventually realise when you decide to sell your pizza restaurant.