November 1, 2017 |

The Top Ten Most Important Lessons I’ve Learned in the Pizza Business

By Pizza Today

Michael Shepherd, president of


  1. The pizza business is the “people business.” You need people to make your pizza, and you need people to buy your pizza. You need both a passion for people and pizza. The sooner you understand this the sooner things will make sense.
  2. Being profitable is a deliberate action. It doesn’t come by luck or automatically by high sales. Restaurant profit is in the boring details and tedious tasks of managing ideal food cost variance, labor budgets, prime vendor agreement, portion control, and so on.
  3. Systems and delegation allow for growth. Creating easy-to-follow systems and procedures gave my employees the tools they needed to do the job right. They knew what to do and how to do it, freeing managers up to manage and allowing me to focus on growing the business.
  4. Most employee failures are my fault. If someone fails at their job, most of the time it is because I hired the wrong person, didn’t train them properly, or didn’t give them the tools they needed to succeed. Take a good hard look at the reasons why an employee failed and learn from them.
  5. The customers are not always right, but we need to make sure they think they are. Even if the customer is wrong, they are still right. It is all about the customer’s perception. What do we accomplish by proving them wrong? Nothing. There is no room for an ego in a successful pizzeria. Be humble.
  6. You must be a jack-of-all-trades. Success comes more easily when you not only know how to make pizza but can fix that leaky faucet, change out that exhaust fan motor, sort a database of customer addresses, design a flier on your computer, and prepare a P&L report. Waiting on others to do things often means lost sales and lost opportunities.
  7. A great recovery means everything. Mistakes will happen and they will happen on a regular basis. How you respond to them will determine if you keep the customer or not. Every mistake should be apologized for, corrected and made up for. Learn this refrain: “I’m sorry, here’s a new pizza, and here is $5 off your next order.”
  8. Slow growth is permanent growth. Real long-term growth comes from customers who have decided that you are now their favorite pizzeria. They choose you for lunch or dinner automatically because they love you and your service, not your prices. Changing people’s habits takes time.
  9. Marketing is made of a million parts. There is no silver bullet when it comes to marketing. It is made up of many different elements all working together — direct mail, social media, word of mouth, community involvement. Never put your marketing eggs in one basket.
  10. Hire slowly and fire quickly. Take your time in hiring the right people that are the best fit for both the position and the culture of the pizzeria — even if it means operating shorthanded while you search for them. Quickly terminate those who don’t assimilate. Always follow your gut instinct.

Michael Shepherd, president of, owned and operated three pizzerias in northwest Ohio for 20 years, growing small-town locations into a multi-million-dollar company using nontraditional marketing methods and a systemic approach to operations. At Pizza Expo 2018, he’ll be speaking on how to make a 20 percent profit and giving a workshop on opening a pizzeria.

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