opening dayOpening day is one of the most nerve-wracking events restaurant owners ever experience. If you’re gearing up to open a new restaurant, your head is swirling with concerns: Will customers come out? Will they like your food? Will everything run smoothly? Will I make money? These are all excellent questions, and no one can guarantee opening day success. However, after starting three pizzerias from scratch and consulting numerous other start-up pizzerias, I’ve been able to identify three common opening day mistakes that can doom your pizzeria – and how to avoid them.

1.  Poor Preparation

This is the number one mistake you can make, because poor preparation leads to miserable customers and terrible word-of-mouth advertising. When you’re unprepared, service is slow, employees are frantic, and the overall quality of the customer experience – not to mention the food – suffers. When I consult clients, we always run a full-day simulation complete with rush hours and potential problems to ensure everyone is properly trained and prepared before we open the doors to the public. I also recommend a soft launch two to four weeks before your grand opening so you can work out any unforeseen issues before you receive a rush of customers (though you might get a rush before your grand opening anyway, and you need to be prepared for that). We also like to keep extra staff members on-hand, both those who are new to  working at the restaurant for the first time and experienced operators who know how to put out fires.

Train your staff, and train them well. Develop systems that work, and follow them. Anticipate disaster and solutions. By being prepared, you’ll be able to ensure opening day rocks and leave customers feeling enthusiastic, satisfied, and excited to tell their friends about your awesome new restaurant.

2.  No Customers

This is a big problem to have, and it’s typically due to a lack of marketing. While we like to open with a soft launch, we want to attract a ton of customers to our Grand Opening event. To do so, we advertise in local media, submit press releases to local media, and even call editors, DJs, and newsrooms directly. Signs and banners strategically placed at busy intersections are another way to market your launch. In many areas, new restaurants are big news – especially when you have a unique selling point (your concept).  Do everything you can to get the word out there.

Moreover, understand that customers want variety, which is also newsworthy. If your pizzeria is just like every other pizzeria out there, no one will care. Make sure you capitalize on what is different and better about your pizzeria. For us, it’s the fact that we serve Detroit Style Pizza – and the recipe that was named World’s Best at the 2012 International Pizza Expo. There’s a certain expectation of quality that goes with that. In addition, our Roseville location features a Detroit-themed dining area, complete with wall murals of local landmarks, music by Detroit artists, and Detroit sports teams on the televisions. Market your unique selling point, and both media members and customers will take notice.

3.  Knowing It All

Think you know everything there is to know about running a successful pizzeria?  You don’t.  You might be an expert in a given area, but running a successfully profitable pizzeria is more about being a great pizza chef or being outstanding at customer service. These are both components of a successful pizzeria, certainly, but you also have to have business acumen. Be willing to learn from others: other successful pizzeria owners, restaurant operators, and, of course, your customers. I’m not saying you have to incorporate every single suggestion into your pizzeria, but being willing to admit that you don’t know everything and listening to valuable advice others offer you goes a long way toward evolving your pizzeria business for long-term success.