Episode 1: Tips for Marketing Your Pizzeria with Bruce Irving

Episode 1: Tips for Marketing Your Pizzeria with Bruce Irving

Apr 1, 2024


Bruce Irving, founder of Smart Pizza Marketing, shares his expertise on marketing for SMB restaurants. He discusses his background in the pizza industry and how he started the Smart Pizza Marketing podcast. Bruce highlights the challenges he faced in marketing his own pizzerias and the strategies that worked for him, including Facebook ads and email marketing. He also provides insights into the most effective social media channels for restaurants, such as Instagram and TikTok.

Bruce emphasizes the importance of creating engaging content and building a following on social media. He offers practical tips for busy restaurant owners to prioritize social media marketing and suggests hiring someone on their team to handle it. Bruce concludes by directing listeners to the Smart Pizza Marketing website for more resources.


  • Facebook ads and email marketing were successful strategies for marketing Bruce's pizzerias.

  • Instagram and TikTok are currently effective social media channels for restaurants.

  • Creating engaging content that showcases the food and behind-the-scenes of the restaurant is key.

  • Consistency and long-term commitment are crucial for building a following on social media.


Shane Murphy (00:02.314)

All right, welcome to the show everyone. We are in for a huge treat today. We're joined by Bruce Irving and Bruce came from being a restaurant owner. He's owned multiple pizzerias through the years and he's now the founder of Smart Pizza Marketing where he runs a community that gives local tips and tactical advice to thousands of pizzerias throughout the country. In addition to...

that community that gets one-on-one direct advice from Bruce. He also runs the SPM marketing podcast and a magazine for the pizza industry that focuses on marketing tips. He's absolutely one of the most knowledgeable people about marketing to SMB restaurants. And Bruce, we are just thrilled to have you on the show today. So welcome.

Bruce (00:46.111)

Thank you, Shane. Thank you for having me on your podcast. This is great.

Shane Murphy (00:50.19)

Absolutely. Maybe before we dive into the meat, can you tell us a little bit more about your background and what led you to starting SPM in the first place?

Bruce (00:58.591)

Sure. So I was, there's a restaurant chain here in the Northeast called Pizzeria Regina, pretty famous if you go to the north end of Boston. And they had a couple satellite locations in the suburbs. And my first job into pizza was working at one of those satellite locations where I lived. I was 15 years old. I started to make pizza there. I actually fell in love with making pizza. I'm like, wow, this is great. I love doing this. It's like action every day. It's never boring. It's high paced, fast paced work.

So that's where I got into the pizza business. From there, I worked there for a couple years, and then I moved, and then I found this pizzeria, a local place, got a job there, ended up working there, partnered with what turned out to be my future brother-in-law in that location. We opened a second location together, and then from there, I was like, you know what? I didn't have any business background. I didn't go to school for business. I never really ran a...

Big business, right? Multiple locations. So I was into podcasts at the time. I would listen to podcasts. I would go to the shop, do prep, make dough, get the shop ready to go for the day, listening to podcasts. And I'm like, you know what? I wish there was a podcast for the pizza industry. If there was, I didn't know it existed or I couldn't find it. But I was like, I wonder if there's a podcast that people could listen to where you could listen to it and kind of get advice about what other pizzerias are doing to grow their business. Like, what are they doing for marketing?

How do they find employees? Like, how do they manage cashflow? How do they manage multiple locations? There wasn't one, so I said, you know what? I'm gonna start one. So I started the first episode of the podcast. I think it was like 2014 when I recorded the first episode. In 2015, probably by the time I had enough courage to release it. And then it was probably horrible. I remember recording it like in my little basement office of my house. I had...

a crappy microphone and I didn't know what I was doing. But from there it kind of grew and I was like, all right, this is interesting. I got some information that I use in my business and the first two years I ran the podcast, I also managed the businesses. So I was kind of doing the podcast thing on the side. It was really helpful because I would talk to Tony Jiminyani and Anthony Mangieri and a lot of these people who we looked up to in the pizza community who if you email them or you, I mean, you probably don't have their phone number, right? If you email them, you're not gonna really be able to

Bruce (03:18.719)

talk to them. I mean, they're really nice guys, so they might but they're busy. But if you have a podcast, you can say, hey, come on my podcast, I'll give you some exposure. And like to me, it was free consulting that I got out of the podcast. And that's just kind of how it started.

Shane Murphy (03:33.138)

That's amazing. And so when you were first, you know, running that store, you were running the podcast at the same time, you know, and you were getting some of these, these tips and tricks from other people, you know, what were some of the biggest challenges that you were initially facing when you were trying to figure out marketing for yourself?

Bruce (03:55.435)

I think it was more, it was like, Facebook was just kind of, was a thing, but it wasn't a thing like it is today, back in 2014, 2015. So Facebook ads were really, like in the marketing world, not the pizza world, but like the marketing world, Facebook ads were starting to get some recognition as a great place to, you know, run advertising. Up to that point, we were all kind of just direct mail. We would just, we would send out 10,000, 15,000 flyers through the direct mail a week. And that's kind of like what our marketing,

plan was, but then talking to other people, they're like, hey, you should check out Instagram. Hey, you should check out Facebook. Hey, you should do email marketing. And then I was like, oh, okay. And then we started to look into all of those things. But I think when we initially, or I initially started the podcast, it was kind of like, all right, what else can we do? I think it was the time when direct mail started to kind of decline. Not that it's not a great resource still, but it was like, it had its peak, right? Like before the internet really took off and everybody had a cell phone, a smartphone and is using the internet.

daily, direct mail was like the thing. It was like, you just send out direct mail, you get super busy for the weekend, and then it would kind of die down and you do it again. It was at the point where it was starting to kind of dwindle. It didn't work quite like it did before. So I needed, we needed to figure out like how to market our business for the current age and use technology to our advantage. Which the podcast totally helped me with that.

Shane Murphy (05:18.958)

And did the podcast mainly help because you were gathering the knowledge from other people to go apply or was that part of your pizzeria marketing as well?

Bruce (05:28.139)

I think it was a little bit of both. I think the podcast definitely opened my eyes to other avenues. My business partner at the time is old school. He's not old, but he's old school. Like he didn't use Facebook. He was very anti email marketing, but he would kind of let me tinker around with it, right? Like, hey, all right, go try it. If it works, great. If it doesn't, you owe me. And I was like, all right, give me a shot. I'll try it out. So I think it was a mixture of me talking to people on the podcast and...

in like hearing what they were doing. But then also like, all right, I got to report back for the podcast about marketing. So I need to research and really dive in and do some things. Because you can read a blog post, or you can listen to a podcast or watch a YouTube video, but you really don't know what works until you actually do it and see the results. So it was a mixture of getting information on the podcast, but then going to do it in research in real life, and then coming back to the podcast. And we would do these

live shows where we would just kind of report back, hey, this is what we did for email. This is what we did for Facebook ads and share that information in those early episodes about what we were doing.

Shane Murphy (06:32.134)

That's great. And so when you started doing this in the early days, what were some of the most successful strategies that you were initially trying that were actually working for you?

Bruce (06:44.575)

I mean Facebook ads in the day in 2015, 2016 were amazing, right? You could spend $20 and reach tens of thousands of people where now it's like hundreds of dollars for less people. And also email, email marketing for us was super important in the beginning. We did online ordering in 2000, this is dating us, like 2005 we were doing online ordering. So we were doing it for a long time. It wasn't

a thing, we wanted people to go there because we could see the difference in average order for people using online ordering versus calling us on the phone. But we couldn't really get people to go there. And then email came and then every time we, somebody would, this is like pre-text, I think back then text messaging, people would get annoyed with it, they didn't text as much as they do now. You'd get someone placed on order online and then you'd email them a follow-up sequence, like after the order, the next day, a couple days later.

And then we could slowly see the transition over a few year period of people kind of migrating more to online ordering. And especially by the time the podcast came out in those first couple of years, like we were using email marketing heavily, Facebook ads heavily, not so much Instagram, but that's kind of all there really was when it comes to marketing back then. Like there's TikTok now, there's Instagram, there's Snapchat, there's email, there's text, there's all these things now, but back then Facebook was like the giant.

Shane Murphy (08:08.982)

Yeah, you touched on a little bit of how Facebook ads specifically have changed dramatically and have gotten less cost effective through the years. What are the primary channels from like a social media perspective that you find are working today in the modern world? And this is going to change in 12 to 24 months. But what are you seeing?

Bruce (08:29.403)

Yeah, I think ever since, totally. Yeah, I think you have to, you know, I think once Facebook kind of had that scandal where they kind of released everybody's information and then they're like, whoa, all right, we gotta kind of take a step back here and get a little bit more guarded on what we have people be able to access. Once that happened, I think Facebook ads kind of spiked with a kind of like, all right, the cost per.

click or engagement and not only that, but the younger generation of folks at the time, like this is probably three or four years ago, we're moving towards Instagram over Facebook. Like they don't use Facebook. So I think Instagram, TikTok right now, I know there's, you know, as we're talking about this, there's like a bill on the house that says they may ban TikTok, but if they don't, TikTok is like one of those platforms that is the hardest to figure out.

but it's got the most people on there scrolling forever, more than any other platform. If I was starting today for any kind of content creation for a business, it would be like, YouTube would be my strategy, TikTok would be my strategy, and then anything that I created for those two platforms, I would figure out a way to kind of take snippets out and put them on Facebook and Instagram, because I think those two platforms still have people. But my first initial go-to platform would be like TikTok, YouTube, and then kind of cross promote from there.

Shane Murphy (09:55.422)

On those platforms, would you be doing paid ads? Would you be organically trying to build up your following? What would be your actual tactical approach there?

Bruce (10:04.179)

I would never do any paid advertising until I figured out what kind of content worked on those platforms organically. And then I would do it multiple times. I say, go on Instagram or TikTok or YouTube, create content, do it for like 30 days, and make sure you're consistent with it. And then after that 30 days, like go back and analyze what worked. The best advertising on social media platforms is just ads that don't look like commercials. I think Sean Walsh has a podcast in these like on LinkedIn. He's like, be the...

be the show, not the commercial, which is a great saying. It's like be the content that can entertain someone or educate or show them about your business without pushing your product on there. And the more that you can do that, the more you can get people to view your content and be aware of what you do. The goal of any kind of marketing is to get people to be aware of what you do. And then when they think of whatever it is you do, they call you, right? We call it internally, we call it the Costanza method. Do you know what Seinfeld is?

All right, so there's this one episode where George Costanza was like talking to Jerry in the diner. And he's like, hey, I wanna go on this date with this woman. And Jerry's like, she's never gonna go out with you. He's like, all right, I just need to get in front of her three times. The first time it's gonna be like that annoying jingle you hear on the TV that you change the channel. The next time it's gonna be that annoying jingle you hear on the TV, but you kind of start to hum it in the background, you get to know the jingle. And the third time it's gonna be, you know the jingle. And that's what we call the Costanza method without being annoying. It's like, you gotta get in front of people

all the time so that way when they think of pizza, which is what I do, they think of, oh my God, I saw that place on TikTok or Instagram. And they always are on those platforms creating fun content, showing me what they do and their pizza looks pretty good. I'm gonna, I want pizza, I'm gonna go to there and order from them. And that's kind of how we look at social media. And then when you do find out what works well, then you can put some money behind it because you know it organically does well. So it's gonna cost you less to run ads against it.

Shane Murphy (11:59.878)

Right. I love that. Internally in my company, we always talk about the eating algorithm. And it starts with, as a consumer, I'm hungry. And then when I'm hungry, I think about, well, where am I going to go to eat? And the first five places that come into the top of mind to me, I'm going to pick one of those five places. And so part of the eating algorithm is you have to be in the top five.

And if you aren't staying in front of your audience, you're never gonna be in the top five and you're not gonna be the choice. And that's what I hear from you is you gotta be, you have to do the Costanza method. You have to be in front of them over and over and over again so that when they're hungry, they think that's the place I'm gonna go. And so yeah, I love that. Now, when you're figuring out the type of content,

to start out with, what are some good places for restaurant owners to be thinking, this is the type of content that I should be putting out that's what you're describing. It's fun, it's captivating, it's not overly salesy, it's the show, not the commercial. What sort of content do you find really gravitates to those audiences?

Bruce (13:12.456)

If you're

Bruce (13:16.131)

You know, there's some debate about this, like what kind of content you should create. And like, there's some people out there who say, oh, you shouldn't just show pictures or videos of your food because, you know, nobody, everybody gets sick of watching that. And I'm like, you know what, I don't know if I agree with that, because if I'm hungry for pizza, I want to see the damn pizza that you have. You know, it's not I don't want to see, you know, your acrobatics in the back room. Like, that's great. But I don't care about that. I'm not ordering your acrobatics. I'm ordering the pizza that you make. So it better be.

a good quality video and a good quality image. If you're really stuck for ideas, I always suggest you go on to whatever platform you wanna start with. And I just say start with one, because then you can get good at it, and then once you're good at it, you can move on to another one. So say, let's just take Instagram for an example. Go on Instagram, and if you're new to Instagram, Instagram's gonna show you things in the beginning, because it doesn't know what you like. So it's gonna show you popular things that other people like that are similar to where you live, your age, what you put in your bio.

and it's just gonna guess. It's gonna guess what you like, and it's gonna show you content. So look at that content that Instagram shows you because Instagram's saying, hey, this content is good, we like it, we don't know what you like, but we're gonna show you this. And what is Instagram showing you? Save some of those. There's like a little button down the bottom right-hand corner. It's like the save button. It's not like the save button, it's the save button. Hit the button on there, right? And save some of the ones that catch your eye.

And then keep doing that for a little while. And then the more you like things, the more you comment, the more you save, Instagram's gonna get to know what you like. And every platform, for the most part, works this way. It may have different ways to measure what you watch and learn about you and different ways to save it, but every platform does this. So once you get to do that for a while, Instagram's gonna show what you like more and then save those. And then when you wanna create content, be like, all right, I'm gonna go back to that folder.

in my Instagram account and see what did I save? What did I save? What did Instagram show me that I liked and I saved it? And how can I replicate that piece of content for my business? Like, how can I do something similar to that for my own business? And that's really how you should start doing that.

Shane Murphy (15:28.654)

That's absolute gold because Instagram isn't just showing you random people's content, it is showing you content that is going to make you want to watch more. And so you know this is popular content, it's what other people like, it's not just what you like. And so that's absolute gold. Go onto the platforms, hit save, find what other people are doing, and then when it's time to produce your own content, go replicate that in your own voice and with your own brand. That's great.

Bruce (15:55.751)

Yeah, and if you've messed up your algorithm, maybe you love cats, right? And you're just like, you're like, I messed up my algorithm. All my algorithms are just cats all day. Just go and create a new account, like a new from scratch account, and just like replicate what you did before with your bio and your interests and your location and your age and put that all right, accurate information in there, and then just start fresh. And then in a couple of weeks, you'll know exactly what Instagram's serving up. And like you said, Instagram makes money.

from views in ads they put in between those views. So they're not gonna show you content that's tanked. They're gonna show you content that's done well that other people have showed interest in, and then they're gonna keep showing that because that's how they make money.

Shane Murphy (16:34.722)

Yeah, that's absolute gold. And sometimes one of the hardest pieces of this equation for folks is getting their following going. You start an account on TikTok or Instagram or Facebook, and there's, nobody's following you. Nobody knows about you. How do people go about building that following? What tips and tricks would you suggest?

Bruce (16:59.763)

Yeah, it's hard too. And everybody wants to like cross post. Everybody's like, oh, I have an email list and I have a text list or I have a Facebook following and they cross post like, all right, I'm starting Instagram. I'm gonna tell my email followers that I have an Instagram, which could work. But for the most part, people stay in their lane. They like Instagram, they're Instagram. They like Facebook, they're on Facebook. They're not really gonna go over and say, all right, I'm gonna follow you on Facebook. And just cause you said you have an Instagram account, I'm gonna go over and follow you on Instagram now. If they don't use Instagram, what's the point?

And I don't suggest contests either, because the thing about contests real quick is people do contests all the time. They're like, oh my God, I'm gonna give away gift cards. I'm gonna run contests on Instagram. And all of a sudden they see their followers go up a little bit and then their views tank. And then what happens is you're getting people who don't really wanna see your content, just follow you or like a post because you're giving them something for free. So what happens is the next time you post, they didn't follow you because of your content, they followed you because you paid them money.

and they don't like that content, which means no one else is going to see it either. So don't run contests. The best thing you can do is engage, create content, have faith in the fact that you are going to get better at the content you create over time, be super consistent with it and have a long term goal. Be like, I'm not going to give up for six months. And I know that sounds like a long time, but that's how long it takes to grow something that's going to be worthwhile.

So you got to give yourself enough time. You have to be super consistent with it. And you have to post a lot in the beginning. A lot of companies come in to me and they're like, Bruce, I want to do Instagram. I'm like, all right, have you done it? And I'm like, not really, we have an account, but we haven't really been there. I'm like, all right, you need to post twice a day. It's eight times in the stories. And they're like, what?

We thought we could post like three times a week. I'm like, you can post three times a week, but it's not gonna do anything for you. In the beginning, to jumpstart your account, you have to post twice a day and engage six to eight times in the stories if you want to grow your account. If you wanna just be stagnant or not really grow, you can post three times a week, and some people may find you, and it's gonna take you 17 years to grow your Instagram account. So it all really depends on like where you wanna go and how fast you wanna get there.

Shane Murphy (19:04.942)

So in the beginning, you're posting a couple times a day and I just wanna clarify, this is different from engaging with the stories, correct?

Bruce (19:13.663)

Posts are like the photos, videos, reels that go to your profile. So like, if you go to someone's profile, there's like a little circle in the top left hand corner, that's the stories. That's where they post and you know, those things go away in 24 hours. If you look at the feed down the bottom, those are the types of content that they've posted that stay there forever until you delete them and you know, videos, reels, those do really well right now. We've actually been seeing some.

different types of content on Instagram. Like TikTok's a different animal, Facebook you can kind of do video, but Facebook kind of likes just still images and words. It's different. Every platform has the different type of content that they love. It's really like, what platform are we working on and what's the strategy and it depends on what it is.

Shane Murphy (20:01.358)

So posting two times a day in the beginning, and that can taper off as your audience gets built. How often are you suggesting people posting stories?

Bruce (20:06.857)


Bruce (20:13.315)

It's how it's, you know, I think stories is the easiest thing to post because you can just post random stuff throughout the course of the day when you're in the shop. Or if you're not in the shop, have one of your employees do it and people always push back, Oh, I don't want to give my employees my Instagram account. I'm like, you're letting them handle the money in your business and like your customers, but you're not going to give them your Instagram login. Like, what are you afraid they're gonna do? Like I would rather if you're not comfortable giving this employee your Instagram login, they probably shouldn't be talking to your customers or handling your business.

So don't be afraid to do that and let them kind of send you things that you can post like what's happening behind the scenes. If you have specials, if you have a new pizza that you're doing, if you want to show people what's happening, there's a really good account I found not too long ago that does this. And I found them on Instagram, but they are also on TikTok. I think they have like five hundred thousand followers on TikTok and they're a pizzeria. And I want to see if I can pull it up here and give you the name of it.

But if I can't, they just do exactly this, like give their employees the phone and they just create fun content about like a funny thing a customer asked them in the course of the day, a funny request from an online order, something that an employee did in the background and like they're just like fun stuff. But then also they show the pizza, they show the process, they show the story. So it's like a mixture of the both.

Shane Murphy (21:31.81)

Cool, that's awesome. And for like some of these people, they're gonna be the type of owner that I just don't have time. And wrapping my head around getting that consistency started, that's the biggest barrier is the time to do it. Speak to that. If I'm a busy restaurant owner, how do I prioritize this amidst all the other things that are going on?

Bruce (22:01.691)

You either have time or money, right? If you don't have time, usually it's because your restaurant is kind of busy and you're too busy to kind of take on another something on your plate to do. In that case, I would say hire somebody to do it. And I don't I know that there's a lot of marketing companies out there, but when it comes to social media.

And this is the reason we stopped doing marketing for companies when it comes to like us doing it for them is because there's never cohesiveness when it comes to hiring company to do your social media. You really need to be in the trenches. So I would suggest you hire somebody on your team to be the person who is like the social media person in addition to whatever else they're doing. And there's been people in our group, in our community that have.

let their employees be like, all right, listen, you work 35 hours a week, how about I give you three hours a week on top of that. But for those three hours, all you're doing is creating content for us. They're like, really? Like, okay, it's the same pay you're paying them. It's cheaper than hiring a company to do it from outside. But then you're getting organic, genuine content that they can create throughout the course of the day. And they're and they're kind of excited about it, because they like doing that. And it's something different for them to do versus the same old same old that they're doing. So I always say, listen, I know you don't have time.

If you don't have time, hire somebody. And if you don't have the money to hire somebody to do it, then you do have time to do it. And it's just like, it doesn't take that long. People way overanalyze how long it takes. It takes 30 seconds to do a story. Like you just literally hold your phone up, hit the button, that's a story. What can you say in the text or use an emoji or something in there to add to that? And it doesn't take that long. I think people drastically overanalyze how long they think it takes versus how long it actually takes.

Shane Murphy (23:42.274)

some of the best stories that I have seen are just a restaurant owner walking into the restaurant and They're just like talking and showing the line. They're like, hey, I'm coming to the restaurant This is what it looks like at, you know, 1230 Hope you guys come and get some of this delicious food and like that's it that 13 seconds is gold and it causes people to see like oh other people are there. I want that This is a busy happening place

Bruce (23:53.289)


Shane Murphy (24:11.734)

I want that. And that goes such a long way. Now for people who are going out there, you know, the you dropped some gold today. If you don't know what to do, go sign up for an account, see what other people are doing, save it. You can recreate some of that content. You have to be in the trenches. You don't have to go and pay, you know, $5,000 for a marketing company to do this.

get somebody on your own team, give them the keys to your account and just put content out there. They can also schedule these in advance. They can just load it up. If you spend an hour, get a few pictures, you can put a week's worth of content together within just an hour or two and then don't have to think about it and you just do the stories every day.

Bruce (25:03.635)

100%. I mean, Facebook has its own scheduler. It's in the Meta Studio for Instagram and Facebook. You can schedule those out. The other thing you can do is like every, like TikTok, Instagram, which is probably like the main platforms that everybody's gonna use, right? Facebook, TikTok, Instagram. TikTok and Instagram have a thing called drafts. So you just upload whatever it is you're doing and just don't post it and just save as a draft.

So we do that all the time. Like we create memes and fun videos and we have them in the drafts. So I just go into the drafts and be like, all right, which one do I wanna post today? Because I know that I need to post constantly, even to this point with my Instagram, and we have a pretty significant following, I still wanna post every day because I wanna keep that engagement going. So just either use the drafts or use the tools inside of MetaStudio for Instagram.

And Facebook and TikTok does the same thing, has a drafts folder that you can use. And now TikTok has opened the API. So if you use a thing like Agorapulse or another one that's like, I forget what the, it begins with a B. I forget what the name of it is, the scheduler. But there's just Google social media schedules, there's thousands out there that, you know, for $20 a month, you can connect all of your accounts, create the content in there, and then schedule it out when you need to go out in the future. Buffer, that's the one.

Shane Murphy (26:19.234)

Awesome. Bruce, this has been absolutely amazing today. Thank you so much for coming on today. Where can people follow you and learn more about what you do?

Bruce (26:29.228)

Smar is our home base. You can find everything there, like a podcast, the YouTube show, the magazine, everything is on the main homepage over at Smar

Shane Murphy (26:38.562)

Awesome, fantastic. So thanks again, Bruce, and to all the listeners. Make sure to follow Bruce. Go to smar and tune in next week for another round of tactical marketing advice.

Bruce (26:49.108)

Thank you, Shane.

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