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Pizzeria operators navigate a changing restaurant landscape

As consumer preferences evolve, pizzerias adapt

The pizza category is showing much resilience as consumers preferences change and evolve. There’s no indication that this evolution will taper off during the next decade. The National Restaurant Association has already weighed in with its next-decade forecast, Restaurant Industry 2030: Actionable Insights for the Future. Off-premises business will continue to gain momentum.

Also, more diners will embrace dietary and lifestyle-centric eating. There was a lot to digest in that report, and there’s much for pizza executives and owners to unpack as 2020 begins. In a highly competitive category and a restaurant industry that’s going through transformation and disruption, it’s time to analyze and dig in.

One way pizza chains are addressing change is by embracing diversity in pizza and focusing on choice for consumers. This is an important aspect of the business for Donatos Pizza. “Consumers want their pizza exactly when and where they want it,” says Tom Krouse, Donatos CEO. “The brands that can meet those demands will continue to flourish and grow.” Krouse also notes that pizzerias and chains are facing increased pressure on food and labor costs.

At Boston’s we meet our guests’ needs by offering a variety of ways they can enjoy a meal,” says Jeff Melnick, Boston’s Pizza International president. “We offer take-out, pick up, third-party delivery, some their own delivery, catering and late-night (service).” By providing greater choice, pizza chains can take a greater share of consumer dining occasions.

Embracing technology

There are ways to increase efficiency and maintain margins through increased use of technology. According to the Restaurant Industry 2030 report, larger restaurant chains are seeking economies of scale through the use of robotics. Pizza manufacturers in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) arena already tap much automation to produce frozen pizzas that maintain their freshness throughout the product life cycle. Now, restaurant chains will look to tap those same advancements.

In the subject area of delivery, pizza operators have an advantage: This category was one of the earliest to offer the convenience of delivery to customers. As automation gains popularity, this category will embrace drone delivery, increased investment in keeping product warm, and robot delivery. Also, third-party app provider DoorDash is testing self-driving vehicle delivery with Cruise. Pilot programs like this one can be
emulated by large pizza chains.

Boston’s will improve the customer experience. In addition a new, smaller prototype, imagined for today’s on-the-go customer, debuts soon.

Krouse adds “Focusing on delivery and utilizing technology even better for convenience and efficiency will also set the leading brands apart from everyone else.” Another pizza chain that has embraced technology is Domino’s pizza. Starting with its mobile app experience in 2014 and continuing with investment in many areas of pizza operations, Domino’s has certainly been a leader. Retail Dive explored the Domino’s pizza innovation at the time, noting that pizza chains would be smart to invest in an enhanced mobile experience.

The minute-to-minute tracking of pizza is similar to what third-party delivery apps now provide to their users. The experience differs among platforms. Uber Eats’ tracking of orders has certainly arisen as an advanced application. Domino’s was an early adopter of the real-time food-delivery tracking that consumers now require.

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Healthy and dietary focus of consumers

A growing number of consumers want healthy and dietary-centric options and that’s an issue pizza operators must address. Uno Pizzeria and Grill recently added options for dietary-centric customers and reorganized its menu via its Love All Feed All menu. Customers who are calorie counting, vegan, vegetarian, gluten-sensitive, dairy-free and/or carb-conscious now have ample choices.

Uno added plant-based Daiya (non-dairy) cheese, and now offers vegan pizza toppings, including Classic Beyond Burger, from Beyond Meat. Five new vegan options provide customers a way to build over 16,000 possible combinations. Uno has a carb-conscious category as well, and offers gluten-sensitive choices. “I am incredibly proud of this new menu, one that will appeal to a broad range of new guests, thanks partly to plant-based offerings from Beyond Meat and Daiya Foods,” said Andre Fuehr, Uno executive chef, at the time of the announcement.

Uno also provides its guests with 15 vegetarian ingredients to customize their meatless pizzas. For calorie counters, the Uno De-Lites menu offers multiple options of dishes containing 600 or fewer calories. Thin crust pizzas offer a bounty of choice: fresh spinach, creamy goat cheese and caramelized onions; wild mushroom and aged cheddar; roasted garlic, grilled chicken, caramelized onions and goat cheese; and roasted eggplant, fresh spinach, pesto and feta.

“Heading into the new year, expect to see a big push in the pizza industry towards healthierfor-you and plant-based pizza options,” says Krouse. “Consumers are more conscious than ever about what they eat.” Donatos Pizza menu offers a Very Vegy pizza, as well as the Vegan. It’s Greek to Me Pizza. The latter is a veg fest: banana peppers, black olives, roasted garlic, green pepper, onions, and roma tomatoes on a vegan crust.

At sister chain in Canada, Boston’s The Gourmet Pizza, Restaurant and Sports Bar debuted a Christmas Pizza, with turkey and all the fixings, says Melnick. “Seems a stretch at first blush, but it highlights that the platform is unlimited… we (also) have dessert pizza, vegan, vegetarian, it’s about the chef blending the flavors, to make them approachable and intriguing to those who are looking for something outside the traditional flavors of old.”

Pizza diners crave variety and choice. Dining occasions are on their own terms. Photo by Diego Marin.
Pizza diners crave variety and choice. Dining occasions are on their own terms. Photo by Diego Marin.

Providing a convenient experience

PIzza operators can also focus on improving the guest experience and recognizing consumers are in charge. Consumers expect convenience: “Ordering pizza for delivery is one of the most convenient food options there is and we’ve designed our (Donatos’) app to allow customers to reorder a previous favorite order with the click
of a button,” Krouse adds.

A study that was prepared by Technomic and published by the National Restaurant Industry addressed specific insights regarding off-premises business. One of the findings in the report Harnessing Technology to Drive Off-Premises Sales, is that 43 percent of consumers use restaurant apps to order food delivery, yet only 18 percent of restaurants offer ordering apps. Pizzerias and pizza chains cannot afford to fall behind competitors and third-party app providers in this regard.

Another way that pizza operators can enhance the guest experience is by designing pizzerias that recognize the rising volume of to-go business. Donatos Pizza restaurants are designed to provide a comfortable in-dining
experience; at the same time, the chain also offers ample room for pick up transactions. Benches and waiting areas accommodate pickup guests, and allow enough room for queuing at peak sales periods.

Pizza operators have multiple advantages. They understand convenience and are working with a product that offers great value and has decades of investment. Pizza also travels well and is easy to keep fresh and warm. As they enter 2020, operators can leverage these advantages to stay ahead of other restaurant food categories and continue to offer a superior, convenient experience.

This article was originally published in the winter issue of Restaurant C-Suite Magazine. Catch the latest issue at restaurantcsuite.net.

Photo credit: Uno Pizzeria and Grill (featured), Diego Marin (inline)

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