CiCi's Pizza has been offering buffet-style pizza for nearly 30 years. But some changes are now taking place at the brand specifically to appeal to today's consumer demands.
In a few weeks, CiCi's will introduce its Buffet on the Go service systemwide. The to-go option is currently available at about 20 to 30 test stores, according to Rebecca Stone, senior director of food and beverage.
"It has tested very well. The service has all of the benefits and variety of our buffet, but you can do it quickly and it's very mobile for those on the go. It's friendly to the lifestyles of today," Stone said.
Buffet on the Go includes five slices off the buffet (half a pizza), two breadsticks or desserts and a drink for $5. Guests who use this option still walk down the buffet line to make their pizza choices, or they can call ahead and have restaurant staff put the to-go package together for them.
"It is just another way for us to make it easy for our guest to enjoy CiCi's buffet variety without standing in line," Stone said.
A special box and Buffet on the Go logo were created for the new service.
In addition to hitting portability and on-the-go consumer trends, CiCi's is also embracing the growing snack trend. Garlic Parmesan Knots, for example, were introduced in October and CiCi's has also recently introduced Crisp Baked Wings.
Crisp Baked Wings
Buffalo Wings first rolled into the CiCi's system in February of 2007 and have been offered as an upsell item, not part of the buffet. In January, the brand's wings underwent a major makeover; they are now "crisp baked" and served alongside dipping sauces, including hot, mild, barbecue and a new garlic sauce. The former wings were pre-sauced.
"We changed the way we make our wings to provide more variety and to make them more in tune with what people want nowadays, which is to dip, to be interactive with their food and in control," Stone said. "Instead of having them already coated, customers can dip as much or as little as they want."
Those who prefer pre-coated wings still have that option. The new wings are optional for franchisees, but Stone predicts the entire system will convert sooner than later because of their performance.
"The difference in wing sales before and after the changes is a 40 percent increase," she said. "These have exceeded our expectations and it's delightful. (The baking procedure) takes an existing wing to a new level of quality. I can't think of any other brand that has a crisp baked wing."
And because the new wings are baked in existing pizza ovens, operational changes were minimal with the product introduction. By not coating wings, staff just has to put dipping sauces in their containers during the morning prep.
"We used everything we currently had, just changed to a different pan. But that changed procedure of baking has made all the difference in the world for quality improvement," Stone said.
Garlic Parmesan Knots
The October introduction of CiCi's now-permanent Garlic Parmesan Knots also featured a relatively seamless operational transition. The inspiration behind the launch was garlic.
"I saw an opportunity for adding garlic because, to me, for an Italian-themed pizza restaurant, it's a given that we ought to have it," Stone said.
Prior to the knot launch, CiCi's had introduced a Italiano Garlic Pizza. Stone used that same garlic sauce as a base and put together a procedure similar to the one used for the brand's existing cinnamon rolls.
"We used everything we already had, including ingredients such as parmesan, so operationally this was very easy. That's always a big plus," Stone said.
Although the company doesn't pull specific sales of the knots, the company says they've been very popular. They are part of the buffet and are also frequently ordered to go; guests don't have to order the buffet to get them.
The knots, along with the wings and the to-go option, were all created to give CiCi's guests more occasions, and perhaps better compete with QSRs that have traditionally cornered the market for snacks and quick meals.
"People are now used to the drive-thru, to eating whenever they want," Stone said. "Traditionally we're a meal destination. But the more we can utilize our restaurants inbetween meal times, with snacks or the Buffet on the Go, the more we can get people coming in. These just give guests an option they haven't had from us before."
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Alicia has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with FastCasual.com, QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com has been featured in publications around the world, including NPR, Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, Consumerist.com and Franchise Asia magazine.