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Three pizza brands that have recently implemented redesigns make it clear that industry changes are driving some of the most popular design trends.
Let's face it: The restaurant industry has got some serious competition from the array of businesses now making dining at home an increasingly popular option for consumers. And that holds doubly true in the pizza restaurant business, where take-out and delivery have always played a big role.
But most brands have made their dine-in businesses integral to their success, and since even the most committed hermits crawl out from their caves for a dinner out once in a while, savvy restaurateurs know that the experience their brands provide for those dining in may be more critical in today's ultra-competitive pizza business than ever before.
For one brand that has launched a anew store prototype, Toppers Pizza, the subject is top of mind. The chain has spent the past year immersed in the redesign process, which has resulted in a more open kitchen design, dubbed the Toppers Show Kitchen.
"Much of our design was driven from how our customers have been using our restaurants and the direction the business is heading," Toppers Chief Development Officer David Biederman told PizzaMarketplace in an interview following the opening of the first store sporting the new look in Milwaukee. "We are seeing more and more people coming in and picking up pizza in-store. The online ordering is gaining popularity. We are changing from just a pizza factory. Now, our customers are coming in and seeing us. They are seeing our brand and the quality of the product that we make. We wanted to allow our customers to actually see what goes into the pizza that they are excited to eat. That's where the inspiration of the Show Kitchen stemmed from."
PizzaMarketplace also interviewed Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza COO Chuck Locke and Pieology Pizzeria founder and CEO Carl Chang about their brands' design initiatives, and from these interviews identified the four primary drivers behind some of today's pizza industry's biggest trends.
1. Only "experience" need apply
A restaurant's design is the stage for the overall "experience" today's diners demand when eating out. And, as Locke put it, all the design's elements must underscore that in-restaurant experience.
"It's very important. It sets the mood and the tone for the entire 'experience,'" he said. "We say, 'experience' because our guests come to Anthony's as much for the incredible food as they do for the ambiance, including music, lighting and design."
Pieology's Chang agreed, saying, "Guests who visit the refreshed Pieology locations will experience a variety of contemporary design elements, such as walnut wood accent walls, neutral colors to showcase the brightness of the fresh ingredients on display, along with our vibrant inspirational quote boards throughout. These changes give the restaurant a more open and bright appearance."
2. Form must play up function
This is the root of the increasing prevalence of open kitchen designs. By making the kitchen, the pizza crafters and the ovens the stars of a pizzeria's design, restaurant operators not only create that aforementioned "experience," but alsounderscore the market's growing demand for transparency about where diners' food is coming from and how it's prepared.
"I do think there is this kind of mega-trend in the industry — people are more concerned about what they eat. …" Biederman said.
"Our new design reflects these qualities. Customers are able to see that we are back there, having a good time and making food for the customers that we appreciate. We listened to our customers and franchisees and came up with a design that involved components they asked for, including great quality, durability and lowest price for a remodel. We weren't proven wrong when we saw the consumer and franchisees' positive responses after the first couple stores were rolled out with the new prototype."
Meanwhile, Anthony's has had an open pizza line front and center from the start, underscoring its branding, which also incorporated the cooking method as part of the brand name. The coal-fired oven is a brand distinction, and the chain's open kitchen makes that oven a major player in the brand experience.
"From the beginning, our design has been open pizza line," Locke said. "Everything happens right there on the floor in front of the guests and they love it. … Guests are fascinated with the oven, especially when they learn that everything we serve (aside from salad) is cooked in our coal-fired oven.
"In all of our locations we do our best to make the oven the focal point of the restaurant. It is the star of show and we try to place the oven front and center so guests can see it and feel the heat and energy that comes from the oven. Additionally, our take-out area is typically located next to the oven so guests can experience it while they wait for their food. The oven adds to the ultimate guest experience."
Pieology's Chang said that design was critical to easing the customer's overall interaction with the technicalities of eating out, including ordering and even retrieving a to-go order. They are both important restaurant functions that can be improved through design
"In addition to updating the atmosphere, we wanted to improve flow for easy ordering and to streamline the process for our guests picking up to-go orders," Chang said. "We accomplished this with visual signage which allowed guests to determine what they wanted on their pizza before even arriving to the assembly line."
3. Think outside the box, but stay inside it
All brands have to work within the specifics of the properties and budgets available, so while pizza restaurateurs know that design must differentiate their restaurants from competitors, it must stay within the confines of its physical space and budget.
At Anthony's for instance, Locke said, "With 60 stores in existence, we have a solid blueprint for a build-out. Our footprint is small, approximately 3,000 square feet. Typically, we take over an existing location and renovate. … (and) the smaller footprint, the color and lighting, and the coal-fired oven all add to the romance of the brand, as does the music we play. Combined they all create a vibe that guests love."
4. Design and branding must be an infinite loop
Each of the three brands has planted its flag firmly in a particular feel and personality. Similarly, leadership at each chain worked hard to weave their brand's mission, message and distinguishing characteristics strongly into the tapestry of their interiors.
Pieology, for instance, plays up its customer engagement by stressing the brand's recurring themes through prominently displayed "quote walls" in its restaurants filled with graphics of inspiring saying or quotes from individuals.
"We set out to reinvigorate the look and feel of our restaurants to evoke warmth, joy and excitement in an environment that encourages individuality and creativity," Chang said. "In redesigning the restaurant, we wanted to … remind guests to dream big, laugh and stay motivated. …
"Many of the more than 500 phrases encouraging happiness and respect for others were chosen by my wife, Diana. It was her pet project and something we both wanted to incorporate from the very beginning. With the redesign, the board has evolved to include inspirational images as well. We're also able to customize the quotes by locations, we have a lot of flexibility."
Personality is a big factor in the Toppers brand, as well, particularly the whole David-versus-Goliath approach to business that its often outspoken founder and CEO Scott Gittrich makes clear. That "rebel" attitude is equally reflected in the restaurants' looks.
"In our new Show Kitchen design, the interplay of materials and the décor elements are built on the idea of showing the little guy versus the big behemoth attitude that drives our culture," Biederman said. "This brand is built on making great pizza while living a certain way of life.
"I think this design goes a long way and people are able to relate to it. In the design we have the steel and the real thick wood tables, we have the counters and the music playing in the background. Our crews are jamming out and having a good time. … Our new prototype shows what the brand is all about and who we are."
Pizza Marketplace and QSRweb editor Shelly Whitehead is a former newspaper and TV reporter with an affinity for telling stories about the people and innovative thinking behind great brands.