Life in the Hut Lane
Pizza Hut adapted to customer concerns in the early months of the pandemic by becoming the first national pizza brand to offer contactless curbside pickup. In March 2021, the chain announced another big move: the addition of dedicated digital order pickup windows at more than 1,500 locations. The Hut Lane will cater to customers who want to grab their orders without leaving their cars. The service can be accessed through the Pizza Hut app or website and is also available to customers who order by phone. Upon arrival, customers can simply pull up to the Hut Lane window to pick up their orders. It’s part of Pizza Hut’s strategy to modernize through digital ordering, according to chief customer and operations officer Nicolas Burquier. “We are giving our customers a variety of options to optimize their pizza eating experience as we build on our business momentum,” Burquier says. “Not only do we offer industry-leading, innovative menu items that are only available at Pizza Hut, we also offer several digital-first pickup options for our customers, and the Hut Lane is a great example of that.” Meanwhile, some pickup customers might have gotten a surprise at the window: The chain also introduced a limited-edition delivery and carryout box featuring a QR code that led to an augmented-reality version of the classic Pacman video game.
Jet’s Pizza Flies High With Text-to-Order
A new text-to-order tool driven by artificial intelligence will make it easier to order a pie from Jet’s Pizza, the Sterling Heights, Michigan-based chain with 380 stores in 19 states. Jet’s has partnered with Ordr AI to offer the technology, which the chain says is the first AI-fueled feature of its kind for the pizza industry. Jet’s has already processed more than 1 million text orders and begun offering the service in more than 75% of stores, the company said in late March. The text-to-order technology allows customers to text a Jet’s store using the same local phone number they would use to call in an order. The customer can text the entire order in one message, including indicating pickup or the delivery address. The system facilitates payment, processes the order, sends the order to the store, and responds with an order confirmation. Customers can also save their credit card information and set a pin to reuse the same card during future orders. “I think it’s fair to say that text-to-order is the easiest ordering method in all of food ordering, not just pizza,” says Aaron Nilsson, chief information officer for Jet’s America. “It’s the future. It is a premium experience that pairs well with our premium-tasting pizza. No apps to download, no Alexa to buy—just a great experience.”
Oh, Concierge? Where’s the Nearest Vaccination Site?
Getting its workers vaccinated for COVID-19 has become a high priority for UNO Pizzeria & Grill, with 90 stores in 18 states around the U.S. The company announced in late March that it will offer a $50 gift card to every employee who gets a shot and even announced a new internal concierge system to help them along in the process. Available to employees at all company-owned locations as well as those at the corporate office and the UNO Foods manufacturing plant in Brockton, Massachusetts, the concierge service is comprised of volunteer employees who help their peers set up appointments, provide appointment reminders and share updates about new vaccine sites that become available. In certain circumstances, UNO will reimburse employees for transportation to vaccine centers if they don’t have the means to get there on their own. UNO piloted the program at UNO Foods, and within a few days, 87% of the employees had secured vaccine appointments, the company said.
Donatos Wants to Conquer the Sunshine State
New Donatos Pizza locations will keep popping up all over Florida this year as the fast-casual pizza chain plots rapid growth in the state. Headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, Donatos has already opened five stores in Sarasota, Jacksonville Beach and Winter Park in 2020 and has signed multistore development deals with franchise groups for Jacksonville, Orlando, greater Tampa/St. Petersburg, greater Sarasota, Bonita Springs and Marco Island. The company aims to expand its brand in all regions of the Sunshine State, from St. Augustine and Daytona Beach to Broward and Miami-Dade counties and Gainesville. “Our continued development throughout Florida over the past year has stirred interest among people looking for an opportunity to partner with a rapidly expanding concept,” said Jeff Baldwin, Donatos vice president of development and franchising. Another facet of the chain’s growth strategy—offering scaled-down versions of its menu in Red Robin burger chain locations—has also seen success. By the end of the year, Donatos plans to sell its pizza in 200-plus Red Robin locations.