Pizza Hut wants to bring back dine-in restaurants
IN 2016 we wrote a story about Pizza Hut's dine-in restaurants making a comeback.
The response to that story on social media was huge. There's no denying it - Australians of a certain age have a nostalgic connection to that red-roofed establishment. It conjures memories of birthday parties, post Saturday sports lunches and creating strategies to tackle the ever popular all-you-can-eat The Works deal ("Do I fill up on pizza or dessert ? Hell, I'll do both").
But over the past couple of decades, Pizza Hut lost a foothold in the Australian market, largely due to the introduction of international competitors like Domino's.
But the strategists at Pizza Hut are hoping for a comeback. Part of their plan is to tap into that nostalgic fondness and bring back the eat-in experience, but with a contemporary spin.
Pizza Hut Australia Innovation Director Matt Sawyer has his own memories of the restaurant when he was a kid.
"I remember running up when a great pizza that you liked hit the buffet," he recalls.
"Part of the plan is to bring back what we know everyone loves - and that is the dine-in that we remember from when we were younger."
Late last year, Pizza Hut opened a concept restaurant in Waterloo, Sydney. It's something of a testing ground for new menu items, to see what diners want - because frankly they don't think bacon bits and jelly cubes will cut it in 2018. As Sawyer says, "We know the tastes and needs and wants of the Australian consumer have changed."
Successful menu items will then be rolled out across the country according to their popularity.
Our sister paper news.com.au went to check it out and discovered that the Pizza Hut restaurant of the future ... looks a bit like a hipster diner.
The menu here is fairly extensive. While many of the old classic pizza combos remain there's a much broader, modern selection on the new menu.
The classic BBQ Meatlovers remains, although you might like to opt for the new fancy "Butcher's Block" pizza - steak strips, streaky bacon, pepperoni, smoky honey ham, chicken and Italian sausage on BBQ sauce with a hollandaise drizzle.
Other new additions include a Mac & Cheese Pizza (stuffed crust with macaroni & cheese, cheddar, mozzarella and parmesan on a béchamel base, finished with crispy onions) and a Sriracha prawn pizza.
If pizza isn't your thing (why are you even here) there's a selection of tapas-style entrees and sides. It seems they've tried to introduce a bit of the deep south USA flavour that has been on-trend lately - there are chipotle waffle fries, jalapeño flamers (cream cheese-filled jalapeños coated in crispy breadcrumbs) and buffalo wings.
The dessert hut offers soft serve ice cream, frozen custard and an array of toppings (Sawyer says they have been listening to customer feedback, and are considering bringing back the old favourites of chocolate mousse and jelly).
Other a la carte dessert offerings include chocolate lava cake, a huge warm Hershey's Cookie, apple crumble pizza, or a Nutella and marshmallow pizza.
They have also revived "The Works". At Waterloo it costs $19.95 and is only available at certain times. The deal includes garlic bread, unlimited pizza by the slice, a selection of entrees and sides, and unlimited dessert bar. Instead of a centralised pizza buffet where you help yourself, the different pizzas are offered around the restaurant "yum cha style" as soon as they come out of the oven (you also get to nominate some of your favourite pizza combos to be included in the mix).
There is no sign of the salad bar here.
Sawyer says they believe health-conscious diners in 2018 certainly have an appetite for greenery, "but the tricky thing with a salad bar is the ingredients can stay out for an extended time - we want people to get a fresh salad" (there are currently two salad options on the a la carte menu).
Other notable features of the new-look Pizza Hut include free popcorn for all diners, a Spotify jukebox (where customers can select the music videos that will be played on the big screen TV) and a drinks menu that includes 4 Pines craft beer.
While the venue is undeniably modern, there are still plenty of hat-tips to the Pizza Hut of years gone by, to tap into that nostalgia element.
"We pulled through the heritage touch points that we know everyone loves," explains Sawyer.
Pizza Hut Pete is present on the walls, and there are coasters featuring vintage photos and placemats with retro facts.
A second concept restaurant opened in Marsden Park in Sydney's west this week.
But it's not only NSW that will be introduced to the new-look restaurants.
"Darwin opens in a few months, we have a site in Perth, another one in Brisbane - for the rest of this year there's probably about another eight [concept locations that will open] and then we will really be ramping it up to roll out at least 100 over the next two to three years," explains Sawyer.
For those who aren't dazzled by the new-look Pizza Hut, there are still a handful of the more traditional Pizza Hut restaurants operating around Australia. And apparently people travel far and wide to visit.
Here are the locations in case you're craving a road trip that ends with old school salad bar bacon bits.
PIZZA HUT DINE-IN LOCATIONS THAT STILL EXIST AROUND AUSTRALIA
Victoria: Ballarat, Bendigo, Shepparton
Queensland: Browns Plains, Gympie, Kirra, Toowoomba, Townsville
New South Wales: Lake Haven, St Andrews, Orange, Parkes, Windsor
Tasmania: New Town
South Australia: Marion