The boss of Pizza Hut UK insists the chain is in a “pretty good place” to exploit a shift in the boundaries that have traditionally defined the casual dining market place.
Jens Hofma, who led a management buy-out of the restaurant business last year, oversees an estate of 260 restaurants employing the best part of 7,000 staff in the UK.
Although the company is one of the most recognised brands in the business and prides itself on delivering a full-service restaurant proposition, it is often perceived as a fast food operation.
But Mr Hofma said the changing industry landscape meant that assumption no longer bothered him.
“I used to be massively irritated by it because we are really a casual dining brand. But actually in the current market, where the lines are blurring between QSR, fast casual and casual dining it is actually a pretty good place to be.
“We have been successfully introducing elements of self-service as part of a concept which helps us to manage our labour and basically create a very effective operating system, so the fact that Pizza Hut cannot be easily pigeonholed in either fast casual, casual dining or fast food is positive.”
Mr Hofma, speaking at this year’s Casual Dining Show, has had to contend with the pizza market become increasingly crowded in recent years, particularly given the sharp rise in Italian-focused pizza brands.
However, he maintains that few brands have infringed upon the chain’s core proposition.
“I think what sets Pizza Hut apart is actually a very bold American taste of pizza. We are not trying to be authentic Italian pizza in the same way as Pizza Express or Zizzi — we are resolutely an American pizza brand. It comes not just with a different type of menu but also a service style and an environment that is very informal and easy going, and that’s what we have really brought to life in the Pizza Hut concept.”
While Pizza Hut might not be known for the authentic and artisanal pizza that has become so fashionable, Hofma says that’s not what people visit its restaurants for anyway.
“They don’t come to Pizza Hut for sophisticated food, they come for tasty food, they come for quality food and they come for food that is prepared with a passion. Our differentiated proposition within that pizza market is that we are American takeaway pizza. We are fairly unique in that particularly market and we are very affordable.
“I think the most important differentiator in the market — and it sounds boring but it is true — continues to this consistent operational execution day after day after day after day. That is so often where brands go wrong. They can be exciting, new, have a great proposition and look amazing, but once all the glamour of restaurant design and new openings is over you have got to get into the daily grind of how you run the right operation across 260 sites, 365 days a year. And I think, for me, that is the most important thing.”