Dean Martin may have described the moon looking like “a big pizza pie” as “amore” but pubs need to do more than just love the traditional Italian dish in order to tap into the trend.
Data from The Morning Advertiser’s sister title MCA reveals that, of the leading out-of-home lunch and dinner dishes, pizza has achieved the largest share increase, eaten on 4.4% of visits, up from 3.7% a year ago.
The increase in pizza occasions has been most evident in chain restaurants, where it is now the leading dish, consumed on almost a quarter (23%) of visits.
A rise in pizza sales has been due to its popularity on the biggest dining-out occasions – lunch and dinner – where consumers are getting together to eat with friends and family, as well as with consumers out for a special occasion or celebration.
MCA executive director Simon Stenning says: “We’ve seen pubs develop their food offer to keep up with, and get ahead of, the casual-dining trends and, of course, pizza has played a part in that even though it wouldn’t normally be considered a pub staple.
“The qualities of pizza as a product that appeals to everyone, including families, plus the low cost and high margin formula, means it fits in well with pubs’ core strengths of great value for family dining.
“Some pubs have gone the whole hog and gained built-in wood-fired pizza ovens, while others have gone for a simpler microwavable pizza product, which is proving successful in some tenanted pubs where kitchen facilities and food sales are minimal.”
An odd couple
Stenning mentions one pubco’s brand that taps into the pizza sector and makes it work as its sites are ‘on the up’.
He adds: “Mitchells & Butlers has built its Stonehouse Pizza & Carvery brand so that it now appears on the MCA Top 100 lists, with a forecasted 115 sites by the end of 2018.
“While pizza and carvery may be strange bedfellows, it appears to be a format that is working well, covering all bases with multiple generations – pizza appealing to younger consumers and carvery to the older generations.
“The quality and breadth of pizzas have been increasing in the casual-dining market, so we would expect the same within pubs. Brands such as Franco Manca, Pizza Pilgrims, Radio Alice and Homeslice have shown there is a
new wave of pizza attracting consumers, so pubs need to keep up with these brands.”
A fellow pub group that has taken note of the benefits pizza can give to its licensees is Ei Group. The pubco launched a new pizza format across its estate at its nationwide trade shows in February.
The offer, called Barrel Top, has been designed to help licensees tap into the pizza market and support them with all aspects of developing a commercially viable pizza offer.
The package, which also caters for pubs currently operating without a food proposition, includes a bespoke pre-rolled dough, made to the specific ingredients of the group along with a range of other ingredients.
Identifying a simple offer
A suitable set-up will be recommended depending on the needs of the site, ranging from a full pizza kitchen with a high-capacity Cuppone oven, to a table-top pizza oven.
Ei Group head of food Paul Farr says: “We have focused on identifying key trends across the eating-out market and supporting our publicans with simple offers that tap into them and drive sales.”
While this is just one option operators can take if they are looking to invest in pizza, more restaurants dedicated to the dough-based Italian dish are springing up.
One brand has gone even further, introducing particularly unusual toppings, including sweet and savoury.
Crazy Pedro’s runs three sites – two in Manchester and one in Liverpool – and the company includes a whole raft of toppings for daring diners to choose from.
Examples include the Fried Chicken & Waffle pizza – fried chicken with smoked bacon, maple syrup and waffle.
For diners looking to combine Italian cuisine with something a little more Asian, Crazy Pedro’s has Ducky Fuzz – a pizza that contains shredded duck, spring rolls, cucumber, spring onions and plum sauce.
Another cuisine combination is the Nacho Libre (which is also vegetarian) – a pizza with tortilla chips, chilli sauce, American cheese, jalapeño, guacamole, sour cream and fresh pico de gallo.
Or, for those who want to go large, the Mac Daddy is for customers with a big appetite – mini hamburger, jack cheese, mac sauce, gherkins and shredded iceberg lettuce.
A spokesperson for the brand says: “The concept at Crazy Pedro’s is outlandish toppings that you would never consider on a pizza, but we are brave enough to experiment.
“We have had all sorts of toppings over the years from Crème Egg to Greggs pastries. We do the normal pizza that everybody knows and loves, but we offer something different here, giving people the opportunity to try something they would not expect.”
From novel ideas to the concentrated and serious, pairing pizza and cider may not be the obvious choice but one restaurant chain has made it work.
Stable business plan
The Stable restaurant brand idea began back in 2007 where Richard and Nikki Cooper quit the music industry and London to relocate to the Dorset countryside.
The duo bought a dilapidated hotel in the centre of Bridport, where they spent two years bringing it back to life. Once they’d finished the main building, they were able to focus on the outbuilding and former stable block at
Thanks to the local area, which has an abundance of fine ingredients, obtaining great quality products was no problem. Richard, Nikki, and Richard’s brother Andy, began experimenting with pizza, getting rid of Italian preconceptions and creating British pizza with a sourdough base and a variety of toppings.
Fast forward nine years and The Stable still prides itself on fine food and crafted cider offered within an alluring atmosphere.
Obsession with the best
The concept behind the brand is to bring the nation’s finest pizza, pie and cider to diners, which is clear through its menus. Each of their 17 sites has a different menu, depending on the ingredients available locally, with pizza a strong focus.
“We start with the best ingredients, using nothing but the highest quality, most lovingly sourced produce and follow it through, right to the wooden boards we serve our pizzas on and the friendly staff bringing them to the table,” says operations director David Gough.
“The competition comes and goes, but our obsession with the best means we have stayed ahead of the game.
“Call it a not-so-secret weapon, but our sourdough starter is based on the same one we made in 2009 and has been nurtured using only the best flour ever since.
“Sounds simple, but we have made it an art. We do what it says on the tin, ‘pizza, pies, cider’, never losing our focus and our mission to be the number one pizza restaurant in all of our locations.”
Pizza is a dish consumers continue to crave for lunch or dinner, and operators should crack this market in order to take a slice of the profits away from the casual dining sector.