Nuttall’s win with ‘Continuous Improvement’ award at the 2016 Pizza Hut Annual Conference

Turning ‘Dead Space’ into Vibrant Area at Pizza Hut

While Mintel research into UK pizza and pasta restaurants has forecast market growth of 15% by 2019 to £1.9bn, it suggests there is room for operators to improve the experience of dining to make them more relaxing and engaging. Pizza Hut has already stepped up to the plate and as part of a £60m refurbishment programme, looked to The Alan Nuttall Partnership to help turn what had become a ‘dead space’ at its restaurants into a vibrant, sociable area to capture the adult dining market. The solution has proved such a success, Nuttall’s won the ‘Continuous Improvement’ award at the 2016 Pizza Hut Annual Conference…

Deep pan fan

Launched in the UK in 1973, Pizza Hut now has over 700 restaurants and delivery outlets here and is known for its deep pan and stuffed crusts, cheesy garlic bread and all-you-can-eat salad bar. There can’t be many who haven’t experienced a Pizza Hut children’s party, either.

One of its out-and-out most popular concepts is the Unlimited Lunch Buffet. From Monday to Friday, customers can sample a range of pizza and pasta and fill up on as much freshly prepared salad as they like from the free salad bar.

The problem, however, is that while the concept is an absolute winner in terms of daytime trade, once the buffet finishes at 3pm, the space had become completely redundant.

Gareth Hopley, communications and engagement manager for Pizza Hut, said: “Our buffet only represented 30% of the time our stores were open, and that area was just dead space the rest of the time. We started looking at whether there were other opportunities we could explore.”

The answer was found as the Pizza Hut management team looked at ways to enhance its evening offer and build up its reputation for evening drinks and casual dining for the after-work crowd, part of a major investment programme to re-image its restaurants nationwide.

We’d had the idea for an elliptical buffet counter, which is more ergonomic for a round pizza, for some years, a comfortable counter that would keep food at the right temperature and people could actually eat on,” said Gareth. “This was the starting point of our new concept.

Topping the bill

The Pizza Hut team chose The Alan Nuttall Partnership, which has 50 years’ expertise in the award-winning design and manufacture of foodservice solutions, after seeing a table the company had made at a trade show and raised the prospect of an independent concept.

Mick Steele, technical director for Nuttall’s, said:

Pizza Hut wanted us to develop a multi-use counter without heat lamps, so people could sit and eat at the buffet counter, which was a challenge. The project required hours of review in-store and at our testing laboratory in Dudley to make sure the solution met Pizza Hut’s stringent, non-negotiable temperature-time requirements for hot food display.

By exploring different technologies and using our in-house prototyping and test facilities, we were able to develop a solution which would keep pizzas heated to the client’s standard for the time they required, which could then be quickly and easily converted into a bar seating area.

The ultra-versatile, elliptical buffet counter was installed at The Strand as the first of Pizza Hut’s flagship restaurants to receive a £500,000 revamp complete with a cocktail bar, American-style diner designs, mood lighting, oak flooring, leather seats – and a new menu.

The next restaurants in line for this particular level of makeover were Marble Arch, Piccadilly and Queensway, with Pizza Hut looking to evolve the double function buffet counter further.

Gareth said it was fantastic to see customers coming in and sitting up at the counter to enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail and nibbles while waiting to be seated at their table.

We have the longest retail front on The Strand and our new, completely glass front means people can instantly see how appealing and engaging the bar area looks inside, he said.

With its vibrant, motif designs, the counter itself is contemporary and stylish and looks great when you walk in off the street. So much so, people are even coming in just for a drink after work, creating a new kind of sociability for us and a departure from our traditional set up.

Overall, we wanted to take what we are famous and loved for and create an engaging space to attract and talk to a new audience, all while making the experience even better for our existing customers. Nuttall’s came up with numerous ideas to help achieve this and we’ve not only had an excellent design partnership with them, but a great return on investment potential from both a cost and usability perspective, with a national brief for projects in the future.

With full end to end project management responsibilities, Nuttall’s designed and installed the multi-functional buffet counter as well as the in-line buffet counters that sit alongside, undertook extensive prototyping and in-house testing, as well as carrying out all electrical installation, testing and certification.