Hot Pizza: So Popular Restaurants Will Try Almost Anything

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Pizza is popping up in more (and sometimes unusual) places, and it’s being prepared and marketed in new (and sometimes unusual) ways. Why is pizza so hot all of a sudden?

Pizza has been popular for decades, of course. But lately, consumers‘ love for pizza has inched up a few degrees. Recent consumer research revealed that 41% of Americans now eat pizza at least once a week, up from just 26% a few years back.

A post at (short for Quick Service Restaurant) from Jeff Fromm, an advertising executive with a special focus on marketing to millennials, offers some insight as to why pizza is so beloved by today’s consumers—Gen Y consumers in particular. Pizza is not only quick, easy, and relatively cheap, it’s also shareable (this group is incredibly social, seen in social media and many other ways) and endlessly customizable since you can always mix up the toppings. Supermarket experts have pointed out that millennials never want to eat the same thing twice, and pizza is brilliant in that you can eat it day after day and always be having something new.

So naturally, all sorts of restaurants are trying to new and innovative things to get the attention of pizza-craving consumers. Here are a few examples:

More Transparency
Last fall, a Domino’s makeover introduced what the chain calls “pizza theater” as a way to entertain customers picking up orders. Instead of orders being prepared somewhere mysteriously out of the line of sight of customers, cooks have been tossing and spreading dough right behind the pickup counter. The point isn’t merely to give people something to watch while waiting around, but to make the pizza-making process more transparent, so that customers can see how things work and feel the operation is professional and trustworthy.

(MORE: Nothing to Hide: Why Restaurants Embrace the Open Kitchen)

More recently, the chain launched Domino’s Live, a website that broadcasts workers making pizzas 12 hours per day, on a choice of five cameras, inside a Domino’s in the Salt Lake City area. “It really gives better visuals of the pizza and of the food,” a Domino’s spokesperson explained to the Salt Lake Tribune. “This is really about opening our doors so people can see how we do what we do, and what we do is make great food.”

Take-Away in Every Which Way
The top-ranking pizza chain in several surveys is one that may fall under the radar—because it’s not a place where customers can go and actually have dinner. Instead, Papa Murphy’s is a “take ‘n’ bake” pizza chain with roughly 1,350 locations where customers pick up orders and then heat them up in a 425-degree oven at home when they’re ready to eat. The chain has been expanding rapidly in recent years, and even has plans to open 100 units in the Middle East. In recent months, a few hundred Papa Murphy’s have been trying out a line of $5 Faves (basic cheese or pepperoni pizzas for just $5), as well as a premium line of pizzas featuring ingredients like goat cheese, fennel sausage, prosciutto, and sun-dried tomatoes for $15 and up.

Fast-Casual Spreading Even to Pizza Heartland
The fast-casual restaurant approach popularized by Panera Bread and Chipotle has been applied to pizza with the rise of chains like Blaze, 800 Degrees, and MOD Pizza. Another interesting fast-casual pizza chain throwing its hat into the ring is Honest Pizza, a restaurant business model from some of the same entrepreneurs responsible for Quiznos and Smashburger, among other brands. The first Honest Pizza, which promises made-to-order gourmet pizzas featuring fresh ingredients that need to cook for just two minutes inside 800-degree ovens, is opening this month in Denver, reports the Denver Post.

(MORE: Can the Chipotle Fast-Casual Approach Work for Pizza?)

For the most part, fast-casual pizza chains have been focusing on the western U.S.—far away from the Northeast, where mom-and-pop pizza establishments rule. Yet according to QSR Magazine, Blaze Pizza, which uses a Chipotle-like assembly line format and charges around $7 for an individual pizza that cooks in two minutes, has plans to push into parts of New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey in the near future. An agreement was just signed to open 10 franchises just in central and northern New Jersey.

Thicker, Slower, Smaller, Crazier
The best-known pizza chains have unsurprisingly been tossing their own new pizza innovations into the mix as well. Pizza Hut introduced small pizza “sliders” in February, and in April earned some buzz (and ridicule) by rolling out the overwhelmingly cheesy Crazy Cheesy Crust Pizza, as well as an option to order pizza directly through an Xbox video game console.

Even more curious: Domino’s has been advertising that its delivery service probably will take more than 30 minutes. That may seem odd, but the ad campaign—like the transparency initiative mentioned above—is meant to reinforce the idea that Domino’s is a better-quality product, not something that’s put under a heat lamp and pushed out the door in a jiffy. Little Caesars, meanwhile, recently introduced a new extra-thick “Detroit-style” deep dish pizza with eight slices and—this is the key part—crunch crust on all sides.

(MORE: Latest Unavoidable Fast Food Buzz Words: Crazy, Premium, Snacks)

Pizza is even spreading to restaurant chains that aren’t remotely known for pizza or Italian cuisine. The biggest example out there is probably Chili’s Bar and Grill, which in April started offering pizza for the first in its 38-year history.