I feel like I’ve written some variation of this sentence every day for the past two-plus weeks now, but it is very clearly a bad time to be in the restaurant business. Even with help from loyal customers via donations, gift card purchases or takeout orders, the National Restaurant Association already believes three percent of restaurants have closed permanently, with another 11 percent likely to follow suit by the time April is over. Frankly, that estimate feels downright conservative even after the $2 trillion stimulus signed by President Trump last week.
Don’t tell that to pizza companies like Domino’s, though. Larger chains seem to be doing just fine at a time when the bulk of the restaurant biz is facing an existential crisis. While others are taking a nosedive amid the disruption, Domino’s somehow managed to report same-store sales growth of 1.6 percent in the U.S., with retail sales growing 4.9 percent overall in the U.S., according to Nation’s Restaurant News.
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So how is a pizza company mostly exempt from the restaurant industry’s widespread devastation? There are a few possible reasons. First and foremost, delivery already leads the way when it comes to pizza. Instead of having to adapt to a delivery-heavy model on the fly like many restaurants, prioritizing delivery above dine-in is already baked into how pizza chains like Domino’s do business. Pizza Hut was already moving away from dining rooms well before COVID-19, for example. That pre-existing shift probably explains why Domino’s says most of its retail locations remain open for business.
In addition to the how of a pizza company remaining the same both before and during a pandemic, what they offer is also well-suited for these times. We’ve already begun to see a range of fast food and fast casual chains pivot their offerings towards cheap ways to feed a family, ranging from special meal deals to bulk ingredient delivery for things like make your own taco kits. By its nature, a pizza is already meant to be shared and eaten communally (though no judgment if you tackle one solo at a time like this).
The cumulative effect is the sales growth mentioned above. Subsequently, Domino’s is one of the companies that’s actually looking to hire during COVID-19, a reiteration that they were in the right place at the right (bad) time.
So what can non-pizza restaurants who manage to survive the pandemic learn from this? It’s hard to say, but a willingness to invest in delivery, as well as making some menu options more specifically suited to at-home eating, could be the way to go. Above all, let’s just hope a good number of them can hang on until life is back to normal.
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