Change is afoot at Pita Pit. The fast casual recently hired Doug Reifschneider, a former Firehouse Subs executive, to lead its marketing efforts. Back in June, the company rolled out a new design geared toward future growth. Now, Pita Pit is testing a fresh menu in 37 stores across the country with plans to roll it out across the entire brand.
It was tested at the National Training Center in Coeur d'Alene and saw immediate success. The new menu boosted service speed and showcased a simplified ordering process.
Pita Pit USA president and CEO Peter Riggs took some time to discuss the new menu, what it means for the brand, and what we can expect in the future.
What are some of the new highlights being featured?
We’re currently testing 18 chef-inspired sandwich builds that incorporate many of our already existing products, combined with a number of new seasonings that are being incorporated to punch up the flavor profile, and provide our guests with a killer sandwich that they can pick right off the menu board. Our new pita builds are broken into two categories, Artisan Pitas (Bacon Cheeseburger, Chicken Pesto, Steak Fajita, etc) and Classic Pitas (Chicken Caesar, Gyro, Souvlaki, Buffalo Chicken, etc). We will, however, continue to give guests the ability to custom create any pita however they like using the Build-Your-Own-Pita section of the menu.
How did the menu come about? Explain the process at the National Training Center. What was Pita Pit hoping to accomplish with the changes?
The inspiration for the menu changes came from our desire to make sure every guest is getting the best sandwich we can make. Too often a brand-new guest would come into Pita Pit and have a somewhat bewildered look on their face that was nicknamed “the deer in the headlights” look, while they tried to figure out our ordering process. And often times, those guests would have us assemble a pita with a combination of toppings, cheese, and sauces that we knew was not going to be a great sandwich, but we did it anyway because that’s what they wanted. We decided it was important to do everything we could to ensure that every guest was getting a sandwich we’d be proud of. So, we began the search for a set of pita builds that would knock our socks off. Of course, anyone can still make changes to those builds, or build their own pita from scratch, but we wanted to have these great builds up on the menu board, so that if it’s your first time at Pita Pit, or if you feel like trying something new, we’re giving all our guests a great starting point.
We launched the new menu earlier this summer at our National Training Center just before our Annual Franchise Conference. We knew that since this type of menu, with set builds, was something we’d never done before at Pita Pit, that there would be some hiccups early on. That’s why we decided to roll it out locally knowing it wasn’t 100 percent finished. We decided to let our friends and fans here in Coeur d’Alene help us tweak things before we did a larger rollout. We’ve gotten a lot of help and feedback from informal focus groups that we put together over the early months of testing.
What has the response been like so far?
So far the response has been very positive! We’ve had people tell us that they loved Pita Pit before, and they thought they knew how to make a great pita, but trying the new builds, they admit that they’re better than the sandwiches they usually make for themselves. There are still a lot of long time guests that want to continue making their own custom creations that they’ve been making for years, but it’s great to know that if they decide they want to try something different, we’ve got a great new selection of pitas for them to choose from.
How has the menu increased service speed and simplified ordering process?
Along with the new menu we’ve also been working on some collaborative operational changes to make things better and faster for both guests and employees. We have a new ticket printing system that is being used by employees to put the name of the guest on the receipt along with what they ordered. This makes it a lot easier if someone says they want the Thai Chicken pita, and they don’t want to make any custom changes, they can go get their drink, sit down, check emails, talk with friends, and as soon as their pita is ready the employee can just call out, “Danny, I’ve got your Thai Chicken pita ready!” This also makes it easier and faster for the employees building the pitas since they can just look at the ticket and assemble a specific build instead of having to run the guest through every topping, cheese, and sauce every time.
How will the new menu position Pita Pit for future changes?
We’ve recently been taking a deeper look at how changes like the new menu can help us execute other things better, such as locations with a drive-thru. Our process has always been a bit cumbersome at drive-thru locations because unless a guest knew exactly what they wanted, there was a lot of time spent sitting and looking at a long list of meat, toppings, cheese, and sauce options while cars stack up behind them. The new menu will allow us to increase guest throughput while simultaneously offering a superior sandwich that tastes awesome.
What can we expect from the brand moving forward?
Aside from things like the new menu test, recently doubling our Business Coach staff in the field, and work being done on new online ordering and loyalty platforms, we’re working on a lot the fundamentals related to who we are as a brand. We’ve been challenging ourselves for many months now with a simple concept that isn’t exactly simple to execute. I’ve been asking the entire team here to “question everything.” Just because we’ve been doing something for a long time, just because something worked for us in the past, that doesn’t mean it’s the best thing for the brand going forward. And if we don’t take the time to question everything, then we’re going to miss something that could have made the brand stronger, our franchisees more successful, and guests happier. If we can muster the fortitude to never stop asking how we can do all of this better, then we can continue to grow Pita Pit to the heights that we know it’s capable of achieving.