Who’s Growing During the Coronavirus Crisis? Pizza Chains

    The industry's top brands are hiring both delivery and in-store positions.

    Web Exclusives | March 30, 2020 | Ben Coley
    Papa John's deliver driver near a car.
    Papa John's
    The industry's top brands are hiring both delivery and in-store positions.

    In recent weeks, numerous restaurant brands have announced major layoffs and furloughs amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The pizza industry, not so much.

    Overall, the restaurant industry is losing consumers to grocery stores, which have seen a 21-percent increase in their share of traffic, according to Sense360. 

    But within the declining restaurant market, pizza is faring the best. 

    From March 11 to 20, the pizza segment saw its share of traffic decline 8 percent year-over-year in the total food industry (including grocery stores, convenience stores, etc.). That's the lowest among restaurant subcategories.  

    "One reason we believe pizza is faring relatively well is that, on a per-person basis, pizza is high value in terms of the number of people it can feed for a low cost," said Sense360 in a statement. 

    The distribution of traffic among restaurants is beginning to stabilize, however. 

    Pizza has seen a slower increase in its share of restaurant traffic year-over-year since March 22 and has begun to level off. Casual-dining brands dropped sharply early into the pandemic, but their share of traffic has begun to level off, as well. 

    "This may be due to restaurants increasingly promoting take-out and drive-through, or consumers getting sick of eating food from grocery stores," Sense360 said in a statement. 

    Sense360

    The demand for pizza is leveling out a bit, but remains high.

    Notable chains Pizza Hut, Domino’s, and Papa John’s each announced plans to hire more workers to meet the increased demand for delivery and carryout. Each of the brands said they offer contactless delivery and that they have ramped up sanitation procedures, including repeated cleaning of surfaces and increased frequency of handwashing.

    Pizza Hut is hiring 30,000 permanent positions including delivery drivers, cooks, shift leaders, restaurant managers, and virtual call center agents. The company said delivery drivers will be on the road in five hours, which is three times faster than the previous training process.

    The company said that while candidates are still required to take all of the standard training, the onboarding process was expedited by reordering the training so that new hires take safety and delivery courses at the beginning.

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    “We’re in close communication with our franchisee partners to ensure the onboarding process is as smooth as possible,” a Pizza Hut spokesperson said in an email to QSR. “We’re expediting our hiring and onboarding process to accommodate their restaurant needs, and to get delivery drivers on the road quickly and safely.”

    The increased demand is welcome news for Pizza Hut, which saw its domestic comps drop 4 percent in Q4. Same-store sales dropped 3 percent in Q3. The U.S. store count stands at 7,306, after shuttering 136 in the fourth quarter.

    Yum! Brands CEO David Gibbs said one of Pizza Hut’s goals is to have consistent execution in its customer experience across delivery and carryout, which accounts for about 90 percent of business. An ongoing strategy is to take dine-in restaurants and move them to areas that fit an off-premises model. Midway through 2019, there were more than 6,000 traditional units and just 1,350 express locations. Half of the traditional locations were dine-in venues.

    Papa John’s said it plans to hire 20,000 new workers. The brand said it simplified the hiring process so that most individuals can start in most restaurants on the same day. Applications can be completed online in a few minutes, and the company is offering flexibility to interview by phone or in-person, with some safety precautions.

    Delivery drivers are equipped with sanitation kits for use before, during, after, and in-between deliveries.

    The brand said it was adequately staffed prior to the pandemic, but they are increasing the number of hires for shift leaders and delivery drivers to meet the needs of customers and the communities it serves.

    “Our restaurants are well-equipped to accept new team members,” a company spokesperson said. “The recruitment, hiring, and training processes have all been streamlined to help more effectively onboard new team members so they are able to begin work in a matter of hours in most of our restaurants. This includes incorporating our new health and safety measures for team members and customers.”

    Papa John’s has had its share of challenges, as well, given the controversy with its founder. However, the brand is rebounding and continued that momentum into Q1. 

    From December 30 to January 26, comp sales leaped 9.4 percent at U.S. corporate stores, 7.1 percent at North American franchises, 7.6 percent systemwide in North America, and 4.9 percent internationally.

    By the end of Q1, the trajectory of those numbers was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the pizza chain still remained in the black. Same-store sales at North American units systemwide grew 5.3 percent. Comps increased 6.1 percent at domestic company-operated stores and 5.1 percent at North American franchises. International units grew 2.3 percent. The only period to dip below zero came February 24 to March 29 when comp sales at international stores dipped 0.6 percent.

    The brand recently added Uber Eats as a third-party partner, in addition to existing partnerships with DoorDash and Postmates. That channel represents about 2 percent of sales, which CEO Rob Lynch said is incremental.

    Domino's

    Domino’s is using text messaging to quickly connect with candidates who apply for jobs.

    Domino’s is hoping to add 10,000 new employees. The company said applicants are directed to the website where they answer a number of screening questions. Domino’s is using text messaging to quickly connect with candidates who apply. If the candidate has access to technology, stores will use video, like FaceTime, for the initial interview. If the applicant does not have access to technology and can come in-person, the following steps will be taken to ensure safety: Only the applicant and hiring manager interact, they meet in a sanitized lobby before and after the interview, and they avoid shaking hands and going on a tour of the store.

    Domino’s is encouraging franchisees to follow the same practice. The list of jobs include delivery drivers, pizza makers, customer service representatives, managers, and drivers for supply chain centers.

    “We are always looking for great people to join our stores nationwide,” a Domino’s spokesperson said via email. "We know that many people in our local communities are worried about finding work right now, we wanted to make sure everyone knew that we had opportunities at Domino’s.”

    Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Domino's sales remain positive. In Q1, domestic comp sales grew 1.6 percent (6,156 units), the brand's 36th straight quarter of U.S. growth. It grew 3.9 percent at corporate stores (345 units) and 1.5 percent at franchises (5,811 units). About 55 percent of U.S. orders are delivery while carryout represents 45 percent.

    The pizza brand closed 14 international markets entirely; 23 markets are partially closed. Combined, about 1,400 international stores are temporarily closed, mostly in France, Spain, New Zealand, and Panama. International stores (10,894 units) still saw a same-store sales increase of 1.5 percent in Q1. 

    The company has rejected third-party delivery providers in favor of a fortressing strategy. The brand clusters markets to reduce delivery radiuses and delivery times, improve the wage rate equation for drivers and franchisees, and bolster carryout business and service times.

    Domino's ended Q1 with more than $300 million in cash to improve financial flexibility. 

    The list of pizza chains hiring also includes Detroit-based Hungry Howie’s, which operates 550 units across 21 states.

    “In this time of uncertainty, Hungry Howie’s focus remains on feeding our community by delivering our famous Flavored Crust pizza to our fans,” CEO Steve Jackson said in a statement. “However, this is only one small piece of the pie. Because, we understand how deeply impacted many industries have been hit, and we have made the decision to create 2,000 employment opportunities for those that have been affected and looking to work during this time.”

    Jet’s Pizza, a 386-unit chain based in Detroit, said it was hiring at each of its locations and offering delivery drivers $13 to $16 an hour, depending on tips and mileage.

    There is data to prove that amid the crisis, pizza is at the top of consumers’ minds when it comes to takeout and delivery. According to Datassential’s recent report on guest sentiment, 63 percent of people said they wanted pizza. That was followed by burgers and sandwiches at 51 percent.