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Rick Wetzel wasn’t really thinking about delivery when he and his wife Elise founded Blaze Pizza in 2012. Part of what differentiated the build-your-own pizza concept from competitors like Domino’s and Papa John’s was the fast casual’s emphasis on dining in the restaurant.
Wetzel says he kept the idea of delivery on the backburner until a host of independent delivery services forced the brand to focus on the issue sooner than expected.
“We had to very quickly get our head around it, and say, ‘How do we manage this thing? And how do we make sure that we optimize the experience for our guest?’” Wetzel says.
Blaze Pizza began to work with third-party delivery service Postmates, which has also partnered with the likes of McDonald’s and Chipotle to test delivery options in various markets. (Read more about these programs in QSR’s web exclusive.)
Similar to the ride-sharing app Uber, Postmates alerts nearby couriers when an order is placed, and they have the option to accept or decline the job. Once accepted, couriers make the order at the restaurant and then deliver it to the customer. Wetzel says that it’s nearly impossible to distinguish these couriers from other customers.
“We want to not only improve the experience for our guests so that they’re getting a great product, but we want to improve the experience for the driver so he can get in and out fast and not disrupt our restaurant,” Wetzel says. For example, when a courier is placing a carryout order for multiple pizzas, it can slow throughput for dine-in customers. Some solutions Wetzel says they are exploring include couriers identifying themselves and then moving to a separate queue.
Although Postmates, which at press time covers 68 Blaze markets, is not the only courier service delivering the pizzas, but Wetzel says there are simply too many to coordinate with each one. As a foodservice veteran who cofounded Wetzel’s Pretzels before Blaze, Wetzel is content to not be in the middle of this battle for market share. Regardless of which courier services come out on top, the consumer—and the restaurant operators—win.
Other brands did not embrace the idea of outsourcing to these third parties as Blaze did. Initially Chipotle slapped Postmates with a cease-and-desist order before deciding to work with the company rather than against it.
But as Wetzel observes, overturning the status quo is the new norm—and not just in foodservice.
“We kind of live in this era right now of disruption, or at least disruptive brands,” Wetzel says. Apple dethroned record stores; Netflix killed Blockbuster; and Starbucks is decimating Folgers and Maxwell House, he adds. “We’re in this era where our society understands and not only accepts it, but kind of roots and relishes it. We’re killing off big brands with other brands.”
Wetzel says the rise of the sharing economy—in which technology facilitates access to shared products and services—could be another hit to traditional fast-food pizza. Already, Blaze Pizza offers superior quality, he says, but now they can compete in the delivery zone as well.
“I think it’s going to be a big blow to those guys. This could be arguably a game changer,” Wetzel says.
By Nicole Duncan