Domino’s hopes customers flock to ‘pizza theater’

A pair of mustachioed pizza makers in blue aprons — visible from behind a glass display at a new Domino’s store in Seattle — tossed dough into the air as a handful of corporate executives looked on.

Domino’s calls the concept “pizza theater” because customers now can come in and watch their orders being made.


The new look is part of a four-year effort to freshen the pizza chain’s image and boost its growing ranks of carryout customers.

The open-kitchen format includes seating for a dozen or so people, a chalkboard where customers can leave comments, and a refrigerated section for grab-and-go items such as salads and milk.

“This is the way we always made our pizzas. A lot of people just had no idea,” said Domino’s Chief Executive Patrick Doyle, who was in Seattle last week to see the new store. “It was sort of one of those lightning-bolt moments where we said, ‘Gee, maybe we should show them.’ ”

Founded in 1960, Domino’s long has been known for inexpensive pizza delivered to your doorstep. Its 30-minute guarantee helped make it the world’s largest pizza-delivery company in the 1980s (though it later had to drop the pledge amid charges that it led to reckless driving).

Today, the Ann Arbor, Mich., company holds a 22% share of the U.S. pizza-delivery market and ranks No. 2 overall among U.S. pizza chains.

More than two-thirds of U.S. consumers buy carryout pizza at least once a month, making carryout the most popular pizza format, according to research firm Technomic Inc. Nearly half of all pizza orders are for carryout, while a third are for delivery and a fifth are for eat-in.

Experts say that if a Domino’s store is nearby, many consumers prefer to pick up their orders and save a few dollars that otherwise would go to a delivery fee and tip.

Domino’s jumped on the trend last year when it began offering a weekday pickup promotion of a large three-topping pizza for $7.99. It also redesigned its logo, dropping the word “pizza” to reflect a larger menu, including sandwiches, pasta and chocolate “lava” cakes.

Doyle said the plan is to redo the greater Seattle area’s 74 franchised locations by midyear, which would make Seattle the first market to be completely overhauled.

Doyle said Domino’s also is setting out to hire 800 new full-time and part-time employees in that area — something he attributed to new store openings, as well as solid sales growth.

Domino’s has about 4,500 U.S. franchised stores, as well as 390 company-owned stores. Its U.S. sales at stores open at least a year rose 3.3% in the third quarter, and its stock has been trading at the upper end of a 52-week range of $28.17 to $47.91. Its shares rose 8 cents Monday to $46.81.

Pizza Hut is the largest U.S. pizza chain, with an 18% market share, followed by Domino’s, at 11%, and Papa John’s, at 7%, according to Technomic.

In late 2009, Domino’s rolled out a new recipe promising a garlic-seasoned crust, bolder tomato sauce and tastier cheese. The new store format builds on that push to be more transparent, Doyle said.

“Consumers want to see what they’re eating,” he said. “We’ve always been known as delivery experts, but a third or more of our orders now are for carryout. We’re proud of these pizzas, and we want people to see it.”

Seattle resident James Johnson, 28, a longtime Domino’s customer, said he welcomes the changes. Johnson stopped by the revamped Domino’s on his way home from work last week to pick up dinner.

“You can watch the pizza being made from beginning to end,” he said. “It’s kind of cool to see, depending on whether you’re engaged and not on your cellphone.”

Martinez writes for the Seattle Times.