The coronavirus diaries: Pizza Hut

Pizza is what we know best. We’re proud of the pizzas we’ve delivered and business growth we’ve seen in our sixty years as a brand, from our humble beginnings in Kansas to becoming a global brand – but when coronavirus hit, being designated an ‘essential service’ posed an entirely new set of challenges and opportunities. 

The shift from delivering our customers a quick and easy meal to being tasked with helping to feed the nation during a time of crisis was something that we were privileged to support on and something that came naturally to us. Customers and team members, from our chefs to our drivers, have always been our top priority, so it was natural to put new measures in place to keep them safe. The communities in which we operate are important to us – so it also felt instinctive to work with Deliveroo to be able to provide 300,000 free meals to our hardworking NHS heroes. 

As a brand, we’ve not only adapted, but we’ve come away with key lessons and learnings to take forward as lockdown eases and we hope we can support other brands making these transitions, too. 

Redefining agility in Covid

Once granted essential status from the Government, we moved quickly to keep our team members and customers safe. We paused our dine-in and takeaway operations and for delivery, we had to be fleet of foot – or perhaps more accurately, moped – to ensure we could comply with all the latest guidance, which changed almost daily. 

For example, we immediately enacted a contact-free delivery policy, which was pioneered by our Huts in Asia before being adopted by brands in the UK. Drivers would agree a location with the customer to leave the meal and then stay at least two meters away as the customer retrieved it. This policy has been updated and refined over the past few months to keep everyone safe and happy. We definitely benefitted from being able to spot and implement innovations from across our markets during this time. 

A key way we were able to ensure all of these processes were in place with a devolved franchise model and over 10,000 employees across the UK was working directly with everyone in our network. Where franchisees would normally handle communications within Huts, to make sure everyone was kept abreast of changes like masks or even to just share morale-boosting thank-yous from the community, we set up new internal communications channels and were in touch with everyone, every day. 

Bringing Covid lessons into a post-Covid world

After lockdown eases, we may not need to keep a special menu in place to support social distancing in kitchens, or contact-free pick-up for drivers, but there are a few lessons we will put at the heart of our operations once the threat of Covid passes.

First and foremost, we’ve found new ways of connecting with our team members. We rely on people – from franchisees to delivery drivers – to make Pizza Hut thrive, but we have been absolutely blown away by the passion, commitment and effort our people put in over lockdown. We have always appreciated and worked hard to support our teams, but due to the speed with which the changes were being implemented and the genuine gratitude we wanted to share, we had to adapt how we communicated from a corporate perspective. We will absolutely be keeping our regular contact, discussions and updates in place following Covid.

Additionally, we’ve changed how we interact with customers. Like many brands before coronavirus, we used our marketing to share deals and pictures of delicious food. In lockdown, however, this wouldn’t have delivered what the public really needed – reassurance about health and safety, and a sense of community at a time when we couldn’t be together in person. The narrative may shift over time, but we have learned what it really means to listen and respond to the needs of our customers – and this we will take along with us on our journey post-Covid.

Finally, we’ve been surprised at some of the little changes that worked so well. Working from home has been a huge success for our corporate team, with colleagues dialling in from around the world to share ideas and considerations – this has sped up our global best practice and will help us moving forward. Cash-free payments is another small shift we may maintain. It was needed for contact-free deliveries, but proved to save time and effort across the board. If it works, it works, no matter how small!

For restaurants newly opening…

It’s an exciting and daunting time for restaurants beginning to open their doors. While the lessons for Pizza Hut won’t apply to every unique business, I would offer the following advice for restaurants:

1. Be flexible: you’re not necessarily going to get everything exactly right from day one, but the key is adaptability. Listen to your team and customers so you can strike the balance everyone needs for safety and for service.

2. Talk, talk, talk: when you turn around the open sign, you’re going to be doing so under very different circumstances than when you closed in March. Communication is key to make sure your customers – and teams – know what is different, what changes might be coming up and how to best go about interacting. Over-sharing is not only ‘okay’ but encouraged in these circumstances.

3. Do your reading: while I hope this overview of our adaptations and lessons has been helpful, I know you’ll have questions specific to your business that we can’t answer. However, so many brands will be sharing their own experiences, tips, tricks and more over the coming weeks. Make sure you learn as much as you can from others. We’ve all got to have each other’s backs in these times!

And finally – good luck to everyone re-opening or thinking about re-opening in the next few weeks. I hope that you, your teams and your customers are able to enjoy and flourish in the new normal.

By Neil Manhas, MD of Pizza Hut UK

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