Pizza Inn sees its future in its buffet

Pizza Inn survived the pandemic by turning to contactless ordering. But it’s getting big again at buffets./Photo courtesy of Pizza Inn.

Buffets are far from dead. Just ask Pizza Inn.

This past fiscal year, the pizza buffet-style restaurant did something it hadn’t done in 24 years: expand the number of its buffets. Pizza Inn started fiscal 2022 with 70 buffet locations and ended it with 72.

And the company hopes for more. Pizza Inn plans to launch a new image this fall. Brandon Solano, CEO of parent company Rave Restaurant Group, said the new image has helped spark more interest in opening new buffet restaurants.

“We have the right financial proposition, in the right place with the right franchisees with an incredible new image,” he said.

Improved franchisee finances also help, Solano said. “First and foremost our franchisees are making money, if these stores aren’t making money then they’re not opening,” he said, “We’re opening with a very high volume The number of new stores we opened on average is significantly higher than our existing store base.”

But, as the company increases its number of buffets, its takeout-focused “express” locations continue to shrink. According to data from Pizza Inn’s third quarter financial results, it ended the third quarter of 2022 with 164 total locations, which is down from the previous year at 170.

The company’s total systems sales were down nearly 10% last year, to $85.9 million, according to Restaurant Business sister company Technomic. By comparison, Iowa-based pizza buffet chain Pizza Ranch grew 48% last year. Cici’s, another pizza buffet chain, grew 14.5%.

Running a buffet during the pandemic comes with a unique set of challenges, and not everyone has been able to overcome them. Large-menu buffets like Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes, Old Country Buffet and HomeTown Buffet have all gone out of business.

According to Solano, Pizza Inn was forced to adapt to a take-out audience but managed to do so without straying from the central buffet concept.

“We’ve come through the pandemic with strong operations, engagement from our franchisees, and really strong marketing to our consumers,” Solano said.

Solano said Pizza Inn has adapted by signing up for third-party delivery services and marketing the “takeout buffet” concept. Solano noted that Pizza Inn has increased its customer base by focusing on takeout and delivery, which in turn has strengthened the restaurant customer base.

“During the pandemic, we went to mainly perform and deliver. Many people who came to see us for our buffet tried our product. And our product is a lot better than a year ago,” he said, “People who have tried our product through delivery and delivery, we now see coming in and dining with us.

Take out and delivery have soared during the pandemic, forcing restaurants like Pizza Inn to adapt to stay relevant. According Technological, delivery and takeout have grown to account for two-thirds of all dining occasions globally. On-site catering, however, fell from 45% in the pre-pandemic period to a low of 34% in early 2021, with a slight rebound in the second half.

Solano said the catering outlook for Pizza Inn is improving.

“The industry says consumers don’t want to eat in, and we don’t agree with that. Consumers want a great dining experience. It’s not just about having dinner there, they want to be with their family and with their friends and having an amazing experience, if we can offer them that, they want to have dinner there,” he said.

Solano said that while Pizza Inn’s delivery and takeout capabilities have grown, the company isn’t giving up on the dining experience. “We’re better at execution and delivery than we’ve ever been, but our goal is to make the buffet experience amazing.”

Pizza Inn’s fourth fiscal quarter ended June 27, and while results have not yet been released, Solano said sales were up.

“Our overall sales are huge; they are very strong. Many of our restaurants are seeing their sales levels above 2019,” he said, “In terms of the impact on our business, we believe we are in the post-covid era.

Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all our content. Register here.

Comments are closed.