Less dough at PizzaExpress

PizzaEx_ID_600Like-for-like sales at PizzaExpress fell a disappointing 1.3% for the UK and Ireland in the year ending June 26, the company announced yesterday.

PizzaExpress management claims the dip is due to a broader slow down in the casual dining market, but could it just be that their brand is losing its way? Two years ago, it was sold to Beijing-based Hony Capital for about £900m, having long been part of the Cinven-backed Gondola Group.

This year’s Harden’s survey results have not been far from vintage ones for PizzaExpress. The ratings we are soon to publish in the 2017 guides for this Gold Standard chain for the British middle classes are the lowest ever.

Most striking is the increasingly soulless impression given by their famously jolly branches. Ambience is often a spill-over from service. Service is driven by management. And management take their priorities from their investors. Investor-priority currently is international expansion and home delivery, which contributed to a 14.1% rise in turnover.

PizzaExpress has been a marvel of reinvention for half a century now. Whether it will see in its Diamond Jubilee as successfully as its Silver and Golden celebrations seems dubious at present.

Draft review of PizzaExpress for Harden’s 2017 guides, to be published in October (London) and November (UK) respectively.

“All outlets deliver great food and a cheery ambience” – for the 26 years we’ve produced this guide, that’s been the most common view on this “amazingly consistent” 50-year-old, chain, also renowned as “a great place for kids” (“basically a creche serving OK food!”). All that seems to be changing since Hony Capital took over though? Critics have found it feeling more “money driven” of late, and the ambience rating in two short years has cratered.

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