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Technology changing the pizza game

Zoe Greszler • Updated Aug 30, 2017 at 9:20 AM

Technology is disrupting almost every traditional business and the way we get our food is not immune from its expanding reach. 

The restaurant industry, notorious for being cutthroat, is one area where an interesting battle is playing out — one that involves chat bots, voice-activated devices and even social media. A spokesman for Papa John’s recently went so far as to suggest their business is more akin to Amazon these days than a traditional brick and mortar business.

Certainly no subgroup of the restaurant industry is more competitive locally than pizza.

In Norwalk alone, at least nine eateries specialize in pizza — Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Marco’s, Little Caesars, Pizza Post, Pizza Cravin’, Pizza Brothers, Cameo at the Creek and East of Chicago — and compete furiously for the community’s loyalty and food dollars.

They vary to significant degrees in their individual embrace of new technology, from apps and websites to ordering available at the chain restaurants to nothing but in-person or land-line ordering and even fax, for many of the smaller, local players.

 

Digital world a pizza crowd-pleaser  

Locally, owners and managers say their increased embrace of technology is giving their stores a “leg up.”

A spokeswoman for Norwalk Domino’s, said their app and website account for a large portion of their orders.

“We get several hundred orders (through technology) per week,” she said. “I don’t think it’s preferred exactly, but it’s definitely pushing for it. It’s very easy to get online and get exactly what they want to get.”

McKinzie Hillman, manager of Marco’s Pizza, 105 Whittlesey Ave., agreed. 

“I would say it gives us a major leg up because customers prefer to do things themselves,” Hillman said. “Some would just rather not call or have someone else do it for them. They know they did it themselves. They know exactly how they wanted it and they’re not relying on someone else to place their order. It’s definitely a leg up.”

She estimated about 20 percent of her store’s orders come in through the website or App daily. 

“And it’s growing all the time,” Hillman added.

While those are mostly existing customers, the Domino’s spokeswoman said the app is “convenient, fun and easy,” drawing new people to it as well.

“Social media has blown up so much,” she said. “It’s awesome. There are so many new ways to take advantage of it and connect with customers.”  

While Norwalk’s Pizza Hut, 188 Milan Ave., does not offer ordering by “chat bot,” like some other locations experimenting with the method, the Hut takes advantage of advances where it can. Pizza Hut management declined to offer a comment. 

Like Pizza Hut, some Domino’s locations, particularly in larger cities, have experimented with the chat bot ordering. Other pizza stores, such as Papa John’s, have even moved up to allow customers to order their favorite party food right from Facebook or Twitter. 

Area pizzerias though do use Facebook for outreach and special promotions — such as Facebook-followers-only coupons or fun facts. 

“It’s definitely important to keep up with technology,” Hillman said. “You don’t just sit there. You have to adjust or get left behind.” 

Area stores that weren’t using technology had mixed reviews on the newfangled options.

 

Keeping up without tech-ing up

While some East of Chicago locations offer online and in-app purchases, Norwalk’s location, 56 Stower Lane, is not one of them.

The pizzeria does have a website however which offers details about the store and a full menu. 

Manager Jason Wolfkill said he doesn’t think the absence of alternative ordering methods makes a huge impact on the store. Instead they use good old fashioned service with a smile.

“We do fine because we have a lot of regular customers that come back to us” he said. “That really keeps us going. That and our customer service.”

Other locally-owned, non-franchised pizza places, such as Pizza Cravin’, 64 Benedict Ave., are struggling to figure out the balance of increased growth and the initial hit the store’s books may take from the significant investment required to make the technological leap. 

Owner Lanny Gilbert said customers order by walking in or using the landline, with word or mouth being the most effective form of gaining new customers. According to the Pizza Post website, this store also still takes order via fax.

“I really don’t offer anything except good quality pizzas,” Gilbert said. “I give them the best pizzas and with the best-quality ingredients I can get my hands on. If I try to keep up with the big chains, I’m going to fail. I can’t do that. I have to do what works for us.”

Gilbert said he’s kicked the idea around of incorporating online or app ordering, but ultimately decided it comes down to being “cost effective.”

“I’ve tossed the idea around, but realistically for me it’s got to be cost effective and simplified so we didn’t miss anything,” said Gilbert, the Pizza Cravin’ owner. “It may help a lot, but it would take a lot of advertising and due diligence — a lot of money advertising it — for people to know about it. ... I don’t know how much it would benefit.”

 Wolfkill said the store considered adding the options, has decided against it. 

“I think it does affect us a little bit (not having the option),” he said. “It would make it a lot easier than to call and it would be more available. But we do have a lot of loyal customers that really like our pizza.” 

 

‘I mean, it’s 2017’

Little Caesars Pizza, 201-C Milan Ave., on the other hand has seen the growth opportunity and is taking action. 

“We’re actually getting an app very, very soon,” manager Dalton Brooks said.

Brooks said while the store is hoping for a one-month roll-out date, it could take three or four. Other non-franchised locations already offer app-ordering as the company tests its success.

“It adds to the convenience of being able to order stuff with the click of a button,” he said. “I mean, it’s 2017. Technology is big. So we try to accommodate that as much as we can.”

Brooks said he expects the app to let customers know “just how much Little Caesars has to offer,” including a full menu outside of the traditional “hot and ready.”

“We’re all about the hot and ready,” he said. “But people don’t always know about our wide variety. We’re just like every other pizza place — in my opinion better, especially with our three meats and supreme and ‘extramostbestest’ pizzas.”

Pizza Post and Pizza Brothers representatives were unavailable to comment for this story.

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Domino's

• 81 E Main St,

• 419-663-3030

• Open 10 a.m. to midnight Sunday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday

• Order options: In store, by phone, online, app

 

Marco's Pizza

• 105 Whittlesey Ave.

• 419-663-5555

• Open 11 a.m. to midnight Sunday through Wednesday, 11 am. to 12:30 a.m. Thursday and 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

• Order options: In store, by phone, online, app

 

Pizza Hut

• 188 Milan Ave 

• 419-668-2510

• Open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 am. to midnight Friday and Saturday and 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday

• Order options: In store, by phone, online, app

 

East of Chicago

• 56 Stower Lane

• 419-663-0808

• Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, 11 am. to 11 p.m. Thursday and 11 a.m. midnight Friday and Saturday

• Order options: In store, by phone

 

Pizza Cravin’

• 64 Benedict Ave

• 419-663-2728

• Open daily 4 to 10 p.m.

• Order options: In store and by phone

 

Pizza Post

• 222 E. Main St.

• 419-668-8385 

• Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday and 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday

• Order options: In store, by phone or fax

 

Little Caesars

• 201-C Milan Ave.

• 419-660-8100

• Open 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 10:30 a.m. to midnight Friday and 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. Saturday

• Order options: In store

 

Pizza Brothers

• 170 Milan Ave.

• 419-668-6071

• Closed Monday; Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday and noon to 10 p.m. Sunday.

• Order options: In store or by phone

 

Cameo at the Creek

• 2406 New State Road

• 419-668-9197

• Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

• Order options: In store, by phone, online

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