#10 on the Franchise 500: How Technology and Takeout Are Saving Pizza Hut

The #10 company on our Franchise 500 list announced the closure of 500 dine-in locations, but it's found other ways to thrive.

This story appears in the January 2020 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

In August, Pizza Hut made news by announcing that it would close 500 of its U.S. dine-in locations. So what’s it doing on our top 10 list? Well, for starters: In the past three years, it has also opened up thousands of franchises internationally.

Courtesy of Pizza Hut

That growth has allowed the Hut to thrive even as new entries to the domestic market leave a smaller slice of the pie for everybody. “It’s an incredibly crowded category,” says Artie Starrs, CEO of the company. “But we’re constantly innovating and trialing new concepts to stay top of mind with our customers and regularly deliver new products and experiences.”

To hold the line in the U.S., Pizza Hut is going big on three things: faster delivery, new menu items, and partnerships that put the brand in the daily lives of customers. That’s what led to the store closures; the brand is strategically shifting toward delivery and takeout, and away from dine-in.

Related: 5 Things You Need to Know Before You Buy a Pizza Hut Franchise

And there’s more. After Pizza Hut acquired the software delivery company QuikOrder in 2018, Pizza Hut’s mobile app now boasts millions of users. The company just tested a new vegetarian option, the Garden Specialty pizza, which includes a plant-based Italian sausage called “incogmeato.” And through an initiative launched in late 2017, Starrs expects 1,000 of its 6,000-plus domestic restaurants to be delivering beer this year -- with more to come in the future.  

The biggest play of all is in football. When Papa John’s fumbled its partnership with the NFL in 2018, Pizza Hut was there to pick up the ball. And thanks to a deal recently signed with EA Sports, Madden NFL gamers battle for $200,000 in prize money inside the game’s brand new Pizza Hut Stadium. But while the game may be virtual, the food isn’t: Gamers and fans can order pizza (and possibly beer) from the comfort of their couches. 

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