Restaurant chains across the industry are looking to leverage improvements in tablet technology to order and pay at the table, but Pizza Hut is testing a new innovation that would let guests order and pay using the table itself.

The Plano, Texas-based chain of more than 6,200 locations in the United States announced Monday via a YouTube video the development of an interactive table that functions essentially as a giant tablet app. Customers could use the app to choose the size of their pizzas with the same pinch-and-spread motions they might use on a smartphone or pick their toppings by swiping through an interactive menu.

Spokesmen for the brand said the unveiling of what they call the “concept car of pizza ordering” was timed to pre-empt the start of South by Southwest Interactive, a digital-commerce conference that begins on March 7, in Austin, Texas.


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Pizza Hut's interactive table

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Pizza Hut and its two largest rivals, Domino’s Pizza and Papa John’s Pizza, repeatedly have pointed to their leadership in digital technology as a major driver of sales success and market share growth over the past few years. However, Pizza Hut spokesman Doug Terfehr said the development of the interactive table is not an immediate market share play, but rather an attempt to make the user experience more enjoyable.

“The interactive experience will be a lot of fun,” Terfehr wrote in an email to Nation’s Restaurant News. “Adding toppings, taking away toppings, changing sizes, playing games — all of those things are at the controls of you, the user. It’s a lot like ordering via an app on your phone on the table right there in front of you.”

Terfehr said any of Pizza Hut’s roughly 4,000 dine-in restaurants would be a candidate to install the interactive table, but there are no firm plans to roll out the technology to all units yet.

“This is in concept stage at the moment,” he said, “but as we continue to push for more technology to make the experience with our stores even better, this is one of those ideas we really like.”

While customers wait for a pizza at the interactive tables, they can play several games accessible from a screen that pops up after an order is placed.

“The post-order gaming experience is a bit of a nod to the legendary games like ‘Pac-Man’ and ‘Centipede’ that so many people remember being in our restaurants,” Terfehr said. “The only difference is the new ones will be available right at your table.”

In mid-January, Pizza Hut said it would open two new-prototype units that would sell pizza by the slice and upgrade the dine-in experience to incorporate fast-casual elements. Domino’s Pizza followed with its own announcement the next day that all of its nearly 11,000 units worldwide would be remodeled to the “Pizza Theater” prototype by the end of 2017.

Pizza Hut is a division of Louisville, Ky.-based Yum! Brands Inc., which also operates and franchises KFC and Taco Bell.

Contact Mark Brandau at mark.brandau@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN