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The country’s largest pizza chain, Pizza Hut, announced Jan. 14 the opening of a company-owned restaurant in Pawtucket, R.I., and a franchised location in York, Neb., that includes a fast-casual-like “bar” to offer pizza by the slice.

An updated dining room emphasizes a sit-down experience.

The Nebraska location is a larger prototype, seating 80 people and offering a made-to-order salad bar and sautéed pastas, while the Rhode Island restaurant is what spokesman Doug Terfehr called “Del-Co Plus,” meaning the by-the-slice feature is an add-on to a prototype mostly configured for delivery and carryout. The latter unit still has seating for about 30 people.

While fast-casual competitors are looking to take market share in pizza’s lunch daypart with faster service times, Terfehr said Pizza Hut’s initiatives are less a response to those brands than to the demands of Pizza Hut customers.

“We pay attention to our consumer trends, one of which is them seeking a quick on-the-go option, and one of our solutions for that is pizza by the slice,” Terfehr said.

Lombardi of WD Partners remarked that Pizza Hut “absolutely needed” to test its new service styles, lest it get caught flat-footed like some of the quick-service burger chains have.

“That whole fast-casual pizza segment is looking exactly like ‘better burger’ looked five years ago,” he said. “There are an amazing number of brands opening up in a short time period. Pizza Hut would be remiss not to look into it.”

Plano, Texas-based Pizza Hut has more than 7,750 domestic locations.