Our pals over on Eye on Moseley have run a piece on the opening of Pizza Express and Prezzo in B13 and it’s a tasty slice of deep pan fun. There’s an obvious nimby trap laid out for the unsuspecting writer here—it’s tempting to moan about ‘chains’ and ‘independents’ and witter about bringing down the village—The Eye deftly avoids doing that and adding too much cheese (though many of their readers fall into the hole in some of the online chat that surrounds the article).
There’s a point we want to pick up on though which is that the opening of these restaurants makes no business sense. The Eye says:
“opening two almost identical restaurants within months of each other is just ridiculous. Opening two massive restaurants demonstrates little comprehension of how business works […] So one of these is going out of business, once they have bled their parent companies dry.”
The thing is, weirdly, it does make sense, it’s not ridiculous and it is exactly how business works. Pizza Express doesn’t act on emotions—it acts on numbers, maps and intelligence. It also doesn’t open a restaurant in Moseley to serve the village, it opens a restaurant in Moseley to serve the city, and it wouldn’t open it unless it also served the shareholders a wedge of dough. Marketing for multiple outlets relies on coverage, brand, and relationships with customers. Casual dining pizza restaurants have this down to an art.
The pizza chains’ websites and apps broker relationships between customers and the brand not between locals and restaurants. They direct us to our nearest touch point from where we are now, not from where we live, and they use voucher based incentivised pricing to keep us in the sweet spot of a reasonably priced dinner at all times. To be effective we always need to be near enough to a restaurant to be able to get there. That’s where these new restaurants come in: there’s a hole in the map where coverage can be improved and that hole is Moseley, in the Birmingham, Northfield area.
These restaurants will draw from miles around in a way that a locally owned place can’t: they don’t need to build a reputation through word of mouth. They’ll attract families that need a quick meal at a known price point (we haven’t time to explain, but the Pizza Express children’s menu is an exquisitely designed customer journey, which maximises income for the restaurant whilst feeling very reasonable). Teenage couples from a few miles down the road will come because it’ll be just far enough for them to feel like they’ve been out but close enough that they won’t have trouble getting there (the fact that the menu is so good for veggies helps put bums on seats in a multicultural city, and only a Nando’s would do better with the dietary requirements of most Birmingham kids).
Just imagine a local, bearded, entrepreneur decided to take up one of the premises and install a ‘food concept’. Even if it’s brilliant, a conceptual masterstroke like balti-pork scratching cobs with orange chips and a scallop served on a scale replica of King Kong, it will take time to build up word of mouth. Pizza Express is in like Flynn. Terry Flynn who opened Al Capone pizza in 1987.
We are in favour of variety and admire passionate people doing their own thing—despite our willingness to get a rise out of all things “street food” and “artisanal”—but we recognise that doing anything that starts small and builds is hard and that actually companies like Prezzo and Pizza Express are more likely to succeed over time because they have a method that works. That is why UK high streets all look the same. That is why these restaurants won’t close as quickly as The Eye thinks. Just look at the Pizza Express and Ask restaurants in Sutton Coldfield which have thrived for years separated only by a Wetherspoons (and just across from a Nando’s) whilst next door plucky indie after plucky indie has withered and died on a seemingly cursed plot, most recently ending in a frankly bizarre alleged murder plot which fails to take into account the fact that diesel fuel can’t melt steel beams.
And that’s why we are going to make a bet with The Eye: we bet them a slap up reasonably priced pizza dinner that Moseley will have a thriving Pizza Express in 2020.
And if there isn’t, we’ll get them an artisanal falafel.
Jon B & Jon H