The Decline and Fall of Pizza Hut

Pizza Hut RuinsWhen I was a kid, going to Pizza Hut was a big deal. It was a place you went with the family for a big occasion, even if that occasion was just a Friday night. Nowadays, it’s more often fast food crap on par with frozen pizza. I thought that maybe it was just my standards changing as I got older. But no, Pizza Hut really has gone down the drain.

Brand Decay

In one of my earlier blog posts, I talked about a thing I called “brand decay,” where years of small cost-cutting measures turn a well-respected brand into crap. The example I used there was KFC substituting “honey sauce” for honey. It’s no coincidence that Pizza Hut is part of the same company. Of the five major restaurant chains that Yum Brands owns or has owned — KFC, Taco Bell, A&W, Long John Silvers and Pizza Hut — all have suffered from a spreadsheet-induced decline in quality. But of these five, Pizza Hut had fallen the farthest. Unlike the others, it started out as a sit-down restaurant before falling to the lowest tiers of cheap fast food.

Pizza Hut Levels

Pizza Hut’s decline has been uneven. Some restaurants are worse than others. Let’s start with the best and go from there.

1. Red Roof Restaurants

This was the only kind of Pizza Hut I knew as a kid. These free-standing locations have sit down dining, beer and a full salad bar. Here in Dallas, where the company is headquartered, the old Red Roof locations are extinct. But you can still find them in small towns. Inside you’ll find a blast from the past, with a restaurant that looks like it hasn’t changed in 30 years. I don’t know if it’s just the atmosphere, but these Pizza Huts still taste like they did when I was a kid. When it comes to the Red Roof locations, the oldest locations taste the best.

2. Strip Mall Locations

Here in Dallas, most Pizza Hut locations are little strip mall storefronts. These locations are pretty much the same as Domino’s or Papa John’s, with just a kitchen and a cash register inside. I’m not a fan of any of these three chains, but given the choice, I’d rather have Domino’s or Papa John’s. It’s fast food pizza any way you slice it, but at least the other two don’t remind me of how far the quality of the pizza has fallen.

3. Embedded Locations

The worst Pizza Hut locations are the ones that are inside another restaurant. These include both the combination Taco Bell Pizza Huts as well as the Pizza Hut Express locations inside of Target and other retail locations. You can tell these locations by their lack of choice. They usually only sell breadsticks and personal pan pizzas. They don’t offer custom toppings, because they pizzas aren’t made on site. It’s literally just a clerk, an oven, and some frozen pizzas. I’m sure there are plenty of people who still like to eat this (frozen pizza is still pizza), but I’d just as soon buy my own frozen pizza and heat it at home.

Branding as a Relationship

Branding is an art as much as it is a science. A company with a strong brand uses graphic design, marketing, and customer service to form a relationship with its customers. As corny as it sounds, it’s true. When you see people with Apple stickers on their back windshields, it signifies that they have formed a relationship with an otherwise nameless and faceless conglomerate. The experience that I (and countless others) had with Pizza Hut back in the day make it painful to see how far the brand has fallen. This is a good reminder that the bottom line isn’t always the most important thing in the long term.

Did you eat at Pizza Hut back in the day? If so, what did you think of it then, and what do you think of it now? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section.

Steve Lovelace

Steve Lovelace is a writer and graphic artist. After graduating Michigan State University in 2004, he taught Spanish in Samoa before moving to Dallas, Texas. He blogs regularly at

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9 Responses

  1. Steven Eighner says:

    The main issue with Pizza Hut is the pizza itself. It gets just a little bit cold and it starts tasting like the box. This is doubly upsetting when you’re inside the building and there is no box. It also gets a distinctly non-pizza smell to it when it cools. Kinda that odd smell you get at a landfill where everything sort of mixes together. When I was a kid, it wasn’t like that and I can almost guarantee it’s the additives they put in the pizza bread itself either thinking to make it last longer or just to replace better ingredients with something cheap.

    Go buy a Pizza Hut pizza and let it cool down. Notice the smell and then take a bite. See if what I said isn’t true and it doesn’t take a genius to figure this out. That smell I mentioned, it doesn’t exactly stink. It’s just an odd, somewhat chemical-like smell that if you’ve been to a landfill you’ll recognize almost immediately.

    Now, if you are eating a slice of pizza that tastes like the box and smells like a landfill… I don’t care how cheap they make it trying to save the company, I’m not eating it as the taste and the smell make it almost abhorrent.

    Little Caesars is the cheapest and while I can’t call it the best, it retains it’s taste a lot better and, like the Blu Emu commercial says, it doesn’t stink.

  2. Paul says:

    I worked for Pizza Hut for six years. The first four years were great. Then corporate came in and decided to fire or “lay off” their senior employees to get rid of good people who had been there for years and had actually attained a living wage through raises and performance reviews. The decided it would be better to cull the herd and hire teenagers who would get paid less and gave two shits about their job. The dropped customer service in favor of internet orders. Yum brands is an evil poisonous corporate shitbox with no regard for their employees.

  3. Nick says:

    I understand where your coming from in this article. A few small towns nearby me still have the Red Roof ones and I sincerely hope they stay open. The food is alright, but its not the same and definitely not 1990’s quality, and let’s be honest, customer service went out he door when Gen X left. I still support them, but mostly for take-out now. The ambiance of dining-in is totally different these days and not for the better, especially with a pandemic taking place as I write this. Sometimes its just easier to get a frozen pizza and call it a day.

  4. Harry says:

    Steve, I just came across your article while researching Pizza Hut’s decline & I completely agree with everything you said! I’m almost 50 yrs old & grew up eating Pizza Hut in the 1970’s & 80’s and it was the BEST!!! Obviously way before it’s slow transition into garbage, no thanks to Yum! Brand. I really want the old original Pizza Hut back so bad!! I really miss the old pan pizza of the 80’s. I wish my daughter could experience the Pizza Hut experience that we’ve had.

    I’ve noticed the decline over the years & it continues. Just recently, the areas around me lost all but 1 of our historic red roof Pizza Huts. The only problem is that, the building might be the same, but the company, pizza, salad bar, etc. just isn’t the same. I’ve come across several articles/forums on the decline of Pizza Hut & there are so many comments from old fans & employees that all say the same thing. Some have even gone into detail of how it changed. They changed their pizza over the years in many ways to make it cheaper, supposedly trying to make it healthier & to cook it faster through those conveyor belt ovens. It’s very sad how drastically they changed the quality. I’ve read everything from the brand of flour, dough prep, oils, purity of the sauce & cheese, size of the pies, etc. They wonder why their profits are dropping like mad. I wish that the CEO & business officials would have the knowledge & common sense to just review what the customers are actually saying. I wish that they would go back to the eat-in restaurants, using real pizza ovens & making their old real “ORIGINAL” Pizzas like they did in the 70s & 80s or prior! That’s what the customers want. People’s comments are all over the internet wishing for them to go back to the Old Original Pizza Hut. Also, many many complaints about the changes that pizza hut has made over the years, while trying to fool it’s customers. They should care about the quality & what the customers want. That is what makes a business successful. In my opinion, a successful CEO or business person should have pride in the product they sell. Not sure why they would want to ruin a product just to try to make more profit. I feel it would have inverse consequences when people notice the product has declined. Unfortunately this is what happened to Pizza Hut, & this business model/mentality is happening all over with everything in the US now. They turned our beloved pizza into crap which usually makes people sick when they eat it.

    Let’s hope they come to their senses & take Pizza Hut back to basics before it’s too late & we lose Pizza Hut forever.

    One little interesting fact i found…in the Pizza Hut museum they have the original sauce recipe written on a napkin that the Carney’s developed . It’s amazing but sad to compare the original ingredients to the ingredients listed on the pizza hut website now.

  5. BeeSki says:

    I’ve been a Pizza Hut customer since the 70s UNTIL the last 10 years. Crappy service, skimpy toppings, dirty dining rooms. Sad

  6. Seth says:

    The Hut went to hell when YUM bought them from PepsiCo. Grew up eating PH in the 70’s and 80’s and it ain’t even close.

    The Ex worked and managed a Hut in the late 80’s and early 90’s and it’s so different now.
    Back then everything was made in house and cooked in a pizza oven. Today PH pizza is virtually a frozen pizza assembled at the store and run through a conveyor oven. Everything is pre packaged and pre made; even the crust.

    Fuck that, Tombstone frozen is better than PH dreck.

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