Michelle Kratschmer's family was craving the usual a large pepperoni pizza and a small pie with black olives and cheese but how she entered the phone order was entirely new.
The Godfrey, Illinois, woman ordered dinner by sending a text message to her local Papa John's restaurant. A half-hour later, the pizzas were delivered to her home.
"I got exactly what I ordered, so that was a good thing," Kratschmer said. "You send it off and you're not sure if they've gotten it on that end, because you don't talk to them."
Louisville-based Papa John's International Inc. this week rolled out its text message ordering option at its 2,700 U.S. restaurants. It's a progression from the pizza maker's online ordering, which began in 2001 and now accounts for nearly 20 percent of its U.S. sales.
Domino's Pizza Inc. has taken it another step, recently starting a system that lets customers place orders from Web-enabled mobile devices. The new ordering system, launched about 2 1/2 months ago, is now available at about 3,000 Domino's locations and will spread to all of the chain's approximately 5,100 U.S. restaurants next year, said Rob Weisberg, a marketing vice president for the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based company.
Bear Stearns restaurant analyst Joe Buckley said the new ordering methods could help the chains win brand loyalty among people who will be eating pizza for decades to come.
"The high-technology ways of reaching customers probably appeal to younger people, who live with their text messaging and their BlackBerry," he said.
Nigel Travis, Papa John's president and chief executive officer, envisions hungry customers text messaging from malls or theaters so when they get home their pizza orders will be on the way.
"Our vision is that you can order a Papa John's pizza anytime of day or night wherever you are," he said.
First, Papa John's customers register online to create accounts. They can save up to four favorite orders, along with a delivery address and payment preference. Customers can punch in "FAV1," "FAV2," "FAV3," or "FAV4," to text message orders. Papa John's sends a reply with the order, and the customer can confirm or change it.
At the stores, the transition is seamless since text orders pop up the same as online orders, said Jim Ensign, vice president of marketing communications at Papa John's.
The text-messaging option is another example of Papa John's looking for innovations to offset an advertising budget that's smaller than at larger rivals Pizza Hut and Domino's.
Pizza Hut, a unit of Louisville-based Yum Brands Inc., had an 18 percent share of the $28.5 billion U.S. pizza market last year, while Domino's had 11 percent and Papa John's had 6.9 percent, according to restaurant-industry consultant Technomic.
Like online customers, people ordering with Papa John's via texting are asked if they want to get regular messages touting coupons or other special offers, and the company expects a big number to do so. Still, Ensign promises that Papa John's will be "very careful and not deluge our customers with promotional messages."