Dominos makeover: Will other fast-food chains go upscale, too?

As someone who had the local Domino's on speed dial throughout her college years, I can tell you: the pizza is not artisanal. It's not authentic. It's not supposed to be. It's Domino's.

And for 50 years, the company -- and its customers -- have pretty much accepted that. But no more -- in a new ad campaignDomino's touts a fully-reinvented recipe. The campaign features employees from across the country (including the newly-installed CEO, J. Patrick Doyle) eating crow, sheepishly reading customer comments that complain of "cardboard" crust and sauce "that tastes like ketchup."

Well, sure -- those customers aren't far off. But should it matter? Like Burger King and Dunkin Donuts, Domino's is the sort of nationwide chain most Americans patronize for three simple reasons: low cost, availability and consistency. The product is cheap. The stores are ubiquitous and open late. The food is the same from Tacoma to Tallahassee. You don't walk into Taco Bell expecting tortillas made from corn ground on premises -- you walk in expecting to eat something familiar.

So the truly interesting thing about Domino's new philosophy isn't what it means for their business -- it's what it means for the industry. Should Arby's suddenly start thinking about spending some R&D funds on creating an herb aioli? Should Dairy Queen refine its formula for soft-serve? You can bet that chains everywhere are watching closely to see how pizza-eaters will respond to Domino's reinvention.

Analysts already like what they see; Citigroup just upgraded Domino's shares from hold to buy. If the positive reaction keeps up, the fast-food industry may soon see a wave of game-upping akin to what's going on in slightly-higher-end chain dining (see our earlier coverage of the changes afoot at Ruby Tuesday).

Until then, if you want old, cheap classics with an upscale twist, you'll have to dress them up yourself -- like the culinary creatives at Fancy Fast Food, who can serve up a McNuggets remix worthy of a fine chardonnay. Assuming you haven't already cracked open a pinot noir to pair with your newly-sophisticated Domino's pie.
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