Why be the entrée when you can be the main course?

Faced with what the CEO calls “a softening casual dining market”, London’s 50-year icon Pizza Express has re-invented itself as a place to eat and be entertained. The food hasn’t deviated from the successful formula but they have found a way to differentiate from a growing list of competitors by becoming the only brand in the market to offer live entertainment in their restaurants.

They have focused their entire marketing effort on the programme, which they have named Pizza Express Live, and anchored it in their primary owned asset: their restaurants. Forget the pre-theatre crowd, they are bringing the entertainment in-house and keeping their customers for 5 times longer. The line up is impressive, including chats with Monty Python’s Michael Palin, performances from Spandau Ballet’s Martin Kemp, big name comedians and a host of contemporary bands & artists.

This is no temporary toe-in-the-water, pop-up programme either, it is permanently built-in. They have created bespoke new venues, for example Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho (look out Ronnie Scotts!) and Pizza Express Live (pictured) complete with it’s own underground theatre. One happy customer wrote: “It was like we’d stumbled across a super-cool underground club, with clusters of dining tables arranged around a stage, it had a modern New York speakeasy feel.”

Here we have another example of x-tailing. Retailers embracing their customer’s desire for an experience in exchange for their custom. It is a brave strategy to replace discount coupons with experiential value and commit to it business-wide. A brilliant illustration of marketing from the inside-out.