Pizza Hut as a middle-class family hangout: The colorful face of the chain's restaurants touch the right buttons in urban Chinese.

'If I were a kid I would surely want to return to this place again and again.' 'If I had kids, I would definitely bring them here and enjoy their excitement in their eyes as they scroll through the beautiful menu.' These are the thoughts I had in mind a few minutes after entering one of the fancy Pizza Hut branches in Jinan, Shandong.

I am not intending to advertise this chain, and almost needless to say, the food was much less exciting (nor satisfying) than its 'wrapping'. I was astonished by the different ways the same chain could present itself in different locations on the globe; quite gloomy and 100% pizza oriented in one place while a colorful, extremely diverse culinary-wise, restaurant in another. In my home country, Pizza Hut exists mainly due to pizza deliveries, in which customers customize their desired pizza and order it home. A few restaurants exist, but they are normally quite empty and the most interesting snack besides the favorite round cheesy baked dough is probably garlic bread. In China the situation is distinctly different.

The bug branch of 必胜客 (bì shèng kè) - Pizza Hut that I visited is located in the 济南省体 (jǐnán shěng tǐ), one of the prominent middle class hangouts in the city, comprised of a square and shopping center. To me the combination of the branch with the location makes it a very family-friendly restaurant, less of a middle class teenager activity which could be find in McDonalds or KFC branches in China. Comfortable seats and a chill out song by Jack Johnson, played in 'repeat' throughout the whole working day (I hope the working stuff is insured from the mental disorders which can be caused by such music loops) could be very welcoming at first. And then comes the highlight- the menu.

Between page 24 and 25 a few pizzas can be found (and disappointingly they are fixed, with no option to choose ones favorite toppings). Other than pizzas one can find soups, pasta, salads, interesting rice dishes, chicken and beef, numerous cakes and some very colorful smoothies. Everything looks fantastic on the menu, and as these chains do with great success over and over again, the tour in the wonderland menu ends with the choice of an illusion. We are not naive enough to be disappointed when the actual dish is smaller, less juicy and not in the perfect shape when it reaches the table. Perhaps that is the reason that no real frustration is experienced and there is always and there is a will to come again.

However, unlike the situation in many western countries in which although Pizza Hut is not the cheapest way to fill the stomach is definitely not a middle-class restaurant, in China having a meal in Pizza Hut could be 10-20 more expensive than a workers restaurant on the street. Thus, the chains puts efforts in selling developed illusions and making the place seem like a quality all-around restaurant, instead of the cheap fast food image the same chain might reflect in the west. The Chinese customers aren't numb in their mouth and are quite aware that they aren't about to experience the most nutritious nor delicious meal when they sit in front of their Pizza Hut table, but the colorful, friendly and western ambience allows them to obtain an extra value for their money.

As many of the big international fast food change, Pizza Hut adjusts itself to its different potential customers in every country it enters. Many modifications are needed according to the economic level of such crowd, though the aspirations of the middle-class also change from place to place and American fast food is still considered exciting enough by many urban Chinese.



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