DALLAS — Facing increased price competition and experiencing difficulty attracting and keeping employees, Pizza Hut Inc. is experimenting with a delivery charge to help subsidize drivers' wages.
Free delivery could be a thing of the past in the pizza business, analysts say, if the experiment succeeds.
For the next few weeks, Pizza Hut, the nation's largest pizza chain, will test-market a 50-cent to $1 delivery charge at several outlets in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and a handful of others around the country.
"At the end of the test, we'll make a determination whether we'll pursue it nationally," Pizza Hut spokesman Jay Allison said of the charge.
Some industry insiders said no national pizza chain has ever charged a delivery fee, but Dallas-based Pizza Hut, a unit of Louisville, Ky.-based Tricon Global Restaurants Inc., downplayed the charge.
"It may seem unusual in Dallas, but in other parts of the country, it's not unusual for mom-and-pops and some regionals to charge," Allison said. "We haven't had any customer complaints.
Allison declined to identify the outlets trying the fee but said they're all in upscale neighborhoods.
Pizza Hut would use the fee to help offset the cost of drivers, who are paid minimum wage and a per-delivery reimbursement for use of their car, Allison said.
Some analysts said the fee might hurt drivers more by causing customers to reduce tips--an important part of pizza drivers' compensation.
Some of Pizza Hut's competitors distanced themselves from any fees.
"We've never charged a delivery fee and we don't intend to start," declared Cozette Phifer, a spokeswoman for Domino's Pizza, based in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Pizza Hut has about 7,000 outlets nationwide. About two-thirds of the pizzas it sells are delivered or picked up as to-go orders by customers, a spokesman said.