How PizzaExpress Boosts Recruitment and Saves Time with Qlik Cloud


If one thing can bring a group of people together, it’s pizza. With an endless array of topping combinations and styles from classic Neapolitan to local favourites like Chicago deep dish and New York style, there’s always something for everyone.

Many people associate pizza with sporting events or birthday parties, while others associate it with a laid-back Friday night treat when nobody feels like cooking. But when PizzaExpress’s founder looked at pizza, he saw an empire.

A Worldwide Pizza Empire

PizzaExpress was founded in 1965 by Peter Boizot, a UK entrepreneur who loved everything Italian. In the 1960s, there wasn’t a lot of variety in British cuisine, and Boizot found himself frustrated by his inability to get a decent slice in London. An entrepreneur to his core, Boizot decided to open a restaurant in Soho. It quickly became a major disruptor in the market, offering an upmarket feel and an affordable price point.

Today, PizzaExpress has become the worldwide empire Boizot imagined, with 362 restaurants in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, 23 in Hong Kong, 12 in the UAE, and other franchise locations across the globe. Apart from its restaurants, PizzaExpress has expanded its business model through delivery, click and collect, and selling products in major UK supermarket chains, making it possible for PizzaExpress fans to make their pizza at home.

In 2021, PizzaExpress launched its industry-leading loyalty mobile app, which offers rewards for customers. The app has allowed PizzaExpress to accumulate almost two million more customers—an impressive number for a country the size of the UK!

The Wild West of Data

As PizzaExpress grew, so did its data capabilities. But in the beginning, it felt like the Wild West. When I joined PizzaExpress in 2018 as their Business Intelligence Manager, there was no data governance or consistency in accessibility. While there had been attempts in the past to implement analytics systems, they had all failed, largely through a lack of maintenance and adoption.

Many attempts to implement analytics systems fail due to a lack of maintenance and adoption.

We often duplicated efforts, where two different departments would analyse the same data but reach different conclusions because they defined events differently, had multiple people working on the same thing, or were using a system prone to error. The company was challenging our operators to be profitable, but the operators were asking, “How can we run our restaurants most effectively when we don’t have the data to identify areas of weakness or strength?” It was a fair question.

As a lean data team, we needed an analytics solution to simplify the process.

Qlik Slices Through the Competition

We started our search by drawing up a matrix of what we felt were the most important factors for us: affordability, reliability, and ease of use for non-technical users. This last point was significant since one of our initiatives was to democratise data, enabling teams to build their own dashboards and become more autonomous. Qlik scored the highest, and we moved forward with procurement.

We partnered with the team at Ometis, the UK’s largest dedicated Qlik consultancy, to implement our initial on-premise solution. Initially, we started small, with just 40 users. We built a comprehensive suite of dashboards to keep tabs on the key factors needed to run a restaurant business—sales, labour, inventory, and customer experience—to help them be as profitable as possible.

Everything worked well for about 18 months. Then the pandemic hit, and it completely changed our operating models. Our data analysis went from being relatively passive to a complete scramble as we tried to get as much data as possible to make sense of the world and, hopefully, get ahead of the key decisions we had to make.

As a result, we found that scaling with an on-premise solution just wouldn’t work. We needed to get more data into Qlik, we needed to offer access to more users, and we needed more granularity. We struggled to keep up with the demand, and our dashboards were becoming slow. So we decided to get through the pandemic the best we could and then look harder at our approach.

Rather than spoon-feed our operators and provide them with specific items to focus on week after week, we wanted to give them the ability to take charge of their respective locations. But doing so would cause our user base to explode from 40 to 400, and we didn’t have the required resources to sufficiently manage the Qlik infrastructure internally.

After talking this through with the rest of the managers, the next logical step was to move to Qlik Cloud. For that, we needed buy-in from our board members.

Getting Board Member Buy-in to Move to the Cloud

Migrating to Qlik Cloud would be a sizable investment, and any technology purchase requires scrutiny. While we all agreed we needed a platform for better data analysis, we would have to prove ROI.

Our business case came down to these key points:

  • Our current solution needed to be more cohesive. We had infrastructure that didn’t work well or efficiently, and this was an opportunity to remove and replace that infrastructure. Migrating our environment would mean IT wouldn’t have to spend so much time managing and maintaining outdated infrastructure, freeing their team to work on more pressing initiatives. Replacing our infrastructure would also eliminate the manual effort of regular reporting into Qlik, which wasn’t a great use of time or resources.
  • We projected increased customer spend based on the ability to service our restaurant managers with real-time analytics. We already had a proof of concept through our on-premise 40-user solution. Our adoption stats were anecdotal and quantifiable, so we already knew this transition would succeed.
  • Finally, we knew that transitioning to Qlik Cloud would give us greater data granularity with complete freedom to scale as needed, which was critical for where we were at the time and where we were heading.

Moving to Qlik Cloud would save us money, and we had the data to show how that would happen. We got the Board’s approval and were ready to hit the ground running.

A Plan for Scaling User Adoption

Once we deployed Qlik Cloud, our first big initiative was scaling up our user adoption. It’s a massive task, but Qlik Cloud made it easy with single sign-on (SSO). Having a single username and one fewer password to remember is a big deal for users and lowers the barrier to adoption.

We held calls and meetings with users to review sheets and answer questions. Initially, we limited sheets to ensure the data was relevant and the terminology was correct. We monitored usage and scored users, allowing us to target our training efforts better. We spent more time with people who had the lowest usage and empowered our more frequent users to become advocates.

When deploying a new analytics platform, spend more time with people with the lowest usage and empower frequent users to become advocates.

Qlik Cloud became embedded into our company processes. The platform was a required part of day-to-day workflows for many people, and screens in the office showed dashboards on a continuous loop. Even if people had never used a dashboard, it became somewhat familiar and less intimidating. The dashboards became a regular part of our corporate communications, all the way to the top, where leaders used them to demonstrate findings on corporate calls.

Qlik Cloud has become a key part of our operators’ daily restaurant management process. More than 90% of them have used Qlik at least once a month for the last six months—and more than half of our users leverage Qlik daily. People in non-technical roles see the value of the data and have incorporated it into their daily workflows.

Transforming Recruitment with Qlik Application Automation

The UK hospitality market has had a lot of challenges coming out of the pandemic, particularly in recruitment and labour. In our case, people would submit applications for roles in our restaurants, but our managers weren’t responding quickly enough. We weren’t just losing these applicants; we were losing them to our competitors.

We thought it would be smart to utilise our existing recruitment data in Qlik, and embed it in our task management system since our restaurant partners already had it in place. We evaluated a few tools to automate the workflow, but we discovered we already had access to Qlik Application Automation as part of Qlik Cloud. It was seamless to plug into our dashboard and enhance existing insights.

Our only hurdle was outputting the information to the task management system. While the task management system offered a REST API to send data, it required more work than a dedicated connector. So we contacted Qlik’s team and requested a custom connector, which they produced in a matter of weeks. The connector made automation much faster, more reliable, and more cost-effective.

One of our first automations was a review of applications that have been open for more than 12 hours. Responding quickly to applicants increases our chances of finding the right candidate, and this automation fits into our existing processes without us having to develop new features. We trialled this application with 10 sites and found that it improved response rates by 27 hours for those locations. During the trial, restaurant managers saved about 1.5 hours per week, which equates to 3.25% of their annual salary. Multiply that by about 400 restaurants, and it’s easy to see the impact.

Thanks to this successful trial, we could roll out this automation throughout all of our restaurants in the spring of 2023.

Qlik Success for PizzaExpress

Today, we have an established and robust Qlik Cloud platform with almost 700 users, and nearly 70% of them use Qlik daily. Real-time sales analytics with hourly live forecasting provides an average uplift of 33 pence (around 32 cents) per cover. We migrated restaurant financial profit and loss reporting into Qlik Cloud, which saves around two days per month of manual effort. And we have a supportive and successful relationship with our partners Ometis and Qlik, who have seen us through it all.

Purchasing analytics tools can be a hard sell. It’s helpful to look for existing areas of weakness and identify marginal gains that can scale once you identify a proof of concept and can quantify the impact.

Qlik is so much more than data visualisation, and migrating to Qlik Cloud opens up the door for so many options. We’re growing the PizzaExpress empire and doing it smarter and more efficiently.