ID / A ‘Living Lab’: a new generation of pizzeria by PizzaExpress

PizzaExpress is opening the doors to the first ‘new generation’ pizzeria, which will roll out across the UK from next year. In one of the boldest moves in its 45-year history, the brand is redefining the restaurant experience for the 21st Century, focusing on design, acoustics, service and food. The aim is to create a space that feeds great conversation – something that is at the heart of the brand’s mission – by both stimulating conversation and managing sound within the restaurant.

PizzyExpress Richmond

Masterminding the new look and feel is award-winning designer Ab Rogers, who is bringing some of the magic he recently delivered to Tate Modern to the high-street, inspired by the restaurant’s rich heritage and the creative vision of founder Peter Boizot. Ab was tasked not simply with making the space look stunning, but acoustically controlling sound in order to create the best environment in the UK to have good conversation over a meal.

Working with leading acoustician Sergio Luzzi, a number of world-first features have been designed to help direct busy restaurant noise away from dining areas, enabling customers to both tuck in and open up. These include world-first, revolutionary parabolic lighting domes to absorb sound with in-built speakers for customers’ own iPods; lights that can be dimmed by diners and a ‘light-up’ button to ask for the bill. These unique domes hang alongside an acoustic ceiling installation that has been scientifically designed to direct ambient noise.

With research demonstrating the positive social and health benefits of social interaction and eating together*, the entire restaurant experience has been designed towards helping diners get the most from their meal in terms of conversation. Theatre director and conversation expert Karl James is working closely with PizzaExpress to reinvent how staff interact with customers, training them in the art of conversation and making customers feel good.

Meanwhile, Carrie Longton, co-founder of popular website Mumsnet, is also working with the restaurant on its service treaty, created by parents for parents to deliver a daytime offering that works for those with children. Activity areas – including interactive stealth learning video games looking at pizza ingredients, and a large communal drawing table – will keep children happy and entertained.

The new restaurant will function as a ‘Living Lab’ with a first opening in Richmond on 21st October 2010. The public was invited to come along and give feedback on the elements that they think work best – the most successful of which will form a new signature style to be rolled out across PizzaExpress restaurants nationwide from 2011.

Ab Rogers comments: “We’re taking PizzaExpress back to its original essence. We want to continue to celebrate the joy of eating good food and the theatre of traditional pizza making, while bringing light back into the restaurant, to give it an injection of colour and excitement, that puts the kitchen and all its vibrant activity under the spotlight; centre stage in a space that excites the senses.”

The new generation restaurants will mean that passers by can now grab food and drink on the move thanks to a kiosk that opens out onto the street, inspired by the open stalls of Naples. For the first time, the restaurant will open at 8.45am, serving baked goods available throughout the day, created by Liliana Tamberi (Islington deli, Food Lab’s baker and Italian lounge singer). Pizza remains at the very heart of the restaurant’s offering. Antonio Romani, head chef of almost 30 years, will continue to celebrate the art of pizza by adding new items, including seasonal monthly specials, pizzetinis, and Italian ‘pitta pizza’ sandwiches to the menu.

Music has always been at the core of the PizzaExpress brand, and as part of the living lab, DJ and broadcaster Nick Luscombe (ICA, Flomotion, Resonance FM) is building on the brand’s jazz heritage to create a new musical philosophy. His approach is in keeping with the brand’s “jazz attitude” but incorporates a richer and more varied range of artists including Andreya Triana and Stac, who performed at new generation music nights in Soho and at the launch party in Richmond.

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The eclectic mix of creatives creating the New Generation PizzaExpress:

Ab Rogers, award-winning designer who is redefining the restaurant space

– Liliana Tamberi, of Islington deli Food Lab, is an Italian baker come lounge singer who is creating a range of daytime treats, baked fresh in our ovens

– Sergio Luzzi, an Italian acoustician and University professor, and the global authority on all things acoustic, who is considering how we manage sound best in our restaurants

– Antonio Romani, PizzaExpress head-chef since 1982, who is continuing his mission to make the best pizza

– Julie MacDonald, HR director who went from PizzaExpress waitress to the Board, is throwing out the rule-book and reinventing how we do recruitment, training and service

– Karl James, theatre director and conversation expert. He runs The Dialogue Project, helping people improve how they communicate. Karl is working with Julie, tasked with bringing flair to PizzaExpress’ service

– Carrie Longton, Mumsnet co-founder and parenting expert. Carrie is also working with Julie, helping to create a service treaty that really works for mums

– Nick Luscombe, radio titan, club DJ and music maestro. Nick is helping to create our playlist for this new generation PizzaExpress, building on the brand’s great heritage at the heart of the Soho jazz scene

– Matthew Miller, a young upcoming fashion designer. Graduate of the Royal College and showing at this year’s London Fashion Week, Matthew is helping redesign the uniforms

– Enzo Apicella, Italian legend of the swinging sixties and creator of the original PizzaExpress design, Enzo came up with everything from the branding to the open plan, the round tables and the idea to place a single flower on each table. Enzo went on to design a further hundred venues and has put his stamp on Richmond with a unique and striking mural

*Aric Sigman, Guess Who’s Not Coming to Dinner, 2008