How IT affects Pizza Delivery at Papa John’s

Tim Newton and the Papa John’s tech team develop new ways to order a pizza, twenty-first-century style

Tim Newton

If you wanted to order a Papa John’s pizza in 1984, the year the company opened its first stores, you probably would have perused a phone book and called in your order on a touch-tone phone. Now, more than thirty years later, the Papa John’s pizza-ordering experience has become as easy as two or three taps of your finger on an iPhone. That’s the way it should be, according to Tim Newton, vice president of digital innovation, infrastructure, and global data operations for Papa John’s International.

“Here at Papa John’s, we are customer-obsessed,” says Newton, who joined the world’s third-largest pizza delivery company in 2011. “It’s all about the ordering experience. It’s about the customer’s first touch point of technology, whether that is an app or our online ordering platform. We want to make the pizza-ordering experience easy-to-use, seamless, intuitive, and fun.”

“It’s about the customer’s first touch point of technology, whether that is an app or our online ordering platform.”

In early 2016, Papa John’s expanded its digital ordering experience by becoming the first national restaurant brand to launch an Apple TV app. The technology allows customers to order their favorite pizza from the convenience of their living room, with the option of building their pizza topping by topping. In addition, the new app will give customers an automatic 25 percent discount on the purchase.

“So, there you are with your family,” Newton, a husband and the father of a twelve-year-old daughter, explains. “You are getting set up to watch a movie, and you need to order a pizza. With this app, you can pause your movie and pop over to the app, order your pizza, and then go back to the movie and enjoy your family time.”

From Order Placed to
Pizza Made

Tim Newton has only the highest praise for the Papa John’s marketing department, with whom he works closely. “They always have these great ideas and are asking us in IT if it can be done,” he says.

The marketing department’s latest project aims to make tracking customers’ orders easier.

“The idea is that as soon as you order online, you know exactly where your pizza is in the creation and delivery process,” Newton says. “We’ve ramped up the technology to provide more accurate data related to when your order arrives at the store, when our pizza-makers start to toss our fresh dough, add all of our ingredients, place the pizza in the oven, and perform our quality check before sending it out the door to your location. And here’s an even better thought: what if you could see all of this in real time, with an
Uber-like visual of your driver’s location?”

The company’s commitment to leading the way in the world of technology is nothing new. The brand was the first national pizza chain with digital ordering at all of its US delivery restaurants in 2001. It was also the first national pizza brand to offer system-wide mobile ordering with SMS text in 2007, the first to launch a nationwide digital rewards program in 2010, and the first to offer gift cards that can be used on mobile devices.

Newton notes that this forward thinking and entrepreneurial spirit has been a perfect match for him. He and the company are not satisfied with the status quo. When he came on board, Papa John’s had around 3,000 stores in the United States and some outdated technology. Today, there are over 4,900 stores globally.

“We in the IT group took on the mantra that what got us to the first four thousand stores will not get us to the next four thousand stores,” Newton says. “We’ve made significant investments and improvements to our infrastructure over the past five years. We were using a dial-up, modem-based technology, and now we’re IP-based. We had a secondary data center that was a backup server in a closet in a telecom facility. Now, we have a state-of-the-art secondary data center. Also, the way we deliver the order to the store is more streamlined. It’s been about bringing the technology up to 2016.”

Today, online orders account for 55 percent of all Papa John’s orders. Of these orders, 60 percent come through the company’s mobile apps.

At Papa John’s headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky, Newton is one of more than sixty people in his infrastructure group. The company has four IT divisions. He says he couldn’t ask for a better group of people to work with.

Newton has always been curious as to how things in technology work. That curiosity was confirmed during his four-year stint in the Marine Corps in the early 1990s, where he worked as an air traffic controller.

“When you leave the military, they test you on what skills and interests you have that would translate into the civilian world,” he says. “I tested high in engineering and programming.”

Furthermore, he notes that he sees a number of similarities between his time in the military and the corporate culture that exists at Papa John’s.

“Papa John’s is an organization that is huge on accountability. Just like in the Marine Corps, you’re always accountable; everybody needs to pull their weight,” he explains. “That’s what I preach around here: We are only as strong as our weakest link. We’re all here for the consumer. You are either a pizza-maker or you help those who are. With that mind-set, success is bound to follow.”