The Glory Days of Pizza Hut

I miss the “glory days” of Pizza Hut.  That magical time in the ’80s and early 90’s when it was a destination, and not just somewhere to eat.  I’ve found recently that those days of yore are long gone, and what is left is what seems like a company struggling to hang on.

Last week, we took our daughters to Pizza Hut for lunch, and as I sat there with them enjoying lunch, I looked around the place and just shook my head at how much it has changed through the years.  To me, it no longer feels special.  It just feels like another fast food joint with nothing to make it stand out.

As you’ve learned by now, my Father traveled quite a bit when I was growing up, and to kind of take the sting out of being gone so much, when he would get back in town on the weekends, he would always take the family out to eat on Friday or Saturday night.  This usually meant a trip to Western Steer, Bonanza, or Wendy’s back when they had the Superbar.  But a couple of times a year, we would be treated to my favorite place to go in that time frame, Pizza Hut.  We only got to go a few times a year because, for the time, Pizza Hut was expensive.  But that was part of the appeal.  It was a step above other places to eat back then.  You weren’t just paying for the food, you were buying an experience.

From the moment you walked into the place, you knew it was something special.  You knew this was going to be something you’d remember, and it all started with the decor.  The interior didn’t look like a fast-food joint with its huge, sprawling windows, cheap-looking walls, or tiled floors.  When you walked in, you were greeted by brick walls, with smaller windows, that had thick red fabric curtains pulled back, and a carpeted floor.  It just felt higher-class than walking into McDonald’s or Burger King.

The booths were high-backed, with thickly padded vinyl seats and backrests.  The high backs were also different from your usual eating out experience.  These high backs gave you a sense of privacy, which was great for a date night.  Also great for a date night were the candles on the tables.  Those little red glass candles were on every table and were lit when you got to your seat.  It was a little thing, but when added to everything else, it was quite the contribution.  Your silverware was wrapped in a thick, cloth napkin that beat the heck out of the paper napkins everyone else was using at the time.  And you could always count on the table being covered by a nice, red and white, checkered table cloth.

The lighting at Pizza Hut back then was lower than what you were used to at other places.  This was due to the lower wattage bulbs they used, along with their gorgeous, Pizza Hut log emblazoned, stained glass light shades they used to have.  Seeing one of those things now instantly takes me back to another place in time!  They still look classy and bring old memories flooding back every time I see or think of one.  The private feeling booth, the low lighting, the candle on the table, and the brick wall beside you gave a unique feel to the table you were dining at.  It greatly enhanced the overall experience.

As far as the food goes, it was really hard to beat Pizza Hut in the ’80s and early ’90s for taste and quality.  For one, they had the salad bar.  Even though Western Steer and Bonanza, and other places had salad bars, something about Pizza Hut’s felt different.  As a kid, I wouldn’t get a salad anywhere else, but when I was at Pizza Hut, I wanted one.  It just felt like it was what you were supposed to do somehow.  And later in the early-mid ’90s when I would take young ladies on dates there, you wanted to put forth an air of maturity, I had the salad before the pizza.  Their salad bar was well stocked too.  The vegetables always looked great, were presently neatly, and had a crisp to them that screamed “I’m fresh” when other restaurants could not always claim the same thing.  You could always add a little more flavor to the dishes too since they had the easily recognizable shakers on the table featuring red pepper flakes and grated Parmesan cheese.

The drinks were never-ending back in those days, essentially because no matter what you ordered, you were brought a full pitcher of it along with your glass.  Do you like Mountain Dew?  Here you go, here’s a full pitcher of the light green goodness.  Enjoy!  Pizza Hut sold beer back in those days, and it was commonplace to see some guys hanging out with a pitcher of beer on their table, or a husband and wife out on the town enjoying a pitcher of Michelob.  I’ve never been much of a drinker, but the image of a pitcher of beer at Pizza Hut is iconic in my memories of the place.  It added to the atmosphere.

The pizza itself was the main piece of the whole puzzle though.  Back in the day, they treated their pan pizza like royalty.  You got the feeling that if you wanted a thin crust or hand-tossed pizza, that was OK, but if you wanted to eat like royalty, then the pan pizza was the only way to go.  No matter what the crust you preferred, they were all served the same way.  A waitress would bring the piping hot pizza to your table.  She would lay down the cork mat to keep the pan from melting through the table cloth, and then sit your pizza down in front of you.  She would allow a moment for the steam to rise up in front of you to make your eyes grow wide with anticipation and then the best part.  She would cut and serve the first slice to everyone at the table.  I don’t see this being done anymore, but it’s a small thing that could easily still be part of their service that would enhance their current experience significantly.  In my mind’s eye, there is no more iconic pizza than a Pizza Hut large pan pizza supreme with pepperoni, sausage, green pepper, onions, mushrooms, and black olives.

Pizza Hut was always known as the king of cheese breadsticks as well.  Again, to me, their breadsticks with cheese were an amazing part of the experience.  It goes back to how I said Pizza Hut just felt like a destination and an experience.  Serving the cheese sticks separately added the feel of a high-class restaurant serving multiple courses.  They’d seat you, take your drink order, and return with them before taking your order.  Then you’d get your salad and enjoy it, and just before you finished it, here come the cheese sticks.  You’d enjoy those while talking with your family or your date, and then here comes the pizza, and the serving experience I described earlier begins.

They also offered baked sandwiches back then too that was really good.  I don’t remember all the different ones they offered, because I always got the ham and cheese with lettuce and tomato.  I was really fortunate in that my old man would let me order a sandwich when he was already forking over quite a bit for the dinner itself.  I would have the salad to start, partake in the cheese sticks, slowly savor my ham sandwich, and also share in the joys of the pizza on the table.  It was a filling experience.

The baked sandwiches were on Italian bread, the ham was not thick, but not too thin either.  The mozzarella cheese melted down over it with such an amazing flavor, and little bits of it would back onto the bottom piece of bread, and those bites quickly became my favorite.  They also spread a sauce on them that I could not figure out what it was for years.  It gave the sandwiches an incredible taste.  It was tangy and creamy, and I could not wrap my mind around what it could be.  For years the taste of the sauce would pop into my mind and drive me nuts trying to figure out what it was.  Several years ago, I finally figured it out by accident.  It was Creamy Italian Dressing.  I had gotten some for a salad or something, and as soon as the first bite hit my mouth, memories of the Pizza Hut ham sandwiches came flooding back, and I screamed out, “that’s it!”, to which my eating partner wondered what the heck I was going through.  I bought a bottle of the dressing and made a ham sandwich at home to confirm my hypothesis, and I was correct.  It was a glorious feeling to finally solve the mystery years after the fact.

Also adding to the ambiance were the jukebox and the arcade game.  In my opinion, every good joint needs a jukebox.  As far as this goes though, it was probably the songs that were on it back then and not really the jukebox itself.  Going there on Friday or Saturday nights in the ’80s, and again, even on dates in the ’90s, the music enhanced the whole experience.  To this day, whenever I hear “Heartache Tonight” by the Eagles, or just about any Bob Seger song, I’m taken away back to that point of time because it seems like that’s what was playing most of the time while there.  Even in the ’90s when I would take a girl there, I would play those songs to bring back that nostalgic feeling, and to potentially stir some kind of emotion in my date…if you know what I mean.

The arcade game they featured at my local Pizza Hut, and I believe most of them, is kind of iconic in its own way.  It was a machine that featured two games.  Mrs. Pac-Man and Galaga.  The unique feature was that it was a sit-down cabinet, with a chair on each side in which you and a partner/opponent could both sit comfortably and play.  My old man would give my brother and I some quarters, and we’d go hit the machine between the salad and cheese stick courses, usually arriving back at the table finding that the cheese sticks had already arrived, and my parents were already enjoying them.

Once the meal was over, it was time to pay the bill and end the experience for that visit.  Now, the pricing back then was upscale as well.  That’s why it was a place we visited much less frequently than we did others.  I can remember back in like 1987, my Dad would shell out around $30 for the meal.  Putting the figure in the inflation calculator comes out to around $65 in today’s money, so it was not the cheapest eating out option back then.  And here is where I feel everything changed.  Once Little Caesars rolled out their $5 Hot and Ready promotion years ago, Pizza Hut felt it couldn’t compete.  In response, they started offering their $10 Any Pizza promotion.  The problem is, Pizza Hut didn’t need to cheapen their prices.  It wasn’t just the pizza you paid for at their restaurants, it was the experience, pizza and all.  They have cheapened themselves when there was really no call for it.  If you wanted a cheap meal, you could go to McDonald’s or Little Caesars.  If you wanted a mid-priced dinner, then you go to Pizza Hut.

These days, when I visit a Pizza Hut, everything is different.  There are not more stained glass lights above the tables, just a cheap brass light fixture.  The candles and the checkered table cloths are gone.  The cloth napkins have been replaced by a roll of paper towels on the table.  The waitress doesn’t cut and serve your first slice.  The beer and pitchers of drinks are a thing of the past.  The jukebox is filled with modern tunes, and the sit-down arcade console is gone.  Now, you just go and get a pizza, but not the experience.  The shakers of pepper flakes and Parmesan cheese are still there, but that is about all that is left of the experience.  Even the quality of the pizza has dropped off significantly from their heyday.   Even the classy carpet floor looks old and dingy these days from lack of upkeep.

I greatly miss the whole experience that I grew up with and came to love, and it breaks my heart a little that I can’t give the same experience to my daughters now for them to reflect on in the future like I am now.  Sometimes, you don’t need to cheapen your product to fit in with everybody else, because you’re Pizza Hut, which means you’re not like everyone else, you’re something special.  I wish they would realize that, and find that magic again.

If you’ve got a junk food question, junk food memory, or just want to share an observation of your own, feel free to drop me a line at [email protected]. And you can always find me on Twitter posting about both old and new junk food, as well as other random geeky stuff. Stop by there and say hello as well.


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About Mickey Yarber 239 Articles
Editor-in-Chief Sometimes referred to as the Retro Rambler...I was born in the '70s, grew up in the '80s, and came of age in the '90s. I love to share all the fun stuff from those years via my Retro Ramblings column.


  1. It’s funny – Domino’s has become ascendant by focusing very tightly on taste, cost, and delivery / pick-up. Their “pizza tracker” was so revolutionary that I routinely hear people say that in corporate America when talking about clear presentation of status / updates.

    I agree with you that Pizza Hut wasn’t just a pizza – it was an experience. I almost think that bringing back that rustic decor – the pitchers of beer, an arcade game and juke box, and comfortable booths – could at least give them that retro experience. If they’re going to be about food…then tastes have changed. Healthy is in; fattening is out…they’d have to get some tasty but healthy flatbreads out there to really seem like they are mid-scale rather than fast food.

    But thanks for posting the pictures and the trip down memory lane!

  2. What I remember loving and would love to see come back is a deep dish pizza they had back in the mid to late 80s they called the Priazzo. It had double crust – bottom crust, ‘toppings’, a top crust, with sauce and cheese over the top crust – much like some deep dish places in Chicago. It was great pizza. The crust and sauce were different from their other pizzas and oh so tasty.

  3. Pizza hut used to be the #2 pizza place in my opinion with Kens Pizza being #1 Ken’s sause was the best but it fell in the toilet when it became mazzios and pizza hut here in oklahoma anyway is first right behind last place they can’t keep help they quit making sandwiches then started different ones and now are not on the menu at all. I’ve called in an order there before and when I went to pick it up it hadn’t even been started, so that’s how good the help is

  4. It was a great read. I worked at a Pizza Hut Franchise between 1975-1978, so a little earlier than you described. Pizza Hut was a destination for most where I lived in Illinois since we were in small town USA. It was common for everyone to go to the Hut after a high school basketball game on a weekend. I remember making countless amounts of pizzas and sandwiches every night I worked. Pizza Hut had a consistent business despite the price point. I think it was the experience as you mentioned. The decor wasn’t all that expensive but it was unique. Many little things you mentioned bring back so many memories for me as well, from eating or working there. As employees, we had a great time because of a great atmosphere to work and interacting with the customers. It’s a shame to see the Hut just a shell of itself now. I can only think the decisions to do so were to change for how many who dine out for pizza wanted a more modern appearance. Pizza Hut to many in the older restaurants we were part of belonged to a different generation which younger people thought were old style. Pizza Hut felt it needed a face lift and the rest is history. I agree the jukebox music fit in well and it was nice to be able to have the ability to make selections for the perfect moment especially if on a date. The booths were perfect as you talked about for privacy without completely missing the experience of being in the crowded restaurant of everyone having their own experiences along with us. I definitely smiled when you talked about discovering the “secret sauce” of the ham sandwich. Yes, you were 100% correct it was creamy Italian dressing. I still make that sandwich for myself to this day. Of course I’m much older now but I will never forget the “glory days” of Pizza Hut. It’s a shame to see what they have become and as you said many will not be able to take their kids to this unique experience and all is now just a memory. I have been told over the years that change is good but I don’t think it was for Pizza Hut. I wish there was a way to bring it all back…..wishful thinking.

  5. Great read! Your description brings me right back! You forgot to mention the garlic bread with cheese which was fantastic! But I remember going there as kid, Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles was thee game. Also remember Rampage. The service was great too. Remember my father would be greeted by the manager when he walked through the door he would know all of us. Also would go there with friends in the buffet days. The pitchers of Pepsi, the pizza, the salad all it was as a great experience.

  6. It’s all perspective, but to me their pizza was still good into the early ‘00s when I was in middle/high school. It took a real drop in quality when they changed the recipe or something in about 2007/‘08 which may have been around the same time Domino’s did that as well. The Pizza Hut in my town did still retain most of what you’re discussing until about 2009 partially due to an owner who didn’t put any money into changing. It had a salad bar until around that time and still had its large Pizza Hut letters on the roof until around then also. The Wing Street era finally did those things in. I do remember the red cups and the candles as well as the classier feeling, even in the late ‘90s as a preteen.
    The photo attached is of the location near me before it was remodeled circa 2010. It also still sold beer until around this point when it lost its liquor license due to underage sales. 🤦‍♂️

    I also found a picture on a review site that I believe is from my location although it’s not clear of the salad bar:

  7. Pizza Hut was my first job as a 15-19 year old still at school/uni. It did use to be a classy place where families would regularly come for a meal as young kids were welcome (including ice cream birthday cakes if you booked a party ahead) and Mum & Dad could have a beer or wine too.

    I remember the ‘tiffany’ lamps above each table and lighting the candles as the last thing you did beffore opening the doors. One of our busiest days was Mother’s Day and we used to open early as many families gave Mum a day off cooking by bringing her to the Hut for lunch. Each Mum was given a flower on this day.

    We used to open until 1am on Friday & Saturday nights and even had a bouncer employed in case of any issues with drunks (which happened very rarely). It always seemed popular with young dating couples too – not too expensive and no dress standards enforced as at up-market restaurants and couples seemed to love the corner booths which seemed very private.

    The salad bar would often change due to what vegetables were in season and there were three dressings to choose from – ‘French Tomato’, ‘Thousand Island’ and ‘Creamy Italian. Mixing Tomato & Thousand Island dressings (50/50) gave you the Prawn/Seafood Cocktail sauce used for this popular entree.

    The submarines were Ham & Cheese, Salami & Cheese or ‘Supreme’ (1/2 ham, 1/2 salami) served with stuffed olives on a toothpick (as a ‘perisoope’) ‘on a sea of potato chips’. I made myself one at home today for lunch. I actually still have two of the wood-weave platters they were served on att Pizza Hut- they have lasted nearly 40 years! Cavatini & Spaghetti were also piopular in either entree or large serves and I’ve made my own cavatini at home in the past too.

    It all started to go downhill in the 80s when they brought in those ‘all you can eat’ help-yourself options and the pasta and submarines seemed to disappear from menus. No wonder they have devolved even further into just a delivery/pick-up service which is barely popular.,

    I still have many fond memories of the classic days of Pizza Hut and wish I could pop back in a time machine to enjoy how it was in those golden years.

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