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This Pizza Chain's Decline Is Due to "Bad" Food, Customers Say

And coming back from subpar pizza is tough.

No one really expects an '80s food court pizza to satisfy our evolved fast-food palates in 2021, but it also isn't every day that "bad pizza" is blamed for the decline of an entire franchise. While there are several converging factors that contributed to Sbarro's decreasing appeal and presence on the fast-food scene, one popular opinion seems to be that the chain is on a decline thanks to its subpar food.

Sbarro rose in popularity with the proliferation of malls across the country. In fact, the company built its empire almost entirely as a food court brand, by opening a large volume of small restaurant units located predominantly in retail environments. At its peak during the 2000s, the chain had over 1,000 locations across the United States and dozens of other countries. But one recession, two bankruptcies, and several decades later, Sbarro is down to only 600 locations (350 of those are domestic) and is increasingly losing its footing against a sea of competitors.

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While current management plans to focus on an expansion into the niche category of "impulse pizza occasions," which will include growth in what remains of American malls and in transport and entertainment venues, one major problem with Sbarro remains—operational convenience takes precedence over food quality. Meanwhile, customers are reluctant to spend their dollars on a subpar slice if they don't have to. After all, major national chains like Domino's, Papa John's, and Pizza Hut have thousands more locations dotting every corner of the country, which makes Sbarro's task to stay relevant that much harder.

In analyzing the decline of the Sbarro brand, Youtube content creator Company Man asked viewers to sound off on whether they like the chain's pizza, which has a reputation for being underwhelming and expensive.

"Sbarro: Everyone's favorite pizza to eat when you're at a rest stop 50 miles from the nearest pizza," commented one Youtube user, and many more agreed. "Charging $4.89 for ONE slice of pizza that's been sitting under a hot lamp for 48 mins. That's what happened," another chimed in to explain Sbarro's reputation.

Similar sentiments about their pizza can be found on Reddit.

Experts seem to agree that Sbarro's business model of not serving fresh, made-to-order food, but settling for pre-made pizzas that have been sitting out in display windows for hours just isn't cutting it anymore.

"Sbarro has been stuck with an outdated business model," Michael Whiteman, a restaurant consultant and president of Baum & Whiteman LLC in Brooklyn, New York, told Reuters in 2014, when the chain filed for its second bankruptcy. "Its biggest shortcoming is that it sells food that has been sitting out for a while, and more people want food made to order."

Whether Sbarro can reinvent itself as the go-to New York–style slice shop located in convenient areas with high foot traffic, which is the core message of their brand, is yet to be seen.

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Mura Dominko
Mura is ETNT's Executive Editor, leading the coverage of America's favorite restaurant chains, grocery stores, and viral food moments. Read more about Mura