Domino's Pizza's 30-minute delivery guarantee failure

A spate of deaths and lawsuits ended the famous pizza marketing strategy. Has delivery become more secure?

In October 1985, a teenage Domino's Pizza driver was handed a pizza for delivery in a Pittsburgh suburb. 23 minutes had passed since the customer placed their order. he needed to hurry.

He accelerated out of the restaurant parking lot and rammed his car without yielding. Frank and Mary Jean Cranach, was injured. Immediately after the accident, the Domino's Pizza manager allegedly took the pizza from the driver's car and handed it to another delivery worker with the following message: There's still time.

“You should have wondered what kind of pressure was on the managers and drivers who made them feel like they had to sacrifice pizza over people's lives,” the Cranaxes' attorney said. Kenneth Behrendremembering the incident decades later.

This pressure stemmed from Domino's now infamous marketing campaign that guaranteed pizza delivery within 30 minutes.

This was a policy that helped establish Domino's Pizza as one of America's leading pizza chains, and ultimately nearly destroyed the company's reputation.

guarantee speed

In 1960, the first store in what would become Domino's Pizza, the founder thomas monaghanA former Marine Academy and seminary dropout, he hired two unemployed factory workers to deliver pizzas. They drove the store's Volkswagen Beetle and earned 10 cents an hour plus commission.

Soon, a typical Domino's Pizza store had more delivery drivers than pizza makers, was equipped with gas ovens, and had special boxes built for use in delivery vehicles. I folded it faster than anyone else. The restaurant only sold two sizes of pizza and soft drinks (no pasta or pasta). exotic pizza hut concoctions), there were no tables to maintain a minimalist, delivery-centric aesthetic.

Thomas Monaghan (Joe Radle/Getty Images)

That focus began to pay off as Americans became obsessed with the concept of delivery in the 1980s.

  • With the rapid advancement of women into the workforce, there was a growing need for quick meals for families.
  • With the proliferation of microwave ovens and frozen dinners, Americans have become accustomed to convenience and reluctant to go out in public. (One food industry executive described these consumer habits as “cocooning.”)

In 1985, Domino's Pizza claimed that delivery customers could expect their staff to prepare their pizza and deliver it to their doorstep in an average of seven minutes. 28 minutes After making a call.

That time was not a rough estimate. Mr. Monaghan valued speed and recommended that if the pizza did not arrive within his 30 minutes, franchisees would offer it free or at a reduced price. By the mid-1980s, at least he could guarantee a 30-minute recommendation. Pizzas longer than 30 minutes were free. (The price was later changed to $3 off.)


The restaurant did not meet guarantees every time (especially when a cheap college student tormented the driver with inaccurate directions).But the chain claimed it was National success rate is 89% 1984 and 95% In the late 80's. The franchisee, who operates his 17 stores in Dayton, Ohio, set a company record by delivering 99% of his pizzas within his 30 minutes.

Headquarters enlisted three mystery customers in each market to audit store performance. They ordered pizza every month, judged the timing and quality of the pies, and reported back to the company. Monaghan said Domino's Pizza uses these tests to evaluate employee compensation, bonuses and promotions.

as he explained in his autobiography pizza tiger, he considered the 30-minute guarantee to be part of a “defensive mindset”. He believed that instead of spending a lot of money on marketing, Domino's could expand its base by constantly meeting customer expectations.


He was right. In the 1980s, Domino's Pizza's share of the U.S. pizza industry went from a small share to ~15%has grown from about 300 restaurants to more than 2,000.

Under pressure from growing rivals, Pizza Hut introduced a delivery service in 1986 and caught fire. “Pizza War” But Pizza Hut didn't offer any timing guarantees, and analysts decided Domino's had the advantage.

As Mr. Monaghan said a few years ago, the chain was focused on delivery “like life or death.”

reckless driving, lawsuits, pressure

At a Domino's Pizza in suburban Indianapolis, employees were keeping track of the number of drivers who took more than 30 minutes to deliver pizzas. Each week, the driver with the most late deliveries was required to wear a badge that read “King of Lateness.” jesse colsonPunctual teenage drivers didn't have to wear this.

On a rainy Saturday night in early June 1989, Colson was killed when he crashed into a utility pole while speeding to deliver a pizza. He wasn't wearing a seatbelt – his colleague's girlfriend said. indianapolis star He may have done it to save a few precious seconds when getting out of the car at a customer's house.

A Domino's Pizza delivery vehicle chases Pizza Hut's rival in 1989. (Greg White/Fairfax Media via Getty Images)

This was not an unusual sight in Midwest and Sunbelt communities where chain pizza restaurants are strongholds. The night before, a Domino's Pizza delivery driver was involved in a fatal crash in another Indianapolis suburb.

“I hope something good comes from my son's death,” Colson's mother said. Star“I wish Domino's Pizza would do away with their 30-minute delivery policy.”

Chain wasn't interested. Domino's stressed that it does not require its delivery workers to be fast or drive recklessly, and said the basis of its delivery guarantee is an efficient cooking process. The company claims it rejected two-thirds of its driver applicants, and its franchise manual included a single sentence in all caps: “Fast delivery does not come from speeding and reckless driving.” .

Domino's Pizza admitted that it was aware of 20 deaths in accidents involving its drivers in 1988 (the National Institute for a Safe Workplace later found that the death rate for Domino's delivery drivers was higher than that of mining workers). He claimed that it was almost the same. ~35 per 100k). In the company's annual report for the same year, Mr. Monaghan called the failure to meet the 30-minute guarantee “one of the great disappointments of 1987” and said it was the restaurant's biggest priority for the year ahead. He said that it is a matter of concern.

However, Colson's death occurred around the same time that Kenneth Behrend's lawsuit over the accident involving Frank Cranach and Mary Jean Cranach made national news.

Before Domino's Pizza was founded, Behrendt's most high-profile lawsuits included lawsuits against prominent financiers and local branches of the Bell System. But Behrend, who earned a degree in hotel and restaurant management from Cornell University, knew how the restaurant industry worked.

He started the Delivery Service Negligence Litigation Group and fielded calls from attorneys across the country to explain how to use legal tools to structure their cases. Lazy corporate policy It claims to be a tort technique he pioneered that allows him to link car accidents from franchisees to Domino's Pizza's 30-minute corporate policy.

“That was the core of their company,” Behrend says. “And their entire ethos, their entire business model, and the focus of all their operations was on his 30-minute service.”

Attorney Kenneth Behrendt helped organize many of the lawsuits while representing the Cranax family in Pittsburgh. (Illustration from Herald)

After he complained to the press that Domino's Pizza wasn't providing any data about the crash, he received a package in the mail from an anonymous employee filled with company documents. He learned that the most common accidents occurred when a driver crashed into someone's house, backed up the car, and hit the car behind them.

A 1984 corporate survey revealed that:

  • 17% Domino's Pizza drivers are stressed about reaching their destination within 30 minutes.
  • Ten% Pleaded guilty to reckless driving.

Mr. Behrend estimated that by 1990, at least 200 lawsuits had been filed against Domino's Pizza, and pressure from lawmakers and labor unions mounted.

In late 1993, the case of a woman who was hit by a Domino's Pizza driver while taking her child to a bowling alley went to trial.The jury found Domino's Pizza liable. $750,000 Actual amount of damages and $78 million The punitive damages are equal to the amount the company lost in late fees to customers the previous year. (A settlement was eventually reached.)

Mr. Monaghan made an announcement immediately after the trial ended.Domino's Pizza did not respond to an interview request. hustle, the warranty had ended. In a prepared statement, He said The restaurant chain said it heard the message “loud and clear.”

“No matter what we do in the field of driver safety and training, some members of the public still have a negative perception of us because of warranties. It eliminates elements that create a negative perception.”

New dangers of delivery driving

Behrend said his case in Pittsburgh worked its way through the court system and was settled after the St. Louis ruling. Other lawsuits were similar. But Behrend said the Domino's lawsuit also had some unintended consequences. He said basic personal insurance no longer covers drivers who use their cars for business purposes.

This is an important difference today and in the U.S. food delivery market. doubled during the pandemic And gig workers face coverage uncertainty.

Depending on the app Also, at certain points in the delivery process, your insurance, such as DoorDash or Uber Eats, may not cover you, putting you at risk of high costs if you get into an accident. This happens frequently.

Georgetown researcher Katie Wells writes: Destroying DC: The Rise of Uber and the Fall of the Citywrote a report based on interviews with 41 gig delivery drivers in Washington, D.C. find Approximately one-quarter were involved in a crash while on the job.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mortality rate for drivers and sales workers (a group that includes delivery drivers) is was 14.6 per 100k In 2022, the rate will be higher than for protective services workers such as police officers and firefighters (10.2 per 100,000 people) and miners (11.7 per 100,000 people).


While gig drivers aren't required to be as fast as Domino's Pizza drivers in the past, Wells said drivers seek financial incentives, to avoid bad reviews and to make sure food is hot when delivered. He says that he is in a hurry, and that the need for speed is built into his work.

“Your livelihood depends on you going somewhere and getting there early,” she says.

Such motives can be dangerous.

Behrend remembers talking to behavioral scientists as he was preparing Domino's case. The scientists explained that delivery drivers experience a kind of tunnel vision because they are stressed by time constraints. They focus on their destination, not paying much attention to the world around them, and must get there as quickly as possible, putting themselves and everyone else at risk.

The 30-minute guarantee may have ended decades ago. But its legacy lives on.

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