Pizza is a food built upon paradoxes. Pizza and the appreciation of pizza transcends race, religion, political affiliation, and socioeconomic status while simultaneously drawing stark and deeply entrenched battle lines in regards to quality, quantity, and classification. Deep dish vs thin crust. Stuffed crust vs classic crust. Don’t even get me started about toppings.
The point here is that while we can all agree that we like pizza, we can’t agree on what it is about pizza we like. And, as a result, we can’t have an objective, civilized discussion about what pizza is best. Part of the reason we can’t agree on pizza is that there is no universal vocabulary to talk about pizza. Simply put, we have no way of quantifying what is essentially quantifiable. Many have certainly tried. El Pres of Barstool fame might claim his pizza reviews are gospel, however upon even the tiniest of scrutiny his methodology and process don’t add up (there is zero scientific rigor to yelling out an arbitrary 1-10 rating on the sidewalk). Marketers and food researchers might claim they know what makes good pizza, but what tastes good in a highly controlled focus group is vastly different than what tastes good at 2am after a night on the town.
My goal here is to balance the quantitative and qualitative. I want to create a scientifically rigorous, methodological approach to judging the quality of pizza that takes other factors into account that traditional rating methods might overlook.
I started developing the PQT a few months ago while writing a piece about Papa John and how much I hate him. Essentially, Papa John Schnatter argued to shareholders that his declining pizza sales were due to the NFL national anthem protests, rather than the saturation of the pizza market, his historic lack of charisma as a spokesperson and CEO, and, most obviously, the declining quality of his pizza product. His explanation was obviously a politically-spiced crock of shit, however I couldn’t in good faith call it a crock of shit without some evidence or data to back it up. Enter the PQT.
The Pizza Quality Triangle (henceforth the PQT) is a tried and true method of figuring out if the pizza you are eating, or are considering eating, is good or not. There are a few assumptions that need to be laid out in order to understand the PQT.
First, pizza quality is binary. Meaning, it’s either good or it’s not. Rating pizza on a numeric/quantitative scale is not productive because people will eat pizza regardless of how well it’s “rated”. Most people will be just as content eating a 9.5 rated pizza as they would eating a 7.7. Similarly, people will still eat a 2.5 rated pizza knowing full-well how “bad” it might be. It’s for those reasons we cannot approach the science of pizza quality in a quantitative manner. Instead, the PQT uses a more hollistic, qualitative method in determining what makes a pizza good or bad.
Second, we must consider the fact that we always want pizza. Its biology. Not matter what time of day or the circumstances, most people could always “go for a slice”. The PQT asserts that pizza quality is less a static rating than a multidimensional decision-making process that will inform your pizza consumption experience. There are important situational and contextual factors that need to be taken into account that a simple rating scale fails to address. These factors can be distilled down into three distinct factors that, at their core, inform the pizza consumption experience.
These three factors can be plotted on a triangle by its relation to the center of the triangle, which denotes completely balanced pizza consumption experience. The closer the point moves to one of the vertices, the more that particular characteristic influences the pizza consumption experience.
Affordability – How much is the pizza? Coupons available?
Economic factors surrounding pizza are important and often overlooked. It doesn’t matter if a pizza tastes fucking unbelievable if it costs $50 a slice. Similarly, 3 slices of $1 pizza can bring consumers significantly more utility than a single $3 slice of pizza can. Striking the balance of price vs quantity vs quality can be best encapsulated in economic terms, and that is precisely what this category hopes to achieve.
The prime example of Affordability is Domino’s. Dominos has improved their pizza tremendously over the years, however their main draw continues to be their coupons. They are constantly running promotions and sales that can dramatically reduce the costs of a pretty decent pizza. My personal favorite was the ‘5-5-5 Deal’, which offered 3 medium two-topping pizzas for 5 dollars a piece.
Quality – Is the pizza good? Novel ingredients? Unique presentation?
This is perhaps the most simple and yet most difficult category to grade. Everyone’s taste is different. The Quality category is most similar to traditional, 1-10 ratings that alone couldn’t stand up to scrutiny. However adding the other two dimensions of quality gives this factor a new context.
Finding a good example for Quality was tricky, because taste is such an objective measure. Furthermore, everyone has their own local pizza joint that they might like, and it would take literally a lifetime to taste all the pizza that is out there. A good rule of thumb for determining the quality of your pizza is how its cooked. Is the pizza made fresh? Do they have a brick oven? Does the restaurant showcase their pizza maker, or do they hide them in the back because he is gross?
Convenience – How hungry am I? Are there alternatives? Proximity of the pizza? Am I drunk?
This category hopes to address the all-important yet hard-to-quantify contextual factors of pizza consumption. One might consider this the ‘meta’ category. Circumstances around pizza consumption can change very dramatically, even at the same exact pizza joint which, holding other factors constant, can lead to drastic fluctuations in rating.
The keyword here is CONTEXT. The best example for convenience is the 2am slice. Sure, the quality of pizza might not be great, and there is a chance the restaurant is upcharging their drunk patrons. But if you are on a mission for pizza, nothing will come between you and that slice.
Upon further review, we can start to breakdown and classify the pizza consumption experience. You will also notice that in most cases, the pizza consumption decision making process is fundamentally built upon trade offs. It’s rare to find a pizza thats affordable, convenient, and delicious. So in most cases, you will be prioritizing what’s most important to your own pizza journey.
The zones below are a loose guide that will help you figure out what kind of pizza experience you are having.
1 – Pure Affordability
You are consuming this pizza either because it is super cheap or you have an excellent coupon. It probably doesn’t taste great and delivery might take 2 hours, but that’s the price you must pay (or not pay).
2 – Pure Convenience
You are consuming this pizza because you are very hungry and you don’t care how much it costs nor how good or bad it might be.
3 – Pure Quality
You are consuming this pizza because its delicious. Maybe its your favorite local joint. The bottom line is that this is some good ass pizza.
4 – Bang For Your Buck
You are consuming this pizza because it tastes good and you can get it at a reasonable price. You might have to go out of your way to get this deal, but in the end it’s worth it.
5 – I Fucking Need Pizza
You are consuming this pizza because its cheap and available, however the quality will suffer.
6 – Pizza Serendipity
You are consuming this pizza because its delicious and happens to be convenient, although you will be paying a premium for it.
7 – Balanced
This is the sweet spot for pizza consumption. It’s reasonably tasty, convenient, and has a good price.