I could pick my own toppings, up to two; more cost extra
June 27, 2020 10:16 PM   Subscribe

 
I used my own Dominoes buy one pizza get a second one free coupon while in college. Call it in, they'd take it no problem. I think it had been a valid promotion at one point but then I just kept milking it after the expiration. They never asked for a physical coupon and I guess the shop didn't care so long as I kept paying. I'm sure they made money on me. Still, buying Dominoes in Chicago is some kind of sin.
posted by roue at 10:29 PM on June 27 [9 favorites]


At a certain point this started reading like a "save Pizza Hut" puff piece

That being said, in a much more quotidian sense I have fond memories of the Book It! program. As an inner city dweeb being raised by a hippie public school teacher single mom, I also enjoyed many pizzas

Somewhere around here in a desk drawer I have a 15 year old Domino's coupon that seriously says something like "2 medium pizzas a week for an entire year, $500"
posted by SystematicAbuse at 11:13 PM on June 27 [15 favorites]


I’d graduated to making my own pizza bagels, or driving over to Philly with my friends for a monster slice from Lorenzo & Sons on South Street. ... It does break my heart to think of what the imminent closing of 500 of the chain’s sit-down locations may mean for the next general of resourceful, pizza-loving little bookworms

It's almost like a community outreach program that can be easily scammed doesn't pay off. I'm genuinely unclear on what the author thinks the takeaway from this article should be. "Pizza Hut, it's great if you're pulling one over on the man but if you're spending your own money you can do better. Huh, they're closing."
posted by Candleman at 11:22 PM on June 27 [24 favorites]


As another book-loving poor and rural kid, this article brought back some fond memories. Somewhere in my box of memorabilia is a Book-It! badge I got once. For me, too, any kind of take-out food was a rare treat, and that was the first time in my childhood that I was able to do something to get it for myself. Thanks for posting!
posted by forza at 11:22 PM on June 27 [9 favorites]


I was frequently sick as a child, so reading was one of the only escapes I had as a kid -- I was also a picky eater, so the Book-It program was formative in my life. I was so proud of my Book-It accomplishments that I wore the pin in a school photo one year. The author's note about getting teased for peanut butter/no jelly sandwiches is one of those details that resonates so strongly for that era (as well as the later transition to bagel bites). The DARE program from that same era is rightfully lampooned for its tone deafness, but few people I've encountered recall the Book-It program critically. I'd love to read a study of the program's long-term impact on adult literacy and literary rates.

I would also love to read sources critical of the program because a corporate partnership that creates a strong consumer base among elementary-aged children is objectively suspicious.
posted by lilac girl at 11:23 PM on June 27 [18 favorites]


If I recall correctly, Pizza Hut also gave away tickets to Pirates games if you got A's on your report card.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:42 PM on June 27 [3 favorites]


Book It! is hitting me hard in the feels. I'm 12 years old wearing some Alf/Voltron/Joker shirt

I'm not really in favor of corporate food, but anything that encourages poor kids to read gets my vote
posted by SystematicAbuse at 12:01 AM on June 28 [10 favorites]


Maybe this story doesn't have a message or a moral but is just a reminiscence?
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:11 AM on June 28 [51 favorites]


I'm genuinely unclear on what the author thinks the takeaway from this article should be.

My takeaway was, "Nostalgia makes everything taste better."

Other people have done Pizza Hut before: What Happened To Pizza Hut - A look back on what Pizza Hut used to be like, which I think hits the nostalgia notes better. ( was this a FPP? no that was this, When Pizza Hut Was Cool from a few years ago )
posted by mikelieman at 12:11 AM on June 28 [9 favorites]


Whatever the reasons for Pizza Hut suffering are, I'd bet a ludicrously overstacked salad bar plate that they don't include some kids checking out a few more saucer-sized personal pizzas than they strictly should have.
posted by ominous_paws at 12:19 AM on June 28 [21 favorites]




I bet the feeling of getting away with a scam made the pizza tastier, but as far as I can see they were following the rules, probably much more so than many people who submitted fewer coupons. The books were getting read, after all: they had designed a whole schedule around their need to secure a reliable supply of new literature. It looks to me as if the Book It! program was actually working really well
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:33 AM on June 28 [38 favorites]


Aw man, Iris Gambol. That is disappointing, although I guess entirely predictable. Extrinsic rewards aren’t effective, but I remember free pizza boosting my reading quite a bit. I couldn’t compete on the soccer or track field, but I certainly ate my weight in personal pan pizza. I guess the real reward was the competitive superiority I found along the way.
posted by lilac girl at 12:51 AM on June 28 [12 favorites]


God this article triggered so many deep sense memories for me - that RAD lenticular Book-It badge!! so treasured!! and the specific greasiness of the early 90s personal pan pizza. I would have been reading either way but it was delightful and affirming to have as cool an entity as Big Pizza reinforcing the okayness of the habit.
posted by potrzebie at 1:06 AM on June 28 [3 favorites]


Far be it from me to criticize or advise corporations, but it seems insane to me that Pizza Hut, viewing this outpouring of affection for their institution, would not seek to reclaim it. Is Pizza Hut doing so well as cheap nearly brand-less take out that it would not do better to re-engineer itself as the favored pizza joint of the millenial generation? And their kids? Surely their kids would like to earn pan pizzas, too.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 2:24 AM on June 28 [11 favorites]


Reading this thread I had a sudden very clear flashback to sitting in a booth drinking coke from one of those pebbly brown glasses, with so much ice it was almost a slushie, and waiting for my pizza.
posted by tavella at 2:38 AM on June 28 [37 favorites]


I have very happy memories of Pizza Hut, including being taken out to eat there when my parents told us we were going on a trip TO AMERICA - in the Wimpy wasteland that was 80s England this was a Big Deal - but I gotta say the greasiness of the crust, which seems weird these days, would put me off going often.
posted by ominous_paws at 2:41 AM on June 28 [2 favorites]


With that said - they do still have dine in UK locations, usually in cinema / bowling complexes just outside of town, and there's a sort of warmth to them that puts them far, far ahead of any of the other regular options that show up in those locations.
posted by ominous_paws at 2:43 AM on June 28 [1 favorite]


Ray Walston, Luck Dragon, honestly, I think you've got something there. Most corporations would kill to have the sort of nostalgia that Pizza Hut carries. I don't know that it's something you can sell younger people on, but I know as a voracious reader in grade school in the 80s, I had my share of personal pan pizzas, and I have fond memories of Pizza Hut being a fancy-ish place to go. If I had kids of my own, and a Pizza Hut with table clothes, candles, all of that stuff, I imagine I'd take them there. Maybe they'd like it, or maybe they'd just think dad was being all corny again, but I would bet that, if they brought back that 80s ambience for at least a couple places, it might take off. Get enough of that going, and you might be able to build that sort of generational memory again.

It's not like anyone is ever going to feel a sense of nostalgia towards any of the Yum! brand co-brand restaurants, like chicken-fish, pizza-taco, or any of those other monstrosities that proudly proclaim "everything served here came frozen or bagged, and we don't care that you know it! Consume!"
posted by Ghidorah at 3:58 AM on June 28 [6 favorites]


Whatever the reasons for Pizza Hut suffering are, I'd bet a ludicrously overstacked salad bar plate that they don't include some kids checking out a few more saucer-sized personal pizzas than they strictly should have.

I assume the point of the program was to get families into the restaurant and buying pizzas, salads, and drinks for everyone who didn’t have a coupon. Just like any other promotion
posted by aubilenon at 4:10 AM on June 28 [9 favorites]


I loved that personal pan pizza. A pizza I don’t have to share with anyone, and I get to pick the exact toppings I want! Unimaginably luxurious...
posted by sallybrown at 4:34 AM on June 28 [14 favorites]


I'm about ten years too old to have done this; I don't think that there was even a Pizza Hut in any of the towns that I lived in as a kid. But I would have rocked this so hard if there had been.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:51 AM on June 28 [2 favorites]


This doesn't sound like a scam to me -- he said he went every weekend, after a trip to the library. He was reading the books (and it sounds like he was reading more than the program asked for, if it only took 1 book to get the pizza). Unless the program said "not for bookworms," I think his teacher was the problem for changing the rules.

I understand why it felt illicit to him - he was getting free pizza for a thing he would have done anyway - but if he told any of his friends about it (even if it was only during the phase when he was getting them from his teacher), and that inspired them to read a book more than they would, then it meant the program was working. And if every time he went in (or most times), the person with him bought something, then Pizza Hut got another sale they otherwise wouldn't have had.

That it's got more people talking about Pizza Hut today, presumably when they need it most? I dunno, sounds like they had the better scam going than he did.
posted by Mchelly at 4:54 AM on June 28 [16 favorites]


This reads like a millennial version of reminisce magazine
posted by Ferreous at 4:54 AM on June 28 [8 favorites]


I have a notoriously bad memory ("wait, loki was in the first thor movie? When?"), but I could probably draw to a surprising detail the inside of the pizza hut we used to go to in the 90s. Everything was dark brown and the red of an overdone pepperoni. It had tile flooring. All booths. Arcade games to the right of the counter. These are fond memories
posted by FirstMateKate at 5:30 AM on June 28 [13 favorites]


When I was a kid, the local library system had a summer reading program where for every book you read you got a paper feather to paste onto your owl, and when your owl had all of it's feathers (I think it was 12 or maybe 20) you got to pick a book to take home and own out of a selection of books that were available. Your owl got posted at the main library branch, and then you got to start on a new owl.

I had many owls one summer. Voracious reader at the time.
posted by hippybear at 5:42 AM on June 28 [15 favorites]


Damn, now I want a personal pan pizza.
posted by TedW at 5:51 AM on June 28 [6 favorites]


Been a while since I thought about Book It! My family didn't eat out too much (the description from the article about mostly eating deer meat and whatever was grown in the garden hit home), but it was hard for them to turn me down when I presented my coupon so we'd make a--magical, to me--family trip of it.

I don't think it was unlimited by the time I got to the program (I was in 3rd grade in '95, for reference). I think I only got them at specific intervals.

Later on, I feel like there was a computer test you had to take to prove that you read the book, and there was a list of specific books that qualified. Does anyone remember that? Was it a different program?
posted by geegollygosh at 6:06 AM on June 28 [2 favorites]


The thing I miss most about Pizza Hut is the arcade machines. The very first video game I ever played was at a Pizza Hut, Ms. Pac-Man. It was a flat table-top machine that had little seats on both sides. This was in the mid-80s and I recall the buy in price for a game was .50 which wasn't too bad a deal for me and my parents. They'd give me $2.00 and it'd keep me occupied while we were waiting on the pizza to arrive. I miss those sit-down locations.
drinking coke from one of those pebbly brown glasses, with so much ice it was almost a slushie, and waiting for my pizza.
So much this. I miss those cups so much.
posted by Fizz at 6:20 AM on June 28 [17 favorites]


I think those Ms Pac-Man tabletop games were nearly universal in Pizza Huts. If I had a house that hosted a lot of parties I'd get one because it's a table AND it's a distraction/engagement engine. Party-goers would love it!
posted by hippybear at 6:37 AM on June 28 [3 favorites]


I don't think I quite understand where the scam part comes in. I'm also annoyed that I never heard of this when I was a kid. But then, we were a Little Caesars household. I don't think I knew what Pizza Hut was until I got to high-school.

I grew up with neighbors who were really into running small-time grift on companies. They'd spend hours going back and forth between gates in an elaborate scam to get a family into a nearby theme park for one ticket and were always finding complicated ways to get multiple contest entries and coupons for everything. "Hey, you want to come to the store with us and stand in line by yourself so we can buy a 5th and 6th case of soda with these two-for-one coupons? We'll buy you an ice-cream" was a common sort of thing to hear. I think for them it was a game.
posted by eotvos at 7:11 AM on June 28 [5 favorites]


I distinctly remember Book It as a huge treat, but my school did it differently. You submitted your slips toward a class list, and once you had enough, the whole class got pizza—large pies to share. There was an element of competition with the other class. I loved it; I was reading anyway. But I don’t remember a pan pizza option.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:17 AM on June 28 [1 favorite]


Geegollygosh, I definitely remember the multiple choice computer tests/qualifying books because that was how my middle school tracked who read the most for some sort of school contest. (I remember that I won, though at this point I have no memory of what the prize was - money maybe?)

I also vividly remember that shiny, giant lenticular badge, the squeaky red vinyl seats, and how great I thought pizza was at that age. Aw, childhood.
posted by tautological at 7:23 AM on June 28 [2 favorites]


It does break my heart to think of what the imminent closing of 500 of the chain’s sit-down locations means...

Whatever it means, I’m certain that the widespread attitude that theft from large companies is perfectly acceptable has nothing to do with it.

In fact, you can write pieces about how you used to steal from them (whether you actually did or not) and people will quickly join you in nostalgia without thinking “Hey, I wonder if the cumulative effect of all these people scamming was to make the business untenable.”

Yet another example of why I will never start a business that directly deals with the public.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:28 AM on June 28 [1 favorite]


Based on all of us who participated in Book It and still talk about it, Pizza Hut might have made more from letting kids get away with gaming the free pizza system, through free advertising and word of mouth, than they lost in pizza pies. This kind of thing is why plenty of the streaming services didn’t mind for a while if family members share login info—it
was thought to build buzz for their shows and future customers.

Just spitballing because I imagine the Pizza Hut ad folks or execs who invented Book It would likely have realized that telling kids they get free pizza for reading books might have encouraged kids—a group notorious for lying about doing their summer reading and for loving pizza—to fudge the truth.
posted by sallybrown at 7:36 AM on June 28 [6 favorites]


Later on, I feel like there was a computer test you had to take to prove that you read the book, and there was a list of specific books that qualified.

I remember this being the case for a different program, BookAdventure. You could get various prizes out of it, including books. Here’s what it used to look like, if that rings any bells. This is how I started reading the Warriors books...
posted by brook horse at 7:39 AM on June 28


My favorite thing about Pizza Hut during the Book It era was the jukeboxes, followed closely behind by the soft ice.
posted by box at 7:41 AM on June 28 [1 favorite]


So much this. I miss those cups so much.

Could you use a box of 72? Buck fifty per cup.
posted by klausman at 7:42 AM on June 28 [9 favorites]


It's almost like a community outreach program that can be easily scammed doesn't pay off. I'm genuinely unclear on what the author thinks the takeaway from this article should be. "Pizza Hut, it's great if you're pulling one over on the man but if you're spending your own money you can do better. Huh, they're closing."

This seems like an unkind take. I am 100% sure Pizza Hut knew that they ran the risk of being "scammed" by a bunch of 9-year-olds. Someone somewhere made a spreadsheet that decided that a combination of (1) profit from the sodas, salads, and parents' pizza, (2) repeat business from kids/parents who appreciated the program, (3) huge amounts of community goodwill, and (4) whatever tax incentives/actual reimbursement they got for giving out free food, were worth more than the ~$.50 cost of ingredients and labor they lost on every free pizza they gave out.
posted by Mayor West at 7:47 AM on June 28 [32 favorites]


Also now I'm going to go look it up, but $5 says the decline of Pizza Hut has nothing to do with losses it takes on free pizzas, and everything to do with newly-installed C-level management that decided to reorganize everything to try to squeeze every last dollar out of its franchisees.
posted by Mayor West at 7:49 AM on June 28 [51 favorites]


They should have spread those crumbly crusty Parmesan breadsticks far and wide. I would have bought those every time I walked down the street if I could have.
posted by sallybrown at 7:51 AM on June 28 [5 favorites]


It sounds like even once Nanny was in on the deal, he was reading the books, so not exactly a scam.

However, I would to confess my own reading-program fraud. When I was a kid we did the MS (Multiple Sclerosis) Read-A-Thon every year. You would get people to sponsor you (i.e. have my mom take the form to work, where surely she was being hustled by all the other parents, too) and have them promise to give you 10 cents or 5 cents or whatever for each book you read. I read crazy numbers of books and I remember some people were annoyed that they had to pay out more than they expected. I also remember the school librarian remarking that though they'd had students read lots of books before, they'd never had anyone raise as much money as I did. Over $100! I won a stuffy of a detective dog (the MS society mascot who was looking for clues to cure MS).

Anyway, the form you had to fill out listed each book you read, but it had pretty small spaces for each book, so my mom would write them in. One day she was writing in the books before we went to the library to return books and she listed some that I hadn't read. Maybe 3-5 books. I decided I didn't want to read them and was just going to return them. I remember one was Bunnicula. So in my child-like honesty panic I told her "no, no, i didn't read those, I can't put those!" but she said "Oh, whatever, it doesn't matter." (liquid paper was not a thing we had at home, it would have been a hassle to fix).

It was such a small proportion of the books I read over the course of that month, but the guilt haunts me still. I keep thinking I should read Bunnicula as some sort of penance.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:59 AM on June 28 [29 favorites]


Well, look at that. The brand was already in trouble because people stopped eating pizza at restaurants and started ordering it for delivery, and the Hut never adjusted its store models to compensate. In fact, they pivoted in the other direction, trying to rebrand as a more upscale Italian eatery, which failed quickly and thoroughly. Then the 2008 recession crushed most restaurant chains, and when the recession lifted, Pizza Hut had its lunch eaten by a bunch of other chains offering lower prices for similar quality. Things went from bad to worse when the parent company was sued by a bunch of delivery drivers for minimum wage violations.
posted by Mayor West at 7:59 AM on June 28 [9 favorites]


It sounds like even once Nanny was in on the deal, he was reading the books, so not exactly a scam.

I suspect he is she.
posted by BWA at 8:15 AM on June 28 [11 favorites]


I suspect he is she.

Yes, it seems so. Apologies to the writer on the off chance she should read this. I didn't even look at the author's name and just did the "default male" thing that I'm trying so hard not to teach my son.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:22 AM on June 28 [8 favorites]


IIOHAP, you should read Bunnicula because it's cute and funny! And it will probably take you a few hours, tops.

I never got into the Bookit program but we did frequently scam PH in high school by ordering salad bar for one person and then we all ate off her plate.
posted by emjaybee at 8:28 AM on June 28 [10 favorites]


Wasn't Pizza Hut the chain that had a salad bar policy that teens learned how to game by creating enormous Jenga-like stacks of carrots and celery containing all the good things on the bar in one plate? It was a viral fad for a while.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:31 AM on June 28 [2 favorites]


Growing up, my family's One Weird Trick to order pizza at Papa Ginos was to take advantage of a deal where if you ordered any super deluxe pizza (meat lovers, veggie, pepperoni supremo, etc) you could get additional cheese pizzas for some ridiculous price ($5? I think this was the early 1990s). There was no limit on the number of additional pizzas you could order and each one could have additional toppings for the normal extra charge.

At big family summer gatherings, we'd often get 1 deluxe extra pepperoni pizzas and like seven or eight other pizzas. I can still remember my aunt being on the phone starting off the order by invoking this deal.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 8:31 AM on June 28


The problem is not that the author got a few bucks of illicit free pizza as a kid, it's that despite the heavy love of it as childhood empowerment, when the author started spending money on pizza, she spent it elsewhere. I don't begrudge someone wanting better quality than Pizza Hut, who did seem to have a steep quality in decline from the 80s/early 90s, but bemoaning that the chain is shutting down restaurants that you would only support when it was free is strange.
posted by Candleman at 8:35 AM on June 28


I suspect he is she.

Oops I made that mistake too -- thanks for pointing it out
posted by Mchelly at 8:39 AM on June 28


Truly we all have an equal share of responsibility in the decline of Pizza Hut
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 8:40 AM on June 28 [22 favorites]


Thanks, Mayor West, that verifies my suspicions. Trust me, it wasn't a few personal pizzas that broke the Hut, especially if they ran a lunch buffet at the brick and mortar stores. I worked at a Godfather's for a short time in the late eighties, and since the last thing that they wanted was for the lunch buffet to run out of anything, and since any leftover pizza would get tossed otherwise, we had the choice of either having a personal pizza for our lunch or just finishing off the lunch leftovers, which would sometimes be the equivalent of two large pies. Probably my favorite side-benefit of any of my pre-library jobs. Some kid gaming the Book It! system would have been a rounding error in that business model.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:57 AM on June 28 [2 favorites]


When I was a kid, the local library system had a summer reading program where for every book you read you got a paper feather to paste onto your owl, and when your owl had all of it's feathers (I think it was 12 or maybe 20) you got to pick a book to take home and own out of a selection of books that were available. Your owl got posted at the main library branch, and then you got to start on a new owl.

I had many owls one summer. Voracious reader at the time.


Well now I'm all kinds of confused, because I want owl pizza
posted by sugar and confetti at 8:58 AM on June 28 [5 favorites]


I will suggest that your interest in owl pizza goes against most basic socially acceptable trends, but I cannot help what you crave and I suggest you not publicize it once you finally get what you want.
posted by hippybear at 9:06 AM on June 28 [3 favorites]


I’m confused, are we discussing Pizza Hut or Owlive Garden
posted by oulipian at 9:11 AM on June 28 [6 favorites]


But can we talk about those giant paper packages the Little Caesars pizzas used to come in back when they always gave you two for one? That's my true pizza nostalgia
posted by SystematicAbuse at 9:15 AM on June 28 [7 favorites]


Wasn't Pizza Hut the chain that had a salad bar policy that teens learned how to game by creating enormous Jenga-like stacks of carrots and celery containing all the good things on the bar in one plate?

It was! That was a big part of why I loved Pizza Hut sit in meals as a kid. I didn't actually like the salad that much, but enjoyed the implied construction challenge.

My own personal food "scam" was the McDonalds Trivial Pursuit scratch cards, which unlike many other offers had the advantage of having an actual correct answer, so you were guaranteed a win of fries at least. Our town centre McD's happened to be a 1 minute walk from the library, so armed with the knowledge that due to UK promotion laws you could simply request a scratch card without purchase, we were able to save some precious pocket money for the Street Fighter 2 machine.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 9:16 AM on June 28 [2 favorites]


Pizza Hut was the only chain restaurant in my hometown, and I also did Book-it. Sadly my dad stole the oregano and parmesan shakers and my mom wouldn't go back, so I only got to go there for school trips etc. I bike past a Pizza Hut on my commute (well, did, back when commuting was a thing), and I have to say it still smells exactly the same.

My childhood Pizza Hut closed a few years back and had a brief reanimation as "Bud Hut" at the beginning of CO's legalization boom - the proprietors painted it green and put a big pot leaf on the sign. I believe Bud Hut has now also gone out of business.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:24 AM on June 28 [5 favorites]


People's puritan resistance to ordering the owl pizza they crave is clearly the reason for the downfall of owlive garden and, to me, is morally disgusting
posted by ominous_paws at 9:28 AM on June 28 [6 favorites]


I never had the bookit program and I suspect it's because my school district had such a high proportion of Italians who would not look kindly on the school encouraging them to take their kids to patronize such a blasphemous insult to Italian cuisine as pizza hut.
posted by Jon_Evil at 9:40 AM on June 28


I guess the restaurant's cost for such a free pizza was under 50 cents (in today's dollars), so the value of getting 1 or 2 adults in the door was clearly worth it, however the system might have been gamed.

Probably that analysis is why my family never particupated in this program, despite having 3 kids who could have all racked up multiple coupons per week (or sometimes per day). The one we did do was Radio Shack's free battery a month card, so many 9v's to lick.
posted by joeyh at 10:14 AM on June 28 [3 favorites]


I feel a bit like we're in a YA dystopian hell when the lack of Eternal Loyalty developed at the age of 9 through a program that was supposedly partly developed to encourage kids to read is held up as the reason for failure, rather than placed on the adults running the company all that time.

I loved the nostalgia in this piece; it brought to mind all the books competitions (MS fundraiser! Library Summer Book Club!) I valiantly participated in. I didn't need any incentive to read - I think I got yelled at more, by my highly academic non-athletic parents, for reading instead of doing chores and to get outside (tip: reading under a tree is the bomb) than for anything else. But because you had to have diverse books on your list, I couldn't /only/ commit the Laura Ingalls Wilder and Cherry Ames books to memory alongside every Black Stallion spin-off.

As for fast food chains, I think they are doomed for a few reasons, and my family story is one of them.

My parents bought their house, within easy biking distance of the downtown core, for roughly 2.2x my father's annual academic salary, which covered all our basic expenses including a car and modest vacations. My mother worked various part-time or flex-hour jobs, which afforded our family an income property (still owned by my parents), luxury vacations, and two weekly meals out - usually Fridays at Mothers Pizza, which is exactly the Pizza Hut market down to the salad bar, and Sunday afternoon McDonalds, plus occasional other restaurant and takeout treats. My university tuition for the first year I left their home was $1200. That is not missing a zero.

My husband and I bought our house at roughly 4x our annual combined salaries, and now it's worth almost 8x our annual combined salaries, partly because of a crazy market and partly because - our salaries have not kept pace. I have no idea how people younger than us buy houses. We do not live within biking distance of the downtown core. We can just barely meet our basic expenses on his salary, without vacations, and without our second car. When we were paying for childcare, childcare and commuting costs were 105% of my salary. My son's first year of tuition will likely be in the $15,000 range if he goes locally.

So basically, when I look at the cost of a dinner out at Pizza Hut including tip and taxes, well, let's just say that Saturday night is Pizza Night at our house but we make it ourselves from scratch.

Additionally, in between my parents and I has come a reckoning in my family around the costs of a "Happy" Meal, not just for us (and I know fast food is something a lot of families depend on) but also in exploitation of labour, environmental costs, the impact on our health, and the driving out of local businesses that aren't franchises. These are prices we are generally not willing to pay. Because we're humans in the world, my kids do occasionally get to go to McDonalds, sometimes even as a reward for completing academic terms, like maybe 4 times a year.

Anyways...go this family for having enjoyed the fruits of a book club coupon program while it lasted and creating fond memories.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:17 AM on June 28 [24 favorites]


My own personal food "scam" was the McDonalds Trivial Pursuit scratch cards, which unlike many other offers had the advantage of having an actual correct answer, so you were guaranteed a win of fries at least. Our town centre McD's happened to be a 1 minute walk from the library, so armed with the knowledge that due to UK promotion laws you could simply request a scratch card without purchase, we were able to save some precious pocket money for the Street Fighter 2 machine.

I remember that promotion, because I was working telephone reference in a medium-large city library at the time, and we were driven to distraction by people calling in for the answers... until I realized that a) our relatively primitive dumb terminals (this was shortly before the department got a proper PC with internet access) had Lynx, and b) someone had put up a web site that collected all the answers to that trivia game and was completely amenable to Lynx's text-based interface, so internet to the rescue! In fact, that may have convinced my boss to get us that first Netscape-running PC.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:07 AM on June 28 [10 favorites]


Growing up, my family's One Weird Trick to order pizza at Papa Ginos was to take advantage of a deal where if you ordered any super deluxe pizza (meat lovers, veggie, pepperoni supremo, etc) you could get additional cheese pizzas for some ridiculous price ($5? I think this was the early 1990s). There was no limit on the number of additional pizzas you could order and each one could have additional toppings for the normal extra charge.

The Pizza Hut version of that deal was regular price, four bucks, four bucks, four bucks, four bucks. Our local Manny & Olgas still has a similar offer.
posted by fedward at 11:09 AM on June 28 [5 favorites]


I don't think I had access to the ReadIt! program (either timing or the fact I went to a private elementary school), but I did grow up in a smallish town in which Pizza Hut was one of maybe 5 non-diner/truckstop sit-down restaurants*. I have never liked thick crust pizza, but something about the allure of the Personal Pan Pizza meant I simply had no choice: A pizza all for me? No compromising on half a pizza that did not have the nasty shit (vegetables) my parents liked on their pizza? An pizza over which I ruled with a tiny cast iron fist? Bring me that half-burned half-raw wheel of goop, my good server! I can still taste that weirdly sweet overcooked edge. It took a long time to actually chew all the cheese.

If you have access to a restaurant supply store, you can usually find the 20- and 32-oz pebbly drinking glasses, but mostly only in clear. The red or brown ones seem to have been lost to time. They are very nearly indestructible though, if you're looking for unbreakable glasses for pool/camping/life with small kids.

*There was a local sit-down pizza place that was similarly dark and moody, and the pizza was a million times better, and far more worth the agonized pizza-splitting negotiations and the occasional encroachment of an olive or green pepper onto my pristine sausage-and-mushroom zone. Also? Little Italy had tabletop Joust, which was way better than any member of the Pac Man family.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:10 AM on June 28 [1 favorite]


To the extent this is running a scam on Pizza Hut, the scam is 1) the author would've read those books anyway, and 2) only brought one adult with her, that only ordered salad. This is only a scam as much as that one family in The Jungle scammed their mortgage company by paying up in full and on time.
posted by ckape at 11:29 AM on June 28 [6 favorites]


I'm 12 years old wearing some Alf/Voltron/Joker shirt

in my headcanon this is a single shirt design & I would like to own one please

forever grateful to the summer reading program which introduced me to Diana Wynne Jones via Eight Days of Luke; it was not affiliated with Book It! so there were no Pizza Hut coupons, just those little fuzzy ball things with eyes & feet, and my family would continue to order the same thin crust sausage & mushroom pizza from Infusino's for the rest of its duration as a nuclear family unit

one of the Infusino sons was in my class & my dad frequently suggested I should marry him
posted by taquito sunrise at 12:23 PM on June 28 [5 favorites]


I have no idea how people younger than us buy houses.

This is an endless source of justified griping here in Vancouver, where houses are now something like 23x the median salary, but the answers are some combination of a) help from parents b) extreme overleveraging c) somehow accrued unreasonable amount of money or d) they don't!
posted by Jon Mitchell at 1:20 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]


geegollygosh, I remember this as the Accelerated Reader program. I played it. I made my first real enemy (someone who hated me rather than disdained or ignored me) the year I scored over 600 points (okay, it was 610, how do I still remember that?!) and she was mad because she and I were basically in a two-horse race but I was outpacing her. At my school, there was an Accelerated Reader Store where you could use your points to buy things. The last day it was open that year I had to get a pass from my teacher to go to the library and I returned half an hour later completely laden down with cheap pencils, erasers, stickers, and little plastic swag. But like the author of the article, I would have been reading all those books anyway.
posted by Night_owl at 1:34 PM on June 28 [5 favorites]


I have some fond memories of Pizza Hut, which I've consumed in several locations around the world. I will miss their greasy, crispy crust dipped into some kind of garlic or tatziki sauce.

Although, looking back on in now, I wonder if she even really LIKED Pizza Hut.


Food for thought.
posted by some loser at 3:55 PM on June 28


I am completely befuddled by Pizza Hut nostalgia, although I am 100% on board with sticking-it-to-the-man nostalgia. There was a satellite location at my college's alternate dining hall ('90s) and the pizza was disgusting- soggy, greasy, uncooked doughy etc. to the point that just hearing the words "Pizza Hut" makes me feel queasy to this day. Having said that, I recently sampled some of their thin or regular crust (Larry David Syndrome, Jr. loves Pizza Hut) and it was actually perfectly acceptable as long as no one refers to its origin. Maybe "my" satellite location was unusually bad, but it engendered the strongest anti-brand loyalty imaginable.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 4:10 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]


Larry David Syndrome, the pizza was really much better in the 80s than in the 90s.
posted by Easy problem of consciousness at 4:56 PM on June 28 [7 favorites]


Maybe "my" satellite location was unusually bad

The last round of "Pizza Hut" is in trouble stories, iirc, did mention that there were a lot of bad franchises; also, I think they were losing money on the buffet.

I searched for similar articles this time, and it seems that the nostalgia for the family meals of yore, as seen above, is not translating into sales. Their dine in restaurants are losing money, which is why they are closing them and throwing down with the dismal takeout stands.
posted by thelonius at 5:09 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]


I loved Pizza Hut in the nineties, and even after discovering a larger world of more gourmet pizza restaurants, still crave their deep dish pizza as it was made... in the 90s. Whatever you get when you order a deep dish pizza from Pizza Hut in 2020 isn't that, and it hasn't been for probably 20 years now. They changed it, and it tastes like plastic vomit. They could change it back, if they wanted to, and I'd happily start ordering it from them again. Like, this is not rocket science. You don't need to lean on nostalgia, or even experiment... just go back to the 90s recipe! Call it Classic Deep Dish a la Coca-Cola.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 7:05 PM on June 28 [3 favorites]


The thing I miss most about Pizza Hut is the arcade machines. The very first video game I ever played was at a Pizza Hut, Ms. Pac-Man.

Seconded. The first arcade game I ever got to put my initials into was a Pizza Hut Centipede.
posted by rifflesby at 8:50 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]


Ours had Missile Command for a while. That game is tough!
posted by Chrysostom at 8:52 PM on June 28


There's a pizza hut across the street from me. Take-out/delivery only. I very occasionally (like once every 3-5 years) have a hankering for this style of pizza. The last time I ate it, I remember that I was thinking about a study I heard about once that showed that in addition to fatty diets putting you at risk of heart disease in general, the risk of heart attack is higher after eating a high fat meal than a regular or low-fat meal. And I swear after I ate this pizza, I could FEEL it. Like I didn't think a heart attack was imminent. I wasn't having chest pain, but I just had this sense of "my body does now know how to deal with this and it is just not working correctly right now." I swear i could feel like my cardiovascular system was just completely overloaded or something.

I would tell this to my doctor, but once I told her that I feel like I have trouble breathing after I eat fake chinese food (like the kind you get in a mall food court). And instead of solving my problem, she told me that I probably shouldn't eat it then.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:59 PM on June 28 [6 favorites]


Do not discount the bored mind of a poor child.

There was no book-it for my school growing up, I think that came a little later. I was a cub scout. I had nothing to do all summer so I devoured the cub scout handbook. I proceeded to do every project in the book I could physically do. I really did it. And my next cub scout meeting I had to report all my new found projects I completed. I just remember my checkmarks on the paper showing I tripled everyone else over the same period. They accused me of cheating and hurt my feelings. I quit the cub scouts.

Bored poor children will kill programs like bookit.
posted by andryeevna at 9:09 PM on June 28 [5 favorites]


And instead of solving my problem, she told me that I probably shouldn't eat it then.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 11:59 PM

I can sympathize with the too-much-chesse dysphoria...

BTW, that routine goes back to vaudeville:

"Doctor, it hurts when I do THIS!"
"Don't DO that."
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 11:31 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]


lapl had summer reading programs in the 70s but IIRC the prizes were gift certificates from McDonald's
posted by brujita at 12:02 AM on June 29


Ours had Missile Command for a while. That game is tough!

DEFEND CITIES
posted by thelonius at 12:03 AM on June 29


Am I the only one with a German friend who thought "Pizza Hut" was "Pizza Hat"?

Visiting places only for special deals and then shedding crocodile tears when they close is a time-honored tradition. (Restaurant Week, anyone?) I've worked at one of the big book chains. They have a kids' summer reading program that gets you a free book when you fill out a reading diary. People come in all summer long until they have all the free books on offer that year. It's labeled one per customer but there is no real way to enforce that. You're supposed to take the diary home and read the books and bring it back; people sit in the store and fill them out. I wish it were kids with initiative like this writer, but it's the parents and I doubt whether any given kid really wants more than one or two of the books. (Only a few will be for your age group and interests.) Still, it seems to be something the publishers encourage; a lot of the books are the first in a series or something. As someone working in a kids department, having to garden the displays and keep the books stocked was a big part of the job all summer. Not to mention explaining that no, it was only the books on the display, not adult books, not manga. No, you don't bring in a kid's reading diary and get a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey.
posted by BibiRose at 4:28 AM on June 29


It was interesting to see a piece like this in Food & Wine, which I vaguely associate with more upper-middle-class food references.

I'd never heard of the Book It! Program before. A business a couple of towns over did have a summer reading program that allowed us to earn ice cream. Despite being a voracious reader, I don't think I ever collected on it. I don't think I had to do anything more complicated than fill out the form with the books I'd read .... but managing to not lose the form, remembering to write down the books, and then have the form on me when we happened to go into town, and then persuade a parent to take us to the ice cream place so I could redeem it was a lot for a kid with undiagnosed ADHD. I think I always lost the form, rendering the other issues moot. My parents wouldn't have been particularly motivated to help me read more or eat more ice cream - they were readers themselves but frustrated by my tendency to escape into boos rather than do homework, complete chores, interact with the family, etc.

I’m confused, are we discussing Pizza Hut or Owlive Garden
Pizza Hoot, perhaps?

A company running such a program would have kept track of how much it cost them and would have cut or adjusted the program if it was costing them too much. For every kid like the writer, there were likely hundreds who ignored the program entirely or engaged only minimally because they didn't read, weren't organized, didn't have family support (to keep track of slips, drive them to the restaurant), or weren't motivated by food insecurity.
posted by bunderful at 6:20 AM on June 29 [1 favorite]


I was too old for this program and I didn't even know it existed but I remember when we got a Pizza Hut in our Queens neighborhood. Every week I would take my babysitting money, go to the library, take out a bunch of books, and bring them to Pizza Hut for a personal pan pizza (pepperoni), the salad bar, and a soda, and start reading my books. It's the first tipping restaurant I ever went to on my own when I was a teenager. I have a very strong memory of the taste and textures of all the food (I always put beets and sunflower seeds on my salad and I can still taste them). I haven't been to a Pizza Hut in decades, but those personal pan pizzas back in the 1970s were so good, and going there by myself was always the highlight of my week.
posted by ceejaytee at 6:44 AM on June 29 [7 favorites]


They still run these programs, or similar ones, like the library ones mentioned above, and a personal Pizza Hut pizza is one of the many options for summer reading. She doesn't really explain the 'scam', but nowadays they give you like 50 if you ask for them (especially at the library) (most have many different fast food and some a few local restaurants of the fast-ish food type. They are really a scam for the parents, as you have to drive over to Pizza Hut or Burger King or whatever, and order adult food (and a drink generally).
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:41 AM on June 29


Okay, seriously though, let's get back to the Bunnicula series. That rabbit would definitely like the bottomless salad bar.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 9:49 AM on June 29 [4 favorites]


The Ms. Pac-Man table - with a speed chip in it - was the machine at our Pizza Hut and we played the hell out of it.

When I got my first loan check in grad school - barely enough to cover rent/insurance/utilities, and I am sure with an unreasonable interest rate - I very irresponsibly used the yellow pages (!!!) to find a coin-op dealer and buy one. I was single and remember thinking that I'd probably never be at a point in life where a future partner would say "we should get a Ms. Pac-Man table and put it in our house" so I'd better do it right then. It was the smartest thing I did.
posted by AgentRocket at 9:59 AM on June 29 [6 favorites]


I don't think even well-done nostalgia would save Pizza Hut. The era they thrived in, the 70s and 80s, was a different environment. In the 70s, there were four sit-down restaurants in my area of Arlington: El Sombrero, Shanghai, Pizza Hut, and The Alpine, which was the Fancy Place for special occasions. Now there's more than that in just the Lee Harrison strip mall. Areas with more history of Italian immigrants probably had local pizza places, but for many places if you wanted to get anything but takeout pizza (and even that was not so big a thing in the 70s as later), you went to Pizza Hut.
posted by tavella at 10:11 AM on June 29


Pizza Hoot, perhaps?

As the instigator of the Owline Garden pun, I just want to note that bunderful's pun is far superior. 🦉
posted by oulipian at 11:05 AM on June 29 [1 favorite]


When I was a young child, I called it Pizza Roof.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:18 PM on June 29 [4 favorites]


I assume the point of the program was to get families into the restaurant and buying pizzas, salads, and drinks for everyone who didn’t have a coupon.

Yes, and as a single mom, poor grad student, I hated it. I didn't want to deprive my child who earned the free pizza of a reward, but I also didn't want to take him out to get his pizza (no drink) by himself. So it was a program that made me feel forced into spending money I didn't have.
The only thing I hated more was those programs where the kids are supposed to sell junk to earn money for the school. They would dangle cheap prizes in front of those kids, promising them fancy electronics if they met impossible sales goals. Parents with money could just buy whatever crap they were selling to reward their own kids. Saying no to it was agonizing, but saying yes was infuriating.
posted by FencingGal at 12:31 PM on June 29 [5 favorites]


the pizza was really much better in the 80s than in the 90s.

Is this true? As upthread, it still *smells* the same. I always assumed it started seeming worse because I started being exposed to better pizza.
posted by aspersioncast at 12:32 PM on June 29


Speaking as someone who ate a lot of Book It pizzas in the '80s, and whose HR department bought Pizza Hut lunch for us today, I think the pizza is about the same (they supposedly changed the pan pizza recipe in 2019 for the first time in forty years).

A few trends--better frozen pizzas, wider popularity of fancy (e.g. brick-oven and whatnot) pizza, me acquiring a grown-up palate and a grown-up's nostalgia--combine to make it seem to me like Pizza Hut pizza was much better in the '80s.
posted by box at 1:30 PM on June 29 [1 favorite]


The only thing I hated more was those programs where the kids are supposed to sell junk to earn money for the school.

You and me both, as a student and a parent.

the pizza was really much better in the 80s than in the 90s.
IDK, but it's a pretty common trope because restaurants changed to healthier oils to reduce trans fats, so people say it changed the taste of fried foods.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:35 PM on June 29


This makes me think we need a post about weepuls
posted by SystematicAbuse at 1:39 PM on June 29 [3 favorites]


It makes me think we need a post about that shelf of free community service videos they used to have in Blockbuster Video stores, but I haven't been able to find a list of them. I did, however, find one of the videos--1986's anti-teen-sex 'How Can I Tell if I'm Really in Love,' starring Justine Bateman, Jason Bateman, and Ted Danson.
posted by box at 2:43 PM on June 29 [1 favorite]


The Little Caesar's near us had a little game, essentially the Simon game, where the prize was free breadsticks. I think you only had to get 8 colors in a row, which wasn't in the least bit difficult with a bit of practice, so we would always get breadsticks for $.25 when they cost $2 or something like that in the 90s. Stickin' it to the emperor! Given that the ingredients for breadsticks cost something like $.25 in bulk at that time, I suppose they weren't losing much on that. We couldn't afford to eat out much so Little Caesar's couponing was an art form, though. I still beat myself up if I order pizza without looking through the website, newspaper, and whatever that blue envelope is to find the cheapest deal, even though I am now fortunate enough (and we order pizza infrequently enough) that it has zero impact on our financial situation.
posted by wnissen at 3:37 PM on June 29


This makes me think we need a post about weepuls

I covered that under my prior username.
posted by sugar and confetti at 4:02 PM on June 29 [1 favorite]


BookIt! brings back allll the memories. I was one of those "weird" (according to some teachers and many, many classmates) kids who was always reading and also read very fast, so I had no trouble racking up the books. I don't remember slips signed by teachers, though--I remember a purple pin/button with star stickers that represented the books you'd read. And after you got a got all the stars you'd get the pizza, I think?

The irony of it all is that I was also the weird kid who didn't like pizza (still am!). Or whichever soda my local franchise was licensed to carry (I loved Pepsi as a kid until one day I hated it, so I don't remember if the had Coke and I wanted Pepsi, or if I'd switched to hating Pepsi and that's all they had). So I rarely actually wanted to go redeem my free pizza.

We were also poor (as much as my mom tried to pretend we weren't), so we'd still go, just my mom and me, and I'd slip her the pizza and go to the salad bar which I actually really loved, and I'd load up on iceberg lettuce with croutons and sunflower seeds and "bleu cheese" dressing.

Also sometimes there were other prizes I wanted, so I'd go for those. I held on to this ridiculous pair of what I called stoplight sunglasses (the ones in the upper left) for many years after I outgrew BookIt! and got prescription glasses so I couldn't even wear the sunglasses.

I also had a distinct memory of sitting at a computer in the library media center taking multiple-choice tests about books. I don't think that was for BookIt--for some reason I've always vaguely remembered it as some sort of assessment the school participated in to show how many books their students read? Or how advanced their readers were? Maybe it was a state-sponsored thing, maybe it was a competition? I don't know, but I remember thinking the questions were very poorly-phrased.

Damn shame none of those programs helped me with my memory.
posted by rhiannonstone at 10:07 PM on June 29 [3 favorites]


The Accelerated Reader program sounds right for the multiple-choice quizzes, both the name and the reason for the program. But if Wiki is right that they started in 1998 it's definitely not it, because I remember taking the test when I was 11, in 1992.

Oh, no, looks like it started much earlier, so I think that was it!
posted by rhiannonstone at 10:17 PM on June 29


My school also did BookIt! but like rhiannonstone, ours were buttons with stickers, so I don't remember going that much. Until I got to that comment, I was starting to think it was just because we were poor and I read so much more than my siblings and I do remember having to wait until they also filled up their buttons before we would go. Probably about once a month I would say.

I am not a fan of pizza hut, but that's mostly because I don't really like tomato/marinara sauce and they always put too much on their pizzas. (My perfect pizza night is actually just a bag of crazy bread from Little Caesar's, I buy one just for myself and be sure to let anyone else eating with me that its mine and I'm not sharing but they can eat all the pizza they want.)

I changed school districts a few years later and in middle school we did Accelerated Reader....which is why I read Gone with the Wind when I was like 11/12. It had the most points on the list. I still have a monopoly game that I got at the end of the year with all my points.

But still, the best of all the reading programs was one that was done with Six Flags, where if you read for 300 minutes, you got a free ticket. Of course its the parents filling it out, and we never cheated with mine but I'm sure they did for either my brother or sister or both. Literally the only reason I went to Six Flags every year from like age 6-12 was from that program and with 3 kids we wouldn't have been able to go at all without it.
posted by LizBoBiz at 5:05 AM on June 30


My wife was out of town for four days, which meant that I had four opportunities to eat out wherever *I* wanted, and now I'm sad I didn't use one of those days for Pizza Hut. We apparently still have two of the sit-down restaurants here in town; both used to be out on the edge of town in the 1970s but now are in the thick of it.

Growing up in North Dakota, Minnesota, and Montana, Pizza Hut was always the 'nice'/'safe' sit down restaurant in towns of a couple thousand people. Friends who lived in towns so small I didn't think they'd have any chain restaurants reminisced that their first job was Pizza Hut; I recently watched an old videotape from Western North Dakota, and not one, but two commercials referenced the business location by a cardinal direction from the Williston Pizza Hut. Whatever Pizza Hut's business model was, the key to success in the 1970s-1980s was apparently opening up a Perkins-level dining experience in towns too small for a chain family restaurant.
posted by AzraelBrown at 7:05 AM on June 30 [1 favorite]


(they supposedly changed the pan pizza recipe in 2019 for the first time in forty years).

That's not true. I mean maybe the recipe was basically the same, but something changed.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 8:54 AM on June 30 [1 favorite]


I haven't had a Pizza Hut pizza in close to 20 years, so can't speak to that. But it's also possible that your sense of taste changed - mine certainly has. For instance I used to eat Junior Mints and drink milk; either fills me with revulsion these days. I suppose Junior Mints and milk both could have changed since I was a kid in the 80s, but as I sip a Campari or mow through some kimchi I have to guess that my palate has changed, too.
posted by aspersioncast at 7:04 AM on July 5


It makes me think we need a post about that shelf of free community service videos they used to have in Blockbuster Video stores, but I haven't been able to find a list of them.
I'd very nearly forgotten about those. Please make a post!

"How to Hunt Rabbits and Squirrels" was my favorite. I must have checked it out 5 times. As I recall, it was just a cameraperson following around a couple of guys and their dogs while they shot at animals in trees. As a kid who had never met a hunter and very rarely heard those accents, I found it fascinating. (Teaching people how to get free protein is a good thing. But, very hard to implement within 20 miles of that blockbuster.)
posted by eotvos at 8:13 AM on July 5 [3 favorites]


(Also, I think that Pizza Hut pizza, like most chain restaurant food, tastes best immediately out of the oven, which would make the Pizza Hut pizza that one eats at the restaurant tastier than the PH pizza that one eats out of a delivery box.)
posted by box at 9:40 AM on July 6 [2 favorites]


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