The decline of Pizza Express cannot be explained without reference to the meteoric rise of another restaurant chain: Nando’s.
With 340 outlets across the UK, nearly everything on the menu at the Portuguese-style diner involves peri-peri chicken, with a standard meal setting you back about a tenner.
Founded in Johannesburg, its first UK branch opened in Ealing in 1992, with global sales expected to surpass £1 billion this year.
Nando's became a fixture on virtually every British high street during the early part of this decade, and gradually began to claim its status as the go-to location for a cheap and cheerful family meal – bad news for Pizza Express, which had held that title ever since it was floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1993.
Unlike Pizza Express, which tried its best to be a ‘proper’ restaurant but tripped up somewhere along the way, Nando’s leans into its reputation as a ‘fast casual-dining experience’ (as industry insiders call it); not a grab-and-go fast food shop, but not quite a restaurant either.
Like Pizza Hut before it, Nando’s offers a range of salads – favoured by the UK’s growing population of vegans - whilst Pizza Express's salad offering is more limited. And the chain has built hype around its ‘Black Card’ scheme, which entitles a select group to a year of free meals. Ed Sheeran and David Beckham are rumoured to be card-holders.
The chain has also acquired something of a cultural cachet among millennials, with the phrase “cheeky Nando’s” now used widely online. Earlier this year, shortly after the ill-fated political launch of Change UK, the party’s 10 MPs tried to get in on this action by posting a widely-pilloried photo from inside the restaurant.
“This was their chance to send a message about what sort of party they are going to be,” the Telegraph’s Eleanor Steafal wrote at the time, “and so they chose to have a ‘cheeky’ Nando’s – arguably the least partisan restaurant on the high street.”