PizzaExpress is looking to stand-up comedy and celebrity talks to differentiate itself from newer competitors.

According to Marketing Week, the company has launched a new programme called ‘PizzaExpress Live’, which will include comedy nights, as well as sit down talks with “top celebrities” such as Michael Palin.

PizzaExpress already has numerous outlets that run jazz nights, but the new programme will expand on this musical offering by including funk and salsa.

Its Holborn venue is the first restaurant to launch this new programme, with further plans for Maidstone and Birmingham by September. The brand is also looking to launch internationally, with plans for restaurants in the Middle East and Singapore.

While the brand has no above the line activity planned to promote the new entertainment programme, PizzaExpress will be shouting about the events on its social channels.

“What we’re seeing from our consumers is that lunchtime is now a more social occasion, and they want more experience-driven occasions in the evening. So it seemed like a natural fit for the business,” Amanda Royston, head of marketing at PizzaExpress, told Marketing Week.

“We’re appealing to younger and more diverse audiences, and it’s really helping people expect something different from PizzaExpress. It’s a real point of difference, we’re the only brand in the casual dining market that offers this [live experience].”

When asked if PizzaExpress struggles with an image problem and can be seen as “dull” compared to hipper pizza chains, Royston insists it is still well-loved among the British public.

“This absolutely couldn’t be further from the truth – the passion at which people talk about us, suggests it is anything other than dull. Because we have been on the high street for over 50 years, it is easy to make those comments, but if you listen to customers, they are choosing [to eat with] us every single day.”