Why are Pizza Boxes Square? (Interesting Facts)
By Robert Parsons April 17th, 2023
One of the longest-running jokes about the pizza is that it is round, divided into triangles, and stored in a square box. There is a pretty good reason for every single one of those, but no one really dwells on it for too long especially when this hot, meaty, cheesy, and greasy goodness is right in front of you.
Then again, it’s nice to know some trivia you can share with your friends and family the next time you have a pizza party. So let’s deal with one of the issues mentioned: why in the world is the pizza box square?!
But before we do a deep dive into the science of the pizza box (yes, this has been researched in decades past!), here’s a brief history of the cardboard contraption.
A Short Backgrounder on the Pizza Box
Back in the 1800s, vendors walked in their neighbourhoods carrying stufas, and copper canisters that kept baked goods warm. When Italians started to migrate to the United States a century later, they brought their much-loved flatbread with them but left these portable ovens behind.
The very first licensed pizzeria in New York, Lombardi’s, rolled the pizza, wrapped it in parchment, and secured it with twine. In operation up to this day, this is still how the restaurant serves take-out orders.
For some reason, this Italian dish became extremely popular across America after the second world war. To keep up with the demand, servers simply slid the whole piece inside large paper bags, using thick cardboard underneath to hold its shape and the toppings well. While there were complaints about the dish’s moisture tearing the thin, fragile paper, it wasn’t until the 1960s that the pizza box – as we now know it – was developed.
Tom Monaghan of the world-renowned Domino’s invented the corrugated box. It was tough but still light, had moisture vents, and is stackable – perfect for to-go pies. Over five decades later, this technology is proving to be unbeatable.
Being Square: Why This Works for Pizza Boxes
Domino’s Monaghan was quite meticulous in designing this container, taking a whole lot of factors into consideration. (Also, let’s be glad he didn’t patent this!) Here are some of the reasons this invention works.
Although the box is square, the pie sits snugly inside, preventing it from sliding or shaking while in transit. The spaces in the corners as well as on top allow air (moisture) circulation so that the crust won’t get too soggy during the drive. Unless your delivery man is a bit reckless and goes over the speed limit, your dish will arrive with a well-baked base and all its toppings perfectly intact. And for many people, that is what really matters.
Great for Stacking
More often than not, delivery men transport several boxes of pies to different locations. Square-shaped packaging is easier to organize, stack, and store than shapes with too many contours. This makes perfect sense when you realize that parcels, suitcases, and baggage are either square or rectangular.
Since these come as flat cardboard pieces assembled on-site right after the dish comes out of the oven, it’s also pretty easy to stock them because they don’t take up too much space.
First of all, the box is made of corrugated cardboard, which is paper essentially. Second, the shape is standardized across the globe. Machines simply cut slots on certain parts on flat, rectangular cardboard and deliver it straight to restaurants. Third, it is very easy to assemble. A box that would fit a medium-sized pizza costs $0.30 (≈ £0.60) to make. That’s just 1% of the cost of a 12-inch pepperoni pizza.
Because boxes are made from paper, they can be recycled or composted. There are certain caveats to this, such as don’t compost the greasy parts or those with plastic coating. But generally speaking, this decades-old packaging idea proves to be sustainable.
Attempting to Circle the Square
Numerous improvements all over the world were made to the quintessential pizza box since its debut. Reconfiguring the box for easier opening, adding more vents to let the steam out, or adding an aluminium lining to keep the heat in are just some examples. But there are a few companies who are trying to put the round pie into a round container.
Pizza Hut, another famous pizza chain, recently introduced the circular container with a matching lid in one of their Phoenix locations. According to a top manager, this has been in development for two years and is sure to improve the dine-at-home experience of their customers.
Aside from ensuring that their dishes will arrive at your doorstep hot and crispy, the packaging is ultra-sustainable. Partnering with Zume, they came up with containers made from plant fibres which, like paper, is compostable.
But years before this fast food chain released its innovation, Apple (yes, that tech giant) has come up with their own round pizza box. The circular container had raised rings at the bottom so the crust won’t sit flat on the base. Attached to it is the lid, with small holes for steam ventilation. While they have filed a patent for this, Apple only uses this in their cafeterias, so you would have to visit them to see it for yourself.
Unfortunately, both companies have not released any information about how much these round receptacles cost so it’s hard to compare their cost-effectiveness with traditional packaging. It has also been a few years since they announce these innovations and, so far, the majority of the pizza chains have not followed suit.
No Complaints, No Problem
Technology is moving fast and it’s possible that we will soon see a rounder iteration of this delivery method. Pizza Hut and Apple aren’t just the only ones coming up with this idea, after all.
But if there is one good reason why the square box has not greatly evolved over the years, it’s that consumers find it perfectly adequate. And who would really complain when their pizza gets to them hot, fresh, delicious, and on time?