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The exterior of a Denny's unit

MenuMasters 2017: Denny's

Waking up a breakfast classic with fresh ingredients

Presented by Nation's Restaurant News and sponsored by Ventura Foods, the MenuMasters Awards honor culinary excellence in menu development.

At a breakfast-focused brand like Denny’s, pancakes are big business, and tinkering with them can be a slippery slope.

But tinker they did.

As part of a menu revamp that touched more than 50 percent of Denny’s menu, the Spartanburg, S.C.-based family-dining chain developed a new recipe for buttermilk pancakes. America’s Diner created a fluffier version of its breakfast classic by using fresh buttermilk and eggs. The switch made Denny’s the biggest user of buttermilk in America, the company said.

“We focused on pancakes as a top priority because we know that when people think of classic diner food, pancakes are almost always among one of the top answers,” says Sharon Lykins, Denny’s senior director of product innovation. “We owed it to our guest to provide them the best possible version of one of their favorite diner foods.”

To achieve that, Denny’s had to evaluate how it stores, prepares and sources its food. It also prioritized a company-wide training initiative.


Denny’s updated buttermilk pancake recipe resulted in fluffier flapjacks.

“We made significant investments in our training programs, ensuring that each and every one of the cooks in our restaurants knew the proper way to prepare the new recipe,” Lykins said.

The change is another example of restaurants adapting to current food trends, especially the use of natural, or “real,” ingredients. In Denny’s, case the change seems to be working. The brand cited its recent menu revamp and the new pancakes as key drivers of recent same-store sales increases.

“The better buttermilk pancakes are part of an ongoing move toward more ‘real’ ingredients,” Denny’s president and CEO John Miller said in a statement.

Sales of buttermilk pancakes have risen after the recipe tweaks. Today, 35 percent of Denny’s customers purchase the pancakes, up from 29 percent before the changes.

“Our guests actually thought our old pancakes were great, but we felt like we owed it to them to do better,” Lykins said.


The interior of a Denny's location


  • Fresh ingredients: Denny’s began using fresh eggs, vanilla and buttermilk in its classic pancakes, making it the biggest user of fresh buttermilk in the U.S.
  • Staff training: The new buttermilk pancake recipe required new training. The chain ensures that every cook knows how to prepare the pancakes properly.
  • Same-store sales boost: Customers are gravitating toward the pancakes, with same-store sales rising after the debut.
  • On trend: Using fresh, real ingredients is a widespread restaurant industry trend. Denny’s recipe revamp shows that it’s keyed into what consumers want.
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