Denny’s on Wednesday introduced its long-awaited menu update, just days after unveiling a new marketing platform called “It’s Diner Time.”
The family-dining restaurant chain based in Spartanburg, S.C., has been rolling out kitchen updates and remodels for months, an investment of more than $25 million. Executives said on February’s earnings call that 98% of its units had the new equipment, including ovens, thermalizers and holding equipment, which aims to propel menu development but also to increase efficiency and reduce waste.
“A big part of our launch is refreshing the back of the house,” Denny’s president John Dillon told Nation’s Restaurant News. “We’re really proud of our operators and franchisees for making that kind of commitment during arguably really challenging times… it enables us to serve products that are even more innovative.”
Examples he gave of improvements included crispier bacon and sausage and the ability to batch cook during peak periods. The new equipment has enabled new menu items such as baked mac & cheese, lasagna, and apple crisp desserts.
“The system has embraced the investment and where we’re going as a brand… it’s inspiring,” he said.
The physical menus feature a “bold, bright” new design.
There’s also an augmented reality (AR) experience. Customers can scan a QR code on the front of the menu to be greeted by a virtual Denny’s waitress — a browser-based visual and audio experience; customers don’t need to download an app. There are 13 such AR opportunities throughout the menu, allowing customers to learn Denny’s trivia and history, sign up for the reward program, and “experience Denny’s at a deeper level,” according to Dillon.
“It’s a conversation starter at the table,” he said, adding that Denny’s believes itself to be the first company in the restaurant category to embrace AR at this level.
Though 45% of Denny’s consumer base is millennial and Gen Z, according to Dillon, the technology is being embraced by all generations.
The menus highlight two new sections: “Diner Classics Plus” and “Savory Diners Spotlight.” The sections lean into nostalgia as Denny’s celebrates its 70th anniversary.
Some of the new menu items include:
- Red, White & Blue Pancakes: Blueberry pancakes made with buttermilk and topped with strawberries and cream cheese icing, served with two eggs, hash browns and two pieces of bacon or two sausage links;
- Spicy Moons Over My Hammy: Savory ham, spicy chorizo and scrambled eggs with Swiss and American cheeses and pickled jalapeños on grilled bread, served with hash browns on the side;
- Very Strawberry Cheesecake Milk Shake: Strawberry and cheesecake bites blended with ice cream and topped with whipped cream;
- Mac N’ Brisket Sizzlin’ Skillet: Slow-smoked brisket on a bed of oven-baked mac ‘n cheese and topped with three beer-battered onion rings and BBQ sauce;
- Oven-Baked Lasagna: A four-cheese and seasoned beef combination wrapped in a traditional pasta shell and smothered in Italian sausage and beef meat sauce, topped with Wisconsin provolone cheese and served with classic diner bread;
- Oven-Baked Mac N’ Cheese: A side choice for any dinner entrée;
- Strawberry Pancake Puppies: Shareable bite-sized pancake rounds made with strawberries and white chocolate chips, sprinkled with powdered sugar and served with cream cheese icing.
Though Denny’s has offered spaghetti and meatballs and other pasta menu items in the past, the new ovens allowed them to add oven-baked dishes — “phenomenal products,” according to Dillon.
Meanwhile, Denny’s is also making big moves in marketing. It’s launched a national TV campaign that showcases the “vibe and feeling” of a Denny’s restaurant, according to a release.
The campaign kicked off with free coffee for Denny’s Rewards members on Monday, March 13, after clocks moved forward an hour over the weekend. All rewards members could access a coffee coupon in their digital wallet to redeem for a free cup of coffee from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The company also set up its first-ever Denny’s Pop-Up Coffee Bar on Monday in New York City to give travelers, commuters and residents a free cup of coffee on tap.
Dillon said the pop-up went well, with “hundreds and hundreds of guests — future guests and current guests,” despite the powerful Nor’easter blowing through the region at the time. “People were even more thankful [for free hot coffee] because of the chilly and rainy conditions,” he said. “After Daylight Savings Time, everyone needs a little pick-me-up, needs to know what time it is. Our answer all the time is — it’s Diner Time.”
The “It’s Diner Time” campaign — or “movement,” as Dillon likes to think of it — builds on Denny’s positioning as “America’s Diner,” which the company launched in 2011.
“What you’re seeing with this platform launch is a testament to the confidence of a brand that knows who they are,” Dillon said, adding that this is an internal launch as well as a consumer-facing one. “Throughout training and interactions with operators and franchisees, we’re talking about Diner Time, what it is, what it means to our guests. We’re doubling down on who we are and on the relevancy of a diner in today’s times.”
The full menu and AR functionality as available at all of Denny’s more than 1,400 franchised units nationwide.
Contact Leigh Anne Zinsmeister at [email protected]