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Denny's kitchen revamp brings several firsts to the menu

The diner chain is now featuring several savory and sweet items baked on-premises, as well as an interactive augmented-reality presentation of the options.
Denny's new menu features augmented reality. / Photo courtesy of Denny's

With a new equipment package in place, Denny’s is updating its menu to include items baked on premises, a first for the 70-year-old brand.

The addition of ovens has enabled the diner chain to add such options as lasagna, a baked mac ‘n cheese side and a Caramel Apple Pie Crisp dessert. And it opens the door to all sorts of baked items in the future, said John Dillon, the chain’s president.

“We’ve got quite a pipeline in development,” Dillon said, “across all dayparts.”

The $25 million kitchen overhaul has also improved the quality of some staples—“our bacon comes out crisper”—and better preserves some batch-prepped items, he added.

The upshot is less food waste and less time on the grill for some selections, freeing up valuable real estate for more items to be cooked at once. Grill space is typically a valuable commodity for restaurants that need the surface area to griddle pancakes.

The menu rollout is being supported with a new multi-channel national advertising campaign themed, “it’s diner time.”

While many of the new menu options are consistent with the comfort-foods bent of Denny’s, they’re showcased in cutting-edge fashion. The actual bill of fare incorporates augmented reality, or images, sounds and narratives that are called up on guests’ smartphones when the devices are focused on a QR code.

Essentially, the QR code pulls up visuals and spoken information that only appears on the phone. Guests learn more about the brand and what goes into a dish, as well as such trivia as the chain’s signature Grand Slam line being named in honor of legendary baseball slugger Hank Aaron.

“Servers love it because it’s a conversation-starter” with the guest, said Dillon. It also often spares the team member from having to explain an item or how it’s made, he added.

In addition to baked items, the revamped menu features a spicy version of Moons Over My Hammy, a signature breakfast sandwich for the chain.

The kicked-up spicing aligns with Denny’s efforts to bring more millennials and Gen Zers into its fold, Dillon said. Those younger cohorts already account for 45% of Denny’s clientele, according to the chain, but a misperception exists that the brand’s customer base is dying off from old age.

The baked items also fit the chain’s strategic initiative of capitalizing on the off-premise boom, Dillon said. Denny’s to-go and delivery orders currently account for about 21% of a typical store’s sales.

Toward that end, the operation remains bullish on its two delivery-only virtual brands, The Burger Den and The Meltdown. Dillon noted how some chains venturing into that field have cooled on their virtual upstarts. But Denny’s two entrants are a comfortable fit because their periods of highest demand coincide with slow stretches for the mother brand.

In addition to the two virtual operations and the Denny’s brand, the franchisor is also the parent of a breakfast-and-lunch concept called Keke’s.

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