Denny’s has a reputation as a place for affordable American comfort food, but the 1,600-unit family dining chain is trying to expand its market with value meals, healthful menu items and a new marketing initiative.
Two of its initiatives are its $2 $4 $6 $8 value meals and its Fit Fare program, which flags menu items that are low in fat and calories, high in protein or fiber, or a combination of the four.
Nation’s Restaurant News recently discussed Denny’s marketing strategies with vice president of marketing John Dillon and chief marketing officer Frances Allen.
What is Denny’s best selling Fit Fare menu item?
Dillon: The Fit Fare Slam, which is low in fat and calories and high in protein. It’s the Fit Fare version of our Grand Slam.
We’re excited about the new meal calculator on our website and our mobile site, which we started promoting this week.
People have the choice of ordering a fried cheese melt or the original Grand Slam Breakfast, or some of our Fit Fare items, and they can calculate the nutrition in whatever they order.
What are the chain’s plans for new Fit Fare items?
Dillon: In mid-January we’re introducing a Fit Fare Veggie Skillet — made with seasoned red-skinned potatoes, fire-roasted peppers and onions, mushrooms and broccoli, topped with two egg whites scrambled with spinach and grape tomatoes, served with a side of salsa — and aspinach salad, which has grilled seasoned sliced chicken breast on spinach and diced bacon with balsamic vinaigrette and dinner bread.
We’re also launching a new ad campaign to promote the fact that there’s something for everyone at Denny’s.
What is Denny’s process for developing new menu items?
Dillon: We start with consumer ideation, asking them what they’d like to see on our menus. Then we bring consumers in with chefs and put some food in front of them.
Next we do a quantitative study, surveying guests about how they like possible menu items. Finally, we test them in certain markets.
Is the process different for Fit Fare items?
Dillon: It’s basically the same, but we survey people who have already said they’re looking for better-for-you items.
Allen: The real success has been our $2 $4 $6 $8 menu, which has over 60 percent awareness among all restaurant customers.
Most of our customers come to us for classic American comfort food. The want to relax and have a good time and not worry about the world outside. They think they should have the option [to have more healthful items], and the incidence of orders of our Fit Fare items has doubled since we relaunched them last year. And one out of four of our build-your-own Grand Slam orders has a Fit Fare item in it [such as bacon or egg whites].
So they don’t necessarily order a Fit Fare meal, but they do pick one or two better-for-you items?
What else does Denny’s have planned for 2012?
Allen: We’re going to continue to push the comfort food while creating news with five LTOs per year. We’ve defined and improved our menu development process to sustain that.
We’ll also be targeting new markets. We hired Cassanova Pendril as our marketing agency for the Hispanic market, which makes up about 30 percent of our consumers.
We’ll also be continuing with social media. We had great engagement with the younger audience with our Always Open webisodes, and we’ll be launching a new [social media] initiative in the next two to three weeks.