Reporter's Notebook

Three Questions: Denny's marketing VP John Dillon

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Fit Fare menu adds healthful options

Denny's rolled out new Fit Fare menu items Monday, all of which are lower in fat and calories or higher in protein and fiber than the standard fare at "America's Diner."

It may seem like a stretch that the 1,600-unit family-dining chain that brought diners the Fried Cheese Melt and Baconalia is now presenting its take on healthful food. But Denny's has historically developed menus and dishes with a deft hand for serving the different demographics that frequently dine there: a senior menu and AARP specials for older customers, the $2 $4 $6 $8 Value Menu for dollar-conscious guests and the All Nighter menu for younger diners.

RELATED: Denny's debuts new 'Fit Fare' menu

This time, Fit Fare dishes like the Fit Slam -- a healthful version of the Grand Slam Breakfast -- are sprinkled throughout the menu, rather than sectioned off. Denny's vice president of marketing, John Dillon, spoke to Nation's Restaurant News about why the brand developed Fit Fare and how to market the new items.

Does Denny’s have a high bar of credibility to clear when it comes to healthful fare? You’ve rolled out some pretty indulgent items recently.
Our guests know us for our key equities, which are choice and variety. We’ve had a number of better-for-you items on the menu, but we hadn’t gotten the right awareness for them. We wanted to increase the awareness for what we already had and to add more choices for our guests. We’re open to giving different choices, so we want those people who want the Fried Cheese Melt and the Maple Bacon Sundae, but we also want the folks that want better-for-you choices, or at least the option for them. The new Fit Slam or the Chicken Avocado Sandwich makes a lot of sense for a brand like ours that is all about choice.

Why did you integrate these items into the full menu, rather than call them out separately as you’ve done with Baconalia, the All Nighter, or the $2 $4 $6 $8 Value Menu?
We think healthful is no longer a trend. Better-for-you is here to stay, so it meets the needs of all our guests. Integrating Fit Fare into the menu gave a cue to our guests that we understand what they’re looking for and that they don’t have to sacrifice taste to get something healthful. And it doesn’t always mean lower fat and lower calories, because now high-protein and high-fiber foods fall under that umbrella [of healthful food].

Does a menu like Fit Fare, which appeals to different demographic groups, have anything to do with concerns about consumer spending?
We’re always looking for ways to meet the needs of guests, and this was in the works for a while. Consumers are having to make tough choices, so to have a menu that meets the needs of everyone in their party overcomes a lot of the veto votes. Your family might have somebody looking for the better-for-you item like a Fit Slam, and others in the group may want the Bacon Maple Sundae, and having these items in there lets our guests’ dollars work harder for them.

Contact Mark Brandau at mark.brandau@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN

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