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Describe the premium menu items Denny’s has added.

We always did a great omelette. Moons Over My Hammy is the one everybody talks about, but actually the prime rib Philly Cheesesteak Omelette is a top seller. It’s premium. It’s a $9 omelette. It has prime rib grilled like a Philly cheese steak, but thicker. It has Swiss cheese and grilled peppers, mushrooms and onions. It takes a little more sauté skill, but it is a fantastic omelette.

It’s one of those things where people come in and go, ‘I meant to spend $6.50 for a Grand Slam, but that Philly Cheesesteak Omelette is so good.’ Stretching the premium side of the menu is catching on for us. Getting the culinary credibility to do the work, and then to see the repeat visits on it. We’re real proud of it.

Is it difficult to add new skills, like sautéing, to the line cooks’ repertoire?

It is, but if you prep properly it’s not. It’s getting familiar with a good short-order cook. But there are tradeoffs. If it is a daypart when you’re not especially busy, and you’re not prepared for it, you’re not going to add a cook until you’re certain that business is going to come.

How you prep and prepare for these broadening strategies is critically important. Training has to be done right, and you have to take some things off the menu that are a distraction and are in the way.

We pulled some things off the menu that didn’t matter. Let the bar and grill guys have the wings; they’re gone from Denny’s now. We had a very good one, but it’s not as important as that top cut sirloin.

Denny's added a new coffee platform earlier this year. How is it performing?

Our new platform is doing really well. There are people who really want a bold coffee and they aren’t going to be satisfied with the light, and then you have people who like the light who are scared away by the bold. So we had to have both. We also upgraded our decaf.

Then we added the iced coffee module. We’re selling 50 to 60 of those a week on top of the extra 40 cups of coffee. We’ll build on that with each successive module. We’ll have some sort of iced coffee certainly during the summers and into the holidays, something like that.

Operationally, how hard was it to switch the coffee program systemwide?

It’s tremendously difficult because you’re asking a server to carry two pots or to make two trips. You’re asking the owner to make some coffee he’ll throw out, or make the customer wait until you brew it. It’s not easy to get a whole system to say that’s a great idea. But the customer is saying [they want it], especially if they’re a coffee-first decision maker. The number of people who make a coffee-first decision is growing.

Contact Erin Dostal at erin.dostal@penton.com.
Follow her on Twitter: @ErinDostal