Now that Western civilization has had 24 hours to acclimate itself to the coming of Denny’s limited-time menu devoted to bacon (the full name, in case you missed it, is: “Baconalia! A Celebration of Bacon”), everyone from vegans to public health watchdogs have had time to decry the imminent arrival of bacon-overloaded entrees at the family feedbag chain, including a Bacon Meatloaf (baked with bacon and topped with more bacon) and a Maple Bacon Sundae (that’s right: bacon and vanilla ice cream). “No longer relegated to a side dish,” proclaims the release from Denny’s corporate, “bacon is now front and center.”
Aw, c’mon. Does Denny’s really think the public’s memory is that short?
The culinary merits of cured belly of swine notwithstanding, what Denny’s is really doing here is trying an old marketing maneuver—albeit a successful one—that’s sat at the back of most every restaurant chain’s playbook (including its own) for years now. It goes like this: If you’re a corporate chef kicking around the test kitchen and you need a margin-boosting indulgence item that’s recognizable, versatile, economical, freezable and screams “indulgence” in just five letters, bacon’s your ticket.
Just how old is this idea? Try 48 years. Back in 1963, The A&W burger chain tried a promo called The Family Burger, a suite that included the Papa Burger, the Mama Burger, a Teen Burger and a Baby Burger. Lansing, Mich., franchisee Dale Mulder later recalled, “The Teen Burger included cheese, two slices of bacon, lettuce, tomato and salad dressing. We were the first chain to offer a bacon cheeseburger throughout our system.”
Bacon’s pretty much been on a tear ever since. Hardee’s stuck bacon on its cheeseburgers in the 1970s, and Pizza Inn rolled out a bacon cheeseburger pizza in the early 1990s. Between 2003 to 2008, restaurant chains increased bacon choices by 33 percent. By 2009, the Technomic Menu Monitor determined that among the top 500 restaurant chains, bacon was mentioned on menus 2,467 times.
Once chains woke up to bacon, the game became trying to figure out who could cram the most of it into a single item. In 2004, Hardee’s Monster Thickburger managed to layer four strips of bacon in between two beef patties and three slices of cheese, only to be outporked in 2007 by Wendy’s Baconator, which somehow managed to get six strips of bacon under the bun. (Wendy’s sold 68 million of them in the first year.)
Which brings us back to Denny’s. In 1977, the chain introduced its Grand Slam Breakfast. It featured two strips of bacon. In 2006, it added a third strip. And now? For a limited time, there’s Denny’s Ultimate Bacon Breakfast—which includes six strips of bacon, and the BBBLT sandwich, which has—that’s right, folks—eight. Which proves that bacon, if nothing else, is a marketing ploy with literal sizzle.