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For more than a dozen years Denny’s has positioned itself as “America’s Diner,” which means to convey a feel-good, nostalgic vibe without being stuck in the past or pegged as a boomer-only zone.
With a new marketing campaign on the horizon, along with front- and back-of-the-house upgrades, Denny’s intends to refresh and restart its long-running message with national ads, a stunt in New York’s Flatiron district, elevated menu items and the new tagline “It’s Diner Time.”
Not to be too esoteric about it—which would be off-brand—but the chain is calling it “a movement,” not a traditional advertising campaign. The various facets of “It’s Diner Time” aim to “double down on the physical and emotional place” that the restaurants have in consumers’ lives, according to John Dillon, the brand’s president.
Cynics beware, but if that sounds like a salve in a prickly and contentious world, it’s no accident. Denny’s new work will highlight the way people connect with each other, celebrating milestones and everyday moments, under its roof. It also continues the chain’s focus on inclusivity while targeting a broad audience and younger demos.
“We’re recognizing and celebrating the space and comfort we provide,” Dillon told Adweek. “With all the challenges out there, including the economy, our role has never been more relevant.”
Nearly half (45%) of Denny’s consumers are millennials and Gen Z, per CEO Kelli Valade, who noted on a recent earnings call that “over half of our total guest base is also ethnically diverse, and our breakfast and late night day parts skew younger and more diverse all the time.”
“It’s Diner Time” coincides with Denny’s 70th year of operation, which works as a hook for the revamp, though it will continue beyond 2023.
“This isn’t a first- or second-quarter launch—we see this as foundational,” Dillon said. “This is a confident Denny’s saying we know who we are and what we stand for. We’ll continue to evolve it in the coming years.”
Beyond the Grand Slam
A 15-second TV spot dropping this week, from Denny’s in-house agency Create, serves as an intro for the chain’s new menu offerings such as baked lasagna, brisket mac and cheese, red, white and blue pancakes and a spicier version of the popular Moons Over My Hammy breakfast sandwich. The restaurant formed its in-house creative and marketing division, Create, in 2019.
Those dishes—which will join comfort food standbys like patty melts and the Grand Slam—come after the brand sank $25 million into upgrading its kitchen equipment. The investment has increased efficiency and reduced waste, while allowing a broader range of food options, Dillon said.
Along with trend-forward food, the restaurant has overhauled its laminated menus to include augmented reality features via a QR code. Consumers can unlock special deals and learn more about the food and the brand’s history by exploring the AR experience.
Uniforms are updating, with t-shirts themed to the 70th anniversary and menu items, and servers will be allowed to wear jeans for the first time, responding to internal requests from employees to dress more casually.
Daylight Saving Tumult
Americans spring forward this weekend, losing an hour of sleep, and Denny’s has built a stunt around the confusing semi-annual clock change, offering free coffee on March 13 to its loyalty club members.
The move aims to drive foot traffic to stores and membership to the program, with the gratis beverage going only to those who dine-in.
And in New York’s busy Flatiron district, Denny’s will set up its first pop-up coffee shop, doling out complimentary cups of joe from a 40-foot-long diner-style counter with bar stools.
The activation comes from Anomaly, Denny’s agency of record for the past two years, which works side-by-side with Create. “We like the marriage of both,” Dillon said. “It makes a powerful team.”
Denny’s, which reported 6.3% same-store sales increases in fiscal 2022, expects domestic sales bumps between 3% and 6% this year, per the recent earnings call. The chain is making “a healthy investment” in “It’s Diner Time,” Dillon said, spanning broadcast, digital and social.