When was the last time you were in a Denny's? If you're anything like me (and everyone I know), it's been a long time. They're a dive. Most Denny's are dirty, their menus are gross, filled with desperate puns and fried food trying to cater to...I have no idea who. There only ever seems to be one server for the entire place and she's had it with humanity and is out for blood. You'll find her chain smoking behind the stack of smelly high chairs.
One Denny's near me has nearly run out of letters for their marquee outside and can't afford to replace them. They're down to four letters on just one side: "O9EN". That's "OPEN" but with a backwards, red 9 in place of the P. Resourceful.
It's Pep Talk Time
It's time for a pep talk, Denny's. Listen up, this is for you.
Since you're already sad and downtrodden, Denny's, just own it. Don't be the victim. Stop day drinking while watching customers drive by to line up at the Starbucks across the street.
OWN YOUR SITUATION. Yes. You have few resources. You're cheap. Your food quality is low and your restaurant doesn't make enough money to re-carpet the stained floors.
So what? People love dive bars. People love thrift shops. People love garage sales. People love an underdog, a comeback kid. A throwback to yesteryear.
Own your mess. Own your frozen sausage patties and microwaved bacon. You are a hangover recovery joint. A "this town only has a Denny's and a gas station" rest stop off the highway. Use your worse attributes as your features as your selling points. Lean into this thing.
Start with the marquee
Start with that marquee sign out front. I know, I know, you might have to spring for a new box of letters. They're $98 on Amazon. Beg, borrow, or steal that Benjamin, Denny's, you can do it.
Make fun of yourself and other people can't make fun of you. You might even get some new customers who just want something new to post on their socials.
Here are some starter ideas for you:
- "Freshly microwaved food and surly service so cheap you'll think we paid you to eat here."
- "Book your hangover party now! Attendants standing by (to hold your hair)."
- "Our coffee isn't great but refills are free, just like our napkins."
- "Live-streaming, syrup-covered gamers wanted. Our booths are comfy and we have wifi."
- "Come on in, we'll Doordash some better food while you relax."
- "Free Tums with every skillet."
- "Come for the mess, stay for the rest."
Then tweak the menu
If you can at least get some new people in the door, you're ready for phase two. Get rid of that big faded menu with pictures of your gross dishes. Burn them with fire.
Get rid of everything with the words "melt", the name of a city like "Nashville" or "Memphis" (you're not fooling anyone), and all items with puns. I'm looking at you "So Pumped-Kin Pancake Breakfast". Get outta here. You're not welcome. Oh and oh my God, all fish. Nobody should be ordering Wild Alaskin Salmon from Denny's.
Switch to a one-page foodie-style menu printed on tall and skinny parchment paper and a mono-spaced, typewriter style font. Keep the core options stupid simple and provide wacky variations on each of those few items.
Strip that menu down to just pancakes, waffles, eggs, and milk shakes. Everything comes with bacon. People are Denny's for breakfast food 24 hours a day. Own it. Breath it. Pump the smell of syrup into the streets. Vegans can go somewhere else. Let's be honest, even your veggies are covered in gluten and ground beef somehow, anyway.
Here's a few examples on how to set up your menu items. Keep it simple and up-charge the fun, little things. Give them flavor. Bring the personality.
3 All-American flapjacks that never hit the kitchen floor.
- Boring and plain (like Aunt June) ................. $8
- Make 'em fruity (like Aunt Kevin) ............... + $2
- Drench 'em in chocolate and whipped cream ........ + $2
- Add toast ........................................ + $2
- Extra pancakes you'll regret later .............. + $2
- Add a milkshake (we won't tell your wife) ........ + $5
A day's worth of calories in a glass. So good you won't care.
- Chocolate or Vanilla shake ......................... $5
- Add a mystery syrup ................................ $2
- Toss in some candy bits ............................ $2
- Throw a pancake in there (just try it ok?) ......... $2
Might as well just do it on purpose so people can count on the consistency. Some people like a rude server if they feel it's a game. Banter as a service! If done right, everyone will have fun. Don't take it too far and people will come back for the story.
Add a few arcade games
Throw back that nostalgia. Instead of a wall of local classified ads and business cards tacked to a cork board, add Street Fighter II and Ninja Turtles in Time arcade cabinets. Accept quarters. Enjoy your new revenue stream.
Add food trucks
How great would a Denny's food truck be sitting outside a concert arena, ready to sell milkshakes and cut up chocolate covered waffles?
I'm rooting for you Denny's.
Bring us back to The Santa Clause era where Denny's was an American Institution and was everyone's second pick. Everybody I knew went to Denny's when I was a kid. Nobody was afraid to admit it. It was perfectly fine.
You can do it. I believe in you.
Published Nov 29, 2022