Think of Denny’s and what comes to mind? Likely its famous Grand Slam Breakfast — pancakes, eggs, sausage and bacon. As associations go, it’s a pretty good one, although for Frances Allen, the restaurant chain’s chief brand officer, it’s not nearly enough. The thing about Denny’s is that it really is not just another fast-food franchise. It’s a diner. Or, as Frances likes to say, it’s "America’s Diner." With some 1,700 locations, open 24/7, it certainly can lay claim to that mantle. Her real point, though, is that diners mean something special in America’s culture, and Denny’s should, too.
"A diner," says Frances, "is a feeling, not just a place. It has a spirit. It is a place where you can relax, come as you are, and be who you are. It’s a place where you feel so comfortable that you talk to strangers." When she arrived at Denny’s in 2010, Frances had her work cut out for her. By any standard — maybe even every standard — Denny’s was in decline. But its turnaround has been as remarkable as it has been rapid, albeit not yet complete. There’s the now-famous Denny’s $2-4-6-8 Value Menu, two new coffee blends, low-calorie options, and new lunch and dinner items rounding out a complete diner experience. There are pop-culture YouTube videos and Twitter tweets … and, oh, those maple-bacon sundaes.
Yes, some Denny’s locations are still pretty grim, but renovations are coming. Your local one will never look like Denny’s outlandish Las Vegas flagship, with its wedding chapel and artsy-fartsy flourishes. But it is more likely than ever to exude the comforts for which "America’s Diner" ought to be known. At some point, nearly every brand runs off the rails and jeopardizes the very thing that makes it a brand: the loyalty of its customers. Denny’s is no exception, and its comeback is no fluke. continue …