Denny’s tests new regional American menu – Denny’s American Kitchen

Denny’s tests new regional American menu – Denny’s American Kitchen – Favorite Hometown Dinners

Mark Schoifet

LA MIRADA, Calif. — Denny’s has launched a major test of a new regional american dinner menu at 131 units in San Francisco, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Systemwide rollout is scheduled for October.

The three-month promotion, bolstered by heavy television advertising, is designed to boost customer counts during dinner hours, traditionally the weakest daypart in the 1,075-unit Denny’s system. It is the most significant marketing move since the coffee-shop chain was taken private in a leveraged buyout last January.

The menu, entitled “Denny’s American Kitchen–Favorite Hometown Dinners,” is intended to supplement the chain’s regular dinner listings. Entrees are Maryland fried chicken, jambalaya, apple-stuffed rainbow trout, Hawaiian grill, grilled ham steak and a chicken-and-biscuit platter. Prices range From $4.45 to $5.25.

Denny’s has allocated $10 million–about half its annual TV advertising budget–for the entire American Kitchen TV campaign. Kickoffspots, produced by Foote, Cone and Belding in Los Angeles, began airing in test-market cities on May 7.

In addition, nine suppliers contributed a combined total of $320,000 toward production costs, according to Judith A. Shoen, president of Foodservice Promotions of Mill Valley, Calif., the creative consultant for the project. In return, a list of vendors and their company logos is prominently displayed on the backs of the new menus.

Barry Krantz, senior vice president for marketing, declined to comment on the test. But in a newsletter distributed to Denny’s employees–one of several that tout the project and offer serving suggestions–Krantz said the promotion “capitalizes on the current menu trend of American cooking with a very human, warm and personal touch.” He called the participation by suppliers “the ultimate synergism in the foodservice industry.”

Dave Bixler, president of Denny’s restaurant division, was unavailabe for comment at presstime. In the same newsletter, however, he tells employees: “Market research shows that the American theme is important to us. With this program, Denny’s continues to fulfill its leadership responsibilities in the food-service industry by setting new trends.”

The 8-1/2-in.-high American Kitchen menu is placed on all tables in the test units. It is offered, along with the regular Denny’s menu, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. In an effort to build rapport with customers, each employee wears a personalized button indicating his or her name and hometown.

Denny’s is also supporting the new menu with fliers, cube cards and training kits for managers, servers and cooks. In one of the training kits, managers are told: “This is one of the most extensive promotions we’ve ever launched–and we expect it to be highly successful. You and your staff can make that expectation a reality.”

Denny’s has been formulating the American Kitchen menu since last June. Other key players involved in the project include Bob Schafer, director of food and beverage; Lynn Gabriel, supervisor of menu development, and Gail Payne and Debbie Sandler, national food technologists.

The six entreees are said to be inspired by hometown cooking across the United States. they are as follows:

* Maryland fried chicken. Batter-fried chicken breast topped with country gravy and two strips of bacon. Served with country-style potatoes, corn muffin, pineapple ring and cranberry sauce. Price: $4.95.

* Jambalaya. This New Orleans dish is sauteed chicken, ham and sausage combined with rice, olives and tomato sauce. Served with a hot corn muffin. Price: $4.75 (The lyrics to the song “Jambalaya,” written by country legend Hank williams, appear under this menu entry.)

* Apple-stuffed rainbow trout. Boned Idaho rainbow trout is fried, filled with apple stuffing and topped with Dijon hollandaise sauce. Served with hot vegetables, corn muffin and a pineapple-cranberry garnish. Price: $4.95.

* Open-faced Hawaiian grill. Chicken breast, ham and pineapple, grilled and stacked on toasted English muffin halves. Topped with creamy Dijon hollandaise sauce and sliced olives. Served with country-style potatoes and a bouquet of fresh fruit. Price: $5.25.

* Chicken ‘n biscuit. Chicken, peas, carrots, ripe olives, country gravy and a biscuit. Garnished with pineapple and Dijon hollandaise sauce. Served with crunchy fried yam patties, cranberry sauce, hot corn muffin and vegetables. Price: $4.75.

The American kitchen menu also includes California salad, Wisconsin cheese soup, soda fountain drinks and a hot-fudge sundae cake.

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