February 4, 2009, - 2:32 pm
By Debbie Schlussel
If you watched Sunday’s Super Bowl, you probably saw the Denny’s ad announcing it was serving free “Grand Slam” breakfasts, from 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., yesterday.
With a bad economy and people always wanting free stuff, I wondered how large the turnout would be. Well, two million Americans–that’s 2/3 of a percent of the U.S. population–took Denny’s up on the offer and ate the 760-calorie (420 of it from fat) breakfast. With 158% of the recommended daily allowance of cholesterol, the Grand Slam includes two eggs, two strips of bacon, two sausages, and two pancakes. Since it’s not kosher, I wouldn’t eat this. But even if I could, that’s a whole lotta food just for breakfast.
One piggish Chicago Tribune reporter went to five different locations and ate FIVE Grand Slam breakfasts. Trying to be the next annoying Morgan Spurlock?
So, how much did this giveaway cost? Denny’s says it cost a total of $5 million, including the cost of the Super Bowl ad and other promotion. $5 million to feed 2 million people–that’s not bad.
While some Denny’s waitstaff got stiffed on tips, Denny’s actually made money or at least broke even on the giveaway. How did the restaurant chain do it? Here’s the catch: the drinks were not free.
The entire promotion – including food, labor and airing an ad on Sunday’s Super Bowl – cost Denny’s about $5 million. “We’re re-acquainting America with Denny’s,” says CEO Nelson Marchioli. “We’ve never been thanked this much – and folks are saying they’ll come back.”
The gambit earned Denny’s something that money alone can’t buy: positive public relations, and lots of it. By Denny’s estimates, it got $50 million in free news coverage, almost all of it positive. No injuries – or police issues – were reported at any locations, say Denny’s officials.
“I’m very grateful,” said Jennifer Haslam, who waited in line more than an hour in Newark, Del., with son Joshua, 2. “That was four eggs that I didn’t have to use of mine.” Her family lives on her husband’s take-home pay of $400 a week. “I’ll be honest. I just paid my rent. I had $10 to my name, and that went to gas.” . . .
Denny’s didn’t do this just out of the goodness of its corporate heart, however. The low-budget family dining chain did it because its franchise sales at sites open at least a year were down 7.2% last quarter at a time the hobbled economy ought to be giving it an opportunity to nudge the market-share needle. In tough times, many consumers are willing to trade down to restaurants such as Denny’s. If value chains such as Wal-Mart and McDonald’s can make hay in a bum economy, why not Denny’s? . . .
Consumer response to the promotion has been all Denny’s could hope for. Besides guests at restaurants on Tuesday, the Denny’s website has had 40 million hits since the Super Bowl ad aired.
“We’ve had a lot of fun today,” Marchioli says, exhaling a small sigh of relief.
Then, he quietly admits the one thing that almost every customer – and business executive – wonders about the promotion.
Did Denny’s really lose its burnt-orange shirt on it?
Marchioli is silent for a moment. He hedges. Then he concedes: If you factor in the profits from all of Tuesday’s drink orders – which are far more profitable than food orders – “we’ll do better than break even.”
And, yes, he just may do it again.
I think this was a smart investment. People who might never have tried Denny’s–due to it’s senior citizen and seedy image, might have changed their minds after tasting the free meal. And, you’ll note from the video below (and in other reports I saw), a sizeable portion of the customers for the promotion were Black. In the past, many Blacks shunned Denny’s, after it was sued over alleged discrimination against Black customers. Perhaps this is the way for Denny’s to re-attract them.
Did you go to Denny’s for the free breakfast, yesterday? If so, how was it?