5 Reasons Why The Den is a Smart Move for Denny’s

In October, Denny’s launched The Den, a fast-casual concept targeting Millennials. The Den has since opened additional locations, including its first franchised site, and plans to continue expanding. Here are five reasons why The Den is a smart move on Denny’s part and why it could be a significant sales driver for Denny’s Corp.:

  1. All dayparts, all day—The Den boasts that it has “liberated flavors from daypart oppression” by serving all dayparts any time of the day, giving customers the option to order a burger for breakfast or pancakes for dinner. This isn’t new for Denny’s, which already offers day-long service for all dayparts, but this feature is unique for the limited-service sector. Particularly appealing is all-day breakfast service, because limited-service restaurants typically don’t serve breakfast past 10:30 a.m. Offering all-day breakfast not only helps differentiate The Den from its limited-service competitors, but it also encourages traffic among younger consumers. In Technomic’s 2014 Dinner & Late-Night Consumer Trend Report, 42% of consumers aged 18–24 years old said they wished restaurants served more breakfast fare for dinner.
  1. It doesn’t look like a Denny’s—With features such as wood paneling, low-hanging light fixtures and exposed ductwork, The Den has a totally different look from the diner-style décor of Denny’s. The design is eye-catching and modern, but upon closer inspection, it’s clear that The Den is a Denny’s concept. Signage lists the name as “The Den by Denny’s,” and menus include a few signature Denny’s dishes such as The Grand Slam breakfast platter. The Den’s updated look indicates that patrons can expect a different dining experience from what they would find at a Denny’s. The concept allows Denny’s to maintain its brand, keeping its core customers happy while appealing to Millennials who seek a more modern dining experience.
  1. Modern menu—New dishes convenient for on-the-go meals and snacking comprise much of The Den’s menu, complementing a few items patrons would also find at Denny’s. The menu includes handhelds such as a Veggie Fajita Breakfast Burrito, a Prime Rib Cheesesteak and burgers customizable with a choice of patty: beef, turkey, chicken or veggie. Also featured is a Marvelous Munchies section with offerings like fried green beans and pretzel bites with a choice of dipping sauce. Younger consumers are likely to find the snacking menu attractive; in Technomic’s 2014 Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report, 55% of 18–24 year olds said they snack two to three times a day.
  1. They’re located on or near college campuses—Want to reach Millennials? Set up shop on college campuses. Since The Den debuted last fall at University of Alabama at Birmingham, it’s opened several more university locations, plus a more traditional unit near San Diego State University. Additionally, Denny’s is working to rebrand its other limited-service college concepts, Denny’s Fresh Express and Denny’s All Nighter, to The Den.
  1. Quiet approach—It’s no secret that fast casual is the business to be in right now. Denny’s joins a slew of operators—Applebee’s, Red Robin, Taco Bell and KFC, to name a few—that have launched either fast-casual offshoots or new concepts entirely in the last few years. Some launches have been heavily publicized, but Denny’s introduced The Den last year without much national press. Other brands have used this under-the-radar approach, which allows Denny’s to quietly tweak and perfect The Den without national scrutiny. Remember in late 2013 when Chipotle revealed a partnership with fast-casual pizza concept Pizzeria Locale? That announcement came more than two years after Chipotle began developing the concept.

The Den’s updated design, new locations and menu additions appeal to Millennials’ tastes without eliminating all-day breakfast and late-night hours associated with the Denny’s brand that its core customers have come to love.

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Lauren Hallow

Lauren Hallow is Associate Editor, Concept Analysis at Technomic Inc. She writes content for the company’s ConcepTrac monthly newsletter that covers emerging restaurant chains. Lauren also hosts Technomic’s quarterly Hot Concepts webinar and provides concept-related content for company databases, custom reports and press queries.

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