Sardonic News Conglomerate Special Report for AYCTE blog....
2 million enjoy free breakfast at Denny's
By Bruce Horovitz, USA TODAY
Some day, when Josh Richardson finally finds a job, he'll pay for a meal at Denny's.
But in the pre-dawn hours Tuesday, the unemployed medical assistant from Greenville, S.C., waited 40 minutes in near-freezing temperatures outside a Denny's restaurant for a free Grand Slam breakfast. Roughly 2 million other Americans lined up at local Denny's for the too-good-to-pass-up deal. (okay, folks. I might get shit for this, but.....I grew up on welfare, food stamps, gov't cheese, free lunch plans, second-hand thrift shops, CETA, JTPA and every other program on the planet. I wuz po'. There is no way in hell, if I'm a single male, I stand in freezing temps for 40 minutes to save $5.99 (before tax) on a breakfast. It's all very nice to get a restaurant meal, but, not under those conditions, kidz. Fuck that action.
Did a price check for y'all:
Aldi supermarkets sell eggs at a cost of $1.49/dozen Bacon @ $2.49, Brown N. Serve sausage @ .99 cents, milk @ $1.99/gallon...do the math - that's just under $7 (before tax)....and, you'll get at least three breaksfasts out of those groceries.....so....$2.33 a meal....stay indoors unless you got a family of three or more. Which, in all probability, should have been the promo anyway - free meals for families)
"It's definitely a blessing," says Richardson, 35, who has been out of work since May. "I've put in applications everywhere — Wal-Mart, Kmart. I haven't heard nothin'." (hard to believe, isn't it? He's probably the only person applying there, too.)
With the economy in a tailspin, Denny's shook up the restaurant industry — if not the nation — Tuesday by doing something no family dining chain had done before: giving out free meals coast-to-coast from 6 a.m. until 2 p.m.
The promotion was briefly halted and rain checks given out at a St. Louis Denny's when parking lot traffic nearly cut access to a freeway artery. Most sites averaged hour waits on what's usually the week's slowest day. (Gee, I wish I would have gone now. This all sounds awesome)
Denny's was out to prove that it can play with the big boys in its business, and to get back on consumer radar. The chain that once owned breakfast — only to lose to McDonald's - gave away a Grand Slam breakfast to anyone who showed up at all but two of its 1,550 restaurants nationwide. No strings. (this shows that they can play with the big boys by giving away their product and services to the poor and unemployed?)
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." (oh, my Lord, that is such bullshit. I remember being in theater and giving away free tickets for previews. After the shows, every single person, without fail, said, they'd be back and bring friends. Never. Fucking. Happened.....notta.)
"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." (This is just friggin' sad. Counting my blessings.....counting my blessings....counting my blessings....)
Denny's didn't do this just out of the goodness of its corporate heart, however. (the HELL you say!) 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 (did they actually use the term 'bum'? Wow. Nice) , why not Denny's?
Ah, but people love free stuff, particularly when money's tight. Few know that better than Dan Ariely, a business professor at Duke University, author of Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions. "Free is an emotional hot button. When free is concerned, there is no downside — or, at least, we don't see the downside immediately. So we overvalue everything that is free." (thanks, Doc. Do you moonlight at the 'Academy of the Bleeding Obvious'?)
Customers had their own reasons for trekking to Denny's, but more often than not, it was tied to value:
• Matt Skeadas, 28, brought the East Valley High School basketball team — 20 boys — from Van Nuys to the Denny's in North Hollywood. "We decided it would be a good team-bonding event." (Way to get the message, Matt)
• Landon Bennett of Cape Coral, Fla., started his day early at a Perkins Family Restaurant for a regularly scheduled Bible study. But the group just got coffee there, then moved on to Denny's in North Fort Myers. "You reap what you sow," he says. And Denny's, he adds, "is going to reap rewards." (...and Perkins, the devil's puppet, is fucked.)
•Class study. Sociology teacher David Burke of Red Lion Christian Academy in Bear, Del., took his class to Denny's to observe how advertising and media have an impact on human behavior. And to eat, of course. "We're going to spend a whole class tomorrow talking about it," he says. (Here's how the class discussion will go: Teacher: "How do ads and media impact human behavior, class?" - Student: "They tell people where free stuff is.....then, people go there." - bell rings. Class over.)
• Four seniors from Ulysses S. Grant High School showed up at Denny's in North Hollywood at 5:23 a.m. for free breakfast. All ordered Grand Slams and free ice water, then left for school without tipping. "It's just one day," says waitress Laura Martinez, taking the fact that she got stiffed in stride. (....whilst maintaining an eerily calm demeanor, eyes glazed over, whistling "Bringing in the Sheaths" and loading her 12-gauge....)
Most guests, however, left generous tips. (....this makes little logical sense to me. Am I missing something? If one can afford a generous tip....I'll shut up)
McDonald's, Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts and Panera Bread all have had free coffee and food promos in the past year. Panera's free coffee and food sampling promo was last week.
"I'd rather give something away than discount it," says Ron Shaich, Panera's CEO. "If I've got something that I think is wonderful, I want to get it into the mouths of my customers." (EXCUSE ME?!?! Might wanna re-word that, Ron)
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 (let's ask the wait staff if they agree with that.)," 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. (if you're that concerned, pay for the meal...)
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." (Wait! The drinks weren't included!??! What the fuck? So, you wait in line for 40 minutes in sub-zero weather and have to buy a 90% marked up $1.50 coffee? People, people, people......sigh)
And, yes, he just may do it again.