Denny’s turns its customers into food critics

Who: Denny’s Canada, with Full Punch for strategy and creative; MediaCom Canada for media.

What: “Critic,” a campaign inviting consumers to weigh in on the Denny’s menu, helping potentially remove some dishes, while making some new items permanent features. It’s Full Punch’s first major consumer-facing work for the brand since winning the business last year.

When & Where: The campaign debuted last month, using a combination of digital, out-of-home, and in-restaurant elements such as window decals, table-talkers, servers’ uniforms, and take-out bags.

Why: The Denny’s menu can feel more like a book than a menu, (the most recent version we could find, from 2019, had 12 pages).

“It’s overwhelming. You walk in and say ‘What am I going to pick?’ because there are so many choices,” said Chris Zawada, Full Punch’s founding partner and head of creative. “You narrow it down to 10 items that sound good, and even then you don’t know what to pick.”

The casual dining chain was looking to make the menu more concise and digestible, removing some of its less popular items while retaining evergreen favourites like the Grand Slam breakfast and Moons Over My Hammy. At the same time, they wanted to introduce some new items to reinvigorate the menu, which will be rotated in throughout the year.

“It’s helping identify the non-performing dishes,” said Zawada. “This is a way to track and quantify what’s happening with the dishes and have some data to say ‘This is not performing very well’ and remove it from the menu. Maybe one of the new items replaces it, or  maybe they say ‘We’re just getting rid of it.’ Engaging the guests and letting them have that voice is crucial.”

How: The creative approach is built around the old line “Everyone’s a critic.” Denny’s turned its location on Vancouver’s West Broadway into a Denny’s Test Kitchen, with a menu featuring a blend of staple dishes and new additions, and then invited customers to weigh in using scorecards.

The accompanying campaign features Denny’s guests, divided into four archetypes: The charismatic kid; the multi-tasking mom; the everyman; and the active achiever. It shows them approving (and disapproving) of various menu items, holding up scorecards.

The creative is bright and playful, much like Denny’s itself, said Zawada. “It’s a diner and there’s a lot of fun behind that, so the work we do needs to echo that,” he said. “We really wanted to create a campaign that put the power in the mouths of the guests, and lets them decide what stays and what goes.”

The messages are being delivered through a combination of out-of-home and in-restaurant elements, with table talkers featuring QR codes, as well as servers’ uniforms and take-out bags. Denny’s is also promoting the campaign via its Instagram channel.

And we quote: “We couldn’t just change our menu without input from our guests. There’s no better way to shape the future of our menu than by inviting our community to give their unfiltered opinions on which dishes live up to the test.” — Deborah Gagnon, president and COO, Denny’s Canada

Chris Powell