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Why would anyone go to Denny’s these days?

In my college days, the Denny’s grand slam breakfast was a favorite low-cost restaurant breakfast. While not rising above average, it was decent coffee shop food.

The recent ‘value menu’ and “Tour of America” promotion sucked me in … and sucked my breath away. It is expensive for what it is and the value menu doesn’t have all that many values … unless $2 for two pancakes seems like a value to you.

Four bucks will get you all the pancakes you can eat … served two at a time … other restrictions apply. The value slam is in this category.

On the regular menu a cheeseburger is $8.69 … ok, it is served with fries, but still. And who is spending $17 for a t-bone steak here? A chicken strip appetizer - $7.69?

Regular breakfasts average about $9 … add $2 for coffee … Denny’s coffee.

I went with the $6 limited addition to the value menu – Italian meatloaf sandwich with fries. On this one I’ll give Denny’s credit for value in terms of quantity of food.

The roll itself was the brown and serve type of white bread that fast food restaurants kid themselves (or customers) into the illusion of house-baked panini. The meatloaf just tasted like salt and wasn’t very meat loaf-y. The bacon, sauce or mozzarella added anything to the Italian-ness or even flavor of this. The sauce was like any jarred supermarket sauce.

The look of the fries was off-putting, but they were good. I like medium cut fries. They have some sort of wavy potato cutter so it looked liked mashed potatoes that had been formed into fries. It turned out though they were cut potatoes, soft-ish, but not greasy. Points for Heinz catsup.

Still … $6 for a sandwich, add $2.29 for a soft drink, tax and tip … that is over $10 to eat at Denny’s … and that is the VALUE menu. Most breakfasts would be $15 per person, ditto on lunch … and dinner could run close to $20 … without dessert … or soup.

It is still standard coffee shop décor which is fine. However, with McDonalds plans to upgrade the décor, if I was really looking for value, I’d take my business there.

These days, I find fast food and chain food so close in price to good restaurant food I can’t see the point. At a local restaurant I can get an omelet with organic eggs and hash browns made from the local farmers market for the same price as the Denny’s omelet.

It makes me a bit sad. Denny’s was never great or even a above average coffee shop/diner. However, you could get decent food and a good price.

If I was a struggling college student these days, I wouldn’t be at Denny’s. I recently acquired 3 step kids. Will I be spending $50 or more dollars for breakfast or lunch at Denny’s? I think not. Who does that and why?

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    1. re: inaplasticcup

      Ahaha, eww.

      The last time I went to Denny's I was traveling and I was with a friend who eats there often. (We're both in college.) Depending on where you are in the country and what you order, it can be quite a lot of food for the money and I guess some people see value in that. Not everyone who goes to places like Denny's has palates like ours.

    2. Moons Over My Hammy. Stupid name, delicious sandwich. And yes, I've had one recently so I can say that. Paid for it with water retention but that's par for the course for any sandwich I eat.

      1 Reply
      1. re: MandalayVA

        Stupid name? Really? I think it's a clever play on words.

      2. Unfortunately, there are places that have very few options for late night/early morning dining. Like Dayton, Ohio. The college-geared club scene isn't bad, but for afterwards there's Denny's, Waffle House and Steak N Shake. That's about it. Denny's is the only one fairly close to the University of Dayton and downtown night spots.

        5 Replies
        1. re: Fibber McGee

          We used to always go there after the library closed at 2.a.m. Super Bird! (Moons Over My Hammy is a close second)

          Foreign students and visitors like the place because the menu has so many photographs. Just point to order.

          1. re: Fibber McGee

            That is one plus for chains llike Denny's ... they open early when little else is open. Still, if money was the issued, I'd still choose McDonalds over Denny's. Yes, the menu is more extensive at Denny's ... anyone tried the pineapple puppies>? .. but for the basics McDonald's is just as good, imo.

            1. re: rworange

              Actually, it isn't that they open early-they never close- except Christmas Day. Until 1988 there were no locks on the doors...


              1. re: Cathy

                Christmas is open.. I work there and no time for family because is you don't show up to work, you are fired!! That simple.. :(

            2. re: Fibber McGee

              Denny's was our 2:00am food stop when we were on the road driving back from a rock concert or three. I still associate the chain with short term hearing loss because of that.

            3. I ate at one last week actually. We were on vacation in Bismarck N.D., and our breakfast options were the horrible restaurant in the hotel, denny's, perkins, or cracker barrel.

              Denny's was actually surprisingly good. The food was tasty, the service was prompt and efficient, they were just a little confused by my order of tomato juice and had to re-check with me three times that I didn't want orange. It got silly.

              1. Havn't been to one in years but the breakfasts were pretty good especially the pizza omlet.

                1. The Dennys in my are are clean, the staff friendly, and they offer items you cant get anywhere around here. Is it pricier than the local greasy spoon? Yes, at times. Are 95% of chains these days overpriced? IMO, YES. You pay for novelty, consistency, and cleanliness. I think that $50 for 4-5 people, in a sit down restaurant, and including beverages, taxes, and tip isnt all that bad. My fiancee and I pay $20ish for just the 2 of us at our local greasy spoon

                  1. "places that have very few options for late night/early morning dining"

                    We were on our way to the theater in a town we don't know well, a motorist collided with a power pole and we lost a lot of time (designated for dinner) just getting lost on back roads trying to get to the theater. By the time we got out, we were hungry.
                    Mr Shallots was so glad there was a Denny's because he loved their Grand Slams.

                    The menu has shrunk severely. The costs have risen.
                    What we had was acceptable for 11 pm in a small city in the south (sadly Cracker Barrell closes two or three hours before).

                    The menu items would look better if they'd use smaller plates. Lonely eggs beside a small pile of hash browns and an English muffin. But without them, we'd have been at a bar at closing time and that wasn't what we were hungry for.

                    1. Convenience.

                      Sometimes when traveling I simply don't have the time, nor the leeway, to find and experiment with a new restaurant, or even a local mom-and-pop shop. There are more bad restaurants than good.

                      And even if Denny's is mediocre, at least it's consistent and you know what you're going to get.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds"

                        - Ralph Waldo Emerson

                        In this case, Consistency is the hobgoblin of mediocre taste

                        You seem to share my taste for fast food. My own hobgoblins as mentioned often are the filet-o-fish, McRib and double cheeseburger.

                        I will give you the point of not having leeway due to friends, coworkers or family.

                        But seriously having stepped into almost every restaurant wherever I am, I can't agree there are more bad restaurants than good. In 9 years of chowhounding, there have been less than a dozen memorably bad restaurants out of hundreds, if not thousands that I've tried.

                        People have that perception. It isn't true. Nor is it often true there is nothing else around but a chain or fast food. But the perception makes people overlook the locl places nearby.

                        Being open outside regular hours is a good reason for chain joints like Denny's.

                        If fast food had not gotten so close to good restaurant prices, not just greasy spoons, I wouldn't be so dismayed by Denny's. It is no longer a good value even for mediocre or average food. The $50 for five is the lowest actual price. More likely it would run between $80 - $100.

                        Sigh, planning on a Chowhound vacation and food in general. Cleaning up some stuff delaying that. When I start crawling around Denny's and doing drive-thrus ... time to hang it up ...at least for a while.

                        Then again, I walked into a nothing bakery today just to pick up some cheap pan dulce ... and because I suspected there was zero to report about there.

                        A sign for chipilin (a Guatemala green) caught my eye. I asked for the whole translation and it turns out they fly in this fresh green from Guaemala on Fridays. The owner is Guatemalan and on the weekend makes Guatemalan tamales and atol.

                        Good stuff is a a lot of places that might not seem worthy. I can pay $2 for two Denny's pancakes (not counting tips) or less than that for a filling hand-made chicken tamal.

                        1. re: rworange

                          Sometimes when traveling for work, the point is to eat something that *is* mediocre and safe.

                          I don't need to try something new or different -- be it cheaper, or even necessarily potentially better.

                          I've gone into more than one mom-and-pop shop that looked awfully cozy from the outside only to be served crap. That is not to say that there aren't good stand-alone restaurants, just that sometimes you don't want to have to think about the food you are getting, and don't want to take the chance of hitting on a landmine.

                          Plus, don't forget convenience. Not just in terms of hours, but location.

                        2. re: ipsedixit

                          Ditto this. I recently stayed in a motel near where my son was moving. One morning I had to meet him, had literally 20 minutes to eat breakfast. and I was starving. Denny's was THISCLOSE to the motel. I went, told the manager how much time I had, ordered (2 eggs over easy, toast, juice, fruit) and was out the door in 20 minutes flat. Then 2 mornings later I wanted breakfast after checking out, before hitting the road to drive home. I *could* have driven anywhere else (probably in the opposite direction of where I needed to go) but it would have delayed my long drive home. So, I ate at Denny's again. That time I ate more "leisurely"
                          but was still out the door pretty quick.

                          I remember the one of the first times I ate at Denny's, well over 35 years ago. Friend and I did the long road trip on Hwy 1 from LA north. Hit Carmel/Monterey, we were exhausted from the drive and saw Denny's. We were so excited to see something familiar. And it fit our college-student budget pretty well.

                          Otherwise, I almost never ever eat there...but they are so damned reliable and consistent. You know exactly what you're gonna get.

                        3. Traveled to Edmond, OK for a cousin's graduation last month and my aunt, uncle and I needed a place to eat at 9 p.m. Denny's was the only place open except for fast food. We all got a breakfast dish that had fresh veggies in it, my uncle got some kind of fruit and nonfat yogurt smoothie that wasn't too bad and the service was good.

                          None of us had been to a Denny's in years, but we were all glad to find it in downtown Edmond that night.

                          1. I was wondering this exact thing the other day. I went to Pho79 in Alhambra, stuffed myself silly for under 10 bucks, and then walked down Main St and passed of all things, a Denny's. It's just so incongruous to find it there sandwiched around gems like Pho79 and I'll even include The Boiling Crab which, although it is a chain, has a lot of flavour. Who would drive up and down that street and stop at....DENNY'S. But I looked in the window and yes, there were quite a few people there, eating fake mashed whatever. Ech. I just felt so sorry for them. I knew they were each about to pay at least double what I just paid for my magnificent meal and they were getting such a bland forgettable experience in return.

                            8 Replies
                            1. re: khh1138

                              "I just felt so sorry for them," Thats a bit on the pretentious side isnt it?

                              Dont yuck my yum!

                              1. re: joe777cool

                                But you can get a better, cheaper yum elsewhere. I actually don't feel sorry. I don't understand it, but I know that convincing the Denny's devotees they can do better would be futile.

                                I've had a little fast food / chain orgy in the past few weeks I'll probably finish with IHOP I'm guessing that will pretty much do it for me for the next decade. Outside of being open when nothing else is, I just feel so ripped off to get mediocre food at the same price or more than legions of other nearby restaurants.

                                1. re: rworange

                                  I agree. Dennys is not my first choice for breakfast either, but for someone to say they feel bad for someone eating there is condescending in my eyes. I know that I get crap from hounds and friends alike when I admit how much i enjoy a salt and fat filled meal at Olive Garden, and if Dennys floats your boat who am I or anyone else to judge?

                                  1. re: joe777cool

                                    "a better, cheaper yum elsewhere." This is it, exactly. By walking just a block or two in any direction of this particular Denny's, you can find so much better food, cheaper. Especially in these tough times - when none of us has money to throw away!

                                    1. re: joe777cool

                                      I agree with this. Particularly with the older crowd, my ILs being a part of that group, they just can't afford to buy the various ingredients to make a meal and then stand and cook it in their tiny kitchen in their senior apartment, so a Denny's meal is a real treat. They are in their 70s. They dont' want pho or crab boil or anything else "exotic" that they aren't used to, they just want a slice of meatloaf and some mashed potatoes and soft green beans they can chew and someone to wait on them and handle clean-up. It is our go-to place when we come for a visit and they are always exclaiming about the great "value" (the senior meals are cheaper). They won't even order a drink unless they get something off the senior menu as it comes with coffee or tea. It makes them happy and while I think their food is horrid, every meal doesn't have to be a pageant. I just pick at my super bird and fries and try to enjoy the company. Everyone does not have foodie tastes.

                                      We tried to take them to a couple of other neighborhood places over the years and though they were polite and made a show of eating, it was clearly reverse-Denny's and not what they wanted. They don't want the Lebanese place, they want cheap, reliable diner food.

                                      1. re: rockandroller1

                                        Here on the Chowhound boards, if you go to a forum like the Los Angeles boards (where I'm at), take a gander at the various "who has the best pho" or "the best banh mi" or "the best Lebanese/Korean/Sichuan". You'll find folks stating one pho joint is garbage and another is perfection, one Korean joint is authentic and one is americanized, etc.. Even at some places that serve great banh mi, someone will call foul because their banhi mi cost $2.50 each instead of two for $3.00, or doesn't come with a free extra baguette, ergo, they are lousy. My point is, simply finding joint after joint of ethnic dives and mom-n-pops diners, all in proximity to a Denny's, does not ensure a satisfying experience with many chowhounds, much less non-chowhounds. Common complaints along the lines of "that joint has the worst sea urchin I've ever eaten" is an example that unique and exotic is not necessarily better than mundane and consistent ...

                                        1. re: silence9

                                          Is the point of this forum mundane and consistant food? That is what zagat is for ... I'm sorry ... the zagat ratings for KFC get to me.

                                          I guess I don't understand the reverse snobbism.

                                          The extreme senior set excepted, I just don't think people really try ... and it has nothing to do with being a foodie.

                                          I've just eaten at too many restaurants to buy into "nothing else is around" or "everything nearby is inconsistant and crummy".

                                          I finally made it to IHOP and was more impressed than I thought I would be. Still, for one breakfast it was $15 with tip. I can do better than that almost anywhere. When joints like Denny's and IHOP actually offered some value ... fine. But when then are charging the same ... and even more than the local mom and pop or upscale joint ... really ... why bother with souless mediocre chow?

                                          1. re: rworange

                                            Hi... Here's how I see it, then I'll pipe down: at home in my own kitchen (I'm the main cook at dinner time), the majority of the time I prepare a consistent and well-trodden menu of favorites, probably a dozen or more stand-by 'blue plate specials' that my wife enjoys, varying mostly based on the protein of choice or the availability of seasonal produce. Call it my top 15 Best-Of reliable hits. And some days, not only will those favorites land in the lunch tupperware the next day, but maybe even again as leftovers a day later. Then probably once per week, I'll go all out, do a little research and hunt down some quality ingredients and top shelf items (or never before tried produce based on something seen on cable or heard about here at Chowhound). That 'special' meal may become part of my all-time hits, or I might make it for special occassions. But most evenings that we do not dine out, I'll make the known faves, precisely because they are both known and favorites; they do not move the earth and give rise to tsunamis, but they provide a tasty enough meal that may even demand second helpings. Now, translate that to eating out at chains, and at leaset for us, it's roughly an equivalent equation. Eight out of ten times, we'll go for what we know, knowing that there is better to be had down the street. Those other two times, we'll take our chances with something unknown, or known but with room for surprises. There is a line of thinking that says (tangential/analogy alert, here!) that every opportunity for shared intimacy between couples does not need to end with an orgasm or delve deeply into the kama sutra; frequent foreplay cuddling, etc.. on a 'school night' is just fine in and of itself. Not necessarily performed mundanely, but certainly with caring familiarity and realistic expectations as regards juggling schedules, work, sleep, and windows of opportunity. Hats off and a round of applause to all those who are eating and boinking like there's no tomorrow every single day. I imagine that's how it was in Eden, before a certain couple got too lazy and settled for what was within an arm's length away. Hopefully that apple was not merely a red delicious (symbolism aside, it was more likely a fig or a pomegranite, I hear)...

                              2. Have not been to Denny's in Years...went on Monday for Breakfast in Midlothian, VA....had Moons Over My Hammy Sandwich...hardly any eggs, VERY Greasy, hashbrowns barely cooked and flavorless...Hubby said Pancakes were like Rubber and Sausage was inedible...we love a good Diner Breakfast but we will not be going back....

                                1. it's easy it's convenient and you usually know the outcome of the meal.
                                  for me patty melt for hub a big breakfast no matter the time of day.

                                  anyone know if that Bobby Flay tv show about the next great American chain restaurant ever paid off or if it closed?

                                  1. A few years ago my mom and I went to a midnight showing for an art exhibit that was closing that weekend. It was a pretty big deal for mom to stay out that late, so we made it an event, complete with breakfast at 2am. The only places for late night food between the museum and home are McDonald's (drive-thru only) and Denny's. Denny's won. I knew what to expect, but my mom was shocked by how packed the place was. We got there before the rush, but by 2:30 there was a line out the door. Makes perfect sense when it's the only place to get a meal with table service after a night of drinking and dancing.

                                    1. I (somewhat) recently retired from long haul truck driving. The Flying J (one of the biggest truckstop chains in North America) converted their restaurants to Denny's and I hate to admit it, but when I needed something to just grab and go, I would order the Superbird sandwich. It was pretty dang good, although overpriced like everything in a truckstop these days.

                                      1. The one near my house does really good business. Its new and very nice looking. My parents eat there every so often and enjoy it. Lots of seniors in our area dine there.

                                        The other that is a few miles further is an armpit.

                                        1. Why? The last and only time I went in a 10 year span, my condo had just been painted. The fumes were getting to me so I checked into the only dog friendly hotel I could find. It was a La Quinta. It made me depressed. There was a Denny's across the parking lot, I went in to have a Moons Over My Hammy sandwich. I became more depressed. Thankfully, there was a liquor store on the other side of the parking lot. And I didn't get mugged the whole time!
                                          So, basically, I think it's a matter of convenience for most patrons.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. I spent a long weekend earlier this year at a hotel on the fringes of a small midwestern city and had breakfast at Denny's across the street 3 of the 4 days I was there. I didn't get any of their fancy named things, just your basic eggs with sausage, potato & English muffin -- the same thing I get at my local diners when I'm out for breakfast. And you know - the basic breakfast I got at Denny's was just as good as what my favorite diners make. Granted, there's nothing fancy, exotic, local or otherwise distinctive about it -- but I've had enough poor-to-mediocre breakfasts over the years to appreciate a well-cooked egg, tasty sausage, and a non-spongy English muffin.

                                            I doubt I'd be tempted to go there for lunch or dinner. At home I have half a dozen good diners within easy breakfast range and no inclination to hunt down if there's a Denny's in the area too. But for a good basic breakfast on the road I would definitely pick Denny's over some of the alternatives.

                                            1. The last time I went to a Denny's, it was around 9 or 10 pm and some friends of mine and I needed a bite. The closest place was Denny's. We went in, ravenous, and decided to order a bunch of breakfast. The waitress came, took our orders, and then told us, "We're out of all of that. Only thing we've got is oatmeal. With "fixins".

                                              So we all ordered their gloppy oatmeal, with sad little cups of raisins next to the bowls. It wasn't a great experience.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Boston_Otter

                                                Lol. But still, what a bitchy thing for the waitress to do. Wish I had those balls sometimes. :)

                                              2. One other thing to note. I discovered when I visited Japan that Denny's is extremely popular over there, and it's nothing like American Denny's. Well, the seats and interiors are sort of the same. But the menu is a mix of Japanese curries & egg dishes and American classics like fried chicken, steak, pizza, hamburgers, and spaghetti. No Grand Slams to be found. In Japan, it's where families go for a fun family experience and to eat with a knife and fork instead of chopsticks -- it's basically an American theme restaurant.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: Boston_Otter

                                                  On a non-Denny's note, Sizzler is really popular with university students in Bangkok. Same steaks and crap, and some Thai inspired dishes thrown in. Total head scratcher.

                                                2. I see there are other "the last time I ate at Denny's..." stories here.

                                                  Mine was after a 20 mile midnight bicycle ride. It was the only place open. Pretty much anything tastes good at that point. Thank goodness they were there!

                                                  Oddly the Denny's in my small town ~closed~ and they were located right off the interstate. Hard to believe a profitable chain couldn't be run in that location.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: pedalfaster

                                                    I have a similar story except with Applebees after a day of rafting.

                                                    But what's funny, I live in nyc now and Manhattan got its first Denny's. You can get the grand slam with dom perignon(I think) for $300. It only recently opened so not sure how that's going. They have a bar with craft beer and all. It's funny the number of native NYers who have never been to a lot of the chains and barely know what Denny's is.