Positioned as “America’s Diner,” Denny’s has become the true embodiment of the changing ethnic composition of the U.S. population. Multicultural consumers, most notably Hispanics and African-Americans, now comprise the fastest-growing customer base at the fast-casual restaurant chain. The workforce also reflects the diverse environment at Denny’s, as 63% of employees, and 44% of management, are minorities.
“Our internal and external culture promotes our openness to all people, ideas, and perspectives, and highlights our commitment to diversity while aligning with our corporate strategy and core values,” says John Dillon, chief marketing officer at Denny’s.
Dillon, who will speak at the ANA Multicultural Marketing & Diversity Conference, Nov. 8-10 in Miami, Fla., explains how Denny’s is connecting with diverse audiences.
Q. What effect have multicultural consumers had on the makeup of your marketing strategy? Are you employing a total market approach?
A. We have worked hard to build a brand that reflects the growing diversity of U.S. consumers and their ever-changing needs and desires. Part of being America’s Diner is naturally appealing to all guests and all different walks of life, at all different times of day. We are committed to increasing awareness of the Denny’s experience among consumers of all demographics, and our marketing strategies support this goal. For example, Denny’s enjoys strong relationships with Hispanic consumers, the fastest-growing demographic at our restaurants and in the U.S. overall. We have made targeted efforts to engage with the Hispanic guest in new ways beyond traditional advertising, including digital strategies like Denny’s Latino on Facebook, promoting Denny’s Latino on our Spanish-language website, digital advertisements, YouTube broadcasts, and branded content campaigns like our “Chicken wRap” and “Skillet Whisperer” videos. We employ a total market strategy, which doesn’t simply mean translating general market work to the Hispanic audience. It’s a total commitment to the specific needs of the Hispanic guest.
Q. Connecting with Millennials is a big focus area for Denny’s. How are you gaining relevance with this digitally savvy audience?
A. By nature, today’s Millennial family is increasingly more diverse, which means having to constantly adapt our customer communications. Our digital and social media have played an increasingly important role in reaching and engaging our Millennial guests. We have leveraged numerous channels and relevant, contemporary content to keep the dialogue continuous, rich, and engaging. Our social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram, are a way to extend the dinner conversations beyond our restaurant booths. All content is in line with our brand positioning as America’s Diner. The diner booth is a place where you can open up, relax, not take anything too seriously, have fun, make jokes, and talk about anything. So in social, our approach is to bring the experience of sitting in a Denny’s booth with your close friends or family to life. Our goal is to make people hungry — for our content and for our food. This inherently appeals to the Millennial guest.
Q. Do you encourage diversity with your agencies?
A. Without a doubt. We look at our agencies not just as partners but as extensions of our brand. They deeply understand Denny’s and what we stand for — including diversity and inclusion. Minorities represent 63% of our total workforce, and 46% of our restaurants are minority-owned, bringing a truly multicultural perspective to Denny’s and helping us to attract and foster talent. We work hard to establish beneficial business relationships with agencies that share in our commitment to identify and employ diverse candidates who share our passion for creating quality experiences for today’s consumers.
Q. How are you making your diverse workforce feel valued?
A. Denny’s is committed to embracing the unique qualities of each employee and valuing differences in thought, culture, and experiences. We demonstrate our commitment by keeping diversity top of mind and celebrating it every day — both in terms of who we hire and who we serve. A diner is, by nature, all inclusive. This extends to our efforts to give back to the communities we serve every day. We strive to embrace, promote, and celebrate the cultural diversity of our country.
One example is our Hungry for Education scholarship program, which we launched in 2013. The annual program, which starts in September, asks students to submit essays on how they can help fight childhood hunger in their communities, and one deserving student is selected by Denny’s to have their idea put into action in their community. The program has awarded more than $250,000 in combined scholarships to students across the country. Additionally, we have longstanding relationships with the NAACP, the League of Latin American Citizens, the Hispanic Association for Colleges and Universities, the Magic Johnson Foundation, the Steve Harvey Foundation, the Tom Joyner Foundation, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities across the country. Our partnerships and programs reflect our commitment to diversity and help raise awareness for our principle brand causes: education and childhood hunger. At Denny’s, we believe that by embracing the differences that unite us all, we can move forward together.