Denny’s has been off again, on again with international,” said Steve Dunn, the company’s chief global development officer. At one time the family dining chain had several hundred restaurants outside the United States but today its international presence sits at 130 stores in 13 countries, a footprint largely the result of having sold all rights for the country of Japan, where there are more than 400 units.
Early on, said Dunn, Denny’s global efforts mainly functioned a matter of convenience, “going where it was easy,” without a strategic plan in place. Now the company is focusing its efforts on finding experienced operators in countries and regions where Denny’s is already in demand.
“We look at which countries are open to the family dining segment, considering the presence and familiarity of American restaurant concepts in general,” said Dunn. “We target the everyman—we’re all things to all people and working class consumers are who we really appeal to.”
Denny’s brand awareness in the United Kingdom was a major driver of the company’s decision to expand there and sign a development deal with franchisee Leon Esfahani, who opened his first location in Swansea, Wales, with plans for at least 10 restaurants in the region. Denny’s examined its sizable market share in Orlando, Florida, Dunn explained, and learned a high percentage of guests were “on holiday” from the U.K. and already fans of the brand, thus spurring the company to seek a franchise partner in the country.
“I think people were just chomping at the bit to get a sense of Americana in that town,” said Dunn of Swansea, where Esfahani’s Magic Brands Corp. is based.
As it continues to identify international partners, Dunn said Denny’s doesn’t plan to adapt its menu too much to local tastes because, “People don’t go to an American restaurant brand to order the local favorite. They want Denny’s to be Denny’s.”