Recipe for Success: Behind the Scenes of Denny’s Digital Strategy

Learn about Denny's digital strategy and remarkable success with Yext.

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By Derick Jaros

Jun 8, 2023

6 min

Two new restaurants are taking America by storm: The Burger Den and The Meltdown. Between them, they have more than 2,000 locations. But what makes them different is that you can't actually visit The Burger Den or The Meltdown.

Both are virtual restaurants with no physical storefronts, tables, or chairs. Instead, they operate from Denny's kitchens, selling exclusively online and through delivery platforms like Uber Eats.

The strategy has paid off: since Denny's launched the brands in June 2021, they've already amassed 23 million Google Listings impressions. And that's only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Denny's digital plans: the company is working to not only to drive visibility for its virtual kitchens, but to help customers find and engage with the Denny's brand as a whole.

Derick Jaros, Head of Industry, Commerce at Yext, caught up with Luis Martinez, Senior Director of Brand Intelligence and Customer Relationship Management at Denny's, to learn about the company's digital strategy and remarkable success with Yext.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

DJ: What prompted Denny's to develop virtual kitchens, and how do these virtual kitchen brands differ from Denny's?

LM: It was a combination of driving innovation, appealing to consumer needs, and driving business outcomes. For Denny's, the pandemic put pressure on in-person dining and required us to come up with new revenue streams in the online ordering space. Virtual restaurants represented a rich opportunity.

Also, we thought about the power of a new brand, even if it lived under the Denny's umbrella, as a way to pull in incremental guests and new guests into our overall ecosystem.

When people go to a Denny's, their number one motivation is for warm, inviting, and delicious breakfast classics — food that's somewhat nostalgic but, at the end of the day, very comforting.

Denny's, The Burger Den, and The Meltdown are similar in terms of the job they fulfill; they share the DNA of delivering a comfort indulgence to a person who needs it. But the new brands appeal to different constituencies. Virtual brands live in the eCommerce space. They tend to skew younger, higher income, and more urban.

DJ: Even though we call them virtual restaurants, they have a physical component. How does a virtual restaurant operate within a physical kitchen?

LM: We had great practice launching Denny's on Demand, our online ordering platform, back in 2017. When the pandemic hit, and we had to make significant pivots towards eCommerce solutions, we already had muscle memory — both on the Denny's direct ordering side and our third-party partners at DoorDash and Uber Eats.

The complexity we introduced was differentiation. How do you differentiate an order from from one coming from The Meltdown or The Burger Den? We reconsidered the color of the receipts and packaging. We used different stickers to make sure that people could recognize each brand.

DJ: Denny’s was the first brand to launch Virtual Restaurant Listings on Google. Can you take us through the journey?

LM: Like with most great work, it started with a simple question: "Why can't we do this?" We had all of our Denny's locations mapped. The addresses and locations were exactly the same as the ones for the virtual brands. So why couldn't we list virtual restaurants?

However, the answer to that question was fairly complex and required a lot of people to come together.

We had a great partnership with Yext and, by extension, Google. That allowed us to figure out the "whys" and "why nots." Ultimately, the chorus became loud enough, not just from Denny's but from other restaurant brands asking similar questions, for the likes of Google and Yext to say, "You know what? Virtual restaurants deserve a solution."

I was proud of the fact that we were one of the first brands to actually do something about it. It's something that's never been done before. We mapped 1,200 Burger Den locations and over 900 Meltdown locations in June of last year.

DJ: What are some of the other results you've seen since launching the virtual listings on Google?

LM: We're very proud of the outcomes — like driving 1.25 million Google Listings Actions in less than two years.

To take it a step further, it's the financials behind those numbers.

Not every single engagement's going to translate into a visit, but we know that a certain percentage of engagements do. The cost of wrong information here is high: if someone can't find what they're looking for, they can't or won't take that next step to visit us.

We are really happy with the range of potential financial outcomes to the point where we say, "This is not only an ROI-positive initiative, but it's one that is quite frankly traffic and sales driving."

DJ: How did you collaborate with Yext to position these two new brands to be so searchable and engage-able?

LM: We took a variety of actions in our partnership with Yext.

Pushing data from Yext to Google helps ensure that our listings are up-to-date and accurate — which can help with search rank. We also worked with Yext to add services and attributes to drive SEO for the listings — because we know that more complete listings tend to perform better in search.

Finally, we were able to leverage Yext's analytic reporting in our dashboard to monitor search impressions and customer actions to help us really see the business impact of our digital strategy. We were also able to analyze top keywords that drive a majority of local search impressions and customer actions — which in turn helped inform our paid media strategy. (If certain keywords were driving SEO performance, our media agency was able to use this intelligence for their SEM budgeting.)

DJ: Virtual kitchens are just one part of the Denny’s story. How are you approaching the Denny’s digital experience as a whole in 2023 — and how will you leverage Yext to execute on this approach?

LM: Looking ahead, we are focused on personalization and SEO, and we are working with Yext to personalize our customer experiences across our entire digital ecosystem.

We are also looking at ways to expand the impact of our Yext partnership to better serve the needs of our customers. We feel new Yext tools can help make Denny's more aware and responsive to real-time customer sentiment which, in turn, will help us improve CSAT & NPS scores — and sharpen marketing decisions based on this new layer of customer intelligence.

DJ: How has working with Yext contributed to your ability to drive engagement – and deliver a great customer experience — across the board?

LM: Denny's has been a Yext client since 2015 and we've worked closely together to innovate and utilize their new product offerings year-over-year. Today, we count on Yext for Local Listings, Local Pages, and Reputation Management.

Making sure that our customers and prospects are provided with accurate, up-to-date information about our brand, our restaurant locations, menus, LTOs, and more is one of the main reasons we are a Yext client. In addition to providing Denny's with best-in-class software products, our day-to-day contacts and management connections at Yext truly care about us, our business, and our success, and they constantly work to ensure they are meeting and exceeding our expectations for a partner.

Looking Ahead

Luis and his team have moved mountains over the last year: after all, they've successfully launched two national virtual restaurant chains. But they're not resting on their laurels. Luis remains receptive to change and ready to react to whatever comes next.

"We're in the early days of ratings, reviews, and sentiment analysis," he says. "I know our partnership with Yext will continue to manifest into new questions, answers, and ideas."

Read Next: Denny's Drives Hungry Mobile Diners Through Restaurant Doors With Yext

Using the Yext platform, Denny's increased the online discoverability of its restaurants — experiencing a 174% lift in local page impressions and a 36% increase in listing clicks.

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