What began as one 24-hour donut stand has evolved into Denny’s, America’s Diner, a global restaurant chain with over 1,700 franchise locations worldwide.
“Our founder in 1953 was asked why he started Denny’s restaurants and said simply, ‘I love to feed people,'” recounts Chief Marketing Officer John Dillon. “As a brand, we have poignantly held on to that love of purpose over the years and embraced it internally. We feed people, literally and emotionally, from all walks of life in the United States and around the world. We feed people’s souls. Anyone can walk in and connect with us in a different way than he or she would at a fast food place or even at a normal sit down restaurant. We have CEOs sitting next to plumbers at the diner counter. Everyone’s equal. Our restaurants are unique places of local connection. We are America’s Diner.”
“Almost everybody has been to a Denny’s at some point in life,” explains Dillon, “which is a great thing in terms of brand awareness, but it can also present a challenge — often people’s memories of visiting a Denny’s is from 5, 10, 20 years ago. We want to bring past memories into the present and encourage more recent experiences.”
To accomplish this, Denny’s was eager to enhance its digital presence to serve today’s mobile-empowered consumers of all ages. “Clearly everyone is talking about millennials, and we are no different. We’re highly focused on presenting our restaurants in more relevant ways to all generations,” says Dillon. With such a wide-range of menu items and hours that are 24/7, Denny’s has an unusually varied set of competitors.
“Our breakfast competition is different from our dinner competition, which is different from our late night competition. Weekday breakfast differs from weekend breakfast, and so on,” claims Dillon. “We recognize that consumers — not just millennials — are more mobile, so our digital presence is key to winning and keeping attention and loyalty.”
Leveraging a national brand at the local level is also a major consideration for Denny’s. Dillon and his team consider local franchise empowerment to be a key aspect of its strategy to improve engagement and strengthen relationships with local diners. “90–92% of our system is franchised, so locally relevant and locally owned is important to us. Having a unique presence with local communities is a critical part of the Denny’s brand,” explains Erik Jensen, Senior Director of Brand Engagement. “We wanted to enable our franchisees to update their own local web pages and local social channels, particularly on Facebook, and actually reach out to their specific customers, which we just can’t do at a national level.”
Dillon and his team realized they needed to invest in a comprehensive, scalable technology solution that would strengthen the visibility of the Denny’s brand and menu items in local, high-intent listings in search results, ensuring that hungry customers searching for food nearby always found the Denny’s brand. “Yext came on our radar because frankly we were not getting the sort of traction we needed from our previous attempted technology solution. We knew we needed a comprehensive and effective upgrade,” explains Jensen.
Winning customer attention and loyalty is particularly challenging in the food service industry. Food service is the most highly-searched vertical, and the majority of hungry searchers are looking for a specific cuisine or restaurant attribute, such as “has wi-fi” or “good for kids.”
The Yext Knowledge Engine enables brands like Denny’s to manage the digital knowledge about their locations, service, and menu items across their websites, mobile apps, internal systems, and the entire Knowledge Network — over 100 maps, apps, search engines, GPS systems, and social networks including Google, Apple, Facebook, Bing, and Yelp. “Yext offers unique advantages through its technology platform and proprietary publisher integrations,” Jensen continues. “First and foremost, it enhanced our local search in terms of breadth and depth for our digital presence.”
The account team integrated the Yext platform into Denny’s existing franchisee portal system and developed customized access levels. “We wanted both to allow deep customization of each local Page and also to ensure that franchisees could easily access their Yext Pages,” recalls Jensen. “Yext helped us accomplish this by tying its platform into a system we already have, which means that our franchisees actually access Yext Pages and Yext Facebook listings through our own internal portal! From there, franchisees have different levels of access within this portal depending on their role in the organization.”
With Yext’s advanced customization capabilities, Dillon and his team are able to retain control of the corporate brand and messaging, while still giving franchisees the freedom to localize their own digital presence and thereby enhance local customer engagement.
Dillon and his team’s minds are at ease knowing Denny’s digital presence is consistent, accurate, and optimized for hungry mobile consumers searching for a place to eat. “Our digital knowledge simply must be accurate for us to be in, if not stay ahead of, the game. Missing phone numbers, incorrect addresses — that is unacceptable in this day and age,” states Dillon. “The cost of inaccuracies is difficult to quantify since we don’t know exactly how many customers we were losing due to incorrect information. Regardless, at a baseline correct listings is an infrastructure issue, and Yext provides a uniquely reliable platform to address that.”
Beyond accurate listings, Yext’s deep analytics and reporting mean that Dillon and his team can now quantify the previously unquantifiable. They can measure the impact Yext has had on Denny’s digital engagement.
Among the most striking results are that Denny’s Listings on Google powered a monthly average of 870,000 driving directions requests and 290,000 average monthly phone calls over 10 months. Adding structured menu data helped Denny’s show up more often in searches for the food items they serve, like “pancakes” or “eggs,” and drove a 26% increase in Google Search Views.
In the first year after Denny’s switched from another solution to Yext Pages, they saw a 100% increase in local page impressions. Yext Pages are synced with the Yext Knowledge Engine for consistency and continuously optimized, so their performance improves over time. In fact, two years after launching Yext Pages, impressions on Denny’s local pages had increased 174% from their original level.
“We unveiled Yext at our most recent national convention, and Yext was the only partner or vendor we invited to present personally its technology to the franchisees,” notes Dillon. “Yext is now fundamentally embedded into our marketing initiatives and digital presence system, so it was crucial to us that the franchisees fully understand the opportunity and value Yext can provide when leveraged correctly and consistently.” Dillon adds, “Yext helped us get our franchisees efficiently trained, and the majority of them do use it on a regular basis. Yext is also coordinating a series of webinars to keep our franchisees engaged.”
Denny’s Encourages Customer Feedback with Yext Reviews
Denny’s uses Yext Reviews to display a more complete view of its brand experience online. Yext Reviews enables businesses like Denny’s to generate and manage location reviews across sources including Google, Yelp, Facebook, and more. Reviews makes it easier to encourage customers to review restaurants, providing credibility and visibility in search.
“Yext Reviews has allowed Denny’s to tap into an important source of guest feedback — those who have visited us most recently,” said Luis Martinez, Senior Manager, Brand Engagement. “By encouraging our guests to share their experiences with us, we have gained a more accurate picture of our current in-restaurant experience. By leveraging these new ratings in our local store pages, we have also seen a lift in our local SEO. Implementation was seamless and an important step towards maximizing the opportunity presented by other Yext products and services.”
Denny’s has an average rating of 3.5 across the Knowledge Network. After using Yext Reviews for two months, Denny’s first-party reviews (i.e., reviews submitted directly to its company website) beat the third-party rating by over a full point.
“What’s remarkable is that if you proactively ask for reviews, you’ll generate really good reviews from happy customers who might otherwise have stayed silent,” explains Martinez. “Yext Reviews provides an easy way to invite our guests to review us online and spread the word.”
With Sentiment Analysis in Yext Reviews, Denny’s is able to run sophisticated reports to identify customer feedback trends on a massive set of over 1.2M reviews. The far-reaching insights provided by Yext on Denny’s customer experience allowed them to consolidate their customer experience management tools and realize significant cost savings with Yext.
- 870k Average monthly driving directions requests in their first 10 months with Yext
- 290k Average monthly phone calls in their first 10 months with Yext
- 174% growth in local pages impressions over 2 years with Yext Pages
- 26% increase in their first 6 months with Yext for Food
Industry: Food Service
Size: 1,700 locations
Headquartered: Spartanburg, SC
Yext Products Used: Yext Listings, Yext Pages, Yext Reviews
The Customer Journey:
“People have to walk through brick-and-mortar doors in order to experience our brand — we are not an online vendor. The purpose of our digital presence is to drive diners into our actual restaurants time and again, and that is where Yext’s platform is invaluable,” concludes Dillon.