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Chain LeaderEditorial Archives2005October — Restauratour

Warming Trend
Wood, earth tones and low lighting give remodeled Denny’s stores a homey look.

Take an online tour of Denny's
Photography by Todd Winters

Shortly after she accepted a job at a Denny’s restaurant in Carol Stream, Ill., Amber Domanski got an unexpected vacation: The location was closing for a week to be remodeled.

When Domanski returned to the store after the remodel, she scarcely recognized it. “It was so different,” says Domanski, a unit aid at the restaurant.

The toy machine and phone booths in the cramped entryway were gone. So were the long, diner-style counter, the metal chairs in the dining room and the servers’ bright bowling shirts. The lighting was softer, the carpet dark and sedate, and the chairs, solid and wooden. Booths sported dark vinyl backs, red-and-yellow swirled pendant lights hung above tables, and the servers wore celery-green polo shirts made of a soft, brushed fabric.

Back in 2004, Denny’s tested the new look in six Chicago-area locations, including the Carol Stream store, because the Chicago market hadn’t been remodeled in nine years. “It was a good opportunity to make comparisons between the previous scheme and the new scheme,” explains Carol Davis, senior director of architecture and engineering for the Spartanburg, S.C.-based family-dining chain.

Less Is More
The previous remodel, launched in 1995, featured a bright diner-style look, complete with neon lighting, frosted glass and a counter. Denny’s remodels its stores every seven years, and with this go-round, a warmer look was in order. “We weren’t getting as high ratings as we wanted,” Davis says. “We were ready for a new look.”




Carol Stream, Ill.
Opening Day
March 22, 2004
Vision 3 Architects, Baltimore
5,665 square feet
Average Check
Unit Volume
$1.62 million (company estimate)
Expansion Plans

80 remodeled company and 100 remodeled franchise locations, plus 3 to 5 new units in 2006

Above all, Denny’s wanted an interior that matches its Declaration of Hospitality, a document hanging in the lobby of all 1,584 restaurants (548 company, 1,036 franchised) that details the chain’s promises to its guests. “It emphasizes our commitment to great service,” says Debbie Atkins, Denny’s public relations director.

Late in 2003, the company invited several design firms to submit ideas for the redesign. Vision 3 Architects of Baltimore emerged the winner with an approach that combined good design and good value, Davis says.

Denny’s asked the firm to spend no more than $50,000 to $100,000 per store more than the previous remodel had cost, “and keep it to the low end of that,” says Vision 3 Principal Bill Gray. “And we accomplished that.”

Gray started by scrapping most of the diner elements. He created a neutral palette of wood finishes, dark flooring, dark vinyl booth covering and region-specific art, all meant to turn the bright space into “an all-American family-dining concept, not a theme concept,” he explains.

Gray chose many of the finishes to hold up under Denny’s round-the-clock hours. Vinyl booth backs are more durable than upholstery. The carpet is a higher-grade commercial product than the previous carpet, and the sage-green and striped wall coverings are easy to clean. Gray replaced tile when it was hard to clean; otherwise, he left flooring as it was.

He also left alone the existing floor plan of separate dining areas divided by wood-and-glass partitions. He did, however, refashion the entry area into a bigger space, complete with a waiting bench, a millwork hostess stand and millwork cash counter, both with bright yellow-and-red Denny’s logos. Those elements create “a sense of arrival,” Gray says.

The Green Light
The designer devised three levels of the prototype for Denny’s; the chain chose the middle, which includes an exterior package of new paint, wooden benches and wood planters. By the end of this year, Denny’s will have remodeled about 100 company stores and a handful of franchised stores; next year’s remodeling schedule calls for 80 company and 100 franchised stores.

Denny’s plans a few adjustments to the prototype as it rolls out, for both value engineering and ease of operations, Davis says. Outside awnings, part of Gray’s original design, cost too much to install at every location. Difficult-to-clean floor tile will be replaced with a more easily maintained product. The Declaration of Hospitality itself will get a new look with more photos of customers, according to Atkins.

Overall, the new look is on the right track, Davis says. Check averages and unit volumes at the redesigned stores are higher than the chain expected, though the chain won’t give specifics. According to Davis, customers are giving the new look favorable reviews, as are staffers. The new uniforms alone “have made a huge difference,” she says.

And the remodel is contributing to a rosier financial picture. For the third quarter of 2005, same-store sales were up 4.1 percent at company stores and 6.1 percent at franchised restaurants. Average unit volumes had increased as well, to $1.62 million from $1.58 million at company restaurants and to $1.38 million from $1.33 million at franchised stores.

“The remodel is part of the big picture,” Atkins says.



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