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Breakfast in America

Posted: February 3, 2009 9:56 p.m.
Updated: February 4, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Denny's restaurant cooks Jorge Herrera and Marcel Flohr line up the plates as they prepare for an estimated 800 Grand Slam breakfasts during the restaurant's free giveaway of the meal from 6 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday.

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Syrup flowed freely and appetites were soothed Tuesday at the Denny's restaurant on Wayne Mills Place in Valencia as customers swarmed the restaurant to order the menu special - a free Grand Slam breakfast.

Cars packed the parking lot, forcing others to park on the street, and the long line of customers went out the door and kept restaurant workers busy as they served hundreds of the breakfast entrees.

"We're not even passing the regular menus around because we know what they're going to order," said Valencia General Manager Mary Howell.

Denny's staff decided to give away breakfasts to show customer appreciation and encourage future business, she said.

"Because of the economy, everybody's having a hard time and we want our guests to come back," Howell said.

A Grand Slam breakfast consist of two pieces of bacon, two eggs, two sausages, and two pancakes, she said.

More than 1,500 Denny's restaurants nationwide gave away $5.99 Grand Slam breakfasts from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday and Denny's officials expected more than 2 million people to take advantage of the deal.

Business professionals, families with kids, couples and college students sat in chairs around balloon-decorated tables at the Valencia Denny's digging into pancakes and eggs or waiting for their free breakfasts.

Students especially said they appreciated the deal.

"I like stuff that's free, and I'm saving money so I don't feel guilty for eating it," said College of the Canyons student Eugene Lynch, of Castaic. "Normally I would never go out to eat, but if it's free I'll eat it."
Erik Nieto, 21 of Saugus, agreed.

"Times are tough," he said. "We'll take a free one wherever we can get one."

The giveaway spurred several people to get together with friends.

"It's an opportunity to call up one of our friends and go out to lunch without wasting any money," said Erin Poulin, 21 of Santa Clarita.

Connor Bush, 17 of Saugus, also called some of his friends but, "They were already here," he said.
Denny's staff prepared to serve a lot of people, but the number of customers exceeded all expectations, said server Rigo Perez.

"They were waiting since 5:30 a.m.," he said. "We have been non stop since we started at 6 a.m."
Perez's computer printout showed he served 140 customers by 11 a.m. who all ordered breakfasts, a record for his five years of serving, he said.

"That's 280 pancakes," Perez said. "I have never served the same order this much before. I feel full of power. It's exciting."

Denny's Manager German Martinez switched his work shift to fill in at the Valencia Denny's as an extra hand.

"We didn't expect this many people," he said. "Probably 400 or 500 people have come since 6 a.m. this morning."

The breakfast giveaway was a great idea and an effective marketing scheme, said John Peddle, 40 of Valencia.

"It picks up morale and it's going to give them a larger customer base," he said. "It's a win-win situation for Denny's."

Denny's Corp. launched free breakfasts in an effort to reacquaint customers with its brand and showcase its meals as value-friendly options for cash-conscious consumers.

Denny's promoted the giveaway heavily, with a 30-second ad that aired during the third quarter of the Super Bowl on Sunday, another 15-second ad during the post-game show and a full-page ad in USA Today's Monday editions.

The company reported 14 million hits on its Web site between Sunday night and Monday morning.

Shares of Denny's added 6 cents, or 3.1 percent, to $1.98 in afternoon trading. The stock traded in a range of $1.18 to $4.10 over the past 52 weeks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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