Thursday, November 24, 2011

Denny's: A Fast Food Standard That Is Too Widely Variable To Enthusiastically Recommend.

The Good: Food that tastes good, Plenty of locations
The Bad: Vastly different service standards, Menu/price changes make it less consistent than I'd like.
The Basics: Denny's is an easy place to find and eat, but it is not the best food in the world.

Denny's is one of those restaurants I have a mixed relationship with. It is one of the fast food chains that I regularly find myself at, but that I tend to enjoy more as a matter of convenience than actual love of the food there. For example, on my wedding weekend almost a year ago now, my wife and I had our last single meal at a Denny's in Niagara Falls, NY because there was one close to our hotel and we wanted a place our family could afford after they drove over from Michigan. And on the way back from our local casino, Vernon Downs, my wife and I frequently stop at the Oneida Denny's because it is the only thing open at two in the morning when we get out of there.

Denny's is that kind of hangout; a generic grill that is available and open at hours when nothing else is and when one wants basic hot food in a sit-down setting where they can eat and not be bugged. Denny's, locally, is known as a stoner's hangout and I tend not to go there too often because it seems to be a place I run into too many of my former students.


Denny's restaurants are virtually everywhere in the United States, at least in every major city and along virtually every major interstate in the continental U.S. Denny's tend to be located as standalone restaurants, though one or two I've encountered were in a mall setting. More frequently, I have found them in strip mall settings. Even there, though, they tend to be on their own near shopping complexes, as opposed to actually ingrained in them.

Denny's tends to be organized like old diners with a soda fountain feel near the front and tables and booths arranged around. The entire restaurant has a neutral, family friendly atmosphere and there is a corporate-consistency to the chain. Denny's tends to be a sit-down restaurant where customers are waited on by their server, who seats them.

Denny's tends to be modestly decorated. They usually have tables and mildly uncomfortable booths. The walls tend to be decorated with hotel-style artwork, a kind of bland, safe art that puts just enough on the wall to create desperate conversations if you're out with someone you don't truly know or are uncomfortable with. Some, though, mix it up a little and one of the Denny's my wife and I went to on our honeymoon had jukebox players with song access on the individual tables.


Denny's uses traditional waiters or waitresses. However, service can vary drastically both by location and time of night. I have been to Denny's in Indiana at two in the morning where the staff was exceptionally polite and I've been to Denny's in Florida for breakfast where the staff did not wait on me with any sense of care or concern. Indeed, while out on one of my wife's days off, we tried a Denny's here in Syracuse that we had never been to and the young staff was problematically involved in drama. My wife, who waited tables for many years, found herself appalled to be in a position where she actually considered not tipping the service was so bad.

That said, Denny's tends to have a younger workforce and clientele, so service is not expected to be either consistent or especially great. In fact, there have been Denny's I have been to where each time I have been in, the waitstaff has been entirely different. Yet, come to think of it, the one I've been to in Indiana several times has had people who have been there each time I've passed through.


Denny's is American fast food, so the cuisine is prepared relatively quickly, mostly deep fried and this chain distinguishes itself mostly by having variable menus which change both throughout the day and year to year. There are, however, some consistent elements, which make it a wonderfully easy place to stop and find an old favorite to eat at any hour of the night. Moons Over My Hammy, for example, is a ham and cheese sandwich which is available coast to coast and is an inexpensive option which makes for a consistent dining option.

One of the distinguishing aspects of Denny's is the fact that breakfast foods are available 24 hours a day. Denny's has many breakfast options from standard omelets which may have any number of meat, cheese and vegetable options put in them. So, for example, I've often had standard ham, bacon and cheese omelets. The omelet is a simple egg, cheese and meat dish which is now available as a healthier option made of egg whites only. I've actually never had a bad omelet at Denny's and the fluffy eggs are actually one of the least greasy options of the restaurant.

Another favored breakfast option for Denny's patrons is a Grand Slam breakfast. The Grand Slam has evolved into other "Slam" breakfasts, which are basically Denny's name for a plate with up to four options chosen from ham, bacon strips, three pancakes, hash brown potatoes, country fried potatoes, two eggs (prepared fried or scrambled), sausage, or waffles. The Slams are an inexpensive way to bulk up on a lot of breakfast food for a modest - $5 - $7 price.

As for drinks, coffee is inexpensive and the coffee at Denny's is very standard, perfectly average. They also have decent juice options: grapefruit and tomato in addition to the usual orange and apple juice. At more than $2.50 for a large glass of juice (without free refills) Denny's is an expensive restaurant to drink juice at, even if one is trying to have a complete breakfast anytime.

My favorite dish at Denny's is one which I openly acknowledge is not in any way healthy. That dish is the chicken fried steak. Chicken fried steak is a pair of beef patties which is breaded and deep fried and it might sound terrible, but it is surprisingly delicious, especially with the country gravy that comes atop it. This white sauce with pepper is flavorful and salty and is a great litmus test for how good a Denny's is. Whenever I order country fried steak, I order it with extra gravy with the caveat, "There's no such thing as too much gravy." The best Denny's restaurants provide me with an extra bowl full of country gravy, the worst forget to put any additional on. The country fried steak come with the shaved potatoes, country fried potatoes and they, too, are wonderful smothered in gravy.

Lately, my wife and I have been hitting Denny's after our trips to the casino and as luck would have it, we've discovered a wonderful new (to us) dish. Denny's has an appetizer almost substantial enough to be a full meal. For $5.95, one gets a large bowl of large french fries drenched in cheese sauce and bacon pieces. What makes the loaded french fries so good is that the bacon is real, not soy bacon bits. As a result, these fries are gooey, salty and a delicious 2:30 AM snack for us!

On our last trip, we also discovered an appetizer not worth trying, which was the Denny's loaded nachos. The loaded nachos appealed to my wife and I because they have ground beef and melted cheese. However, they also have a salsa on them which is unbearably spicy (it has a real kick!) and that was not enjoyed by either of us late at night.

We were also surprised to discover that the pancake bites which Denny's was test marketing last year on our honeymoon have now become a permanent fixture on the menu. The pancake bites are deep fried balls of pancake batter which come with syrup and are very average.


Denny's is a fast-food restaurant I am ultimately giving a very light "recommend" to because I do eat there and I do enjoy it when I go there. But lately, their prices have seemed to go up, so I tend to go only when we have a coupon - which is about once a month. Denny's is average, at best, and it's a fine place to eat so long as one knows exactly what to expect. Consistency and availability of food are traded for food which might taste good, but is not at all healthy.

For other restaurants, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Johnny Rockets


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© 2011, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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