In car-loving California, a popular sit-down restaurant has joined the ranks of drive-through eateries.
Denny's, the all-day breakfast diner, opened a drive-through restaurant in Kerman, Calif., about 15 miles west of Fresno, on Monday and celebrated the grand opening by giving its first 100 customers a Denny’s coffee mug and free coffee for one month. Franchise owner Sunita Sagar called the opening “heartwarming and overwhelming.”
“It was so nice to see the community support and lining up outside for us to open,” she said. “All [the] comments we heard were, ‘We’re so grateful for you guys to be in this community,’ so everybody is so excited, especially for [the] drive-through.”
Denny's is ranked the 37th biggest chain restaurant in the country, according to Nation's Restaurant News, a trade publication that covers the U.S. food service industry.
The drive-through offers a condensed menu of popular food items and those that can be prepared in a short amount of time, Sagar said. This includes burgers, milkshakes, coffee and the staple Grand Slam dish of eggs with pancakes, bacon and sausage links.
“From each section of breakfast, lunch and dinner, we have items which are the most popular like Grand Slam, the Moons Over My Hammy, Lumberjack Slam … so all those menus are staple menus from Denny’s,” Sagar said.
The drive-through has already gained a lot of traction, with 50 cars passing through Tuesday by 12:45 p.m., she said.
During the pandemic, fast-food chains began accelerating the expansion of drive-through, pickup and curbside offerings as cities shut down dine-in opportunities. Between 60% and 70% of most fast-food sales come from drive-through orders, according to a 2020 report by Quantum Real Estate Advisors Inc. About 70% of McDonald's sales came from its drive-throughs in 2020.
Sagar made the decision to open the drive-through in the Fresno area after noticing the changing consumer trend.
Diana Kelter, associate director of consumer trends for Mintel, a global market intelligence agency, pointed to a post-pandemic trend where consumers have become accustomed to non-contact and non-sit-down dining experiences. Couple that with Denny’s predominantly breakfast menu, it makes sense that people in the early morning wearing their pajamas may not want to get out of the car to eat breakfast, she said.
“Some people don't come to Denny’s because sometimes they don't want to go inside or don't want to get ready,” Sagar confirmed. “People can come in their pajamas and get the same type of food, hot and fresh,” using the drive-through.
Other dine-in restaurants such as Chili’s and Panera Bread are finding ways to reach more consumers through pickup and delivery services. But without a drive-through option, Kelter said it is hard for these restaurants to get consumers to associate them with the same experience offered by drive-through eateries.
“It’s all about how restaurants want to signal new options to consumers,” she said.
This is not Denny’s first foray into the drive-through experience in California. During the pandemic, a handful of Denny’s locations offered drive-through grocery services where customers could order from a list of grocery items such as eggs, milk, bread and produce. Denny’s also rolled out Make-at-Home Meal Kits that included ingredients and instructions to prepare Denny’s dishes in 2020.
“We’re definitely seeing the concept [of the at-home experience] evolve beyond where it is primarily associated, which is quick service,” Kelter said. “It depends on where people have cars. In the city, it’s probably not going to be as common, but in more second cities or suburbs, it obviously is something that really adds value to consumers.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.