The free Grand Slam breakfasts were a smashing success for Denny's - both locally and nationally.
Motorists saw more gridlock than usual along Commercial Way in front of the Spring Hill location while some diners waited up to an hour to be seated for their chance to be served free food.
The nation's largest family chain restaurant recently paid millions of dollars for Super Bowl air time to announce Tuesday's free Grand Slams. Denny's said approximately 2 million meals were given away nationwide, which translates to more than $12 million.
"We wanted customers to know they have choices out there," said Mark Chmiel, the chief marketing operator and executive vice president of the diner chain. "We wanted to do something to really entice people to come to our restaurant."
The company estimated it earned approximately $50 million worth of public relations following the free Grand Slam campaign, Chmiel said.
The restaurant's ongoing marketing push is focusing on the old-style breakfast. The Grand Slam offers eggs, sausage links, bacon and pancakes - all for an average price of $5.99.
Several sit-down and fast food restaurants offer breakfasts, but they are either processed and served in a wrapper or coated with whipped cream, sugar and other sweets, Chmiel said.
"At those places, you don't get a real breakfast," he said.
Based on company data, approximately 70 percent of those who regularly dine out associate Denny's with the aforementioned old-style breakfast, said Chmiel.
He and his marketing team think Denny's does robust business in Florida mostly because of the stores' proximity to vacation areas and retirement communities, he said.
The chain also has introduced a Grand Slamwich, which includes eggs, bacon, sausage and cheese between two slices of bread. It also includes a teaspoon serving of maple syrup. The promotion will begin this year.
"It already has shown strong consumer appeal," said Chmiel.
The company also is experimenting with a Grand Slam Burrito.
Another indicator of the impact the Grand Slam campaign had on customers was the flood of e-mails and letters received by the company. Many people appreciated the free food offer at a time when so many of them have less money, Chmiel said.
Based on preliminary results for the fourth quarter of 2008, Denny's had its most successful development year since 2002. A total of nearly 80 restaurants were sold last year, according to its Web site.
With 50 percent of consumers going out to eat less often during the recession, Denny's has continued to be profitable largely because of "managing its food costs well," said Chmiel.