Denny's free breakfast draws crowds nationwide

When school let out at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday because of snow, hundreds more people in Mount Vernon joined the crowd already gathered at Denny's for the Grand Slam breakfast that the chain offered free nationwide.

"It's good, plus I like anything that's free," said Cody Gilbert, 18, who stood in line for 20 minutes to eat the pancakes, eggs, bacon strips and sausage links.

Denny's Corp. gave the free meal to any customer visiting its restaurants between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tuesday for one day only.

"We wanted to reintroduce Denny's to America," said Bill Ruby, a former Lexington resident who is now vice president of sales and field marketing for the South Carolina-based firm.

"Times are so tough. Dollars are so tight. What's a better value than a free meal?" said Ruby. "Beyond the free meal, Denny's has great food for not a lot of money in a short amount of time."

Mount Vernon Mayor Clarice Kirby said the restaurant in that town of fewer than 3,000 served at least 500 people, and 50 people could be seen in line most of the day.

"I did go, but couldn't get in," said Kirby.

At both Denny's locations in Lexington — on Nicholasville Road and Newtown Pike — crowds started forming at 6 a.m.

The Newtown Pike restaurant had served 500 people by 2 p.m., and customers who didn't have time to stand in line were handed a rain check so they could visit the restaurant later, officials said.

Denny's estimated that 2 million people nationwide would ultimately take advantage of the deal Tuesday at the chain's 1,500 restaurants.

Ruby said the promotion was aimed at showing people that, in addition to the traditional Grand Slam, Denny's offers breakfasts to go and new items on the menu.

Denny's had heavily advertised Tuesday's free offer on television during the Super Bowl on Sunday and in a full-page ad in USA Today.

Ruby said the promotion was planned before Kentucky's ice storm, but that by coincidence the free meals came during a recovery period for the state.

Ruby said he remembered Kentucky's 2003 ice storm, since he lived in Lexington and Louisville from 1999 to 2005 working with Yorkshire Global Restaurants and Yum Brands.

"We're getting reports from our restaurants there in Kentucky that people are real appreciative," Ruby said. "I think people are happy to get a hot, fresh meal at a time like this."