Denny's wants to rock 'n' roll all night long

Denny's wants to rock.

Yes, that Denny's.

The 55-year-old family dining chain known for its Grand Slam breakfast and 24/7 service, this weekend begins to revamp its late-night branding with a most unlikely image makeover aimed at twentysomethings via their taste buds and even their ear buds.

From 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., alternative rock will replace the middle-of-the-road music now piped in. Instead of black pants and collared shirts, wait staff will wear jeans and T-shirts during these hours.

The chain also is launching two late-night-only menus. One is a value menu with items such as nacho cheese fries for $3.99. The other is a "shareable" menu, with seasoned kettle chips, mini-burgers and $7 Sweet Ride Nachos — tortilla chips in cinnamon sugar, fruit, hot fudge and whipped cream. It's even hired alternative-rock bands to help create late-night items.

The move is a bid to win back late-night market share that fast-food chains such as McDonald's mcd and Wendy's wen have stolen from Denny's denn with more snackable items and later hours over the past few years.

For Denny's it's a no-brainer: 47% of its late-night customers are under 24. Two of three aren't coming from work, but from spots like night clubs or bowling alleys. A trip to Denny's is to continue the party.

So Denny's wants to tweak the party feel. If it can bump up late-night business by 5%, it would boost sales by $26 million, CEO Nelson Marchioli says.

"There's a time when Denny's was cool, and we can get back there," Marchioli says.

But it's a risk, analysts warn. The company could alienate core late-night patrons — such as factory shift workers — by pandering to youth, says Linda Lipsky, a consultant. "These are folks who are spending real money instead of splitting one appetizer five ways."

It's gonna be tough to be a friendly breakfast spot in the morning and a rockin' hangout at night, says Bob Goldin, executive vice president at the consulting firm Technomic. But with store sales slipping and customer transactions down for eight of the last nine quarters, he says, "At least they're trying something."

If the late-night changes sound slightly guy-focused, that's because more than six in 10 late-night guests at Denny's are male. Music is key to this young, male target, says Mark Chmiel, marketing chief.

Perhaps that explains the new website,, which has a rock music blog. The site encourages folks to vote on which up-and-coming rock bands Denny's should "adopt" — by feeding them for free while they're on tour.

In exchange for national promotions in its 1,500 restaurants, Denny's has coaxed several rock bands to help it concoct late-night snacks. Among the bands is alternative rockers Taking Back Sunday.

Earlier this month in a New York City kitchen the group concocted an item it hopes will become a Denny's staple: Bacon Cheeseburger Fries (fries topped with beef, cheese, bacon and onions).

The group's bass player, Matt Rubano, says his band has spent many late nights after concerts at Denny's. "There's not many other places you can roll in at 1 a.m. with a band and crew and get served."