Shady Things About Denny's Menu

American dining institutions don't get much more red, white, and blue than Denny's. Once known as Danny's Donuts, the diner chain is a firm roadside fixture from coast to coast, with the majority of its restaurants open 24 hours a day to satisfy midnight munchies and road trip cravings alike.

While Denny's is primarily known for its all-day eggs, bacon, and Grand Slam breakfast combos, its menu caters to seemingly all of your stomach's cravings. If you drop by one of its diners today, you can take your pick from steak, chicken and gravy, burgers, and other typical all-American fare. To be fair, nobody visits Denny's expecting a Michelin-starred meal, but you do dine confident in the knowledge that, no matter what you order, you're getting hefty portions of carbs at a relatively low cost.

Yet, as is the case with so many other all chain restaurants, the Denny's menu isn't without its faults. Over the years, a number of controversies and employee secrets have emerged about the dishes on offer at Denny's. From shrinking portions to the origins of the meat on your plate, here are some of the things you may want to know before you next slide into a Denny's booth.

Its nutritional information hasn't always been accurate

The inclusion of calorie counts on menus is controversial. While the federal government thinks it's necessary to tackle health issues such as obesity and diabetes, others believe it encourages an obsessive mindset towards calories that may be harmful to those who are suffering with or recovering from eating disorders. If a restaurant is going to list calories, however, you would at least hope that they're accurate.

Yet Denny's has been caught out for inaccurate calorie counts on at least two occasions. In 2013, a Consumer Reports investigation tested the calorie and fat content of a random Denny's dish (its Fit Slam combo, which combines egg whites, spinach, tomatoes, turkey bacon, an English muffin, and fruit) and found that the reality didn't align with the numbers officially cited by the restaurant. While Denny's claimed the menu item contained 390 calories and 12 grams of fat, the dish as it was served up at three different restaurants ranged from 384 to 494 calories and carried 11 to 19 grams of fat.

Fast forward a few years and Denny's was rapped for a second time. The Now conducted a study in 2018 that found that Denny's Club Sandwich (plus its side of fries) was over its calorie count in two restaurants — one by 110 calories, and the other by 180 calories. These differences may sound minor, but for anyone who needs to keep an eye on the nutritional profile of everything they eat for health reasons, an extra 100 calories over what's stated on the mneu isn't so easily forgiven.

Denny's sometimes uses pseudonyms on delivery apps

If you've ever sat down to order dinner and decided to support a small business instead of a big name spot like Denny's, you may want to double-check where your food is actually coming from. Plenty of major restaurant chains operate virtual restaurants on food delivery apps, including IHOP, Chuck E. Cheese, and Applebee's. This means that you're ordering the same food from the same place, just under the name of restaurant that only exists in the digital world.

When it comes to Denny's, the chain operates under pseudonyms such as The Burger Den and The Meltdown. These were launched in 2021 on the likes of Postmates, DoorDash, and Uber Eats in an effort to boost sales. A third, Banda Burrito (which does include some new, exclusive menu items) was added to food delivery apps across California in 2023 and will reportedly go nationwide throughout 2024.

From a business perspective, the logic is that you diversify your customer base if you start shilling food under other names — although Sharon Lykins, Denny's vice president of product innovation, told Food On Demand that it's also a way "to maximize our labor force without using a lot of new ingredients." However, some customers feel it's a dishonest move to try and win business from those who wouldn't ordinarily choose to order from Denny's. As one Reddit user put it, "They're so awful they have to lie about who they are to get business?!"

The menu no longer gives customers obvious freedom to customize

Once upon a time, you could tweak most Denny's dishes to your heart's content. Then came February 2024. During an earnings call, Denny's confirmed that it had quietly eliminated most of the customization options on its menu towards the end of 2023. "We simplified the menu layout while minimizing customizations and the Build Your Own categories on the menu," said Denny's CEO Kelli Valade (via The Street). "This not only allowed us to highlight our most popular and most craveable items, but it simplified operations without any impact on the guests or to guests preferences."

Theoretically, you can still ask the staff at your local Denny's to customize certain dishes. The big difference now, however, is that these customizations are no longer front and center on the Denny's menu in an effort to push customers to keep things simple and order dishes in their standard state. As per the Denny's menu, the few customizations that did make this cut include choosing your eggs and your type of potatoes with dishes such as the Country Fried Steak & Eggs, Classic Benny Breakfast, or the Original Grand Slam.

Sodium content isn't just high but dangerous

It's no secret that restaurants tend to pack much more sodium into dishes than food you'd make at home. Salt doesn't just improve the flavor of food, but also helps it last longer, which is why it's particularly prevalent in low-cost restaurants like Denny's — despite the fact eating too much salt has a definitively negative impact on our blood pressure and can increase the risk of heart attacks or strokes.

Some of Denny's menu items contain not just high but seriously concerning levels of sodium. In 2009, a customer backed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) filed the first ever sodium-related lawsuit over the number of dishes on the Denny's menu that contained more than the maximum daily amount (2,300 milligrams) recommended by the Food and Drug Administration. The dish of the greatest concern was the Meat Lover's Scramble, which contained a whopping 5,690 milligrams of sodium thanks to its blend of cheese, eggs, bacon, ham, sausage, hash browns, and pancakes. "For those Americans who should be most careful about limiting their sodium ... it's dangerous to eat at Denny's," said Michael Jacobson, the executive director of CSPI at the time (via Los Angeles Times).

While the Meat Lover's Scramble no longer features on the Denny's menu, sodium is still a concern. As per the November 2023 edition of the Denny's nutrition guide, an incredible 22 dishes still contain more than the daily recommended amount of sodium.

Eggs don't always come fresh from the shell

Denny's may specialize in all-day breakfast foods, but a Mashed survey conducted in 2021 found that 24% of respondents think it's the chain restaurant with the worst eggs — despite these arguably being the glue that holds all breakfast foods together. While we're not claiming to know why Denny's eggs fail to impress, we do know that they don't always come from an actual shell. According to Denny's employees, some of the eggs served in its diners are made with liquid eggs. As per one alleged former Denny's chef on Reddit, these are "basically pre-mixed eggs that they can scoop out of a pan with a ladle." Apparently, they're primarily used to prepare scrambled eggs, with eggs that are cracked straight from the shell reserved for the fried or poached egg orders. However, you may have a hard time finding this information on the menu.

To be fair, Denny's isn't the only restaurant using liquid eggs. Multiple chains (especially fast food restaurants or affordable diners like Denny's) opt for pre-mixed or pre-cooked egg mixtures, including the likes of McDonald's, Burger King, and Dunkin', with the most likely reasons being that they're cheaper and easier than constantly cracking open new eggs. If you're averse to the concept of liquid eggs in your next Grand Slam, former Denny's workers claim that you can always specifically request freshly cracked eggs when ordering your meal.

Customers pay a premium for macaroni and cheese

When the macaroni craving hits but your energy is low, the obvious choice for many is a box of Kraft Mac & Cheese. All it takes is about eight minutes in the kitchen, as well as a dash of milk and butter, to take that creamy, gooey, cheesy goodness from blue box to plate. It's easy to see why Kraft is the OG boxed macaroni and cheese brand, and is still the number one choice for American consumers — and Denny's restaurants.

Each Denny's location makes no secret of the fact that the macaroni and cheese currently listed on the chain's kids menu is Kraft Mac 'N Cheese. What's not quite as transparent is the markup involved. Looking at the menu, Denny's charges around $6.00 to eat Kraft Mac 'N Cheese in the restaurant, though exact prices may depend on your location. Meanwhile, if you want to whip it up at home and eat your mac and cheese the traditional way (by which we mean you are chowing down straight from the pan in your kitchen at midnight when you can't be bothered to cook), you can typically pick up a box of Kraft Mac 'N Cheese for just a little over $1.00 at big grocery retailers such as Walmart. That's a pretty bleak premium for the pleasure of eating the exact same thing while sitting down at a restaurant.

Shrinkflation has reportedly hit several menu items

Shrinkflation isn't a rare phenomenon in this day and age. As inflation soars and the prices for raw materials increase, all kinds of businesses — restaurants included — have attempted to reduce the size of a product while keeping the price the same (or, even worse, increasing the price while shrinking the portion). Common though it may be, that doesn't make it any less frustrating when you spot it in action. While Denny's still plates up some pretty hefty portions, customers allege that shrinkflation is at work in seemingly everything on the menu, from omelets to coffee. 

One disgruntled customer claimed to have found menus from 2018 that contained much higher values for items still on the menu today. "Denny's has absolutely shrinkflated," they asserted on Reddit. We compared the two menus ourselves and found that, while some dishes contain the same number of calories today, there are indeed others that appear to contain less, suggesting (but not necessarily proving) that portions could be slightly smaller. For example, the New York Style Cheesecake contained 600 calories with whipped cream back in 2018, while today it contains 540. Meanwhile, the Cali Club Sandwich (which started at 930 calories on the 2018 menu, before adding sides) now begins at 890 calories.

It's fallen behind on its promises to source humane meat

Denny's may have a handful of veggie options, but its menu is very much packed with meat-heavy options. Back in 2012, Denny's promised to source this meat in the most ethical way possible. To be specific, it vowed to only purchase pork from a supply chain free of gestation crates, in which pigs are raised in such a small environment that they cannot stand or turn. As per Denny's then-vice president Greg Linford, this switch was "best for our company, our guests, and our continued work to improve animal welfare" (via Huffington Post).

Fast forward 12 years and this promise (which was rather quietly removed from the Denny's website) is still yet to come to fruition. The restaurant's lack of action sparked mass protests in 2023, which only got more intense when the son of a Denny's executive was pictured flipping off some of those protestors. In early 2024, the Humane Society of the United States filed a shareholder proposal for Denny's to reinstate a deadline to go gestation crate-free, with new statistics now present on the Denny's website. The chain now claims that 32% of its pork comes from suppliers who "either use group housing systems or do not house confirmed pregnant sows in gestation crates." It also aims to increase that number to at least 50% by the end of 2028 — some 16 years after it initially vowed to ditch the practice.

Not everything is made fresh (especially the hash browns)

Anyone who's worked in the food industry will likely tell you that each restaurant has its own hacks and shortcuts to keep things efficient in the kitchen. If the words of former Denny's chefs are anything to go by, the same is true at its diners nationwide. The result is that multiple dishes aren't quite as fresh as you may think while you're browsing the menu, with some ex-employees going so far as to vow off its food altogether as a result.

According to a self-proclaimed former chef on Reddit, some of the most eye-catching details purportedly include "old pancake batter being used" and "dried hash browns that [are] rehydrated." Multiple other Denny's alumni have corroborated the latter in the past, with one worker going into more detail about the rehydrating process on Quora. "[Bags] of shredded, par-cooked and flash frozen potatoes are emptied onto the flat top at 450 degrees, and spread out evenly," they explained. "They are left until the bottom forms a crust that lets you flip them in chunks. The second side is often compressed with a hot, heavy metal block to make them crispy."

That same former worker on Reddit also claimed that it's commonplace to fudge the expiry dates of foods. "Then there was the replacing of 'day dots' that would happen when an inspector comes," they wrote. "The tag would be replaced, but the food would remain." Of course, this may not be true at your local Denny's.

Some of the things you expect to be vegetarian may actually contain meat

If you're vegetarian, then you likely already know that you can never be too careful when eating out at restaurants. While some dishes very obviously contain meat, others can be a little less forthcoming about their contents, which can include animal products in the form of broths, gelatin, or other byproducts. These additions, if not detected early, can lead to some pretty unpleasant dining experiences if avoiding meat is important to you.

At Denny's, the items you may need to watch out for are the Tomato Sauce and the Bourbon Sauce. As noted in Denny's allergen guide, the Tomato Sauce contains both pork and chicken, while the Bourbon Sauce contains beef. Both sauces typically come with dishes that openly contain meat, such as burgers, which surely no vegetarian is going to order by mistake. What makes them particularly risky for non-meat-eaters is the fact that you can also order each sauce on the side of any other dish. While there's a chance your server may let you know that these contain meat when ordering in-restaurant, there's no guarantee. What's more, if you add them via the likes of Uber Eats or DoorDash, there's currently no note to tell you about the animal-based ingredients in the sauces when you're placing your order. Vegetarians, be warned.