We Finally Know Why Denny's Is So Cheap

Most of us find ourselves at a Denny's from time to time — most likely for a weekend brunch or perhaps a tipsy late-night grub fest. The restaurant's roots can be traced back to 1953 when Harold Butler and Richard Jezak opened up Danny's Donuts in Lakewood, Calif. (via Denny's). After changing up the concept and tweaking its name to avoid confusion with another restaurant, Denny's expanded locations and introduced its legendary breakfast menu, featuring classic staples like the Grand Slam, biscuits with sausage gravy, and pancakes. Today, Denny's has nearly 1,500 locations spread out across every state in the country (via Scrape Hero). There are locations in 979 cities, with most Denny's restaurants being situated across California, only behind Texas and Florida. Houston, Texas, has 27 Dennys' restaurants alone.

Going from a humble coffee shop to a vast network of 24/7 diners is no easy feat. In fact, it took decades for Denny's to build its reputation to become what it is today. — but how is it that Denny's can offer a stack of pancakes with eggs, sausage, and bacon for under ten bucks? Ever wondered how Denny's manages to feed so many people at such reasonable prices? If you've ever found yourself asking these questions, then it's your lucky day — we looked into it and now we finally know why Denny's is so cheap.

It doesn't use real maple syrup

Real maple syrup is absolutely delicious and there's a good chance that you've never actually tasted it. That's because lots of syrup has no maple in it (per Eater) and most diners won't give you the real stuff by default — you usually have to request it for an additional charge. Like most restaurants, Denny's uses the fake stuff too, serving up "maple-flavored" syrup instead of the real deal (via Fast Food Nutrition). That viscous stream of sweet and sticky amber fluid you've been pouring across your pancakes and waffles is a lie that's been fabricated from a masquerading mix of corn syrup, caramel color, and artificial flavorings. In fact, there are 220 calories in one serving of Denny's maple syrup, and it includes 29 grams of sugar.

That's because the real stuff isn't exactly cheap. According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, authentic maple syrup typically costs over $30 a gallon. The high price is partly because processing real maple syrup requires a lot of resources: It takes 40 gallons of sap to produce only one gallon of maple syrup (via Penn State). There's no doubt that using fake maple syrup is much cheaper and more profitable. By using artificial maple syrup instead authentic maple syrup, Denny's is able to keep its prices on the lower end.

It uses frozen food and instant gravy

When we go out to eat at a restaurant, we like to imagine that most of our meal is made fresh from scratch, but that's usually not the case with big, inexpensive chains. According to an alleged former Denny's employee on Reddit, lots of menu items at the restaurant arrive frozen. Unfortunately, the Redditor didn't specify which menu items are allegedly frozen, so we're left in the dark to speculate. However, the Redditor did make a more concrete claim that Denny's gravy is at least partly made from a powder mix that's added to boiling water.

We've all used powdered gravy in a pinch, but at the same time, making fresh gravy isn't exactly rocket science. With just a little butter, flour, stock, and some seasonings, you can make a mouthwatering gravy in minutes. But as they say, "time is money" and it's certainly much faster to dump a pre-made packet of powder into hot water. Considering most chains want to save as much time as possible, it seems likely that claims of Denny's using powdered gravy are probably accurate. That said, according to an allergen guide from Denny's, the restaurant's gravy is made "in the traditional method which includes using meat drippings." Taking all of this into consideration, it's possible that meat drippings are mixed into an instant gravy. If that's the case, Denny's is giving its cooks a shortcut in the kitchen, which saves time and money while keeping prices cheap.

It uses dehydrated hash browns

Hash browns are half the reason we go out for breakfast. It doesn't get much better than thinly shredded potatoes that are nice and crispy on the outside yet perfectly creamy on the inside. Add a little ketchup and maybe a few splashes of hot sauce and you're in heaven. They are great with a forkful of eggs and equally wonderful with ham, sausage, or bacon. The truth is that hash browns are the ultimate harmonizer of all morning meals, meshing well with just about any breakfast dish on your plate.

There is one downfall to the beloved hash brown, though: They are tedious and time-consuming to make from scratch with fresh potatoes. Not only do the potatoes have to be parboiled and shredded, but they also have to be repeatedly squeezed to wring out excess moisture in order to get that crispy effect we've all come to love about hash browns (via Simply Recipes). Preparing hash browns isn't necessarily difficult, but it's definitely a bit labor-intensive. It made sense when an alleged former Denny's general manager claimed that the hash browns at Denny's are really just pre-made dehydrated shredded potatoes. This means that all the cooks have to do is rehydrate them with some water and then crisp them up on the griddle. By simplifying its preparation of hash browns, Denny's trims the cost of ingredients and labor, which keeps them very reasonably priced on the menu.

It uses liquid eggs

The egg is the undisputed king of breakfast. Not only can it be used in seemingly endless ways, but it is also tremendously nutritious: a single egg contains 7 grams of protein, along with plenty of vitamins and minerals that can enhance brain development and memory (via WebMD). At less than two dollars a dozen, eggs are also dirt cheap, making them a highly affordable form of nutrition (via Statista).

This is why it's a bit strange that so many diners and fast-food restaurants choose to use pre-mixed liquid eggs (per Today) instead of just using fresh shelled eggs. According to a Denny's customer on Quora, liquid eggs are used for scrambled egg orders and fresh eggs are only used for eggs that are ordered fried or poached. Taking a look at the allergen guide on the Denny's website, it appears to use a category of egg referred to as "liquid."

The decision to use liquid eggs that are pre-mixed surely saves a little time. Depending on how much the bags of liquid eggs cost, it probably saves a little money, too. Using liquid eggs is an easy way to cut some corners and keep prices low. Pro-tip: if you're out to eat and in the mood for an omelet or some scrambled eggs, there's a good chance they'll use the pre-mixed stuff, so be sure to specifically request fresh shelled eggs in your order.

It uses Kraft macaroni and cheese

Is there anything better than a bowl of tender noodles glazed in a rich, cheesy sauce? Mac and cheese is one of the most satisfying comfort foods out there. Not only is it delicious, but the recipe can be customized in countless ways with different cheeses and bold additions. Another great thing about macaroni and cheese is how easy it is to make — through a magic mix of butter, milk, cheese, and noodles, you can make all of your wildest macaroni and cheese dreams come true.

When we go out to eat and order macaroni and cheese at a restaurant, we probably don't expect the cooks in the kitchen to open up a box of Kraft. However, that's exactly what happens anytime someone orders a side of macaroni and cheese at Denny's. There's no doubt that using Kraft macaroni and cheese saves time and money, since all of the flavors are provided and self-contained in that little packet of powdered cheese. Using boxed macaroni and cheese sidesteps mixing up a roux to make a cheese sauce — and there's no doubt that powdered cheese just can't compete with the real thing. Still, it's undeniable that Kraft macaroni and cheese has an inexplicable appeal for most of us that probably stems from childhood. By using Kraft macaroni and cheese instead of making it from scratch with fresh ingredients, Denny's is saving time and money which helps keeps the cost cheap.

Denny's is upgrading kitchens for efficiency

It can be challenging to cook in a kitchen that has old appliances and outdated equipment. An archaic kitchen may still be fully functional, but it can certainly slow down the cooking process. With new kitchen gadgets coming out all the time, it's definitely in a restaurant's best interests to make gradual improvements in order to stay current with technology. It's clear that Denny's wisely recognizes this, considering that the company has announced an investment of $65 million to upgrade most of its kitchens with new equipment by the end of 2022 (via Nation's Restaurant News). This also includes plans to introduce new technology, and many of the improvements have already been tested at some Denny's locations. So far, the feedback has been positive.

Denny's CEO John Miller says that the goal of these upgrades is to reduce complexity and simplify the cooking process to improve ticket times and reduce waste. "Investing in this new equipment provides the ability to enhance our menu offerings across all dayparts, but especially further elevating the dinner daypart with new comforting entree, sides and big desserts," Miller told Nation's Restaurant News.

Through kitchen upgrades and equipment improvements, Denny's is ensuring a smoother operation in the back of the house for its cooks. Fast ticket times mean more sales, and more sales mean that Denny's can maintain the affordable prices that we've all come to appreciate.

The nacho meat is allegedly microwaved

Nachos probably aren't the first thing that comes to mind when you think about the food at Denny's. The zesty nachos at Denny's come with pepper jack queso, cheddar cheese, seasoned nacho meat, pico de gallo, and sour cream. Sounds pretty good, right? That may be the case, until you find out that the nacho meat is microwaved.

An alleged former employee on Reddit spilled the beans on the meat matter, claiming that the meat is microwaved for the nachos at Denny's. What this might mean is that the seasoned nacho beef is pre-cooked and gets heated up in the microwave to order. Using the microwave to warm up pre-made beef certainly saves time, but there's a decline in quality when you compare it to the alternative, which would be to cook the beef fresh to order or in batches that are stored in a warmer. It's not like Denny's doesn't have ground beef — in the very least, couldn't they season some of their burger patties and chop them up on the griddle instead of using the microwave? In any event, we're sure that this move definitely streamlines the nacho assembly at Denny's, helping the restaurant save money and keep prices low for customers. However, it's unclear if customers appreciate the sentiment, considering the degradation in food quality.

It pays some employees low wages

There's no doubt that cooks and servers are the unsung heroes of any restaurant. Without them, the entire industry wouldn't even exist. However, the skills and energy it takes to cook in a kitchen and run food around all day are underappreciated, exhausting, and tragically underpaid. According to Payscale, the average hourly wage for a Denny's employee is $11.32 an hour. That number is far below the average wage for all US citizens, which clocks in at nearly $30 per hour (via Indeed). If that number seems high, keep in mind this is the average wage for all workers, which includes hourly wages across all major industries. It's also worth mentioning that the average hourly rate for restaurant workers is $12.56 an hour (via Payscale), which puts Denny's on the lower end of the spectrum.

Considering Denny's makes hundreds of millions of dollars every year thanks to the hard work of its cooks and servers, you'd think their hourly wages would be a little higher (via Statista). By maximizing profit partly through paying some of its workers' hourly wages on the lower end, Denny's manages to keep its menu prices lower, too. That being said, this still works out for customers who are seeking more bang for their buck.