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technology

Every Restaurant Wants to Be a Tech Company Now—Even Denny’s

Updated on
  • Diner chain accepting orders placed over Amazon’s Alexa
  • Restaurants push deeper into digital territory to stand out

The latest evidence that every restaurant chain wants to be a tech company: Denny’s Corp.

On Monday, the diner company added ordering with Amazon.com Inc.’s voice-activated speaker in its latest digital push. The service, which lets customers get food for delivery or to-go via the Alexa app, is available for most of Denny’s 1,600 U.S. locations.

While every company is rushing to get into the tech space, the dissonance with greasy diner food is undeniable. But restaurants in particular are desperate to fast forward into the digital age, revamp their aging brands and appeal to younger customers.

“Every restaurant brand should be in the digital space -- we’re all competing for share of stomach,” Chief Marketing Officer John Dillon said in an interview. The 65-year-old chain “is becoming more and more of a technology-driven company,” he said.

Dunkin’ Donuts also is betting on new technology to lift sales. On Wednesday, the Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc.-owned chain said its rewards members can now use Google’s voice assistant to order via mobile phone. To start, customers need to say “Hey Google, talk to Dunkin’ Donuts.”

Starbucks Corp. has also enabled voice ordering via Alexa and iPhones, while McDonald’s Corp. now delivers through UberEats and Wendy’s Co. is adding self-order kiosks to its restaurants. Applebee’s is heavily promoting to-go fare with its revamped mobile app, while introducing new packaging to keep its fries and chicken wings hot. Taco Bell and KFC are working with GrubHub Inc. to bring burritos and fried chicken to diners’ doors.

Delivery, Takeout

For Denny’s, Alexa may let it compete better with fast-food chains and the industry’s mobile pioneers, such as Domino’s Pizza Inc. It has already made some progress with online orders: As of December, 8.7 percent of Denny’s sales came from delivery and to-go orders, an increase from 6.6 percent a earlier.

Investors have noticed, with the stock’s value increasing by almost a third in the last year. The company posted a gain of 2.5 percent last quarter for comparable sales as it improves the quality of its food and uses digital tools to attract younger diners.

Dillon touts Denny’s expansive menu, and notes popular digitally ordered items include breakfast platters, hamburgers and milkshakes. It also sells pot roast, cobb salads and vegetable beef soup. About half of its domestic locations deliver.

“There was a time, when ordering at home, you had to settle for pizza or a very limited set of choices,” Dillon said. “Our brand -- over some others -- can really stand out.”

(Updates with Dunkin’ Donuts in fifth paragraph.)
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