September’s Dine Out For No Kid Hungry is now one for the record books. We took this opportunity to speak to Denny’s CEO John Miller, the outgoing Dine Out advisory board chair, on the good business behind doing good, and his belief that childhood hunger is the foodservice industry’s issue to solve.
“People ask all the time how doing good in and of itself helps your business,” Miller says. “And I tell them our customers expect Denny’s to be noble and to give back. To be able to do so in a meaningful way is critically important to our organization. Why so critical? We went to the source and asked our customers, ‘What do you care about most and what can Denny’s do?’ And they told us, ‘Feed the children’.”
Not only does he lead his company in the fight against hunger, Miller is more than willing to encourage his peers to do the same—putting aside the fiercely competitive nature of the restaurant industry to stand in unison around a cause that impacts children today, with huge implications for tomorrow. “Today’s kids aren’t just the future CEOs of Denny’s,” Miller said, “They’re the future mayors, governors and presidents running cities, states and the country as a whole. The implications of not getting this right are far reaching and devastating.”
Miller says he’d love to be able to share with all the executives in the restaurant industry that as much as they want to be unique and stand out from the competition when it comes to solving childhood hunger, if they don’t stand together, it simply won’t work. “It’s going to take all of us to make a significant, sustained difference,” he says, “Regardless of whether you have one restaurant or 1,500, we need to focus on the ties that bind us together and what’s best for the nation’s children.”
Colleagues and competitors aside, Denny’s alone has done an impressive job of raising awareness and funds for No Kid Hungry. A partnership with the American Egg Board in 2013 encouraged guests to “Build Your Own Omelet” and for every one sold, Denny’s donated an egg to a No Kid Hungry partner. The total number of eggs donated was close to 500,000.
Last year, the company raised more $700,000 with a simple premise: donate $3 and get $9 worth of coupons to use on a repeat visit. Therein lies part of the business success story for Denny’s. Not only do patrons get three times the value of their donations, it draws them back to the restaurant, more than likely in the months that follow September, which are typically softer in terms of sales. Denny’s has also been working with a local high school near its headquarters in Spartanburg, South Carolina, exploring grants to fund a school breakfast program.
Miller had the opportunity to see how funds raised by his restaurants are put to work feeding kids. In April, he attended, and spoke at, the Arkansas Impact Event which marked the significant achievements and work being done in that state, ensuring more kids get access to breakfast and meals after school. Many schools and districts have moved breakfast from the cafeteria into the first period classroom, which significantly impacts kids’ abilities to learn. He was so moved, that Miller wrote and shared a poem with his competitors attending the Restaurant Leadership Conference later that month—raising his voice for those who often cannot.
More important, Miller can speak to leaders in the foodservice industry in a way not everyone can—as a peer. It’s impossible to ignore his passion and dedication, not to mention the more than $1.4 million Denny’s has generated to date (not counting this September’s efforts).
This year, Dennys upped the stakes by expanding its September Dine Out promotion, still offering the donate $3 and get $9 coupon deal, but also creating an online fundraising page, in which visitors could donate and get coupons prior to visiting. This, supplemented by a text/mobile campaign, social media promotions and activities such as a No Kid Hungry t-shirt design contest for employees, put all the elements in place for Denny’s to shatter last year’s efforts, raising $944,000 in September.
“One of the things I love most about No Kid Hungry is that our employees absolutely love it,” Miller says. “The high fives, the celebrations, the knowing that they’re making a difference has been really fun to watch. I can’t imagine us not being part of No Kid Hungry.”
By now you’ve heard the numbers—16 million kids in America are struggling with hunger. They may not be able to count on a lot of things, but one thing they can count on is an end to childhood hunger thanks to hunger heroes like John Miller and Denny’s. To learn more visit Denny’s.com and NoKidHungry.org.