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Auburn diners flock to Denny's Grand Slam giveaway

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Denny's restaurant hit a home run Tuesday in Auburn with its Grand Slam breakfast giveaway. Customers were lined up for a wait throughout the day at the Auburn Ravine Road location, just off Interstate 80, while the smell of pancake syrup lingered in the air. The restaurant chain announced during a Super Bowl commercial that it would be serving free Grand Slam breakfasts - pancakes, eggs, sausage and bacon - from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday nationwide. Diners like Auburn's Bill Waring flocked to the free meal offering. "It was awesome," Waring said. "It was good food - filling. It's a decent meal." While the meal was free, most customers were still spending inside the restaurant. Auburn resident Sherry Leorna showed a bill totaling $11 for her party of two that included non-Grand Slam extras like cranberry juice, hash browns and an English muffin. And there was also a $5 tip. "The cardinal rule of dining is if you can't afford to tip, don't dine, even if it is free," Leorna said. While Denny's was booming, another restaurant nearby that also specializes in breakfast was bustling. Ron Deakins, owner of independent eatery Sweetpeas on Luther Road, said that the promotion was perhaps helping his business by bringing in customers who saw the line and didn't want to wait for long. "I feel bad we can't give them breakfast," Deakins said. "It's a good deal." While the free Grand Slam deal was a promotion to re-acquaint American diners with the Denny's staple, Joe Garrido, a West Covina resident working in Auburn, said it's also a good thing for an eatery to do during a down economic time. "For people who have lost their jobs, it helps," Garrido said. Denny’s was expecting to prepare up to 2 million free Grand Slams on Tuesday at its 1,500 locations around the nation. The message should strike a chord with the public, said public relations consultant Keith Turner of Turner & Associates. “Anybody who forgot about Denny’s will have it on their mind again,” Turner said. “Obviously, it cost millions but you want to get your name out there.” The free food giveaway after a sporting event isn’t a new idea. Turner recalled Taco Bell’s free taco promotion during last year’s baseball World Series. Starbucks gave away coffee and Jamba Juice gave away its new fruit smoothie. “It’s an excellent idea but it could also turn people off,” Turner said. “People aren’t expecting a three-hour wait. You’ve got to be ready to handle it. Don’t make any promises you can’t keep.” The Denny’s message of free eats proved a hit with cost-conscious diners, who normally would have paid $5.99 for their slam. But for every Bill Waring walking away with a smiling face and a full belly, there were others – like Foresthill’s Carol Downey. “I was thinking about it but forgot which day it was taking place,” Carol Downey said, as she walked out of Sweetpea's, about a half-mile from the Auburn Ravine Road Denny’s. “I was willing to fight the lines.” The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.