Ramblings: Remembering Denny’s Costly Promotion

Late last month, I went with a friend to see a Yankees/Rangers game at the Ballpark in Arlington. Due to the recent success of the Rangers, you see a lot more fans wearing Rangers jerseys than Yankees jerseys and that hasn’t always been the case.  Another observation I made is that almost all of the advertisements around the ballpark now come from major national companies. Almost none of the advertising signs at the ballpark are for local businesses. I believe the percentage of local advertising is now less than 10 percent.

Dennys hologram baseball cardsHowever, some things about attending a game in person do not change. One that struck my fancy was a promotion by Denny’s restaurants.  If a Ranger player hit a homer in the 2nd inning everyone in the seats would be given a coupon for a free original grand slam meal (as long as a beverage was ordered). As my friends know, I like free food as much, if not perhaps more than just about anyone else. A home run was hit and as the coupons were being handed out, I mentioned to my acquaintance that this promotion reminded me of the summer of 1991.

You see, Denny’s in trying to take advantage of combining national advertising and the red hot baseball card craze created what would be their first of several “Grand Slam” card sets. These holographic cards were distributed at a cost of 49 cents each for every grand slam meal ordered. If a player on the local team (did not have to be the pictured player) hit a grand slam during the promotion, when that card was brought in, you would receive a free grand slam meal and be able to buy another grand-slam contest card.

The promotion ran from approximately July 1 through August 15, 1991 and it was a classic case of good intentions gone bad.  About half the major league teams hit grand slam homers during the period. Thus by the end of the promotion, your odds were pretty decent of getting a free meal ticket after eating the already free meal. I was not paying much attention to quarterly profits in those days but I would wager this promotion was not the money-maker Denny’s anticipated. In fact, on the final night of the promotion, I went to dinner at Denny’s with a couple of Beckett colleagues and we thanked whomever was buying us dinner that night.

I also asked the waiter that night how he was doing: His response was “I have served about $150 worth of meals and have been paid for exactly three of them”. Looking at the menu it appeared he was collecting full payment on slightly more than 10 percent of the meals served. Needless to say, although Denny’s continued to produce “Grand-Slam” cards for the next several years, the meal redemption was never repeated.

While not nearly as famous as the “New Coke” fiasco of the 1980’s, this promotion was a case of a good idea having unexpected consequences.  The promotion coupon I received did not have an expiration date but I suspect 20 years from now this promotion will not go down in hobby history the way the 1991 promotion did–.as a major expense. As an aside, a quick search of EBay only showed two of the original sets available but the set can be purchased for for $10–or less.  Heck, you can buy all 7 sets from 1991-97 for for $29.99.  Somehow, for those that remember those two months, we’ll never forget the constant flow of free meals coming from Denny’s.