Denny’s announced Friday that CEO John Miller will retire later this year and that a search for his replacement has begun.
The brand did not indicate the exact timing of his retirement or who would serve as chief executive in the interim.
Miller joined the breakfast chain in 2011 with more than 30 years of restaurant experience. He previously worked as CEO of Taco Bueno and spent 17 years at Brinker International in various roles, such as president of Romano’s Macaroni Grill and president of On the Border and Cozymel’s.
The industry veteran will leave the chain as it moves forward with multiple key initiatives, like restarting the Heritage 2.0 remodel program. Because of COVID, the project was deferred to help franchisees with capital issues. Alongside these remodels, Denny’s rolled out a $400,000 incentive to encourage franchise development in under-penetrated markets and is making progress on kitchen upgrades that will enhance offerings across all dayparts and impact more than 4.5 million plates each week.
Under Miller, Denny’s also ventured further into off-premises with virtual brands The Burger Den and The Meltdown, which represent about 3 percent of sales. The Burger Den is active in more than 1,100 locations and The Meltdown is in about 800 stores. The ghost concepts help Denny’s leverage underutilized dayparts; 72 percent of The Burger Den’s orders and 60 percent of The Meltdown’s orders come during dinner and late-night, compared to 43 percent for Denny’s. In addition, the company is planning to open ghost kitchens in partnership with REEF Kitchens.
The biggest obstacle for Denny’s is returning to 24/7 operations. At the end of January, 50 percent of the U.S. footprint operated with full hours, while 72 percent are open at least 18 hours. Stores with full operating hours outperform restaurants with limited hours by nearly 20 percentage points. Restaurants operating 24/7 saw same-store sales rise 10 percent, 13 percent, and 7 percent in October, November, and December, respectively, while units with limited hours saw declines of 9 percent, 6 percent, and 10 percent across the same period.