Sunday, May 8, 2011

AARP, Denny's and The Elderly

As most everyone knows I am a frequent Denny's customer. One of the few perks that Janet had for the last two years of her life was going out to eat and a Denny's was most frequently our destination. I had dropped Janet's membership in AARP for political differences over Obamacare but not long before Janet passed away a neighbor told me that Denny's gave an AARP discount. Since we ate there so frequently I decided to join to take advantage of the discount. I still go to Denny's frequently.

Janet and I ate Christmas Dinner at Denny's the last few years because if is one of the few places open. Actually I made Denny's my restaurant of choice for Christmas because a few years ago we were served by one of the most pleasant waitresses that I have ever had. I had never tipped 100% before. I thought if anyone who had to work on Christmas Day could be that pleasant and upbeat that Denny's was going to get my Christmas Day business. This Christmas I went to one Denny's for breakfast. The 20% discount on the meal doesn't start until 4pm but coffee is $1 24/7. There was no dispute about the discount on coffee at breakfast. Late that evening I went to the Denny's closest my my house and when I went to check out I  was told that they were not honoring the AARP discount since it was a holiday. Someone had done a couple of handwritten signs and posted on at the counter and one on the front door. I wasn't happy but I didn't complain.

I always gave them my AARP card and paid what ever they ask. But in February I ordered off the $4 menu and had a cup of coffee. Since it is pretty easy to figure a 20% discount on $4, $3.20, add $1 for coffee an then add the sales tax for at total of $4.55, I had worked out the total in my head before I went to the counter. When their price did not agree with mine I asked how they figured the discount and was told that they took 20% off the ticket which meant that I was paying $1.48 for the coffee. I balked. They told me that I was not going to get a double discount--I wasn't asking for a double discount only that I pay $3.20 for the meal and $1 for the coffee. They finally gave in and agreed to my price.

A couple of weeks later at another Denny's they did the same thing and when I objected I was told that coffee was only $1 in the morning. I asked them what part of 24/7, which is the way is it posted on their counter card, did not include the morning. The guy at the counter got irate and called some woman over to wait on me.

When I got home I looked up Denny's website and read their agreement which says nothing about exempting holidays. It also says nothing about how the discount should be figured so I sent an email. I waited a week and got no reply so I sent another email. When I had not heard anything for a couple of days I called.

The lady that answered was not bubbling with enthusiasm and when I told her that I had sent two emails and had not heard anything. I was informed that they do not ignore emails. I told her that I did not understand how she could say that when it had been over a week and I had received no reply. I considered that ignored. She switched me to Akilaa who was also not exactly pleasant. I explained the situation at the two Denny's and mentioned the Christmas incident. She said that her supervisor would call me back with the information on how to calculate the discount--that was well over a month ago and I still do not know how they expect the discount to be calculated so I am sticking by my 20% off the meal, add the $1 for coffee and then tax. But I did learn that there is no exceptions for holidays and they should have honored the AARP card. An hour or so later she called back much more pleasant for information on the specific Denny's, which I provided.

A few days later I went to a third Denny's. Three people stood around for several minutes trying to figure out how to put the discounts into the register and finally came up with 20% off the entire ticket. I told them that I was not paying anymore than $1 for coffee and after much back and forth they finally said, "well how much will you pay?" I told them and they accepted that amount. You see since the previous incident I have been carrying a pocket calculator when I go to Denny's so I will know the exact amount when I get to the register. That was on a Saturday evening.

Monday morning I called Akilaa who still could not tell me how to figure the discount. However, this time I had managed to get the ticket that was incorrect before they destroyed it which had happened the previous times so I had store number, time of day and I had also written down the names of two of the three employees that could not figure the discount.

The next time I went to my usual Denny's with a friend. We both had coffee and I had the waitress give me a separate ticket for the coffee because I thought that would solve the problem. I handed the person at the register the coffee ticket first. Coffee is $1.85, or $3.70 for two. At a $1 a cup that is $2 plus .0825 tax totals to either $2.16 or $2.17 depending upon how you round the ticket. The cashier asked for $3.25. I got irate and asked him his name. He told me and asked me my name. When I told him who I was he almost jumped sideways. Apparently corporate had really given the store a once over and he had been trying to call me for the last few days. The miscalculation had been a simple mistake. He had meant to take off $1.70 but had accidently entered $.70. We got our coffee free on that trip.

I have been back a couple of times and always got the coffee on a separate ticket which so far has seemed to solve the problem--but believe me they all know me by name now.

And to the point of this story. Tonight I was feeling cabin fever so I drove over to Denny's for a cup of coffee just to get out of the house. When I went in there were a couple of new waitresses on the floor and both ignored me. I really was in no rush because I had taken a book that I am reading and just wanted someplace away from home to quietly read. I sit there for over fifteen minutes and no one looked my way and I could not get the attention of any of the waitresses when I wasn't buried in the book. That was no problem as I said I was not in a hurry. Finally the night manager walked by and spoke. I asked if he could get me a cup of coffee. Shortly the waitress came with coffee and was very apologetic. She did the CYA and assured me that she had just clocked in and that she had seen me sitting there when she arrived. I tried to explain that I was in no hurry and it was not a problem. She was very attentive. When I went to check out they would not accept payment for the coffee even though I insisted. The purpose of calling the corporate office was not to get free coffee or to frighten the poor waitresses. I just get a little excited when elderly people get ripped off. At Denny's this may not be intentional but it is still over charging and that upsets me.

This is not a campaign that I am going to give up. If I have been stiffed at three different Denny's I wonder how many other elderly people with AARP cards have simply paid without question what Denny's asked. I am going to return to the other Denny's and even additional Denny's and every time  they do not calculate the discount correctly I am going to call corporate. As I have told them I am pretty laid back until I see a kid or the elderly being ripped off then I become an activist.

So, if you are reading this and you have an AARP card, when you go to Denny's be sure to check that you are getting the correct discounts. I really don't care about me. I can afford to pay the additional $.48 for a cup of coffee, a lot of elderly people can--some are not that fortunate and the AARP discount means a lot to them. It is simply the principle of the thing. AARP uses the discount to persuade people to join and Denny's agreed to the discount to pick up additional business in the afternoons when people are not generally eating breakfast. Not that after the fact either really cares. AARP has already got what they wanted, the membership dues. And why should Denny's change as long as they increase the traffic and no one is aware of their failure to follow through to the letter of their agreements. I have a feeling that Denny's corporate is going to get very, very tired of me.

I am not posting this to knock Denny's they are still the restaurant that I will most often frequent. But I am going to enter knowning the problem and am not going to let it happen. However, there is either a major problem in their instructions to the franchises, or in their employee training or some of the franchise owners are balking at applying the AARP discount and that does need to be corrected.


  1. I live in Orlando which is loaded with Denny's. None so far can figure out how this whole AARP thing works. Most say that you can't have both discounts. Very frustrating.

  2. Anonymous, call corporate. Asking for the coffee on a separate ticket is not asking for a double dip on the discount it is only asking Denny's to live up to the letter of their agreement with AARP.

  3. Keep being tenacious Gary, as most people (as you alluded to) will either not realize it is happening or will not bother themselves to follow up. I myself would probably fall into the latter category and just vow never to do business there again. I'd like to see you shorten this (most papers will not publish a letter this long) and send it is as a rant or letter to the editor or whatever you could do to reach a broad audience.

  4. Jan, thank you. AARP negotiated this arrangement as a carrot for membership. Denny's agreed in order to hopefully pick up their slow afternoon traffic. I am not sure how much either cares after the fact. Frankly I think that all AARP members need to be made aware of the situation. I will handle it through Denny corporate as long as they so some concern. Otherwise I will start on AARP. I may not affect a change but I will take up their time.