September 27, 2000

Denny's Official Discusses Turnaround

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Rocked by allegations of discrimination against minority patrons at some of its restaurants, the prominent Denny’s restaurant chain was, in terms of customer perception and media publicity, at the bottom of the U.S. corporate world in the mid-1990s.

Little more than five years later, the restaurant chain was ranked first in Fortune magazine’s list of the 50 best companies for minorities, in terms of employment conditions and advancement.

Rachelle Hood-Phillips, chief diversity officer for the company that bills itself as the country’s largest and most successful family restaurant chain, discussed this rapid turnaround of the company’s racial climate in a lecture at 305 Ives Hall yesterday afternoon. More than 75 people listened to the first in a new lecture series called “Leadership, Management and Diversity in Corporate America.”

Hood-Phillips, who came to Denny’s in 1995 after a lengthy stint at the Burger King Corp., immediately was charged with reversing an extensive pattern of racial discrimination at some of the more than 1,500 Denny’s franchises nationwide that had decimated the company’s image.

Denny’s was the defendant in two high-profile lawsuits between 1993 and 1995 for, among other things, treating black customers less favorably than it did white customers and discouraging blacks from visiting its restaurants.

The lawsuits resulted in a complete overhaul of the corporate personnel at Denny’s. Under new leadership, Denny’s sought to improve its service to and employment of minorities. Hood-Phillips mandated that every employee undergo diversity training, and she developed a statement of diversity for the company.

In addition, corporate executives conducted a series of surprise visits to approximately 600 Denny’s franchises that sought to compare the treatment of black and white customers by Denny’s employees.

The company has noticed vast improvement in that area since the mid-1990s, with proof coming in the form of a recent spate of positive press that Denny’s has received, including the Fortune ranking.

Hood-Phillips will remain on campus today to meet with students and staff to discuss diversity management.

The lecture series will feature business leaders discussing diversity issues within their respective corporations. Profs. Quinetta Roberson, industrial and labor relations, and Ralph Christy, agriculture, resource and managerial economics, are coordinating the series.

Archived article by Sun Staff