We'll find out later this month how the activist investors known as the “Committee to Enhance Denny's” fare in their bid to shake up the 1,551-unit family dining chain's leadership. The shareholders leading the proxy battle cite what they say is woeful underperformance and a moribund stock price; in their defense, Denny's execs point to a string of promising new initiatives and a recent endorsement by the Denny's Franchise Association.
All will be revealed at the chain's annual meeting on May 19. In the meantime, it's worth examining the “Committee's” evidence that compares Denny's recent performance to that of its top competitor, IHOP. Since 2000, IHOP has doubled revenues and now leads the segment. Meanwhile, Denny's sales have barely budged, and customer counts have declined a cumulative 19.8 percent over the same period.
Weak numbers, to be sure. But the positive part of the story is that the dissidents still see enough inherent value in Denny's that they're willing to fight now for more control, hoping to cash in later when the stock price goes back up. If you're looking for a signal that full-service restaurants are ready for a rebound, this kind of proxy battle could be it.