This Christmas will be a very special one for the 200 or so employees of the five Denny's Restaurants in Utah. Instead of frying burgers, waiting tables and washing dishes, they will spend the day at home with their families.

They're calling it the "Great Denny's Lockout." At 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve, Denny's will do what it has never done since the chain was founded 35 years ago: take down the "Always Open" signs on its 1,221 stores nationwide for the Christmas holiday."We're all really excited here," confirmed Glenn Kastner, general manager of the Denny's at 250 W. Fifth South in Salt Lake City. It will be Kastner's first Christmas at home with his wife and children since he began working for the company nearly eight years ago.

"We've got it all worked out and everything is taken care of."

Worked out? Taken care of? How difficult could it be to close up shop for a day?

As it turns out, very difficult indeed. When your business is normally open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, you may not have a plan for closing. You may not even have a lock for the door!

That's the case with many Denny's across the country said Jerry Richardson, president of New York-based TW Services, the chain's parent company. Management has been busy coordinating the installation of locks as well as developing guidelines for how to close, he said.

"Most restaurants have a closing routine and know which equipment to turn off, when to make the bank deposit and how to schedule deliveries," he said. "This is all new to us."

Kastner said his Fifth South restaurant had an old deadbolt on the door but the key had disappeared years ago. "We never thought we'd have to use it," he said. Thus, a shiny new one has been installed. As for the procedure for shutting down for a day, he said that will be no problem because the facility has occasionally closed in the past for maintenance.

This is no small thing that Denny's is undertaking in the name of employee happiness. Traditionally one of the restaurant's busiest days, Kastner estimates the five Utah stores would make an average of $5,000 on Christmas Day. Other stores in other states would do as much as $10,000, he said. Multiply that by 1,221 stores and you have a $10 million-plus Christmas present Denny's is presenting its 60,000 employees.

Many of his regular customers would have had at least one meal at his restaurant on Christmas Day, said Kastner. Now they'll have to go elsewhere, but no one has complained.

"They think it's a neat idea for us. They are happy to see us get Christmas off even if they have to go somewhere else."

Richardson said the decision to close was made strictly for the sake of the employees.

"Since management has the day off, we thought our thousands of field employees deserved the same courtesy."

Employee response to the announcement has been gratifying. "Many sent thank-you cards and letters to their regional managers and to the corporate office," said Richardson. "To show its appreciation, one restaurant even created a giant 3-foot-high thank-you card."

Denny's, acquired by TW Services last year, is the largest chain in the nation's $6.3 billion family food industry. The company has restructured its corporate strategy to stay competitive, including increased spending for remodeling, menu revamping, new uniforms and aggressive marketing and promotion.

Based in La Mirada, Calif., Denny's started in 1953 as Danny's Donuts. It currently operates close to 2,000 Denny's restaurants worldwide, 764 Winchel's Donut shops and 87 El Pollo Loco charboil chicken restaurants.