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Cracker Barrel balances evolution and tradition

NRN presents Consumer Picks, a data-driven report on customer preference and restaurant brand strength. Data for this report is provided by market research firm Datassential. Find out more about the data here and read more about the methodology here.

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store is all about tradition.

From its iconic rocking chairs and down-home customer service to signature dishes like chicken and dumplings, the Lebanon, Tenn.-based family dining chain prides itself on brand familiarity.


But an adherence to tradition does not translate to stagnancy. This balance between valuing Southern-style hospitality and comfort food is key to its strong finish in this year’s Consumer Picks survey. The brand was seventh overall for True Loyalty, with a majority of respondents saying they visit not because of experience but because of a true desire to experience the brand.

Service and food quality were other strong suits. The brand finished 12th overall for service and was a top 20 finisher for food quality, from among more than 200 brands. In both cases, it was the highest-scoring family-dining brand in both categories.

Creating menu items that are fresh yet familiar has been key to keeping fans happy.

In 2018, Cracker Barrel introduced biscuit beignets and Southern bowls topped with indulgent items like fried chicken, sausage, and grits. This summer, the brand rolled out bone-in fried chicken nationwide, a move that was so on brand that it surprised some observers.

“It's something people thought we had already — bone-in fried chicken,” Cammie Spillyards-Schaefer, vice president for culinary and menu strategy for Cracker Barrel Old Country Store told NRN this summer. “It just seemed like a natural fit for Cracker Barrel, because it is a natural fit for Cracker Barrel.”

Both the biscuit beignets and bone-in fried chicken allowed the company to evolve and upgrade their menu and keep things fresh without compromising the familiarity of their strong branding.

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc., has 660 company-owned family-dining locations in 45 states. It’s also further expanding its reach in the Southern-style comfort food scene. Earlier this month it announced the purchase of fast-casual Maple Street Biscuit Co. for $36 million.

Contact Joanna Fantozzi at [email protected] 

Follow her on Twitter: @joannafantozzi

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