Cracker Barrel Old Country Store said it would look to shore up the in-restaurant experience, add new menu items and push holiday catering in an effort to offset ongoing traffic declines.
For the first quarter ended Nov. 2, traffic was down 1.6 percent, the company said Tuesday. Same-store sales were up 1.4 percent in the period, driven by menu price increase. Average checks were up 3 percent for the period. Comparable retail sales were up 4.3 percent, the company added.
On an earnings call with analysts, Cracker Barrel executives said the company is pursuing a three-pronged approach to improving traffic: better guest experiences, menu innovation and strong value proposition. CEO Sandra Cochran also emphasized that the brand is will continue to focus on its growing off-premise business, particularly during the holidays.
“We focused this year on catering,” Cochran said. “We have plans to continue that throughout the rest of the year as we grow our off-premise business.”
The company also said that it plans to complete a systemwide rollout of bone-in fried chicken, which it began testing earlier this year, by next summer. During the earnings call, Cochran said that guests who tried the chicken gave the new offering high scores for its value proposition, and she noted the product is well-suited for off-premise business.
But even as the company looks to grow its catering sales, in-store operations remain a key area of focus. Cochran said Cracker Barrel plans to improve guest experiences through new management training and concentrating on server attentiveness.
“We don’t want to ever sacrifice the experience of the guests that come to eat with us in the dining room,” she said on the call.
Menu innovations and marketing strategies in the most recent quarter were driven by “reminding people of our everyday value,” Cochran said, and included new items like the “Daily Delights” menu featuring such dishes as biscuit French toast, biscuit pot pie, and buttermilk biscuit beignets.
Total revenue for the first quarter of 2019 increased 3.3 percent to $733.5 million compared to the same quarter last year. Net income for the quarter was $47.2 million, or $1.96 per share, up from $46.4 million, or $1.92 per share, in the same period a year earlier.
Cracker Barrel opened three new stores in the quarter and as of Nov 2. had 663 units nationwide, up from 651 at the same time last year.
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