Cracker Barrel Restaurants Are Suffering: Here Are the Reasons It’s Struggling To Stay Relevant

By: Stephanie Bontorin | Published: Jun 27, 2024

The CEO of Cracker Barrel recently said that the restaurant chain is struggling to stay relevant. Although it used to be a bustling spot selling authentic Southern comfort food, the brand simply isn’t reaching the same audience anymore.

The brand is currently at a crossroads: it can either attempt to reinvent itself and find a new customer base or double down on the vintage nostalgia to stay true to the original mission.

Appealing Spot for Road Trips

Cracker Barrel restaurants are usually located just off of highway exits, which is constructed on purpose.

A Cracker Barrel restaurant and sign next to a busy highway

Source: Chris Light/Wikipedia Commons

Early on, the brand established itself as a comfort spot selling authentic Southern fares like mac and cheese, trucker breakfasts, and collard greens. They set up their locations close to freeways to stand out as the best spot to stop on long drives for a “home cooked” meal.

When Did Cracker Barrel Become Successful?

Although the chain was first opened in 1969, the brand didn’t find widespread commercial success until the late ’80s and early ’90s.

The exterior of a large country theme restaurant with white rocking chairs

Source: Tim Boyle/Getty Images

In 1992, the company was worth a staggering $1 billion with 420 locations nationwide. Executives knew that they had a special place in the hearts of their customers as they were worth roughly twice of any other family restaurant in the United States.

The Vintage Brand is Failing To Stay Relevant

The strategy of filling their brick-and-mortar locations with vintage signs and flags isn’t drawing in the same crowds that it once did.

The front porch area of a country restaurant with old sign, white rocking chairs, and wood doors

Source: Deans Charbal/Wikipedia Commons

On a call with investors last month, CEO Julie Masino said, “We’re just not as relevant as we once were.” The brand is failing to keep up with a changing world that doesn’t value the same style and comfort.

Many Restaurants Thrive on the Vintage Theme

There are some restaurant chains, like In-N-Out, that thrive on staying true to their vintage roots. The staff still wear paper hats and collared shirts that remind diners of a simpler time in America.

General view of the In-N-Out Burger on Sunset Blvd in Hollywood, California

Source: AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/Getty Images

However, some things about Cracker Barrel aren’t staying true to their once-loyal customer base. Many say that the gift shop is tacky and the food fails to meet the high standards that it once did.

Big Changes on the Horizon for the Chain

During the investor meeting, Mosino added that the company would be “refreshing and refining” several aspects of its operations. Things like marketing and atmosphere will be updated soon.

The exterior of a restaurant with a large grass strip

Source: Deans Charbal/Wikipedia Commons

Thus far, the company has rolled out more early-bird specials that appeal to the senior crowd. However, if the brand wants to experience a longer horizon, it should consider appealing to younger generations who often stick to a single brand and stay loyal for years.


New Look Planned for Stores

The brand will test out new “lighter, brighter, fresher, and cleaner” looks for its locations. The rebrand will include bookcases instead of momento-covered dividers.

The exterior of a country style restaurant

Source: Deans Charbal/Wikipedia Commons

Instead of date tables and chairs, new booths will be added to select locations.


Companies That Fail To Keep Up Often Close Down

In the past few years, another juggernaut in the restaurant industry has been closing dozens of locations. Hooters was once a popular spot for burgers, fries, and wings but has been closing its oldest restaurants because of the musty, dated feel.

The exterior of a Hooters restaurant with open flags

Source: Lambroso/Wikipedia Commons

Instead of backing down completely, the company knew they needed to start from scratch at their storefronts. By opening new locations with modern and updated vibes and refreshing menu options, the company has been able to claw back in popularity.


Fears of Bankruptcy if the Brand Fails

Many brands that fail to stay modern and up-to-date with younger customers often fail.

The porch area of a Cracker Barrel store displaying a sign for Clive, Iowa

Source: @midnightriderV2/X

Many restaurants have been forced to close following the COVID-19 pandemic changes. Hopefully, the company will be able to refresh its look and its menu to avoid issues in bankruptcy in the future.


The Food Is Lagging Behind

One of the common complaints at Cracker Barrel and many restaurant chains is that the food fails to meet the standards it once did.

A plate of fried chicken with a biscuit on a blue gingham napkin

Source: Chris Light/Wikipedia Commons

Online reviews and food bloggers agree that items like country-fried chicken and gravy and biscuits simply don’t stand out anymore.


As Brands Get Bigger They Often Cut Corners

As restaurants grow and start to make billions of dollars, they often cut corners and slack on quality. Many corporate restaurants are so attached to the actual product and customer that they care more about the bottom line than selling quality food.

The front of a Cracker Barrel menu

Source: C Jill Reed/Wikipedia Commons

For instance, most large companies have departments in their corporate offices whose job it is to find ways to cut costs and make more money. Some examples include sourcing cheaper food items, like buying sugar in bulk instead of setting out small sugar packets on tables. Eventually, these cost reductions take a hit on the menu items.


Many Millennials Don't Understand the Brand

If you’ve been to a Cracker Barrel, you’ll most likely notice that the decorations are meant to instill nostalgia in the older generations, not for Millenials.

The interior of a Cracker Barrel store filled with shirts and shelves full of times with a man and a woman looking around

Source: Nightscream/Wikipedia Commons

The storefront of goods to buy is also confusing for younger generations who are used to a different business model with restaurants. Hopefully, the company can make minor tweaks and changes to appeal to a younger demographic.