Cracker Barrel Is Finally Regaining The Older Customers It Relies On

Cracker Barrel is known for its charming approach to roadside dining, serving up traditional dishes like country fried steak (different from chicken fried steak), cornbread made from scratch, and fluffy buttermilk biscuits. The chain's stores "cultivate a strong sense of place through careful theming, generating a distinct sense of rural America and nostalgia for home," University of Mary Washington researchers Meredith Gregory and Caitlin Finlayson observe in Advances in Hospitality and Tourism Research.

The first Cracker Barrel opened in 1969, decorated with refurbished antiques, novelty gifts, and vintage displays intended to stir up memories (via Country Living). Though seniors may not have been an intentional demographic set for the chain initially, they seemed to appreciate its large-print menus and rocking porch chairs. The company has long recognized the importance of older diners for its business model, as indicated by a representative's statements to The New York Times in 2002. In September, however, the New York Post noted the chain's decrease in business from this group, pointing to inflation as a reason for reduced patronage from customers aged 65 and older.

Similar to many restaurants post-pandemic, Cracker Barrel has struggled to manage surging expenses and resorted to adjusting menu prices while trying to anticipate some of the challenges that come with economic fluctuations (via Nation's Restaurant News). Much to investors' relief, executives recently expressed confidence in a more hopeful business forecast.

A positive outlook for Cracker Barrel

According to Restaurant Business, Cracker Barrel executive members informed investors that patronage from older customers is starting to bounce back. Since the pandemic began, clientele in this demographic have understandably been hesitant to visit restaurants in person, yet recent traffic numbers suggest they are returning. Perhaps the company will begin to see more elderly diners aiming to visit every Cracker Barrel in the country, as one couple did in 2017 (via The Tennessean).

As the brand aims to increase visits from diners across age groups, it has deployed several marketing tactics, including an amplified social media presence, a new loyalty program, and updated menus in order to attract a wider audience. The company's rollout of its latest concept, Maple Street Biscuit Company, is also expected to improve sales numbers, particularly among younger age groups, with its focus on breakfast and lunch items.

Ultimately, as Seeking Alpha observes, Cracker Barrel's consistency in its menu and guest experience helps to encourage strong brand loyalty among both young and old customers alike.