Cracker Barrel Sees 7.1% Dip In Traffic Amid Ongoing Decline

Despite its cult following and popularity on social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store has been struggling to draw in diners. Following a year of declining numbers, the Tennessee-based casual dining chain saw a 7.1% dip in overall restaurant traffic by the closing of its latest quarter, which concluded at the end of October.

The restaurant and retail concept, which embraces an old-fashioned Southern country store theme, has experienced a continuous decline in customer traffic throughout 2023. As revealed during consecutive company earnings calls this year, the chain saw a 1.7% drop in visitors by the end of its second quarter in January 2023, and a 3.2% dip by April 2023. Cracker Barrel's most recent traffic hit was reported on a November 30 earnings call.

In June, Cracker Barrel's then-president and CEO Sandy Cochran pointed to "economic pressures" faced by consumers amid soaring food prices and inflation, while the company's chief marketing officer, Jennifer Tate, acknowledged that customers were seemingly reducing restaurant visits to limit their overall spending in the category. Indeed, these insights correspond to the restaurant industry as a whole, which has seen declines in customer traffic and sales throughout 2023. According to Black Box Intelligence, industry-wide restaurant traffic was down 3.3% in September, while all-around sales rates were at their weakest in over two years. Like Cochran and Tate, Black Box's report indicates that consumers are "becoming increasingly cautious" when it comes to their restaurant spending.

Cracker Barrel's plans to draw in customers

While Cracker Barrel's leadership has acknowledged the challenges of the economic landscape, the company has set course to weather the storm. In July, the chain appointed industry veteran Julie Felss Masino as its new president and CEO. Per a press release, Masino was formerly President, International of Taco Bell, and had helped drive impressive growth of the taco chain.

During the most recent Cracker Barrel earnings call, Masino expressed that the company was allocating more funds towards marketing and advertising, investing around 20% more in media, and making the most of its messaging by zeroing in on its core customer base. Although the restaurant chain has had to raise its menu prices to meet economic demands, resulting in an overall 8.8% increase in pricing year-over-year, the company has been shifting customer focus towards its value meals, calling out and promoting its more affordable price points for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Additionally, Masino hinted at the early success of the chain's new rewards program, which was introduced with a campaign starring country star Dolly Parton. The initiative allows customers to earn points with each spend, which they can eventually redeem towards meals or retail purchases. It's certainly a clever way to combat declining traffic numbers, as it encourages customer loyalty and repeat returns while increasing the overall value of every visit. So, though the latest dip in traffic was Cracker Barrel's steepest of the year, its plan to turn things around appears to be well underway.