Cracker Barrel Will Start Serving Alcohol for the First Time Ever

As part of its reopening plan, Cracker Barrel will offer beer and wine at some of its restaurants.

Cracker Barrel Chief Financial Officer Jill Golder says that all 664 of the chain's Southern-inspired restaurants have remained open during the coronavirus pandemic. More than 500 of them have resumed limited dine-in service, and 70 percent of the company's furloughed employees have put their brown and gold uniforms back on and returned to work.

But Golder told Restaurant Business that “it will likely be some time” before it is able to remove social distancing requirements, and the retail shops that the restaurant is known for—the ones that sell everything from home decor to old fashioned candy to "nostalgic electronics"—will return to business as usual (or business as it used to be).

Read more: What Will Make Restaurants Feel Safe in the COVID-19 Era?

Cracker Barrel Reopening, Testing Alcohol Sales
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In the meantime, Cracker Barrel is preparing to roll out a "digital store" where customers can shop for both food and merch, and it also plans to open another 15 locations of its breakfast-and-lunch-only sister chain, Maple Street Biscuit Company.

Going forward, Cracker Barrel will also transition to a smaller, simpler menu than the one that it used in the Before Times, which the chain's President and CEO Sandra Cochran says "better highlights our signature offerings and abundance, value, and variety."

But the biggest change is that, for the first time in its 51-year history, Cracker Barrel will serve alcohol in some of its restaurants. As of this writing, 20 locations in Florida are testing the new booze menu, which includes a selection of beer and wine, a hard cider, and orange and strawberry mimosas. "It was surprising to me how popular [the mimosas] are," Cochran told Restaurant Business. A representative from Cracker Barrel told Food & Wine, "The results of this test thus far have been overwhelmingly positive, and so we have decided to expand the test in different markets in Florida, Tennessee, and Kentucky. We have not determined timing for the next states and markets where we will expand the pilot."

Although pairing a Sunrise Sampler with an orange mimosa sounds kind of perfect, not everyone is happy about the chain's intentions. The editorial board of the State-Journal in Franklin, Kentucky, expressed their concern about their own Cracker Barrel's recent application for a retail drink license. "We say no. There are plenty of other places in the area that serve beer or a glass of wine with meals," the paper wrote in an opinion column.

"Not only is it difficult to imagine washing down Uncle Herschel’s Favorite with a malted beverage, but alcohol also doesn’t mix well with the wholesome, family-friendly image Cracker Barrel has crafted for itself over the years." (With respect to the State-Journal, restaurants that serve hard cider are obviously no more or less ‘wholesome” than the ones that do.)

Regardless, Cochran has to hope that the changes might help the chain rebound from a dismal third quarter, in which it lost $162 million, and revenues fell by 41.5%.

"I am inspired by the tireless work of our teams and how they continue to deliver our mission of Pleasing People during this difficult time," Cochran said in a statement. "Our Company also greatly appreciates our loyal guests who love and have continued to support our brand, and we're looking forward to welcoming them back into our stores.

"While there continues to be significant uncertainty, and we expect our industry will be challenged in the coming months, Cracker Barrel remains a trusted and highly differentiated brand, and I believe we have the appropriate strategies in place to navigate this environment and to strengthen our business model."

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