Cracker Barrel is a restaurant/store in 41 of 50 of the United States and is known for their 'down home' Southern American atmosphere. The chain of restaurants was started in Lebanon, Tennessee1 as a place for customers to buy gasoline after having a nice meal. (After the Oil Embargo of the 1970s, Cracker Barrel stopped selling gasoline).
The 'gift shop' of the Cracker Barrel has wooden floors, dim lighting, and a solid wood checkout counter to add to the 'down home' feel. Also, there are actual antique items up to the 1950s that are suspended from the ceiling with rope, wires, chains, etc, that range from lanterns, bicycles, lard tins and toys, to chairs and other random items that have no place hanging from a ceiling.
The restaurant area has cobblestone floors, solid wood seating and solid wood tables (made from maple), wooden walls, and the same dim lighting from lantern-looking lights in the dining area so that you can't see your plate after 8.00pm in the summer. All of the dishware in the restaurant is plain Buffalo China2 in ivory.
The first area of the Cracker Barrel when you walk in through the front door is the gift shop of sorts, which is filled with a variety of items. Houseware items include dishes, glasswear, decorative items, pillows and blankets that you would only see in your grandmother's house, and more. Candy and toys are stocked in plain view and at the eye level of children so that they can grab at them and then drive their parents batty until the parents either give in and buy the kids something (before or after dinner) or tell them to be quiet and ignore their plea for useless garbage. Most of the toys in the store are very cheap and seem to be designed to break 0.000001 seconds after you get them outside of the store and out of the package. Also on sale are bulk items that are on the menu in the restaurant, such as jellies and jams that come on the pancakes, or syrups that are offered in or on a number of dishes. The trick about this is that anyone who sets foot in the place for breakfast or dinner must walk through the gift shop both before their meal and afterward, making it twice as tempting to buy something since they have to see it twice.
The second area, after the gift shop, is the restaurant area. Here you can sit down and purchase any of a number of foods. For dinner, the selection includes fried or grilled chicken, roast beef, fried or grilled fish, salads, chicken fried chicken, chicken fried steak and other assorted items, served with a choice of side dishes (corn, green beans, carrots, fried okra, turnip greens, pinto beans, mashed potatoes, fried apples, apple sauce, hash brown casserole, French fries, or the veggie of the day). Breakfasts include eggs, French toast, pancakes, an assortment of fried meats3, biscuits and gravy, and grits. There is also an assortment of deserts, such as cobbler4, sundaes (blackberry, blueberry, strawberry, or molasses5) and strawberry shortcake.
Employees and Managers
As always, you have to deal with the staff of the restaurant. Cracker Barrel has the usual assortment of servers (who are more than happy to keep your drinks filled, bring your food to you, and smile in hopes of getting a good tip6), clerks, and managers. As a general rule, they are kind and courteous, and if you choose not to leave a tip after they have tried to wait on you to the best of their ability, less than pleasant words will be exchanged with the other waitresses and waiters in the back.
The managers walk around and check on your food, how your service was, and whether or not you've had an enjoyable experience at their restaurant. The same questions will be asked by the clerk when you leave to insure you've had a nice evening at their establishment. The managers are more than willing to relay to the servers what the customer has to say about them.
You may notice gold stars on the aprons of the employees. These signify that they've passed stage one, two, three or stage four of an employee training programme called the PAR programme, each star representing a PAR level that the employee has achieved. According to Cracker Barrel themselves 'the PAR programme prepares hourly employees to be leaders within the organization'.
At each par level, you must take what is called a Par Test to see if you know what you're supposed to be doing at the level you're at. If you pass this examination, you get a raise and have more jobs assigned to you.
In this Researcher's experience the management actually cares about the employees. With most jobs at chain restaurants (fast food or sit down restaurant), the management sees you as expendable; they know that if you are fired or quit, there will be someone to replace you. However, at Cracker Barrel you are treated as a human being - with respect.
If you like sugar, order Sweet Tea7. Otherwise, don't order it.