Cracker Barrel, originally founded in Tennessee in 1969, has grown from a niche Southern food establishment to a nationwide empire. With 661 locations across 45 states, Cracker Barrel prides itself on sourcing ingredients from U.S. producers and making many of its products in-house. However, there are several concerning aspects of the company that have come to light, particularly regarding discrimination against customers and employees.
In the 1990s, Cracker Barrel faced backlash for a policy that prevented LGBTQ+ individuals from being hired. This policy resulted in the loss of jobs for several employees due to their sexuality. Although the policy was eventually rescinded and the company claims to have a zero-tolerance policy on LGBTQ+ discrimination, there are still concerns about how LGBTQ+ employees are treated within the company.
Cracker Barrel has also faced accusations of mistreating black customers and employees. In 2004, the Department of Justice settled a case against the company for discriminating against black customers, including allowing white servers to refuse service and segregating customers by race. Additionally, several employees claimed that black employees were segregated and given non-customer-facing roles. Cracker Barrel paid $8.7 million to settle these allegations. More recently, incidents like the wrongful removal of a black bus company owner and allegations of employees using a code word to refer to black customers have further raised concerns about racial discrimination within the company.
Another issue that has garnered attention is Cracker Barrel’s inappropriate decor. The company’s restaurants are known for their eclectic memorabilia, but in 2020, a customer captured video footage of what appeared to be a noose hanging from the ceiling in a Connecticut location. This sparked public outcry, leading to the removal of the offensive item and a company-wide review of decor. Cracker Barrel has since invested in a multi-million dollar redecorating plan to create a more inclusive environment, particularly by introducing memorabilia that reflects Black American history.
Cracker Barrel has also faced criticism for its handling of employee incidents. In 2014, the company fired an employee for giving a condiment and a corn muffin to a person in need. Although the firing was rooted in company policy, it received significant backlash, with thousands signing a petition for the employee to be rehired.
Furthermore, Cracker Barrel’s decision-making has been called into question during the Duck Dynasty scandal. When the show’s patriarch made anti-gay comments, Cracker Barrel initially announced plans to remove some of the show’s merchandise from its stores. However, after facing protests, the company quickly reversed its decision and apologized for offending customers.
Lastly, while Cracker Barrel is known for its hearty Southern food, many of its dishes are incredibly unhealthy. Some menu items, like the Sunday Homestyle Chicken BLT and Southern Fried Chicken, have high calorie, fat, and sodium content. However, healthier options like grilled pork chops, steamed vegetables, and house salads are available for those looking for healthier choices.
Despite its nationwide success, Cracker Barrel continues to face criticism for its past and ongoing discriminatory actions, inappropriate decor, employee treatment, and unhealthy menu selections. While the company has taken steps to address some of these issues, concerns remain about the treatment of marginalized groups and the overall inclusivity of the business.