Cracker Barrel Vs Waffle House: Which Is Better?

Casual dining with a down-home twist is the style of choice at both Cracker Barrel and Waffle House. These two eateries have been serving up hearty helpings of American favorites for decades. Both restaurants share a commitment to authenticity that has earned them the following of devoted guests, and both provide comfort food that represents some of the most popular domestic dishes in the U.S. But in the race to capture customer dollars, one of these beloved spots comes out on top. Whether it's for the food, the prices, the hospitality, or a complex recipe that combines them all, either Cracker Barrel dominates Waffle House or vice versa.

So which one is better? We set out to determine which restaurant does the best job of delighting hungry guests. By comparing menus, nutrition, family friendliness, and several other criteria, we were able to hone in on distinctions between Cracker Barrel and Waffle House. Then, we used that information to assess which company we feel serves customers best. There were a few twists and turns along the way and some surprises that were fun to find. Overall, the comparison was a tough call, but we came up with an answer to the burning question: Should you aim for the Barrel or head for the House?

Cracker Barrel's history is long and storied

Cracker Barrel first opened its doors back in 1969 in Lebanon, Texas. Owner Dan Evins named the first location Old Country Store and featured handmade cornbread as a craveable country cornerstone. By the mid-1970s, there were 13 locations around the South, and the familiar Cracker Barrel logo was attached to the enterprise. In 1992, the company was valued at $1 billion, with growth continuing through the early 2000s to a location count of 420.

Expansion continued into other regions throughout the remainder of the 2000s. Eventually, Cracker Barrel became synonymous with homestyle country dining, keen general store-like gift and merchandise shops in the entryways, and old-fashioned rocking chairs lining the porch for customers to relax in. Even with more than 50 years of feeding hungry customers under its apron, Cracker Barrel continues to find ways to innovate, with expansion in Hollywood as a ghost kitchen in 2021 and with the opening of The Pancake Kitchen, an all-day eatery focused only on breakfast, in 2022.

As of 2023, Cracker Barrel operates 662 country-style kitchens in 45 states, all but dominating the down-home dining game.

Waffle House has been around for quite a while

The first 24-hour Waffle House was launched on Labor Day Weekend, 1955, in Avondale Estates, Georgia, by neighbors and entrepreneurs Tom Forkner and Joe Rogers, Sr. That original location was the start of an enterprise that grew into an institution heralded by that famous yellow sign seen near interstates throughout the U.S. Along the way, paths crossed with other luminaries of the dining industry, most notably S. Pruett Cathy, originator of Chick-fil-A, who first made his soon-to-be-famous chicken sandwiches available exclusively at Waffle House. Franchising locations began in 1960, leading to a 27-location chain by late in that decade. Future expansion saw the company grow beyond 1,900 restaurants spread throughout 25 different states, all open 24 hours and all serving a similar menu.

Being the site where one of the country's most recognized restaurants began, the original Waffle House location has now become the Waffle House Museum, a tribute to the era in which the company first staked its claim on territory in the hospitable dining world. Those curious to experience the look and feel of the premier locale can take a 90-minute guided excursion into the delicious history of Waffle House in person.

Waffle House has better breakfasts

Breakfast is practically written into Waffle House's name, even though waffles can be a savory element of lunch and dinner, too. Being confident enough about its core offerings to make it a key feature of the chain probably means that the actual breakfast dishes are top-notch. The 24-hour availability is also a plus, even though Cracker Barrel sells all-day breakfast; having set hours of operation puts the country store-style eatery at a distinct disadvantage.

As for the offerings on its breakfast menu, Cracker Barrel does an admirable job bringing Southern cuisine to the public in an authentic selection of dishes stacked high with the usual eggs, hashbrowns, and biscuits, as well as specialty fare like Pancake Tacos and Homestyle Chicken N' French Toast. But Waffle House goes a step further with breakfast menu categories like Breakfast Favorites that put familiar possibilities front and center while shining separate spotlights on Signature Hashbrown Bowls, Breakfast Sandwich Melts, and Biscuits with a delicious breakfast-style focus.

Even with country sweetness baked into the Cracker Barrel recipe, Waffle House is the champ in the breakfast arena.

Cracker Barrel has a better range of dinner options

It's easy to hit the first yellow sign you see when you're hangry and the dinner hour arrives. But there's a notable disparity between the butter-yellow Cracker Barrel sign and the lemon-yellow Waffle House sign that requires some clarification for discerning diners. You can definitely find fantastic supper selections at both, but menus between the two chains are not created equal.

Waffle House tends to stick with the basics for its combined lunch and dinner dishes: burgers, sandwiches, and a literal rehash of the Signature Hashbrown Bowls that seem to fit into all meal designations. Contrast that with the trouble Cracker Barrel goes to with dinner selections that represent family dinner favorites loved for generations. You can choose platters featuring chicken and turkey in a variety of forms, beef and pork dishes like country fried steak, meatloaf, and chops, and even coastal seafood delights like catfish and fried shrimp. This is all in addition to the beloved burgers and salads that find their place on the table among the more satisfying items.

There's no other way to say it: Cracker Barrel rings the dinner bell loud and clear.

Cracker Barrel has better side orders

It's not all about the entrees at Cracker Barrel and Waffle House; the side dishes add much to the quality conversation, too. Some of these sides are part of full meals, while others are available only as a separate order. But one restaurant makes its sides feel like a full-fledged deal, while the other treats its sides menu like a second thought.

When you scan the sides selections at Waffle House, you see sizeable versions of some of the same items that come with the breakfast and dinner meals. Aside from the surprising bowl of grits, every side on the list is meat-based, from bacon to city ham to T-bone steak. There are no hash browns, fruit bowls, or Texas toast. On the other side of the counter, Cracker Barrel makes available a variety of creative sides that put Waffle House's definition to shame. Loaded baked potatoes, soups, and greens mingle with fruit cups, fried apples, and mac and cheese. You could combine four or five of these items and create your own meal for about the same price as a full plate — not a bad idea for selective eaters who can't find a platter that suits their appetite.

In the festival of casual dining add-ons, it's a clear decision for Cracker Barrel as the better performer on the sides stage.

Cracker Better has better specials

For price-conscious diners, finding daily specials that help maximize your dining budget can mean the difference between enjoying your meal and fretting over how you'll pay for it. Both Cracker Barrel and Waffle House seem aware that their audiences love a good deal. But defining a special is radically different between the two outlets, which means something specific when comparing how special these deals really are.

For Waffle House, the All-Star Special rounds up eggs, toast, a waffle, and your choice of meat plus grits, sliced tomatoes, or hash browns, all for around $10.00. While this doesn't sound like a terrible deal on the surface, substitutions are limited to only what's in the description. So, while you're getting a lot of food for a lower price, you're not exactly seeing a load of possibilities. Cracker Barrel, however, presents a different special every day of the week, as well as three weekday lunch specials and a Friday Fish Fry dinner. Choices like chicken and dumplings and broccoli cheddar chicken become a special occasion, most of which are offered at less than $10.00.

With its knockout listing and barrel-bottom prices, Cracker Barrel bests Waffle House in the specials arena.

Both Cracker Barrel and Waffle House have great prices

Though Cracker Barrel has tinkered with raising its prices on occasion, the pricing structure of the menu has meals around the $10.00 to $15.00 range, making the Old Country Store a surprisingly affordable choice on the comfort dining landscape. The quality of the food is strong as well, which redoubles the price possibilities by affording customers dishes worth loving rather than doling out second-rate fare at a discount.

And what about Waffle House? The diner with the glowing golden sign keeps all of its dishes at $10.00 or under, with some options like its signature colossal waffles priced as low as $4.30. That's a steal for hungry folks with limited funds who'd love a meal out to celebrate the joy of life without being plunged into the reality of a dining finance shortfall. It also means you can double up and order a few plates while reining in your spending — no need to leave hungry with options like that.

Depending on your preference and the balance in your bank account, you can find affordable food at fantastic prices at both Cracker Barrel and Waffle House.

Cracker Barrel has the better rewards program

To help customers get even more for their money, both Cracker Barrel and Waffle House provide rewards programs. Though they aren't exactly the same, they both make an effort to show appreciation to frequent diners to entice regular visits, something clever customers can take advantage of from both restaurants to stretch their pennies when eating out.

Cracker Barrel Rewards! gives customers points for every purchase, including in the general store gift shop. Anyone who signs up gets a free entrée just for participating, a fun bonus that gets things started on the right foot. You can also earn "spins" for gaining additional rewards, as well as fun surprises on birthdays and anniversaries. And to make things extra fun, points earned are called Pegs, a reference to the famous triangle peg games found on Cracker Barrel tables.

The Waffle House Regulars Club offers specials exclusive to members, coupons for free food items, and timely delivery of Waffle House news. Reddit users describe the requirement for printed paper coupons rather than digital redemptions, something that might drive away diners used to a more contemporary rewards experience.

In an easy decision, Cracker Barrel walks away with the ribbon for the better rewards program.

Cracker Barrel has more nutritious options

Healthful eating isn't necessarily top-of-mind for diners at either Cracker Barrel or Waffle House. These are establishments made for comfort rather than nutrition, but that doesn't mean you can't maximize your macros to the best of your capabilities by choosing the restaurant with the healthier options overall.

Cracker Barrel's nutrition information gives the rundown on all foods on the menu, displaying calorie and key nutrient counts for full meals that fall mostly between 700 and 2300 calories. On the good end of the spectrum, a house salad will net you 210 calories, though there isn't much in the way of fun flavor. On the bad end, an order of country-fried pickles will get you 880 calories and 56 grams of fat. Having so many fruit and vegetable selections means Cracker Barrel provides potential for eating within your nutritional means.

The nutrition facts at Waffle House display higher calorie counts in general, with fat counts varying from item to item. The big downfall for the diner is the lack of plant-based options; every item on the menu is heavy in protein, fats, and starches, eliminating the possibility of finding a few more mindful items to make a meal of.

For variety and a greater range of nutritional standards, Cracker Barrel earns a healthy thumbs-up.

Waffle House has more locations available

Having a Cracker Barrel or a Waffle House nearby can make the difference between settling for a second choice or having what you want at your preferred restaurant. Luckily, both restaurants have a number of locales to whet your appetite, making it easy to reach either spot. But who has more locations in more locations?

According to data collection site Scrape Hero, Cracker Barrel operates 662 locations across 45 states and within 575 cities. The company's own trivia information page boasts about serving 230 million guests yearly and selling 300,000 of its trademark peg games. Meanwhile, Waffle House has more than triple the number of locations that Cracker Barrel has, with 1,983, though they're only spread through 25 states. They do operate in 918 cities, giving them quite a bit more reach.

When it comes down to numbers, Waffle House stacks up higher than Cracker Barrel for available locations.

Both restaurants work well for family dining

While it's easy enough to get banned from Waffle House, most likely, you can make a family trip without too much worry. The well-lit interiors, modest prices, and energetic diner sensibility make the restaurant a happy choice to entertain your whole crew. And the fact that the restaurants are open 24 hours a day means you can drop in whenever you feel like it and order whatever you like, definite perks for busy clans who aren't sure when dinner time is from day to day.

Cracker Barrel practically bases its concept on family dining, serving selections you've likely had growing up and enjoyed at home with your family. You can recreate dining memories by ordering familiar favorites and introducing your younger eaters to a different way of thinking about food. The menu is extensive, making it easy to find dishes to please everyone at your table. But the prices are higher than Waffle House, which limits your options financially, depending on the size of your group. You may find more to choose from, but it could turn out to be price-prohibitive.

Depending on your personal preferences, both Cracker Barrel and Waffle House can afford families a great dining experience.

Both restaurants have similar records when it comes to service

The expectation of great service at Cracker Barrel seems reasonable, given the downhome country spirit of the concept. However, several locations show Yelp reviews that express disappointment at the poor service, everything from long waits to rude workers. The Cracker Barrel in Austin, for example, shows a one-star review from Angelica B. detailing a 20-minute wait for service, even with servers passing by the table in a location that wasn't busy at the time. Fellow Yelp reviewer T N shared a similar story. And Yelper David E. said of an Atlanta Cracker Barrel, "The only thing worse than the food was the service."

Similarly, Waffle House diners have posted Yelp reviews with stories in which employees have been less than courteous. Reviewer Don J. said in a real-time assessment of the Phoenix location, "The waitress does not want to serve us." John M. explained in his Yelp review of an Albuquerque Waffle House that he was spoken to by waitstaff once during his visit, then never again.

While there are plenty of stories of happy experiences with service at both restaurants, knowing when the courtesy is less than pleasing clues in you on which restaurant might not live up to its end of the customer-contentment contract. Know that you have equal chances of having a good or bad experience at both.

Cracker Barrel is the overall winner

While dedicated diners may proclaim their loyalty to either Cracker Barrel or Waffle House, when comparing both chains on the virtue of their food, their pricing and perks, and their service, Cracker Barrel is the clear winner. Waffle House may cover more territory with a greater number of locations, but Cracker Barrel offers a higher quality dining experience in the realms of food choice and nutritional options. All things being equal in the areas of service and family satisfaction, choosing Cracker Barrel for its variety of dishes allows a greater range of diners to find suitable options.

Though Cracker Barrel's prices are a bit higher, the quality and quantity of food you'll receive are also higher; Waffle House may be less expensive, but the choices and nutrition are also very limited. And even with a 24-hour operation in every location, Waffle House has a diner atmosphere that doesn't do as much to create cozy dining moments for visitors as Cracker Barrel does. From start to finish, the experience at Cracker Barrel is bound to be more pleasing than a similar experience at Waffle House.

How we made our comparison

We laid each topic side by side for both restaurants, then decided which restaurant had better offerings based on variety, quality, or price, depending on the subject matter.