Workers reveal what it's really like to work at Cracker Barrel

Since 1969, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store has been serving as a "home-away-from-home" for travelers and locals alike. With 659 stores in 45 states (as of April 2019), you can find their signature Southern country cooking and just about anything else your heart desires all across the United States. The restaurant and country store espouses a mission of "Pleasing People," and that means everything from making sure their country biscuits are warm and buttery to ensuring their merchandise and ingredients are the best of the best. 

But the biscuits aren't the best thing about Cracker Barrel, at least according to the restaurant itself. Their greatest assets, they say, are their employees, who "bring [the] mission to life." After the internet collectively lost its mind when "Brad's wife" was fired from Cracker Barrel, many people wondered just what it's really like to work at the chain. These self-professed former and current employees spilled the (sweet) tea about working at Cracker Barrel.

The food really is fresh and made in-house (mostly)

Cracker Barrel prides itself on its food — so much that you can buy Cracker Barrel mixes and ready-made food to take with you to make at home. But if mixes and ready-made food are available, it makes you wonder how much of their food is really made fresh each day in the restaurant. 

According to one Reddit user, who claims to work for one of the top Cracker Barrel restaurants in the country, scratch-made food is still the norm at Cracker Barrel. In a Reddit AMA, the employee revealed that the prep cook and backup cook come in at 5:30 a.m. each day to start making biscuits, gravy, and fruit bowls. "All of our food is made fresh," they wrote. "Biscuits are made from scratch, along with cornbread." 

There are some ingredients, however, that arrive pre-made, but the cooks are still responsible for the final product. According to another Redditor, who claims to be a line cook at Cracker Barrel, the roux for the gravy, for instance, comes pre-made "and we just add milk and heat 'til it thickens."

What those stars mean

If you've ever been inside one of the 600+ Cracker Barrel restaurants in the U.S., you might have wondered about the stars the employees sport on their aprons. Some have just one, while others have several. It turns out, they aren't just for decoration. 

According to one Redditor, who claims to be an Employee Training Coordinator at Cracker Barrel, the stars represent how long an employee has been with the company, as well as their skills and progress. If you're wondering how that's all determined, it comes down to a lot of hard work. According to the ETC, employees are "Rising Stars" for the first 30 days of employment. In order to earn their first star, Rising Stars must take tests about their position and have their performance evaluated by managers. If they pass, they get their first star. The max number of stars is four, and "each star comes with new responsibilities, opportunities, and benefits."

Breaks are few and far between

With all the different responsibilities employees have at Cracker Barrel, you'd think that breaks would be essential. Unfortunately, to hear some former employees tell it, that just isn't the case. Reviews on Glassdoor suggest breaks of any kind are hard to come by. 

One former Cracker Barrel host revealed the cons of the job to include, "No breaks, no free food, no bathroom breaks if alone…" among other issues. This apparently is the case for virtually any position at Cracker Barrel as Glassdoor reviews from employees ranging from front-of-house servers and hosts to back-of-house grill cooks and dishwashers noted that breaks are pretty much nonexistent. 

Reviews citing "no breaks" as a problem at Cracker Barrel go back to 2013 on Glassdoor, so one would hope the company would have resolved it by now. Unfortunately, the most recent reviews citing the same problem are from 2019. Former employee Alex Higgins revealed in her 2019 YouTube video about her Cracker Barrel experience, "I never had a break while I was at Cracker Barrel. You never get breaks." Yikes. 

Their hands are a bit tied if you decide to steal

It's a bit unusual for a restaurant to also house a retail store the way Cracker Barrel does, which makes working there unique in many ways. Like many retail establishments, Cracker Barrel deals with its share of theft. So what's a Cracker Barrel employee to do if they suspect someone is stealing from the retail store? It turns out, not much of anything. 

According to this Redditor, Cracker Barrel employees "aren't allowed to do anything if [they] suspect someone is bouncing the check or stealing from retail." The alleged Cracker Barrel host then clarified, "We can call the police, but we can't approach the suspected thief and say, 'Sir, are you stealing?' That creates tension in the store and doesn't appear hospitable."

While this may seem like extreme hospitality, University of Florida professor Richard Hollinger, who specializes in loss prevention, revealed to LPM Insider, "Cameras, electronic article surveillance, and security are the antithesis of the Cracker Barrel atmosphere. They treat their customers like neighbors. Neighbors watch out for each other and trust each other."

There's no such thing as a free meal

If you've ever worked in food service or retail, you know one of the biggest perks is discounts. At Cracker Barrel, discounted food is one of the appeals of the job, but you can only get it at certain times. One Redditor, an alleged Cracker Barrel server, shared, "We get a meal 50 percent off 30 mins before or after our shift." 

According to the official employer summary on Glassdoor, Cracker Barrel also offers retail store discounts in addition to the discounted meals "at 50 percent per scheduled shift." Current and former employees on Glassdoor noted that some discounts are available even if you aren't scheduled for a shift on a particular day, but the amount is determined by your promotion level (those stars, again) and ranges from 0-35 percent. 

The Redditor did note one caveat, however, "If you close, you can get some leftovers and all you can eat biscuits and cornbread." All the more reason to pick up those late shifts.

There's a strategy to the peg game and your server probably knows it

Say the words "peg game" to anyone who has been to Cracker Barrel and they'll know exactly what you're talking about. The game, played with a triangular piece of wood and pegs that resemble golf tees, is on every table in the Cracker Barrel dining room and purports to test your IQ. The point is to jump the pegs with each other, leaving only one (making you a genius) at the end. It's harder than it sounds, but for an employee at Cracker Barrel, it's all part of the job — in some cases, literally. 

One Redditor, who claims to be a Cracker Barrel employee, shared during an AMA, "At my store they actually train all new employees on how to beat it!" The user went on to share, "[The] strategy they taught us was to always start in a corner." If that's not enough info to get you on your way to a win, there are plenty of tutorials online. But who wants to spoil the fun?

They take cleaning very seriously

There's no denying that cleanliness is incredibly important in the restaurant industry. In many restaurants, employees all take part in keeping the place clean, so it isn't unusual to hear about a server sweeping or vacuuming at the end of their shift, or for the line cooks to clean the fryers and grills while the dishwashers get all of the dishes and silverware ready for the next day. What you may not expect, however, is that at Cracker Barrel, there's also a night cleaning crew that comes in every single night to do deep-cleaning. 

According to one employee, this crew even cleans the decor on the walls. According to Q&As on job site Indeed, the night cleaning shift starts between 9:30-11:00 p.m., depending what time each particular restaurant closes, and includes the coolers, freezers, retail store, and dining rooms. That doesn't mean other restaurant employees aren't doing their part. Servers and other employees that do cleaning as part of their shifts begin cleaning two hours prior to closing, in addition to standard cleaning that happens all shift long.

The experience varies a lot

No matter the company or the job responsibilities, people's experiences working at any job are going to vary. Cracker Barrel is no exception.

According to one former employee review on analytics site Niche, it all comes down to the store you work at, and who you work with. The reviewer shared, "The store I started at was amazing and they worked well with my school schedule! However; when I transferred stores it was the complete opposite and I ended up resenting my job. Managers are everything! " 

This seems to hold true for other job review sites as well, with the most common complaints about Cracker Barrel on CareerBliss centering on management. That said, other reviews talk about cohesive employees and a people-oriented environment. Of the over 1,500 reviews from current employees on Glassdoor (as of April 2019), 65 percent would recommend their friends work there. That's saying something.

To-go orders are an essential part of the business

As much as customers apparently like to stroll into a Cracker Barrel, sit in the rocking chairs, and play a friendly tabletop game before eating, in-restaurant dining isn't the only way to get your favorite Cracker Barrel meals. Whether you want an order just for yourself, catering for an event, or a family-sized special event meal, Cracker Barrel To-Go is your best friend. In fact, if you thought the only people who utilize Cracker Barrel during the holidays are the people who don't want to host, think again.

Cracker Barrel offers Heat n' Serve Family Meals for Thanksgiving, Easter, and Christmas Dinner that serve a whole crowd. But how much business can to-go orders really provide? According to this Redditor and alleged Cracker Barrel to-go server, "We can push more than [$10,000] in [to-go] sales a week," and that's just at one store. 

The retail shop does pretty good business

Most people go to a restaurant for a meal, and little more. The draw is typically about not having to cook or clean, while also eating something delicious. At Cracker Barrel though, many people come for the retail experience, too. According to this Redditor, who claims to be a Cracker Barrel host, some people show up only to shop at the retail store. 

The user asserts that despite the fact people buy gifts there, it isn't really a gift shop. "It isn't a gift shop. It's the retail section of our store, and it actually sells pretty well," they said. "One lady bought 14 candles one day." If you think working at a restaurant where people also come to shop is strange, consider that some people come solely for the rocking chairs and a friendly game of checkers (or the peg game). The host revealed, "Oh yeah, the rocking chairs are arguably more popular than the food."

Thanksgiving and Mother's Day are super busy

Holiday gatherings are a great opportunity to see family, exchange recipes, and relax. If you work at Cracker Barrel, though, don't count on any sort of relaxation over holidays. Every Cracker Barrel location is open on Thanksgiving with breakfast served all day and a traditional Thanksgiving spread offered beginning at 11 a.m. 

According to one Redditor (and alleged Cracker Barrel host), Thanksgiving is the busiest day of the year. Another alleged Cracker Barrel employee chimed in on the thread, agreeing that Thanksgiving is the busiest day, but noted that there are more experienced employees working during those holiday shifts (those with the coveted four stars on their aprons), making it a bit more manageable than some other busy days. 

As for the Cracker Barrel store? Another Redditor, who claims to be a four-star retail employee, revealed, "Actually the busiest day is Mother's Day! … There's signs all over the stock room about preparing for Mother's Day since it's the craziest."