We Finally Know Why Cracker Barrel Is So Cheap

With its famous wooden rocking chairs and crackling fireplaces, Cracker Barrel seems to hold a special place in America's heart. Many of us have shown up on its doorstep, famished, to find a warm welcome and a nourishing meal. Dishing out classic comfort food like country fried steak and warm biscuits to over 230 million guests a year, it's clear that Cracker Barrel is beloved for its Southern-style fare and old-fashioned aesthetic (via Cracker Barrel). After all, there are not many other spots where you can order chicken and dumplings and buy old-timey trinkets all in the same place.

Cracker Barrel is also well-known for serving up its hearty meals for an affordable price. For only around ten bucks, you can score a massive plate of breakfast that includes two farm fresh eggs, fried apples, hash brown casserole, along with thick-sliced bacon, smoked sausage, and country ham. All of that also comes with buttermilk biscuits, sawmill gravy, and a side of jam (via Cracker Barrel). Have you ever wondered how it's possible for Cracker Barrel to offer so much filling food like this for such reasonable prices? Well, we've got some good news for you — we finally know why Cracker Barrel is so cheap.

Cracker Barrel's syrup isn't 100% pure maple syrup

Maple syrup and breakfast go hand-in-hand. When we daydream about fluffy pancakes, there are always glistening drops of sticky syrup drizzling over them like sweet, heavenly rain. But the truth is that lots of restaurant chains don't actually use 100% pure maple syrup (via Eater). And that includes Cracker Barrel: Instead of using 100 percent pure maple syrup, Cracker Barrel mixes maple syrup with sugar cane syrup (via Cracker Barrel). According to the label on Cracker Barrel's syrup bottle, the mix is 55% pure maple syrup and 45% sugarcane syrup. 

Let's give credit where it's due — we'd much rather have a sugary blend that includes some authentic maple syrup rather than a bottle that has none at all. That said, mixing pure maple syrup with sugarcane syrup is probably much cheaper than exclusively filling up the whole bottle with pure maple syrup. That's because maple syrup tends to be pretty pricey, which makes sense considering it takes about 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of maple syrup, according to Penn State. By mixing sugarcane syrup with pure maple syrup, Cracker Barrel is keeping the cost of its syrup down, which translates into lower prices for diners.

Cracker Barrel uses frozen hash browns

Hash browns are always a good idea for breakfast, but Cracker Barrel puts a spin on them that takes it to another level. Made with seasoned shredded potatoes, Colby cheese, and chopped onions, Cracker Barrel's signature hash brown casserole gets baked in the oven and comes out crispy and creamy. If you've ever been to Cracker Barrel, you're well aware that no breakfast there is complete without it.

Delicious as they are, there's a secret to that magical shredded potato casserole recipe that you might find disappointing. According to an alleged Cracker Barrel cook on Reddit who was asked about the recipe, one of the ingredients is frozen hash browns. While we have no reason to believe anyone would be dishonest about such an innocuous detail, keep in mind that this claim is only coming from a single cook. However, some restaurants use pre-made hash browns to save time, so it's certainly possible that a major chain like Cracker Barrel does too. If what the cook is saying rings true, then Cracker Barrel is saving some major time by sidestepping the whole process of having to shred fresh potatoes from scratch, which also saves money and keeps prices cheap. Regardless, there's no denying that Cracker Barrel's hash brown casserole is truly mouthwatering. If you haven't had it before, find your way to a Cracker Barrel to try a forkful and you'll become a believer.

Cracker Barrel uses frozen bags of cheese sauce

From creamy spreads to aged bricks and powdered packets, cheese comes in many forms — and all of them are uniquely delicious in their own way. Macaroni and cheese, one of the best vessels to showcase dairy in all of its miraculous glory, typically calls for a batch of gooey and unctuous cheese sauce. While there's always some room for different interpretations and variation, cheese sauce is usually a combination of butter, flour, milk or cream, and cheese. While the recipe is pretty simple, it can still be a little messy and time-consuming. So it would make sense for some of the bigger restaurant chains to outsource their cheese sauce. And apparently, that's exactly what Cracker Barrel does, according to Redditor who claims to be a cook at the restaurant.

After someone asked what Cracker Barrel's secret is to making such delicious macaroni and cheese, the cook responded by informing the world that Cracker Barrel's cheese arrives at the restaurant frozen in bags. If the cook's claim is accurate, then Cracker Barrel is streamlining its macaroni and cheese recipe by utilizing a cheese sauce that's pre-made. And while using a pre-made sauce may be disappointing to some, it probably allows the chain to save on labor costs, which helps keep the price of macaroni and cheese on the menu affordable. At the end of the day, Cracker Barrel's macaroni and cheese is still delicious, and isn't that all that really matters?

Cracker Barrel draws a lot of traffic

One of the best things a restaurant can hope for is a constant stream of diners and that's definitely something Cracker Barrel has on its side. That's because every year, Cracker Barrel serves around 230 million guests (via Cracker Barrel). Even if the restaurant isn't making a ton of money on each individual sale, if it does enough business, it will still earn a lot of revenue. 

About 40% of those guests are travelers, which makes sense considering that Cracker Barrels tend to be strategically located near highway exits. In the late 1960s, America's interstate system was expanding, and Cracker Barrel founder Dan Evins capitalized on that moment by recognizing it as the perfect opportunity to launch a chain of roadside restaurants, envisioning a diner that catered to people on the road. He wanted to go above and beyond what fast food companies offered by giving guests a more comfortable place to fill their bellies and talk around the table. He even attached a quaint little country store for everyone to do a little shopping.

All of this proved to be very fortuitous for Cracker Barrel. Today, Cracker Barrel's steady business translates into about three billion dollars in total revenue every year (via Statista). Consistently impressive sales volume like this allows Cracker Barrel's business to thrive — which helps the company keep menu prices that are affordable for everyone.

Cracker Barrel uses a pre-made roux

For those unaware, a roux is basically just flour whisked with melted butter. This blend creates a thin paste that forms the base for many different kinds of sauces. The longer it cooks, the darker it becomes, setting the stage for everything from a simple béchamel to a flavorful gumbo.

Making a roux isn't necessarily difficult, but it does require some time and measurement. That might be the reason why Cracker Barrel allegedly uses a pre-made roux for their gravy. According to a Redditor who claims to be a line cook at Cracker Barrel, the roux at Cracker Barrel's restaurants is already pre-made so that all the cooks have to do is mix it with some milk. Considering that another cook on Reddit claims that other Cracker Barrel menu items like cornbread and biscuits are made from scratch, we have to admit it does seem a little strange to outsource something as basic as a roux. At the same time, it simplifies the cooking process a little bit, which helps the cooks whip up batches of gravy a little faster. Using a pre-made roux allows Cracker Barrel to streamline the gravy process, which gets it on your plate quicker. This can help Cracker Barrel sell more in a shorter amount of time, which is good for business and keeps the prices nice and cheap.

Cracker Barrel's top selling item is highly profitable

Cracker Barrel put together a list of its 10 most popular menu items, and at the top of the list is Momma's Pancake Breakfast, which comes with three buttermilk pancakes, a couple of farm-fresh eggs, and a choice of smoked sausage or thick-sliced bacon. As a restaurant that specializes in classic breakfast dishes, it should come as no surprise that one of Cracker Barrel's top-selling items is pancakes. But what might surprise you is just how profitable those pancakes are.

Cracker Barrel sells a 2 lb. box of its pancake mix for $5.99 and according to the box, it can make up to 35 pancakes. Some quick math tells us that comes out to about 18 cents per pancake — and we have to admit that pancakes for less than a quarter a piece is a pretty sweet deal. Yet Cracker Barrel charges around eight bucks for three of its buttermilk pancakes at its restaurants. Those same three pancakes would cost just a little over fifty cents if you made them at home from the box, yet inside the restaurant, you get charged over two bucks a pop per pancake. By striking a balance between a reasonable price tag and profitability, Cracker Barrel ensures a menu that's both financially successful for the business and also affordable for customers.

The country store brings in money

Some restaurants spend big bucks on fancy furniture, stylish décor, and elegant lighting to create a more sophisticated atmosphere. Cracker Barrel takes a different approach, devoting its efforts to rustic adornments that evoke feelings of nostalgia and simplicity. Cracker Barrel isn't trying to conjure up a sense of lavishness — instead, its décor turns back time to reawaken cozy visions of a bygone era steeped in classic Americana. Some may say it's kitsch, but plenty of other people find it charming.

Cracker Barrel's old-timey aesthetic and its attached country store gift shop have helped the restaurant carve out a distinct identity for itself. Not only does its sense of style feel unique and authentic, but it's also fair to assume that the price of all these weathered antiques and replicas probably pales in comparison to the higher cost of installing sleek, modern décor. The décor serves Cracker Barrel's bottom line in two ways: not only is it cheaper, but it also generates lots of money for the restaurant. That's because the design scheme tends to attract diners into the gift shop where it sells lucrative collectibles. Cracker Barrel's most recent fiscal report posted on its website reveals a total annual revenue of over $2.5 billion. Nearly $500 million of that is from retail alone. Cheaper investment in décor along with sales at its gift shops means more money in the company's pocket, which keeps prices low all around.

Cracker Barrel sells lots of rocking chairs

Rocking chairs are probably one of the first things that come to mind when you think about Cracker Barrel. After a hearty Southern-style meal, it's hard to resist taking one of those iconic rocking chairs for a spin and gently swaying in the breeze with a happy belly. What you might find surprising is how many of those rocking chairs the restaurant actually sells. Hinkle Chair Company, which has been hand-making rocking chairs for nearly 200 years, builds about 200,000 of them a year for Cracker Barrels all across the country. Considering that most of Cracker Barrel's rocking chairs cost around 200 bucks a pop, it's fair to assume the company makes a pretty penny off of these babies.

The revenue generated from the gift shop and the restaurant is lumped together, despite the fact that they are operated by two different teams. This means that all of those rocking chair sales help keep the restaurant side of the business afloat. In other words, all of the sales generated from the gift shop, including Cracker Barrel's rocking chairs, help subsidize prices on the menu to keep everything affordable.

Cracker Barrel has a strict 'no free food' policy

Most restaurants have some firm rules about handing out free food. After all, restaurants are businesses and the main objective of every business is to maximize its profit margin by operating in a way that's efficient and cost-effective. That said, ideally, there should still be some level of humanity and compassion ingrained into the protocol. Sometimes a little wiggle room goes a long way to keep the peace and help make the world a better place.

There have been times when Cracker Barrel didn't seem to agree with that perspective. Case in point: The general manager at one of Cracker Barrel's locations in Florida decided it would be best to fire a 73-year-old military veteran for handing an unhoused man a muffin and some condiments (via WTVR). Admittedly, that employee already had a few strikes against him for prior transgressions that deviated from company policies, so Cracker Barrel's choice to sack a senior citizen for an act of generosity was perfectly legal. That said, we think it's safe to say that tossing a muffin to someone in need probably won't end in financial ruin. Beyond that, it's just not a very good look. By mandating a strict rule against freebies, Cracker Barrel makes sure to always turn its food into profit, which helps keep prices nice and cheap.

Breaks are rare

Every job has its stresses. The reality is that every form of labor comes with some level of strain and hardship — that's the nature of work. That's certainly true for employees at restaurants, where the jobs tend to be physically demanding and fast-paced. Breaks at work offer fleeting, glorious moments of much-deserved rest. They are essential for everyone's mental health and physical well-being. The irony is that while employers may think they're getting away with something by not providing opportunities for consistent breaks, there's evidence that some downtime is actually better for productivity. That's because moments of rest renew our focus, increase morale, and improve our capacity for learning (via Michigan State University).

Unfortunately, according to an alleged former Cracker Barrel employee on Glassdoor, the restaurant doesn't appear to prioritize breaks for its employees. The anonymous employee claims that the only way to get breaks at Cracker Barrel is to work a double shift or to just be in the good graces of management. Another former employee echoes these same claims and flat-out says that she never had a break during her time at Cracker Barrel. By not providing steady breaks, Cracker Barrel squeezes more labor out of its employees and makes sure the restaurant is always well-attended, which brings in more profit and keeps prices low.

Cracker Barrel uses cheap labor

There's no doubt that cooks and servers are the backbone of every restaurant. Their labor is absolutely essential to a restaurant's success. Without them, it would be impossible for Cracker Barrel to serve up all of its delicious Southern-style dishes and all of its restaurants would dwindle into deserted country cabins collecting dust by the highway. Yet when you look at what most restaurant workers are paid, it's pretty clear that they aren't valued the way they should be.

According to Payscale, the average hourly wage at Cracker Barrel is $10.32. You'd think a company that rakes in a few billion dollars a year could afford to hook its crew up a little better than that (via Statista). To be fair, low pay is fairly commonplace for most gigs in the restaurant industry. But according to Indeed, the average pay rate for restaurant staff is over $16 an hour.

By paying many of its workers a lower wage, Cracker Barrel saves money on labor which helps keep menu prices inexpensive. Having said that, there's evidence that raising wages to just $15 an hour would only increase menu costs for restaurants by less than a dollar in many cases (via Nation's Restaurant News).