One of the first restaurants I dined in while traveling during the pandemic last year was Cracker Barrel. An establishment synonymous with road trips, it only made sense that it was a stop during my 16-night trek to Wyoming.
Plus, it’s a personal favorite. Ask any of my friends and they’ll tell you if you’re driving multiple hours on the interstate with me, Cracker Barrel is almost always a compulsory stop.
Since reopening, I’ve dined at four locations: Nashville, Tennessee; Jacksonville, Florida; Valdosta, Georgia; and Ormond Beach, Florida. All of the locations were operating the exact same with regards to health and safety protocols for dining.
I should note that Cracker Barrel does comply with state and local orders regarding masks, and they do enforce it. Like every other restaurant, you can take your mask off when you sit down at your table. Otherwise, it should be worn when you’re walking around the restaurant, shopping at the country store, or going to the restroom. All the employees in the building are also required to wear masks.
Download the Cracker Barrel App
The company has really upped its game with the recently updated smartphone app. So before you dine there, it’s best to download the mobile app to take advantage of some new-to-Cracker Barrel options. Items like to-go orders, delivery, and curbside pickup options have been around for a while, but they have tweaked the app and made modifications with the world’s current landscape.
If you plan on dining inside, the number one reason to download the app is to add your name to the waitlist to avoid having to wait a substantial amount of time. This option is particularly handy if there is a big wait; you can back-time your arrival time with the waitlist and practically be seated right when you arrive.
The pay at the table feature is another notable upgrade that the mobile app received. This allows you to pay your bill from your smartphone to avoid standing in line at check-out.
One thing I realized is that the only way it will work is if you have your location services turned on. This way, it knows which restaurant you’re visiting. Otherwise, the feature won’t work. I’m one to keep my location settings turned off because of privacy, but for this app I have the “Turn on while using the app” toggled.
Another awesome feature (since I’m an Apple person) is the ability to use Apple Pay or a gift card when paying your tab through the mobile app.
Arriving at Cracker Barrel
When we parked at the restaurant, there was a couple of noticeable changes. The number of rocking chairs on the front patio were reduced, and in the place were tables for outside dining. This is a good idea because it gives at-risk patrons who might not feel comfortable eating inside a chance to still enjoy Cracker Barrel from the outside.
Along with the rocking chairs that were removed were marked off pews that asked guests to kindly refrain from sitting on them in order to allow for physical distancing.
Check-in at both the Nashville and Jacksonville location were exactly the same where we gave the hostess our name and phone number, and they texted us when our table was ready. This gives guests the opportunity to wait in their car or stretch their legs while waiting to be seated.
Previously if you put your name on the list, when your table was ready they called your name over the loudspeaker. If you were sitting in your car and did not hear your name, you were out of luck.
After 20 minutes, we received a text message and they asked us to check-in with the hostess inside to be brought to our table. As a reminder, if you use the mobile app for check-in, you can avoid a long wait.
At the entrance to the restaurant, there were hand sanitizer machines for those entering and exiting the building.
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Cracker Barrel Dining Room
Depending on your location, you could see fewer people in the dining room. This has to do with local city codes and rules. One city could be at 50 percent inside dining capacity while others may be at 75 or 100 percent. Every location I visited had empty tables that were blocked off, and you could see that the hostess was strategically seating guests in a pattern that allowed space between tables.
Previously, when you would sit down the table would have salt and pepper shakers, caddies for sweeteners, and the peg game with the golf tees that you could play while awaiting your meal. During my recent visits, all of the tables were empty and everything had to be brought to you.
If you’re a fan of the peg game, Cracker Barrel says on its website, “The peg games will not be back on our tables just yet, but we invite you to download our Cracker Barrel Games app and enjoy the peg game from your mobile phone at any time.”
Another change I noticed right out of the gate was that the menus were wipeable, instead of the paper menus that they’ve had since I can remember. [Note: At the time of publishing, Cracker Barrel is back to paper menus at some/all locations.]
The Dining Experience
There was nothing that had changed from the food and consistency. One thing Cracker Barrel has always been known for is its ability to recreate the same taste with each dish from city to city.
One thing I noticed is how much cleaning was going on throughout the whole restaurant. The tables and chairs were all being deeply cleaned between guests.
Paying Your Bill
Cracker Barrel has always had its system where you pay your tab when you’re finished dining, so they have always eliminated those touchpoints.
When you approach the cashier, they have circles on the ground to promote social distancing. There is a plexiglass shield that protects both you and the cashier, and the credit card machine is on the guest’s side of the shield. Also, Cracker Barrel now accepts touchless methods like Apple Pay (they were a late adapter).
One staples alongside the restaurant is the Old Country Store, which is reminiscent of an old general store. The store is attached to the dining room. Prior to the pandemic, this was a great place to shop and kill time while waiting for your table to be called.
There were retail employees who were cleaning different items around the store with disinfectant. They were constantly wiping down things like shelves and clothing racks.
Final Thoughts on Cracker Barrel
One thing this current landscape has changed in the way we do business is that it has brought many companies up to speed with the rest of the world. Sometimes it takes a major crisis — like a pandemic — to force a company to adapt or become extinct.
I felt 100 percent safe dining in the different Cracker Barrels during the current health crisis, and would even feel comfortable dining with my parents there.
Now if I could only get the company’s meatloaf recipe!
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