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Cracker Barrel prepares to add beer, wine to menu

Rocky Top location has permits lined up and in order

  • Emily Mitchell, a hostess at the Cracker Barrel restaurant inRockyTop,looksoverthenewpermitthatallowsthe eatery to serve wine with meals. - G. Chambers Williams III

  • Lunchtime diners partake of the fare at the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store restaurant in Rocky Top on Thursday, Aug. 27. The store soon will begin serving beer and wine. - G. Chambers Williams III

Beer and wine at Cracker Barrel?

Both are soon to be on the menu at the Rocky Top location of the restaurant chain known for more than 50 years for its Southern comfort food and family-friendly atmosphere.

The store was granted a beer permit by the Rocky Top City Council, sitting as the Beer Board, Aug. 25 for on-premises consumption, and has also obtained a permit from the state of Tennessee’s ABC board for sale of wine for on-premises consumption.

“As we indicated on our latest earnings call, well prior to the pandemic we began testing limited beer and wine offerings in some of our Florida stores in response to strong feedback from our guests that these beverages were something they wanted,” Cracker Barrel’s Media Relations Team said via email in a response to questions from The Courier News about the move to add alcoholic beverages.

“The results of this test thus far have been overwhelmingly positive, and so we have decided to expand the test in different markets in Florida, Tennessee and Kentucky, and have taken initial steps to apply for the appropriate licenses and begin necessary training in certain locations, including in Lake City, Tenn.,” the company said.

“We are delighted to be able to offer a limited assortment of beer and wine in our test stores, including orange and strawberry mimosas which have proven to be quite popular. Our guests have told us that offering beer and wine would reduce the veto vote – that is, those guests who would choose Cracker Barrel for a given dining occasion, but ultimately go elsewhere because they would like to have a beer or a glass of wine with their meal – especially during weekend dinner.

“We look forward to welcoming our guests to these stores and offering them additional choice that enhances their enjoyment and a new way to celebrate special occasions,” the company said.

Senior restaurant analyst Jake Bartlett at Atlanta-based Truist Securities said he felt the move to add alcoholic beverages was a good one for the publicly traded Cracker Barrel.

“What’s more surprising was that they haven’t had it [until now],” he said Monday. “I think given Cracker Barrel’s significant lunch and dinner business, we think it makes sense to add beer and wine, and believe it could help them increase sales with the millennial customer base.

“It is going to be important for Cracker Barrel’s future as the boomer market matures.”

Bartlett noted that the average check per customer is now $10.84 at Cracker Barrel, but just one mimosa drink would add $5.89 to that.

The Rocky Top (Lake City) location’s restaurant manager, Jennifer Wolever, confirmed late last week that the location now has its beer and wine permits in hand, but she said the local management has not yet been told by Cracker Barrel corporate officials when alcohol sales will begin.

“We just don’t know yet,” Wolever said Friday (Aug. 28). “I do know that some of the Kentucky locations are already doing it.”

Servers at the Rocky Top location have been told that they will have to take a servers’ training course and pass a test to be certified by the state of Tennessee to serve beer and wine at the restaurant, and also that they will have to pay for the class out of their own pockets.

Not many on the waitstaff are happy about the move, two Rocky Top servers said. Both asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to talk with the media, they said.

“Most of us are against it,” one female server told The Courier News. “We think it would hurt the family atmosphere here. My parents are against it, too, and say they won’t eat here anymore if alcohol is sold.”

The other server said she doesn’t like the idea of having to take the servers’ class and pay for it on her own, and really doesn’t want to have to serve alcohol to customers.

The company, which owns all its stores and does not sells franchises, now has 662 restaurants with attached country-style gift shops in 45 states. The first Cracker Barrel Old Country Store opened in Lebanon in 1969.

Cracker Barrel’s corporate headquarters sits on a 98-acre wooded campus in Lebanon on land that once was a farm. There, the company has a test kitchen, staff training facilities, a warehouse that stores thousands of pieces of décor that are used to give the stores a country feel, and a mock country store that is used to prepare the store side of each Cracker Barrel for seasonal merchandising.

Early on, the stores also sold gasoline – the one in Rocky Top was a Shell station – and they were open 24 hours, including the restaurants. There are wooden rocking chairs on the large front porches of the stores for customers to sit and wait for tables in the restaurant, and the company sells about 70,000 of those rockers every year.

The restaurants serve a total of about 230 million guests each year, and 210 million biscuits. The best-selling menu item is Mama’s Pancake Breakfast.

Here are some other fun facts about Cracker Barrel from the company’s website,

 Each store is approximately 10,000 square feet including the front porch and sits on around two acres.

 Each restaurant has around 177-207 seats,

 Each store has 800-1,000 pieces of authentic décor on the walls – no replicas here!

 Travelers make up 40% of our business.

 We have more than 1,600 billboards across America to remind you we are always near.

The company’s stock is publicly traded on the NASDAQ exchange under the symbol CBRL. The stock price closed Monday at $133.71. The 52-week stock high price was $174.85, and the low was $53.61.