“I think because people eat breakfast with us all day, and that's a really important part of our brand, they might be eating pancakes at dinner, but the idea of combining those with a mimosa is delicious, right?” Spillyards-Schaefer says. “The other thing we'll see is they might be eating Southern Fried Chicken, and what's better than champagne and fried chicken? And so they'll have an Orange Mimosa with a Southern Fried Chicken, and we know that our guests like that little cup of sweet, indulgent kind of drink. And so that seems to be fitting the bill for them.”
The introduction of alcohol coincided with an evolution of the dinner menu that called for simplicity and innovation. For example, Cracker Barrel previously had a larger and smaller portion size for its Chicken and Dumplings—one with two sides, and the other with three sides. Spillyards-Schaefer says it was difficult for customers to understand the difference and for cooks to remember correct portion sizes. So the brand aligned portion sizes and gave customers a choice of either two or three sides.
“Something that sounds as simple as that actually eases execution tremendously in our back-of-house,” Spillyards-Schaefer says. “… There’s never been a more important time than COVID—and all of the challenges that it brings—to keep a high level of execution in our restaurants.”
Cracker Barrel also removed low-performing items across the menu to make room for new dinner offerings that guests would enjoy even more, like the Chicken Pot Pie, Maple Bacon Grilled Chicken, Country Fried Pork Chops, Pot Roast Supper, and Barrel-Cut Sugar Ham.
Spillyards-Schaefer says COVID did slow Cracker Barrel’s major launch of the revamped dinner menu, but she adds it pushed the brand to streamline the process and bring innovation to the market faster than it ever has before. It’s a new strategy Cracker Barrel will maintain coming out of the pandemic.
“Chicken Pot Pie had a really great guest response, both in sales performance, but also in how they loved the item,” Spillyards-Schaefer says. “It’s just one of those natural fits for Cracker Barrel—it looks beautiful on TV, it eats really well, and people absolutely loved it. And that barrel cut ham, it's an inch thick, 24-ounce ham steak, and so that thing going through the dining room is pretty impressive, and it's one of those eye catchers.”
Being a family-oriented restaurant, Cracker Barrel made sure not to exclude children from the innovation. The company’s new Kid’s Menu comprises Mini Confetti Pancakes, Lil’ Barrel Cheeseburgers, Dirt Cup Dessert, and a Milk n’ Cookies Straw. Spillyards-Schaefer says the standouts have been the pancakes—filled with fruity cereal and served with syrup and butter— and the Dirt Cup, which mixes layers of chocolate pudding with chocolate cookie crumbles and gummy worms.