A Cracker Barrel hostess reveals how the restaurant tries to sell you more food

A Cracker Barrel hostess said that seating and serving busloads of diners are one the biggest challenges of the job.

Cracker Barrel is trying to regain relevancy with diners, its CEO said earlier this year.One restaurant hostess said that her Cracker Barrel location struggles with worker turnover.She also described how management aims to upsell customers on drinks and take-home meals.

At a Cracker Barrel in the Midwest, busloads of diners pull in from the interstate most Saturday nights and swarm the entrance.

“You’re at the hostess desk, someone comes up, and I say ‘Hey, welcome to Cracker Barrel. How many will be dining with us today?’ and they’ll say ‘It’s 48.'” The hostess asked not to be named, citing potential retaliation at work. Business Insider verified her identity and employment.

The hostess said these big groups, which can include seniors heading home from a casino or high school sports teams on their way to a tournament, can quickly overwhelm the restaurant’s waitstaff. She said frequent employee turnover can mean many waiters have been on the job for just a few weeks and have only just grasped the menu and workflow.

“It’s just absolute hell,” the hostess, who has worked at the restaurant for about 18 months, said of the Saturday evening rush. Another Cracker Barrel employee, a server in Pennsylvania, also described high turnover at their store.

Cracker Barrel CFO Craig Pommells said during an earnings call in November that the chain has increased its investment in worker pay in hopes of reducing employee turnover.

To be sure, most restaurants face high turnover rates. The restaurant industry’s turnover rate last year was 74% — the highest of any industry in the US, according to Toast, a restaurant software company.

Cracker Barrel is upselling customers with packaged food

The hostess said her Cracker Barrel location is increasingly trying to get customers to buy more food and drinks through various upselling strategies.

She said her managers recently instructed her to approach diners with a tray of entreés packaged to go and ask them if they’d like to buy one. The entrées, which cost $5 each, are one way that Cracker Barrel executives say they’re trying to increase how much patrons spend during a visit.

“You’re supposed to come up with scenarios,” she said, referencing instructions from management. “‘You have a kid at home, give him some meatloaf.'”

She said some customers have balked at this selling strategy, with one telling her, “It seems like Cracker Barrel is trying to squeeze every dollar out of its patrons.”

A Cracker Barrel spokesperson told BI that patrons have “responded positively” to the $5 take-home entrées since the chain introduced them early last year.

“As a company, Cracker Barrel communicates menu updates and innovations to guests in a variety of ways including in-store through our servers and hosts and through signage throughout the restaurant and digitally though email, social media and through the Cracker Barrel app and Cracker Barrel Rewards,” the spokesperson said.

Upselling is hardly unique to Cracker Barrel, however, as anyone who has dined out would know.

It’s a common strategy used in restaurants, stores, and online to inflate ticket totals and earn more profit on every customer.

And Cracker Barrel could really use a boost in customer spending.

Cracker Barrel said in May that quarterly revenue declined 1.9% to $817.1 million year-over-year. Same-store sales dropped 1.5%, and same-store retail sales fell 3.8% in the same period.

Do you work at Cracker Barrel or another major restaurant and have a story idea to share? Reach out to this reporter at abitter@businessinsider.com

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