Friday, September 13, 2019

When Cracker Barrel's processes leave you feeling processed

I've been around a lot of process people over the years. After all, I worked for Motorola for nearly a decade. But even though a few of them seemed to be enamored of process for process' sake, the vast majority of them realized that processes are merely things that allow a company to reach its strategic objectives. In most cases, those strategic objectives are related to customer satisfaction.

Which brings me to the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain.

When you think about it, it's obvious that Cracker Barrel is highly dependent upon process. Cracker Barrel markets Southern nostalgia - in its food, in its store, and even in its decoration. And for those who think that Cracker Barrel is merely Bubba and Grandma preparing the home cooking, take a gander at what Cracker Barrel executives really think about:

But turning to the larger dynamic, Cracker Barrel is dealing with declines across guest experience metrics and faltering on value positioning, as well as failing to deliver “craveable food offerings,” at the rate it needs. [CEO Sandy] Cochran believes this hurt traffic, especially with lighter users.

“We've been reevaluating the touch points we have with our guests in order to execute more consistently, particularly at dinner, which has been the most challenged of our dayparts,” she said in regards to the guest experience.

One example of this is what Cracker Barrel calls the “check back, check down,” process, where servers will give a table their check before they’re finished eating. This has worked with travelers and earlier dayparts, but it’s not an effective strategy with dinner guests in every market, Cochran said.

So Cracker Barrel is process driven. Especially in its food. When a customer leaves the interstate and goes to a Cracker Barrel conveniently adjacent to a freeway exit, the customer is expecting a certain type of food. For me it's fried okra.

And biscuits.

So today - Friday the 13th, of course - I had lunch at a Cracker Barrel. But what if I had chosen an alternative? Based upon years of (self-funded) competitive intelligence studies, I could have expected the following.

Perhaps I might have gone to an Olive Garden restaurant. If I asked for breadsticks to be brought before my meal, the wait staff would have no problem bringing me breadsticks. (Well, within reason.)

Perhaps I might have gone to a local restaurant like Coco's. If I asked for bread to be brought before my meal, it would have arrived.

Or, if I were in the mood for Mexican, I could have gone to the Inland Empire - Orange County chain Rodrigo's and asked for chips and salsa before my meal. The wait staff would have brought me chips. And then would have brought more chips.

But I didn't go to any of those restaurants for my Friday the 13th lunch. I went to Cracker Barrel, where I asked the waitress if she could bring some of those Southern nostalgic biscuits before our meal.

"No," she replied.

Eventually biscuits were brought, but the waitress and the manager made it very clear that such activities fell well outside of the process employed by this Cracker Barrel restaurant. I won't name the exact location, other than to say that it was somewhat south of the Victorville Cracker Barrel.

Somewhere along the way, the whole idea of customer satisfaction was lost.

But I bet the numbers look great. If not for the buttermilk biscuits, then certainly for the corn muffins - especially since that pesky Joe Koblenzer isn't around any more.
blog comments powered by Disqus