Why Cracker Barrel Can't Duck Controversy Now

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Cracker Barrel Can't Duck Controversy Now
Tim Boyle/Getty Images
Cracker Barrel Old Country Store's front porch chairs aren't the only things rocking these days. The restaurant chain specializing in Southern comfort food with attached gift shops stocking throwback country trinkets has courted controversy with a pair of moves that has set off a testy debate.

Cracker Barrel (CBRL) became the first retailer to pull some "Duck Dynasty" merchandise over the weekend after the A&E reality show's Phil Robertson offended many readers by voicing comments that were insensitive to the gay and African American communities in a GQ magazine article.

There was naturally a fair amount of viral applause after the restaurant's swift move, but then came the voices from those that either agreed with Robertson's remarks or felt that his freedom of speech was being challenged. They took to Twitter (TWTR), Facebook (FB) and email campaigns to complain, threatening to boycott Cracker Barrel if the merchandise wasn't returned to the shelves.

A day later, Cracker Barrel complied.

Duck Sauce

"When we made the decision to remove and evaluate certain Duck Dynasty items, we offended many of our loyal customers," Cracker Barrel explained in a letter to customers Sunday. "Our intent was to avoid offending, but that's just what we've done."

"You told us we made a mistake. And, you weren't shy about it. You wrote, you called and you took to social media to express your thoughts and feelings. You flat out told us we were wrong. We listened. Today, we are putting all our Duck Dynasty products back in our stores."

The note may seem overly apologetic, and outright offensive to those that were initially upset by Robertson's incendiary comments.
Then again, Cracker Barrel's strong presence in the South made it an unlikely trailblazer by pulling the products of one of the more popular reality shows on television. There are 7.3 million fans of the show on Facebook, and these are just the social media-savvy fans that happen to be on the leading social networking site. There are 1.7 million followers of the show's official Twitter feed.

Duck Duck Goose

Cracker Barrel's reversal took all of 24 hours, but naturally it's going to look bad from both sides. It initially angered the fans of the show, but then it offended those who were angered by the comments.

It's a strange series of events. Often the loudest cries for boycotts come against those making comments that are perceived to be insensitive. Just ask Paula Deen or Chick-fil-A's Dan Cathy. This is a rare instance where the backlash to the backlash was what won a company over.

Then again, Cracker Barrel is no stranger to controversy.

Two decades ago, the chain came under fire for dismissing several employees -- according to what was reportedly an internal memo -- who weren't displaying "normal heterosexual values" at work. Several years later, some minority employees filed a discrimination lawsuit. That was followed in 2001 with some minority customers claiming that the restaurant was segregating patrons by race. Then there were sexual harassment claims at three of its eateries. Cracker Barrel paid to settle the claims.

Fowl Play

Cracker Barrel has publicly changed its policies so that they are more in tune with the times. It's also clear that the chain is more popular now than ever. The chain has grown to 625 locations, and its stock hit an all-time high late last month.

Many casual dining chains are struggling, but not Cracker Barrel. It has rattled off eight consecutive quarters of positive same-restaurant sales growth.

We'll see if this fresh wave of controversy nips that impressive streak or if it triggers a spike in loyalty. The chairs are rocking back and forth on the front porch, but things are heating up in the Cracker Barrel kitchen.

Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Cracker Barrel Old Country Store. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned.


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14 Comments

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teresagteresa

Cracker Barrel does not let their employees take breaks or eat their food. You must pay for your meal and either come in early before your shift and eat or stay after your shift. They pay you with a debit card that charges you fees to get your own paycheck! They also hung up a sign about a Mother's Day potluck that requesting we bring in our own food to eat!!!! One of the worst companies I have ever worked for hands down...

May 08 2014 at 8:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
betty_brock

It wasn't his opinion. He was quoting the BIBLE.

December 30 2013 at 7:57 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
muenft

I am happy cracker barrel came to their senses and didn;t let the homosexual lobby direct their actions. I willcontinue to eat there and order an extra plate of crow for the homosexual lobby .

December 30 2013 at 7:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to muenft's comment
betty_brock

It is all about money.

December 30 2013 at 7:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
s

I firmly believe that this country is overly concerned with the mundane
and inconsequential, personally I don't care what the LGBT or the Duck
people do, its all an absurdity.

December 28 2013 at 6:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Phil

Any employee of any reputable American company would be terminated with cause for their discriminatory, public comments. Why is Phil Robertson, an employee of A&E, treated differently than the rest of us? To the point, we are all free to speak...and to pay the known consequences for our actions.

December 27 2013 at 9:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Phil's comment
Gus Hodges

They need him more than he needs them.

December 29 2013 at 1:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Gus Hodges's comment
Phil

I guess so...and now the inmates are in charge of the prison. What a way to run a business...

December 29 2013 at 3:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down
msherer260

iT WAS FUN ONCE BUT THE FOOD WAS NOT WORTH GOING BACK A SECOND TIME.

December 27 2013 at 9:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
dealer502

finally, a smart choice. LGBT IS NOT EATING AT CRACKER BARREL! White southern Crackers eat there. Let the all mighty dollar speak. I am a white southern cracker who was offended by cracker barrel saying my beliefs were wrong. I dont think so! I actually do eat there, usually after church on Sunday and they almost lost me to Chedders!

December 27 2013 at 6:51 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
balancecombat

Now they have to offend somebody. If they just let well enough alone, I think few would have noticed. Now its obvious that they are pandering to the group that makes the most noise and spends the most money.

December 27 2013 at 5:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Judith

Actually, I admire Cracker Barrel for pulling Duck Dynasty stuff off the shelves (they made a statement that was popular with some people) but I admire the company just as much for putting the stuff back (they made a statement that was popular with some people). Get the point? You can't please everybody all the time and to try to do so is futile and, bottom line, when you're in business it's the bottom line that counts, isn't it?

December 27 2013 at 1:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
msmaryanne

Finally, the silent majority has been heard and about time!!!. I\'m so tired of hearing from every left-wing, fringe group about their complaints. Freedome of speech extends to EVERYONE not just those with whom YOU agree. And, Cracker Barrell is a very good restaurant, it has the most unique products in their retail store, their servers are friendly, their food is fresh and good and I\'m talking about one up here in the Northeast, not down south. Opinion, everyone has one, so shut up and sit down if you don\'t like what you hear!!!!!

December 27 2013 at 10:49 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply