On Cracker Barrel’s Poll-Driven “Principles”

Well, they got the color right...

Well, they got the color right…

Cracker Barrel just proved that integrity and principle are alien concepts, if not to the entire corporate sector, then at least its cheesy, weaselly corner of it. Watching a company so blatantly hold its wet finger to the wind waiting to see where the “principles” with the most profitability lie is revolting, but instructive to those of us who like to believe there are such things as ethical corporations. I think we’re probably fooling ourselves. I think they are nearly all like the spineless, pusillanimous, grovelling Cracker Barrel, but just smarter about it. But then, a box of hammers could be smarter about it.

First, reacting to A&E’s craven PC punishment of Phil Robertson of cable’s Duck Dynasty clan for expressing the basic religious convictions of millions of Americans (they think homosexuality is voluntary, and a sin) in response to an GQ interviewer’s question, Cracker Barrel pulled products with Phil’s likeness, saying in a statement,

“Cracker Barrel’s mission is Pleasing People. We operate within the ideals of fairness, mutual respect and equal treatment of all people. These ideals are the core of our corporate culture…. We removed selected products which we were concerned might offend some of our guests while we evaluate the situation.”

I thought this was unusually weasel-worded, and I was right. The translation, in retrospect:

‘We at Cracker Barrel have no principles whatsoever. We are a blank slate; we go with the flow. There is no right or wrong for us: whatever position we feel we have to hold to get the most people to buy our products, you can count on us. If 51% of America begins worshiping Baal, hey, sacrifice a goat for in our name, because we’re all in. If the majority want to ban, hey, anything or anyone, we’re in full agreement. We aim to please, in any way that helps our bottom line.’

Sure enough, as soon as it looked like the tide of public opinion was turning against GLAAD and its efforts to muzzle and demonize a large and vocal religious community (which is, oh, about five or six decades behind the current state of human knowledge, experience and ethics, but by the standards or organized religion, it’s not too bad), Cracker’s Barrel turned on a dime, and bleated,

When we made the decision to remove and evaluate certain Duck Dynasty items, we offended many of our loyal customers. 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. And, we apologize for offending you.”

Gag! Choke! Ack!

Then, if your gorge hasn’t risen yet, this…

“We respect all individuals’  right to express their beliefs. We certainly did not mean to have anyone think different. We sincerely hope you will continue to be part of our Cracker Barrel family.”

Latest translation:

‘We offended some people in trying to kowtow to those who were offended, and once we realized that those who we offended were more likely to buy our products if they weren’t offended than those offended people we tried to suck up to were to buy our products because we pretended to be offended too. So now we’re fine with offending them, even though we don’t want to offend anybody. Since this company has no integrity and all it takes to make us change our principles is a threat to the bottom line, we now admit that we were dead wrong to give a damn that Phil Robertson declared all gay American sinful perverts. We now officially believe he’s a great American and has been unjustly slurred. Just let us know what we are supposed to believe next.’

I can respect a company that takes a stand for gay rights and against denigration of gay Americans, at the risk of alienating the religious right. I can respect a company that believes in open dialogue on all topics and tolerance for opposing views, and that conducts its business accordingly. I respect an organization that stands behind freedom of religion and religious tolerance.

I have no respect for Cracker Barrel whatsoever.

Who cares whether such a feckless company is on their side or not?


Facts: Forbes, Huffington Post

18 thoughts on “On Cracker Barrel’s Poll-Driven “Principles”

  1. For whatever it’s worth, this is the Cracker Barrel’s mission statement:

    Pleasing People® is so central to what we value, it’s our company mission statement. That’s it – Pleasing People®. Nothing more. Nothing less. Since the very first Cracker Barrel location opened back in 1969 in Lebanon, Tennessee, we’ve kept things pretty simple. At Cracker Barrel, Pleasing People® is all about mutual respect.

    It looks like they tried to please too many people 🙂

    • There’s a key point right there.

      Anyone whose purpose in life is to please people is going to wind up being a weathervane.

      If Cracker Barrel hadn’t made public statements as if they were acting on principle, I couldn’t find grounds to quibble with anything they did. “It’s a matter of principle” is bad business and they need customers to live. They have no ethical obligation either to carry or not carry Duck Dynasty merchandise, so they should indeed make it a purely commercial decision.

  2. I’m going to step up on Cracker Barrel’s behalf here. Disclosure: I have never eaten in a Cracker Barrel. I have never SET FOOT in a Cracker Barrel. I have no intention of doing so, not because of this, but because I don’t like chain restaurants unless I have no other choice.

    Social media has made it a new world out there for corporate communications, and when the Professionally Indignant turn their uncritical and unthinking followers loose on an organization, the results can be serious – and damaging. As a publicly traded company, Cracker Barrel has an obligation to its shareholders to address threats to profitability, and given the dudgeon in the early stages of the Duck Squawk, I can’t blame them for being nervous. The statement did say that they were removing the items “while evaluating” – and if that’s true, it’s not unreasonable, lest all of a sudden activist flash mobs show up to picket your business.

    Of note: back in the 1990s, Cracker Barrel was (justifiably) dinged due to policies that discriminated against gay employees. They changed their policies and do not do so now – but I’ve little doubt that the institutional memory of that event weighed in on their decision.

    I WILL criticize them for not knowing and understanding their customers better. A company that really knew its customers would have had a pretty good hunch whether this would have an impact or not. It turns out “or not,” and at least Cracker Barrel gave its customers the benefit of the doubt when it realized that it needn’t have worried.

    I will say that I thought their mea culpa was fairly well done. I agree with your point that their initial announcement was a bit weasel-y. Not that it’s an excuse, but that’s what happens when you issue a statement drafted by a flack and re-written by a lawyer.

    • Disclosure: I have never eaten in a Cracker Barrel. I have never SET FOOT in a Cracker Barrel. I have no intention of doing so, not because of this, but because I don’t like chain restaurants unless I have no other choice.
      Cracker Barrel is a good place if you’re driving North/South on the east coast.
      They are usually clean (bathrooms, too), they make breakfast anytime and it is a relaxing escape from the car.
      They will also supply you with as much iced tea or coffee as you can drink.

      I am disappointed with their actions over the DD remarks.

    • The 90’s class action suit damaged Cracker Barrel’s reputation significantly. It looks like they still haven’t figured out how to handle PR announcements. Wait! I think I know of a senior PR Director who might be looking for a new job …..

      For the record, Cracker Barrel makes the best chef salad around.

  3. Restaurants are all afraid they are going to become the next Chik-filet.
    They are cowardly, yes, but who stands beside them?
    A nation of wusses letting Idiot Liberals strip their rights.

  4. Where is the criticism of the people who demanded that Cracker Barrell change its stance? I mean, if the people who said they would stop watching A&E because of Phil Robertson are tyrannical violators of free speech rights for bullying A&E (even though they did nothing than just jointly stand up and say “hey, we are going to change the station”) then why are the people who told Cracker Barrell that they would stop eating there if they didn’t support the Robertson family not the same sort of bullies?

    • Nothing’s wrong with them demanding that they change EITHER stance, including this one. But I think you’d agree that an individual who demanded that Cracker Barrel change BOTH stances would be a hypocrite. And maybe nuts.

      • Ok, so if it is not an ethical violation to suggest that Cracker Barrel should put DD products back on the shelf or they wont shop there why is it an ethical violation to say you will stop watching A&E if they keep Phil Robertson on the air?

        • You personally? No problem at all. Forcing, coercing or otherwise organizing others in mass coercive action to punish individual for opinions you don’t like is a violation of the principles of autonomy, tolerance, respect for liberty and fairness,

          • But you are not being critical of those who are seeking to force Cracker Barrell away from their original decision to remove items from the shelves. Instead you are being critical of cracker barrel for having no spine.

            I personally disagree with you on the idea that inviduals cannot work together to jointly say “hey, we disagree with the actions you have taken and we do not like it”. I don’t see a problem with one person saying “I will change the channel because I don’t like this” or with a million people saying the same thing in unison.

            However, even if we disagree on the use of massive protests to force profit driven companies into action, I would at least expect you to remain consistent on this. But you have not been.

            You have been openly critical of those who called for Phil Robertson to be taken off the air as a large group but you have not been openly critical of those who are trying to force Cracker Barrel to change their policy as a large group. That is a glaring inconsistency in your stance here.

            • I don’t have to write about everything over and over again, you know. I have made my position on economic boycotts clear on many occasions. This is no different. The issue in the case of Robertson is political correctness, and that is inherently un_American and anti-freedom of thought and speech. CB was wrong to jump on the bandwagon, people have every right, like me, to say they are wrong. I would never advocate boycotting a store and harming its employees because of a dumb and cowardly decision by its management.

              You don’t see the difference between calling for a change in policy (Ethical) and extorting a company into making a change it doesn’t believe in (Unethical)? Between criticizing what Robertson said (ethical) and demanding that he be fired (unethical)?

              That’s the distinction here. Then there’s Cracker Barrel, desperately trying to pick the winning side.

  5. People generally don’t put their heartfelt, but unpopular personal beliefs out there for people to trample all over. It’s a tremendous hassle. Much easier to quietly hold your opinion and keep your mouth shut.
    Put the profit motive behind it and you get train wrecks like this. The biggest voice calls the shots and the biggest voice to businesses is money. Just occasionally the quiet people get a little sick of the whole business and speak up. Then those with their finger in the wind get a surprise.

  6. This isn’t a matter of beliefs, religion or otherwise, it’s a matter of numbers, and it’s numbers Cracker Barrel should have been familiar with from the get-go. There are 9 million gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders, or roughly 3.8% of the population. Professed Christians make up roughly 80% of the population. In a discussion such as this one, SOMEONE is going to be offended…all you have to figure out is which offended group is going to cost you the least money. Apparently, Cracker Barrel was unable to accomplish that.

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