Starbucks and Cracker Barrel. Two of the most consistent places to dine or sup in my little hole, in a bigger hole, in the hole that we describe as the Deep South. I think we are still in the Deep South. Deep in what exactly what will be up for discussion at another time.
Both of these chains have their opportunities, but both have a sense of value based on quality. Starbucks is not cheap. Cracker Barrel, while catering to the average country folk, is not cheap. Both companies use their own special thaumaturgy to remove cash from my pocket and make me leave feeling good.
Starbucks first of all has a real cool logo. I think that the mermaid lady is hot, not as hot as she used to be, but really hot and really cool. http://www.deadprogrammer.com/starbucks-logo-mermaid
Cracker Barrel needs to hire some of the Starbucks people to fix theirs, but then again they would have to reprint all of their stationary.
Starbucks has cool chairs, albeit dirty and worn, cool. Maybe cool is overused in my vocabulary. I am officially blaming growing up in the Sixties. Anyway, they do a nice job decorating with calming colors like beige and browns, you know, coffee colors. Starbucks looks like coffee, smells like coffee, and tastes like coffee as they should. They are pretty savvy marketers, they have plenty of nooks to place coffee beans and granola, and cool cups.... crap. ....and different and unique cups, shot glasses, and French presses. However, here of late in my little hole they are pushing some non-gluten, no sugar, save the world cookies and they are botching it up pretty bad. I would call it "Clutter Marketing". Push the big bulky boxes into the middle of the floor causing a near traffic disaster. They also are trying to peddle these $2.50 fake candy bars without displaying the price clearly. It is bad enough that Starbucks makes us feel guilty by telling us what poor soul made these bars, the least they could do is put a price tag on them clearly. People buy the triple-nut-no-gluten-less-sugar-chemical-free-made-in-a-poor-country-or-by some-smart-home-maker bars and cookies just to get them out of the middle of the walk way.
Cracker Barrel has non-cheap cool chairs also, really weird all connected, notched, wooden sturdy chairs. I would love to see how many of these chairs break and what the circumstances were when they did break. I have seen mammoth four hundred pound bacon and egg eaters in these chairs with no breaking, sagging or creaking. These chairs look as though they were constructed by some secret Amish subculture whose roots are from descendants of the Egyptians and the Romans. There are specially hewn kids chairs made to fit on the adult chairs, crafted every so cleverly. The tables are not cheap either, they are heavy wooden tables put together like barn beams, complete with wooden nails and wedges. These actually may be Elvin tables, a remnant from Middle Earth. Elvin anything is not cheap.
I never see a Starbucks TV commercial. I hardly ever see a Starbucks coupon of any sort. They really don't need it. They probably don't want it. So what do they do? OMG we are in a recession! What are they going to do to keep customers?
They make great coffee.
They remember your name (especially if you are an addict like myself).
They buy and sell __________ coffee cups (please input a word other than cool).
The above is what they both do well. They market themselves by selling you trinkets and great coffee in logo recycled cups, with recycled insulator bands, with nifty sipper tops, with a feel good quote stamped on the side that reminds you of the experience even after you have long tossed it into the floorboard of your truck and you watch it as it rolls around when you take sharp turns. Eating or drinking is only part of the deal. Eating and drinking has been mostly pleasurable in my experience with both of these stores, but the other part has been just as pleasing. Yes, the coffee cups and the french presses and trinkets are a bit over priced but they are....coo....crap.....rad....groovy...uh..eclectic.
The Cracker Barrel Country Store is a blend of cheesy Nashville mixed with some "Whisperin' Bill Anderson in the background. All kinds of candy left over from the 50's, fake quilts, college nick knacks, and assorted "I want to be country" goodies. Unbelievably, I always seem to buy something usually more expensive than my food bill. Have you ever bought fudge after eating Uncle Hershel's Breakfast? I have.
Now there are patrons at both stores that I really do not like. Matter of fact, truth be known, I loath. This week there was the lady who came in Starbucks and ordered the caramel latte etc etc blah blah lite this, less that. When the barista finished the drink the customer puckered up her best "I am a complete waste of flesh smile" and says "Wait, ohh nooo, I wanted the caramel UNDERNEATH the whipped cream. And I wanted LITE chocolate on the top". Of course the barista so slightly smiled, apologized, scooped off the whole top and graciously started over. This is why Starbucks rocks, because they have to deal with the anti-humans that come in and pervert a perfectly fine cup of coffee. Matter of fact I am quite tired of all of the "all the toppings on the side", extra this, not that" people, but I may have to include that into the Deep South blog that will be to come in the future.
Cracker Barrel has several levels of people that can creep me out. There are the nice, no, super nice-came-back-from-her-second-retirement lady selling in the retail store. Please just settle for bland conversation with these types. The weather, the latest holiday, or the bluegrass music lyrics wafting down over the crazy farm implements that are hung from the ceiling will do. If not, you will find yourself at the Primitive Baptist Church pot luck dinner on a Wednesday night.
Secondly, there are thirty OCD servers pouring coffee, nonstop, creepy like. I drank no less that eight cups this morning, every cup poured by a different server. Creepy. I also always see some odd employee wandering about, but who doesn't have and odd employee walking around? I have no less that seven odd employees where I work. I always try to be odd just for good measure. Well I really don't try so hard to be truthful.
Thirdly, let me just give you a visual on how creepy the farm equipment hanging from the ceiling is: The movie Twister, the scene is when Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt were running from the twister, that sucked up the red Dodge truck with the windshield that went from shattered to not shattered (you will notice this after the twentieth time you watch the movie). They ran into the big red barn where all of the farm implements were hanging and Bill looks up and around and says "I don't think so!", and Helen Hunt said "Who Are these people"? There you go, creepy hanging farm equipment.
The food at Cracker Barrel will expedite any good heart ailment from mild to severe, but it is after all "country cookin' ". I had Pancakes with scrambled eggs and turkey sausage. The highlight as usual is the little bottles of maple syrup. These cannot be cheap, but they made a cheap meal great. This is very smart on Cracker Barrel's part. I would liken it to Sandra Lee taking a box cake and making some crazy good wedding cake out of it. The food came out on time, and it was hot, and it was good. Sure, I know that the biscuits are not from scratch, and that the pancake batter is from a mix, but it was still prepared very well. The white gravy was thick and flavorful, but I am sure that it was not from scratch, and inane of any real nutrition, and or that it had enough bacon fat and butter in it to kill a small community. Bottom line it was a good breakfast and it was reasonably priced, that is until I bought some country goodies from the retail store.
Again, two good companies with similar business plans. Amazingly enough both companies get their share of bad press about how they do this or didn't do that, but don't let that discourage you from giving them a go. I will take a Caffe Americano please, http://tiny.cc/xlJ3p no room, with Grandma's Pancake Breakfast. Turkey sausage.