Cracker Barrel Vs Dennys: How The Restaurants Compare

Among the all-day breakfast options, Denny's and Cracker Barrel stand out as iconic chains in the competitive world of casual dining, synonymous with comfort food, friendly service, and the quintessential American breakfast experience. Since opening in 1953 as a donut shop, Denny's evolved into the 24-hour diner many know and love. Renowned for its Grand Slam breakfast and commitment to always being open, Denny's has become a haven for night owls, truckers, and families alike, offering a welcoming space where anyone can savor a meal at any hour. On the other hand, Cracker Barrel has been replicating the warmth of Southern hospitality and charm since 1969, providing a hearty meal for those looking for a home away from home, which is made possible by the distinctive rocking chairs on the front porch, the crackling fireplace, and the country store filled with unique finds.

As we explore the diverse offerings of Denny's and Cracker Barrel, it becomes evident that they both offer not just a meal but an experience: a slice of Americana served alongside pancakes and burgers. Plus, they have a wide selection of lunch and dinner options, ample sides to choose from, and so much more. While these are some of the key elements that have propelled these breakfast giants into the hearts and stomachs of millions across the nation, which chain outperforms the other in these categories? Keep reading as we compare these two breakfast institutions.

Savory breakfasts

When it comes to savory breakfasts, Denny's and Cracker Barrel go spatula to spatula in a battle of flavors, each boasting a distinctive approach that caters to diverse palates. Denny's takes the lead in sheer quantity, offering around 25 dishes to satisfy almost every craving imaginable. From an assortment of scrambled egg sandwiches to different renditions of steak and eggs, breakfast skillets, and the renowned Slams (breakfast platters that include a medley of eggs, bacon, sausage, and a side of either pancakes, hashbrowns, or French toast), Denny's offers plenty of options.

In contrast, Cracker Barrel offers a more curated selection with about half as many options, presenting a breakfast menu that reflects its Southern roots. Savory options include a Southern take on eggs benedict, hashbrown casseroles, and various versions of steak and eggs, each embodying Cracker Barrel's commitment to delivering quality with a touch of home-cooked flair. While Denny's has carved out a successful reputation for its classic breakfast and popular slams, it's our personal opinion that Cracker Barrel's stick-to-your-ribs menu offerings, which could rival even your grandma's, make it the clear winner.

Pancakes

Pancakes stand as a golden standard for diners looking to satisfy a sweet tooth first thing in the morning, and both Denny's and Cracker Barrel aim to please those taste buds with their sweet stacks. However, in this syrupy contest, Denny's has managed to flip its way to the top, winning over customers with a pancake selection that steals the spotlight. 

Denny's Pancake Slams feature delights such as caramel banana pancakes, cinnamon roll pancakes, double berry banana pancakes, and chocolate banana pancakes (a.k.a. choconana pancakes). The diner even provides a choice of multigrain pancakes if you want a more nutritious option. Every stack comes with a side of eggs, hashbrowns, and bacon or sausage, ensuring a well-rounded and indulgent breakfast experience. As for Cracker Barrel, the diner's buttermilk pancakes menu includes pancakes paired with sides of eggs and bacon, sausage, or ham, as well as stuffed pancakes with both sweet and savory options.

But what really sets Denny's and Cracker Barrel's pancakes apart are the customer reviews. On the one hand, Denny's seems to have mastered the art of pancake perfection, consistently earning praise from Tripadvisor reviewers, who describe them as amazingly fluffy, delicious, and a highlight of their visit. In contrast, Cracker Barrel's pancake narrative on Tripadvisor paints a mixed picture, with lukewarm and chewy critiques contrasting with praise.

Burgers

Burgers are another all-American favorite available at Denny's and Cracker Barrel, each presenting their own narrative in the battle of the buns. Once again, Denny's emerges as the reigning champion by offering a palate- and crowd-pleasing variety. Leading the charge with a lineup of six different options, Denny's burgers cater to a broad audience seeking a savory adventure that goes from the classic cheeseburger to a breakfast Slamburger, served on brioche buns with a side of wavy-cut fries or onion rings, adding a nice crunch to the overall experience. Plus, customer reviews on Tripadvisor describe them as the "best best burger you will ever have," hailing them as filling and tasty.

In contrast, Cracker Barrel's burger menu reveals a more modest affair, with only the Barrel cheeseburger to choose from, served with your choice of side. Unfortunately, Tripadvisor reviews highlight a less favorable side, with mentions of charred and inedible burgers painting a picture of inconsistency that contrasts with the reputation of the breakfast offerings. With customers vouching for the rich flavors and diverse offerings, it becomes evident that this round goes to Denny's.

Lunch and dinner options

Whether you're yearning for the comfort of Southern traditions at Cracker Barrel or the expansive variety of Denny's non-breakfast options, both diners deliver a satisfying and diverse experience that goes beyond the breakfast table. On the one hand, Cracker Barrel's lunch and dinner menu features a symphony of Southern-inspired specials. Consumers can indulge in classics like Southern fried chicken, roast beef, chicken pot pie, and meatloaf, each dish paying homage to the culinary traditions of the South. The seafood options, including a variety of grilled and fried fish, as well as fried shrimp, add a coastal twist to the menu, ensuring that seafood enthusiasts can also enjoy a satisfying meal.

On the other hand, the T-bone steak, spaghetti and meatballs, pot roast, and chicken skillets at Denny's showcase the diner's commitment to providing a range of flavors. Yet, in this case, the seafood choices are more limited, consisting mainly of battered fish fillets and grilled haddock. Therefore, while both diners offer an array of non-breakfast menu items that appeal to a spectrum of tastes, Cracker Barrel wins this round thanks to its broader lineup of options.

Sides

While both diners provide an array of tempting options to complement their main dishes, Cracker Barrel claims the victory in this round, boasting a more comprehensive selection. Denny's sides, while plentiful, can be categorized more as extras than standalone dishes, seeing that you could get any of the items from the menu itself (albeit in a bigger version). The menu features sweet sides like pancake stacks, French toast, crepes, and fruit, as well as savory options such as biscuits, toast, hashbrowns, eggs, bacon, ham, fries, onion rings, and a garden salad. While these options enhance the overall dining experience, they predominantly serve as duplicates of the main course rather than independent sides.

Cracker Barrel, on the other hand, dazzles with a side selection that spans the breadth of Southern-inspired cuisine. From loaded baked potatoes and sweet potatoes to a variety of mac n' cheese options, cheesy casseroles, megamenu potatoes with gravy, coleslaw, beans, greens, okra, biscuits, and cornbread muffins, these sides are proof of the rich tapestry of Southern flavors. Each dish enhances the dining experience with a distinct and flavorful offering. With this win, Cracker Barrel shows that variety truly is key, especially when it comes to the delectable side dishes that complete a Southern-inspired feast.

Specialty diets

For diners with specific dietary needs, the quest for suitable options can be a decisive factor in choosing where to dine. While both Denny's and Cracker Barrel may not offer dedicated menus for vegans, vegetarians, keto enthusiasts, low-calorie seekers, or gluten-free diners, they do provide customizable alternatives that cater to a spectrum of dietary preferences, meaning that, for this category, we've got ourselves a tie.

You can find the loaded veggie omelette as a vegetarian option at Denny's, while health-conscious diners can explore alternatives like salads, the Fit Slam (featuring scrambled egg whites with veggies, turkey bacon, English muffin, and fruit), or the multigrain wheat pancakes. In addition, for those avoiding gluten, items marked as gluten-free (GF) adhere to the FDA-specified definition of less than 20 parts per million for a gluten-free claim, ensuring a safer dining experience for gluten-sensitive individuals. 

Similarly, while lacking a specific menu for specialty diets, the offerings at Cracker Barrel allow for customization to meet various dietary preferences. Vegetarians can explore dishes like the Country Vegetable Plate, featuring a selection of vegetable sides that form a satisfying and meatless meal. For those adhering to a gluten-free diet, the diner offers choices like grilled chicken or beef, which can be paired with sides such as hashbrown casserole tots or turnip greens.

Alcoholic drinks

Despite being known as family-friendly restaurants, both diners have embraced the inclusion of alcoholic beverages in their menus at one point or another. However, Denny's boozy selection is mostly in the past. In 2015 an NYC location revealed a menu featuring a $300 Grand Slam. It wasn't the eggs or bacon that made it so pricey, but a bottle of Dom Pérignon Champagne. The menu also included a solid cocktail list, but the restaurant ultimately closed just a few years later. A few other locations have sold beer, wine, and liquor over the years, but as of present, it seems most Denny's establishments offer an alcohol-free menu.

Consequently, Cracker Barrel is crowned the winner in this round. Cracker Barrel Insider reports that in a strategic move to reflect the evolving nature of the place, the diner officially introduced beer, wine, and specialty drinks to its menu in 2022. This addition, available in over 500 Cracker Barrel locations, comes with over six varieties of beer, sparkling and white wines, and delightful options like mimosas or Jack Daniel's Country Cocktails, providing customers with a plethora of choices to accompany their meal.

Family meals

Denny's and Cracker Barrel strive to create a welcoming atmosphere where hearty meals can be enjoyed together. However, when it comes to bringing those hearty meals home, Cracker Barrel is the clear champion, thanks to its array of choices. Denny's family pack, known as the Grand Slam Pack, offers a classic breakfast feast that serves up to five people. It includes buttermilk pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon strips, sausage links, and hash browns.

However, Cracker Barrel steals the spotlight with an extensive selection of family meal options that go beyond the traditional breakfast fare. From full breakfast or dinner meals to individual family-sized dishes serving five people, Cracker Barrel leaves nothing behind. Families can indulge in comfort classics like meatloaf, steak tips, or fried chicken, paired with buttermilk biscuits and sides, and breakfast enthusiasts can enjoy French toast or pancakes alongside scrambled eggs, bacon or sausage, and hash browns. Yet, what sets Cracker Barrel apart are its family-sized individual dishes, including a variety of Southern-inspired sides such as casseroles, megamenu potatoes, or coleslaw; Barrel Bites featuring country-fried pickles, hashbrown tots, and biscuit beignets; desserts like pecan pie or cinnamon roll pie; and an assortment of breads, including buttermilk biscuits and corn muffins.

Opening hours

When it comes to satisfying those late-night cravings or indulging in an early morning breakfast, the opening hours of Denny's and Cracker Barrel reveal a stark contrast in accessibility. Denny's stands out as the beacon of convenience, offering a 24/7 operation that caters to diners around the clock, while Cracker Barrel adheres to a more traditional schedule with varying hours.

Typically, Cracker Barrel opens its doors for breakfast starting at 7:00 a.m., providing an early morning option for those seeking a Southern-inspired breakfast feast. Closing times generally hover around 9:00 or 10:00 p.m., depending on location and the day of the week. While both diners serve breakfast all day, Cracker Barrel transitions to offering lunch only after 11:00 a.m. In contrast, Denny's operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, ensuring that customers can enjoy their favorite meals (sweet or savory) at any time (day or night), taking the lead as the ultimate haven for those with diverse schedules and nocturnal cravings. Ultimately, its commitment to 24/7 service grants the diner the win in this category.

Price

For budget-conscious diners seeking a satisfying meal without breaking the bank, understanding the price differences between Denny's and Cracker Barrel is an important matter. Although it varies depending on the menus at different Denny's locations, the priciest dishes are the T-Bone Steak & Eggs breakfast, the T-Bone Steak dinner, and the Mac 'n Brisket Skillet, which all currently cost around $20. The Strawberry Stuffed French Toast Slam and the Lumberjack Slam are close behind in the breakfast department. Otherwise, most of Denny's menu items range from $10 to $15 for a main course.

Cracker Barrel positions itself as slightly more upscale, (and by that we mean it's not a 2 a.m. and you're slightly buzzed dining option) but its menu prices keep it real. The restaurant offers over 20 meals available for under $12 for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Most of the other options cost around $10 to $15, except for a few outliers like the Cracker Barrel Sampler and Barrel-Cut Sugar Ham which cost a few dollars more. With daily specials at great prices, its affordability makes Cracker Barrel an accessible choice for families, students, and those looking for a value-driven dining experience. Compared with Denny's, the Southern chain offers a wide variety without breaking the bank.

Locations

Whether nestled in a bustling city or a quiet town, the abundance of Denny's across the country positions it as a go-to destination for diners seeking a familiar and comforting experience, no matter where they are. Boasting over 1,500 locations spread across all 50 states, Denny's stands as an iconic all-day breakfast landmark with a reach that spans from coast to coast. California leads the pack as the state with the most Denny's locations, with a staggering 385 restaurants serving up the signature slams.

In contrast, Cracker Barrel, while holding its own in terms of popularity, falls behind in the numbers game. With close to 700 restaurants peppered across 45 states, Cracker Barrel has a strong presence but doesn't match the expansive reach of Denny's. In this case, Florida takes the lead as the state with the most Cracker Barrel locations, hosting 60 of the Southern-inspired establishments. The wide gap in the number of nationwide locations highlights Denny's dominance as a quintessential American diner chain, granting it the win in this round.

Discounts, coupons, and loyalty programs

When looking for discounts, coupons, and loyalty programs, both Denny's and Cracker Barrel compete for attention, offering enticing options to sweeten the deal. But while Cracker Barrel introduces its Peg-based rewards program, Denny's brings a distinctive edge with a permanent AARP discount. 

Cracker Barrel's Rewards program, aptly named Cracker Barrel Rewards, operates on a Peg system. Members earn 1 Peg for every dollar spent on qualifying purchases in the restaurant, retail store, and online. This versatile rewards currency can be redeemed for a variety of options, including discounts on restaurant food and beverages or for savings on retail purchases. The inclusion of retail discounts expands the scope of rewards beyond the culinary spectrum, appealing to those seeking a broader range of benefits. Plus, Cracker Barrel's gift cards further enhance the appeal, serving as versatile gifts.

Similarly, Denny's offers numerous discounts and rewards through its robust loyalty program, which facilitates easy access to deals, discounts, and gifts, adding a layer of value to the dining experience. Noteworthy perks include the "Kids Eat Free" promotion, allowing free meals for kids with adult entree purchases of $6 or more. Yet, while both diners provide gift card options, it's Denny's that introduces a unique and permanent 15% AARP discount, enhancing its appeal by offering consistent savings for this demographic. In this category, both Denny's and Cracker Barrel showcase their dedication to customer satisfaction, offering a variety of incentives to ensure that every dining experience comes with its own perks.

Our Methodology

Our comparisons of Denny's and Cracker Barrel are based on information from different online sources. We first examined what the two restaurants say about their menus, services, and special features on their official websites. We also considered opinions from experts in blogs and articles. Lastly, we checked what real customers write in online reviews, which gave us more insights into the food and overall dining experiences at Denny's and Cracker Barrel. By compiling all of these sources, we aim to provide you with a complete and well-informed comparison of these two popular breakfast chains.