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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Profile 2-Short Buffet Lines

When I think of buffets, Las Vegas always comes to mind first. My early trips to the city were from Colorado and we would arrive after midnight in a van. Typically, we would checkin to the hotel and then hit one of the countless buffets available at all hours.

One common sight, regardless of the time, was a 3 to 5 minute line to access the buffet. The dining areas were not always packed but there were always lines to start. We never encountered a Las Vegas buffet with really long lines since we went at off-peak times. The service areas were always well stocked. Our food value was exceptional (sometimes incredible).

In contrast, I have been to countless poorly attended buffets in the real world. These buffet events have a common profile: a short line (or nonexistent), empty pans, cold food (when it should be hot) and a poorly managed dining room. It's difficult for me to pay for this type of food service. I always ask if it's possible to order a la carte. Unless there is nothing else for miles, I won't stay if the a la carte option is refused.

As I sit eating my burger or club sandwich, I will count the patrons. Then I take an inventory of the serving line and I estimate the entire cost. In many cases, I will have the time to place my order, receive my meal, finish and settle the check with very little replenishment activity on the buffet stations. If there has been replenishment, I add a guess to my overall estimate.

I would expect the operators will transfer untouched cold food into the walkin at the end of the buffet. Perhaps, they will store some pans from the hot line for the next day. I try to envision how much extra food will be prepared the next day given my observation. My goal is a two day total cost estimate.

For sales, I include the observed count plus an estimate of patrons served during my absence. I double this sum and multiply by the price per patron. The estimated cost is always over 50% of the estimated revenue.

After sitting in on many staff meetings at client offices, I pay strict attention to any discussion of buffets. There is a high correlation between bad food cost percentages and slow buffets.

If you don't expect a decent turnout on specific days, I'd suggest a la carte service only.

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