Phone: (413) 727-8897 email:

Friday, October 30, 2009

Beverage Included Buffets

The lowest priced lunch buffet we visited on our tour was $6.95. This operator serves both BBQ pork (whole hog) and fried chicken with lots of sides and desserts. Drinks are not included and sweet tea is sold for $1.19 (unlimited). A quick look around the dining room showed about 75% of patrons enjoying a tea and the others ordering tap water (free).

There were a few competitors offering similar food choices for $7.45 with beverage included with the meal. On average, the $6.95 buffet plus beverage accounts for $7.85 in revenue and an extra $0.40 in gross margin.

For out-of-town guests, the big $6.95 sign beckons. By the time they see the buffet layout and are warmly greeted by the hostess, they will probably never ask about the extra charge for the tea.

I spoke with one of the general managers at the all-inclusive buffet. He told me most of his business is local and everyone wants the tea. They have offered the buffet with tea for decades. He believes the locals are aware of the real price for the buffet with tea at the $6.95 location. I'm sure he is correct.

Both restaurants were very busy in the middle of the week.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

All You Can Eat Buffets

We have all tried an all you can eat buffet. Whether you are in Las Vegas, a local hotel for Sunday Brunch, a Chinese restaurant or a buffet specialist, the format is the same. You are seated and asked for your drink order. Once the order is taken, you are invited to go ahead to the buffet.

Most buffets are setup in stations. Typically, there is one or more ethnic food stations (Italian, Mexican and Chinese are common), a roast meat station, seafood station, BBQ station, a large salad bar and a dessert station. Breakfast and brunch buffets will include an omelet station (with lots of toppings), breakfast meats, pancakes, waffles, bagels, toast, muffins, fresh fruit, smoked salmon, and cereals.

Operators who pay attention to baked goods have an edge since these items have a relatively low food cost. It is advisable to have a server help guests with the roast meats. Most buffet houses continually pick up plates when the guests leave the table for seconds.

Buffet operations require high fixed costs. Much of the food and production staffing is decided before the meal period. Operators need accurate forecasts to prevent costly over production.

There are two schools on how to close down a buffet. Some professionals believe the buffet should look fully stocked right up until the final guest is served. Other operators prefer to offer fewer pans as the clock nears closing time. You need to have a strategy for either philosophy. The worst buffet presentations are those where you see many pans with very little food and drying sauces and gravies.

At the very least, these pans should be removed or replenished (depending on the policy). I have requested a tour of the buffet before deciding to dine on occasion. About 1/3 of the time, I decide to leave due to the appearance of the food.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Packed Restaurants

I'm just back from a long road trip through coastal North Carolina and South Carolina. Since it was past the peak season, hotel rooms were dirt cheap and I never hit one traffic jam. All you can eat BBQ places were enjoying full parking lots. At lunch time, these spots offer whole hog BBQ with fried chicken and loads of sides and desserts for $7.50. Some throw the ice tea in and others charge ($1.79 for unlimited tea). This has a terrific impact on food cost results.

I know there are lots of people who want to debate gross profit vs. food cost percentage. With regard to the tea included issue, it doesn't matter what camp you are in since the impact is huge. At one place, I paid $10 and another $8 for basically the same style food and service. I'm guessing the $10 (includes tax but no tip) spot is on target for a 33% cost of sales since they charge for the tea. If the same costs were incurred by the operation with no charge for tea, their cost % would be over 40%.

Both parking lots were jammed.

Down in Myrtle Beach, the dinner buffets offer all you can eat seafood spreads for $19.99. The calorie count was pretty high at lunch and I skipped the dinner buffets. A couple of the owners let me in to observe the buffets. One had a raw bar with lots of shrimp, oysters, crab claws and clams. They also had just about every style shrimp entree and lots of dishes with fin fish and vegetables. Drinks were extra at the places I visited.

The number one issue in Myrtle Beach is the selections. It seems a competitive advantage is held by restaurants offering more selections. One marquis: "Over 170 selections..." Another: "We have 120 selections..." The people who spoke with me said the customers liked to try a little bit of everything and they all like dessert.

Several operations highlighted their bakery offerings. I didn't actually see a baker but there was a prominent bakery at one place. They offered take-out bread, rolls and desserts.

The place with 170 offerings in the off-season scared me a little. They had a light crowd due to the heavy rain and it was a Wednesday night. Still they presented the 170 menu items (some with dairy) in the huge buffet area. Some operators run the cream soup and bisque over several nights bringing the food from cold to hot and back several times.

If I was in the market for a big meal, I probably would have tried the place with the raw bar and a mere 100 menu items. Their lot was about 50% full.

Nobody offered an all you can eat breakfast buffet. I'm sure many of the hotels offer breakfast. The places I visited mostly opened at 5 PM.

Restaurant Data Pros

web counter