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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.

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