Friday, June 23, 2006

New Look at the Old Country Buffet

The OCB near me in Levittown, NY has just had a renovation of the interior of the restaurant including some small changes in the buffet tables. The work took only a few weeks and with little interference to the operation of the restaurant. I suspect that all of the Old Country Buffet restaurants are getting or will be getting this "face-lift".

The new look has replaced the brass rails with fabric curtains that topped the dividers in the room with wooden posts and an semi-opaque Plexiglas that has dried weeds inside. It allows some light through but you cannot see through. For a few visits in mid-renovation the tops of the dividers were bare and I thought that this made the room much more airy and open. My wife said that she did not like that people on line could look across the room and watch you eat, but I said to her that I did not see how that mattered, as once you were inside you could see the tables anyway. With the new wood and glass tops to the dividers the room is closed in again, but the wood is much heavier and darker in appearance than the brass was and I think that the room now looks too closed in.

The walls used to be a light beige. Now the wallpaper is a medium pale green with a textured finish to look like stucco. (Wait until a kid splashes food on that and see how well it can be cleaned!) It adds to the new darkness of the room. Despite the spotlights in the ceiling the room is dark. The booths have new hanging light fixtures - no longer large, white glass fixtures, but narrow, green glass fixtures. Not so bright. The sticker visible inside the glass says, "maximum 100 watt bulb". The bulb in the light said 75 watts but gave light much more like 40 watts. So, in my opinion - and everything here is mostly my opinion - the room is now dark.

The walls are now decorated with poster-size, framed, black and white photos from the 30's, 40's, and maybe 50's. Each looks like a depression-era photo. The theme of each photo is related in some way to food. There is a picture of a butcher shop and another of a lunch counter. All dark - rather depressing, actually. All in all, it adds to the darkness of the room.

OK, already, the room is dark.

There are also some changes to the buffet tables and the beverage area. The greatest change is to the salad bar. The main salad fixings bar has now been divided to include a taco bar in the center. The taco bar is something that had been a regular feature and then disappeared several months ago. This is a welcome addition and it includes not just taco fixings, but also nachos, chicken taco filling, and beans. The toppings for the tacos are all right there- sour cream, cheese, salsa, olives, lettuce, peppers. What is missing is taco sauce and the meat needs it. A mild and a spicy sauce would be welcome additions. To do this taco set up, however, resulted in the salad bar being cutback on that table and spread to the second salad table. At the second salad table the very popular, pre-mixed Caesar salad that used to be set out in two serving dishes has been moved into one larger serving dish - but not as large as the two combined. There is now croutons and cheese on the side. A week ago it was grated Parmesan cheese. Tonight that was gone and was replaced with shredded yellow American cheese and another container that looked to be shredded Romano cheese - but when I put it on my salad and tasted it, it turned out to be rather bland Swiss cheese (not good on a Caesar Salad). Tonight there was also an equally large bowl of Greek salad with additional Greek dressing right at the side. I had been hoping for additional Caesar dressing on the side - but no such luck. The Greek salad had regular black olives, not Greek olives, and feta cheese. It pretty much looked untouched - where the Caesar bowl was mostly empty during the night.

The beverage area has been re-arranged. Gone are the water spigots. They are replaced with filtered, bottled water in a cooler. There is one on each side of the beverage table. The ice tea containers have been replaced with ice tea machines - seemed like a good idea as they should make more tea as it is needed automatically - they do not and the unsweetened ice tea, as usual, was empty at 7:30 pm. The order of things has also been rearranged with the new problem of getting ice - if there is any, and then having to move back on the line to get ice tea. You would think that with the changes there would have been a change to a self-filling, ice making machine. No - same old ice containers on top of the soda machines that must be refilled by hand and are often left empty for a long while once the ice runs out.

There is also now a poster in the lobby that talks about being polite standing on line and following some rules of standing on line - it starts off by saying that there are no rules for the buffet. Well, I guess, they have not paid heed to this site. There are rules for a buffet - and OCB diners would certainly benefit from them.

A message for the Old Country Buffet chain - you are welcome to post in your lobby the web address for this site = buffets. Your customers need to see the rules. You may not print these rules, however, without my permission first - with recognition and a fee.

There are signs on the tables advertising a new five shrimp special coming in July. I am hoping that this will not replace the St. Louis Ribs, which are still the best of the chain buffets.

So, if your OCB makes renovations, let us know. Post a comment and tell us about them.

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