Friday, November 30, 2007

The Price of Buffet Meals

The prices of some buffets have been going up. I noticed this past summer that many of the buffets that I go to when I am in different areas and states have gotten more expensive. Of course, everything is getting more expensive lately and the dramatic increases in gasoline make transportation cost more and there for all prices to reflect this in stores, restaurants, etc. So much so, in fact, that some of the price quotes in my articles may be too low now.

There has not been much noticeable change at the chain buffets. The chain buffets - particularly the big three - Old Country Buffet (and all of their various different names), Ryans, and Golden Corral are basically the same in price and that price has stayed in the same "around $10" range for awhile, despite a small increase at OCB about two years ago. OCB includes the soda. Ryans and Golden Corral do not - when you add the soda to their prices they pretty much are around $11.50 which is what OCB is ($11.29). The chain buffets have remained affordable by almost anyone who would like to dine out. A buffet meal at these restaurants does not cost much more than a fast food meal does.

The great differences are occurring in the privately owned and family run buffet restaurants. These are the ones that do not have a regional or national corporation or franchise behind them allowing purchasing in larger quantities of groceries and supplies. At these, prices are going up and have gone up. One of my favorite buffet restaurants - and possibly the best buffet is Shady Maple Smörgåsbord in East Earl, Pennsylvania. The buffet here was always very reasonable and priced for most families to afford. This past year the prices have gone up. Prices at Shady Maple vary by the night. There is a different feature each night and the prices reflect what is being served. When I first wrote about Shady Maple in September 2005 the most expensive night was Tuesday night at $17.49. Tuesday nights are now $18.99. A $1.50 may not seem like a lot but I am not certain that what is served justifies that price. The cheapest nights were Thursday nights. It was always called "Family Value Night". The price in 2005 was $11.99. Now that has gone up two dollars. Saturday night dinners have gone up to $16.69. Monday nights are now $14.29 - Monday is steak night and should actually be more than Saturday for what you are getting. Wednesday night is $15.29 with prime rib on the grill. Friday night is $14.69 with almost as much seafood as Tuesday nights. When you are at the cashier at Shady Maple the prices will come up higher because a tip is automatically added to each meal. This is ok because it is less than ten percent and is more than well deserved. The prices at Shady Maple have not gone up a lot, but it is a lot for many who look toward affordable restaurant dining for a family. No coupons are offered locally for discounts at Shady Maple.

Another restaurant that I have written about is the Bird In Hand Family Restaurant. The price here was $13.99 weekdays and $14.99 Friday and Saturdays when I first wrote about this restaurant in August 2005. This past summer the price every night went up to $16.99. The meal here is nice, but it is not $16.99 nice. As a result, we did not go there and went to another buffet restaurant this summer. A few weeks ago in October we went in for lunch from the menu and saw that the price was lowered during the week to $14.99 but remained $16.99 on Friday and Saturday nights. Still too high. We again did not have buffet there for dinner. This restaurant does often have discount coupons for $2.00 off in local tourist oriented circulars. With the coupon on a weeknight this is not bad - on a weekend the price is still high at $14.99 (as we were using coupons here before when the prices were lower). I like the restaurant, but I need to keep to a budget, especially when there are other lower priced alternatives that are good.

My greatest surprise was very recently when I took my five year old niece to a Long Island Chinese buffet - China Buffet City in North Babylon, NY. The adult price was just as it always has been on a Friday night - $13.99 - which seems to be the going rate for most Friday night Chinese buffets on Long Island. The children's price knocked me over - $8.99 plus a dollar for a soft drink. This is a very high price for a small child. I can understand pricing higher for older children who often will consume as much or more than an adult, but for a five year old this is a lot. As it is she likes white rice (from Chinese restaurants) and this is what she primarily ate, along with one shrimp, perhaps ten cubes of canned pineapple, and three half cubes of jello. She was happy, but I was not when I saw the bill. This I have found out since is in the children's price range for dinner at Chinese buffets. The China Grand Buffet in Farmingdale, NY is $7.99 for children as is the Good Taste Buffet in Commack, NY. The Good Taste Buffet at least prices children by height - under three feet the price is $3.99 and under five feet $7.99. Children's prices should vary with the age of the child - as is done at OCB where each year of age of the child is charged fifty cents. (Can you believe that I am saying something good about OCB?!) I have been asked and have written about how buffets are able to make money. Well, one of the ways seems to be with kids' prices! Most kids - well, let's say most young kids - eat little and if properly controlled by their parents should be taking small amounts on their plates. For what they should be taking and are eating, the buffet is well making out on the price charged for kids.

Restaurant prices in general have been going up. Long gone are the diner and family restaurant meals that gave a complete dinner for under $10.00. Now you will pay almost $20.00. One of the larger chain restaurants - The Cheesecake Factory - popular near many malls around the country have platters ranging from $15 to $25. These prices make the some of the buffet prices fantastic - given what you are getting for your money. Yet, the buffet restaurants have always tended toward the lower price range of restaurant dining (with the exception of some of those fancy hotel buffets that can set you back $75 to $100 per person). Hopefully the chain buffets will not go up in price or at least will not increase greatly. I have found that a lot of seniors eat at the chain buffet restaurants almost daily – often at lunch – to avoid the need to cook at home and to be able to have a filling meal out with people around them. When the OCB prices went up about two years ago, these were the people who complained the most and the loudest.

So, if you visit a buffet that you read about here or even one that you have been to before, be prepared for higher prices. If you know of buffets in your area that have increased their prices, please let us know in our comments section.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Bringing Out the Rules

Every year it is good to bring out the Rules of the Buffet - remember those - and repeat them. They tend to get buried in our list of articles and they are so important that they need to come out and make an appearance every now and then.

I have no new rules at the moment. So many don't follow these - and most are common sense and courtesy that they should not even need stating and most should know without ever reading them. But alas! Think about your last trip to a buffet and realize how many of these rules were ignored - hopefully, not by you - but by those dining around you.

Well, here are all the rules to date!

1. All you can eat is not a challenge. It is an offer!

2. There is no limit to the number of times that you can go up and get food.

3. Take your food in courses - as you would be served if ordering from a menu.

4.Everyone must pay!

5. No food is permitted to be taken out of the restaurant.

6. Take only what you will eat - do not waste food.

7.For a more social meal, it is polite to wait for the others at the table to finish their plates and then go up together to get more.

8. Take a clean plate every time that you go up to the buffet tables.

9. If you put it on your plate, leave it there. Never return food to the serving tray.

10. Never eat at the buffet tables!

11. Children under 12 should not be going up to the buffet tables alone.

12. The buffet table is not a cafeteria line.

13. Tip the server.

14. Never take a serving piece from one item and use it for another item.

15. Never place your dirty plates on someone else's table.

16. Never use your silverware to serve yourself from the buffet trays.

17. Once you have gotten what you want, don't stand around the buffet tables. Move on back to your table.

18. Children should remain seated through the meal.

19. Do not fill community plates for the "table". Each should take their own plate of what they wish to eat.

20. If you cough or sneeze into your hand, please do not use that hand to pick up the serving utensils.

21. In th buffet, as in any restaurant, children (and adults) should use their inside voices.

22. Don't talk on your cell phone while you are getting your food at the buffet tables.

23. Never bring an animal into the buffet.

24. Never put your hands into a serving tray.

25. Tell your children not to put their hands into a serving tray - and make sure that they do not!

26. Do not carry on a conversation throughout dinner with the people at the tables around you.

There they are! Everyone is based on actual events. It is sad to even have to list some of these - but these are not isolated events. They happen over and over again.

Feel free to print them out and hand them around the next time you are in a buffet. If you are a buffet owner or manager - post them!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Yoders Restaurant and Buffet - Second Time Around

My article of October 5, 2007 was about Yoders Restaurant and Buffet in New Holland, Pennsylvania. This is the buffet in the supermarket. I ended the article by saying that I keep thinking about going back - and when I just had the opportunity, that is exactly what I did.

This time I went on a Saturday night and I was even more delighted than how much I was delighted on my first visit. Let me just refresh your memory about Yoders. Yoders Restaurant and Buffet is in the Pennsylvania Dutch Country, the place in Pennsylvania where the Amish people live. There is a huge tourist industry here centered around the Amish and the Pennsylvania German culture (yes, Dutch is actually Deutsch which is German). There are many restaurants here centered around tourism and they feature dishes that are typical of this area. Yoders is more of a local restaurant for local dining out. One thing that sets it apart is that it is located inside of a supermarket. Its location is little outside of the center of the tourist area. In Yoders you primarily find locals eating - it is a place for families, couples, and seniors. I well described the layout of the restaurant and the buffet in my article of October 5th and I if you have not read that yet, please do. I am not going to tell you all about that again.What I want to talk about is what was different on Saturday night and that is what the buffet menu features.

Saturday night's buffet feature is called Dutch Grill. It is a selection of Pennsylvania Dutch specialties along side some of the regular offerings. "Dutch Grill" is not all grill items, but a wide assortment of food.

Dinner price applies all day on Saturday from 11 am to closing at 8 pm and is $13.99 per adult. Unlimited soft drinks are $1.49. One thing to know when you go inside, but not yet into the restaurant - there are windows looking into the restaurant from the hallway. You cannot see much more from these windows but the dining room and from this vantage point what you see looks like a menu restaurant (which it also is). You cannot see the buffet area. While we were waiting on a very brief and short line to get in through the doors, some people ahead of us were concerned that they did not think that there was a buffet inside. They asked me and I told them that absolutely, there is - you just cannot see it from here. So yes, there is a buffet at Yoders. You will see it in all of its glory as soon as you get into the dining room.

As always, we started with soup and there are two soups on the buffet. Saturday night had krab bisque and beef vegetable. Beef vegetable soup is a local staple in restaurants and at Yoders it is very good. I am always drawn to soups called "bisque" and despite the name "krab" which means fake crabmeat, I had to have it. This soup was excellent. It was both creamy and sharp -which is characteristic of bisque soups. There were pieces of the "mock" crabmeat shredded into the soup and they were tasty. There is a texture difference between real crabmeat and krab meat. Krab is softer and less stringy than real crab. It worked well in this soup.

The salad bar is no different than I described in my first article, but there is an additon to the appetizer selections in a cold server that is located in front of the grill area. Here there were cold peel and eat shrimp and pieces of cold krab legs. Now, pay attention - that is krab legs and not crab legs. No shell, not real crab, as you just learned. There were seafood condiments there as well.

One of the best entree features on Saturday night is sausage. Large, thick German sausage grilled on the grill in big loops and then cut to generous serving sizes. This was what I had heard about and this is what I went for first. Along with the sausage on the grill were pirogies. These are pockets of pasta dough filled with mashed and seasoned potatoes. They were also grilling salmon and a shrimp stir fry dish. They were also carving roast beef. The sausage was wonderful! It is pork sausage seasoned just right.

Entrees on Saturday night on the buffet included fried "broasted" chicken, baked chicken, stuffed chicken breast, roast beef in gravy, creamed chicken with rice, shrimp creole, fried shrimp, fried fish, baked fish, ham balls (an Amish dish), rigatoni with scallop sauce, and several other meat dishes. The creamed chicken was good. The rigatoni with scallop sauce was interestingly good. The fried chicken - which is cooked by broasting and not frying - is very good. I must say that the sausage was so good that I went back for more of that and concentrated my meal around it.

Side dishes were equally good. We went looking for the baked oatmeal again -which my wife can't stop talking about - in fact, she went looking for the recipe and nothing that she can find resembles the baked oatmeal dish that we enjoyed at Yoders. There was no baked oatmeal but in its place was a similar looking dish called baked French toast. It had the same texture as the baked oatmeal, certainly had an oatmeal base, but was seasoned differently. It was just as good as the baked oatmeal was. Another local favorite was on the buffet - noodles in browned butter. These are egg noodles that have a sauce of butter that has been burnt and then strained. The butter is brown and it gives the noodles a nut-like, toasty taste. The basics were there as well - macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, French fries, vegetables, rice, local potato filling, and others.

There are many selections here and there is something for every taste. It is not heard to fill your plate several times with different things that you will like. In some buffets, there are a few things that you like and sometimes it is hard to find what you would like - and what you would like more of. Here THAT is not a problem!

Deserts are plentiful and basically the same as I wrote about. On this trip we are into pumpkin pie season and there was large wedges of pumpkin pie in the pie server. The pumpkin pie was sweet and creamy.

We had been to several buffets this trip and my wife and I agreed that this was the best meal that we had all trip. We had been to some of our regular stops - all good. This meal though stood out as the best in selection and the most satisfying. Yoders is coming to close to becoming my favorite buffet in Pennsylvania. It is running second to what I have considered (and still do) the best buffet anywhere - which happens to be located just down the road from Yoders. I am not going to name that buffet here because I do not want to take any attention away from this wonderful restaurant.

Service again was excellent. The servers are prompt to clear away dishes and refill your drinks. This is so important at a buffet and Yoders will not disappoint. Everyone is very friendly.

The restaurant is open from 6:00 AM to 8:00 PM. There is a small website that is linked at the side of this page, though the website gives a much more limited description of the buffets than they actually are. The restaurant is located at Yoder's Supermarket or perhaps, more properly, Yoder's Country Market, Route 23, New Holland, Pennsylvania. The phone number is (717) 354-4748. On this trip I did see a coupon for $2 off dinner per person at Yoders but it was only good Monday to Thursdays. This was found in one of the tourist papers - and as this is considered "off season" in the area many restaurants are offering discounts with coupons.

So again, I say, that I cannot wait to get back to Yoders. If you want to try something good, go there.

Friday, November 09, 2007


Buffets connected to supermarkets are becoming a common find in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Since my article last month about Yoders Restaurant and Buffet I have found two more. I just dined at one of those – Oregon Dairy Country Restaurant and Buffet in Lititz, PA

Now, finding this restaurant was bit of a challenge – first because I set out to get to it without the address and thought by the town name – Lititz, it would be located in or at least around the town district of Lititz. It is not. With the address and location finally pinpointed thanks to our laptop computer GPS system – conveniently carried in the car for jus these occasions – we discovered that this restaurant is located near the town of Oregon, PA - Gee! How about that – Oregon Dairy is near Oregon, Pennsylvania – and following a near argument with my wife who questioned where did I ever come up with Lititz we managed to get to the sign and turn off the road for the restaurant. We followed the entrance where the sign was glowing in the dark and shortly found ourselves in a dark and deserted parking lot with a boarded up building. A little exploring and we found the restaurant and adjoining supermarket to be up at the top of the hill that sat behind and above this deserted lot. Back onto the road that we turned into we followed up a dark curve and up the hill. Finally – there it was!

As I have said this is another buffet restaurant that is part of a supermarket. There is a separate entrance from the large parking lot to the restaurant and there is a larger supermarket entrance to the left. There is an adjoining door inside between the two. From the name I expected to find a dairy. There are restaurants in this area connected to dairies and they feature VERY FRESH dairy products and ice cream on their menu. This is not one of them – at least, if it is it is not evident. The location features in its brochures and on its website that this a supermarket, a restaurant and buffet, and a country gift shoppe. (Love that extra pe on the end of shop – makes it sound special!)

Walk inside the entrance to the restaurant and you will see a counter with counter service on the right and a dining room on the left. You wait to be seated near the cashier and you are brought to your table. You are handed a menu because this is more than a buffet. There is also menu dining as well. You can mix the orders at your table – some having buffet and some ordering from the menu – but if anyone not ordering the buffet eats something from the buffet they will be charged for an additional buffet dinner.

Once you enter the dining room you will see that this is actually a very small restaurant. There are thirteen booths on one side of the room and maybe fifteen to twenty tables in the center. There are two private dining rooms for parties in another room at the far side. The buffet servers are located at the rear of the dining room and are separated from the dining area.

We were seated at the back corner of the front of the restaurant in a booth. This was not a good thing because it took quite some time for a server to come to the table to take our order. Several servers came by and never looked in our direction. Eventually – but it was a while, a young man came over and apologized for the delay and took our simple order – two buffets and two soft drinks. He did apologize but the room was far from crowded. We dined at this restaurant on a Thursday night in the Fall and entered about 6:40 pm. We were not really late coming in and others came in at the same time. We were told to help ourselves to the buffet and away we went.

The restaurant is opened from 7 am to 8:00 pm, Monday to Saturday. It is closed on Sundays, as are many local restaurants in this area. Let’s take note here that when they say they close at 8:00 pm they really mean that – they don’t just stop seating at 8:00 pm, they are closing. At 7:50 pm we were asked if we were going to get any more hot food because the hot food section was about to close and be taken away. As we were about to get dessert that was not a problem – and, actually, the only reason for it being that late in the course of our meal was because we waited for the server to come to take our order when we arrived.

The price of the buffet for dinner from Monday to Thursday nights is $10.95. Soft drinks are $1.75 per order and they are refillable as long as they are fountain drinks and not bottled soft drinks which are also available. Friday nights and all day Saturday the buffet is $11.95. The prices are not bad, especially with the rising prices of buffets in this area (another article for the future). There is a lunch buffet also on weekdays and that is $8.95 from Monday to Thursday and $9.95 for Friday lunch. There is a Friday and Saturday Breakfast Buffet from 7 am to 11 am – I do not know the price. We could not find any listing for children’s prices, but seniors get a 10% discount. We observed a mother and her three year old child ordering dinner and the waiter told her that if the child shared her buffet there would be no charge – that is very nice. She was about to order from the menu for the child and it was kind of him to stop her as what she was ordering was on the buffet for the little girl. There must be children’s prices and if I can find them I will post them when I do in a comment to this article.

This is a buffet that primarily is catering to local people rather than tourists and is located in a non-tourist oriented area of this very tourist oriented county. It may be more crowed on a Saturday or during the summer, but mid-week in very early November it was active but not very busy. One thing that was obvious from the other diners is that while this is an all you can eat buffet, most dinner are up once or twice and that is it. Of course, my wife and I are well experienced buffet diners and we were up far more times that anyone else – now, don’t get me wrong – NO ONE SAID ANYTHING – THERE WAS NO PROBLEM, but the locals here – many seniors were happy after a plate or two.

The buffet server area had two double sided buffets with salad bar items in the middle. There as a wall buffet on the back wall with the hot foods and on the front partition of the buffet area were the desserts.

We started with soup and there were two choices – beef vegetable and chicken corn chowder. Our start was a bit of a disappointment as both soups were bland. They were not what I would expect of these particular soups which are common in this region. I added some salt to the chicken corn chowder – I hardly ever add salt to anything – and that helped it a bit. My wife who likes very plain things comment to me after the first taste that the beef vegetable soup was bland – and for her to say something like that is highly unusual. She restrained herself from adding any salt and just ate it as it was. I wondered if this was an indication of how the rest of the meal would be – and in part, I was right in my concern.

We followed the soup with the salad bar – or perhaps I should say bars. One had tossed greens and salad toppings and dressings. The other had prepared salads. Here is where the relationship with the supermarket was evident. Many of the prepared salads were those that you find at the local supermarkets in this area. All were good and there was a very large assortment to choose from.

The hot food selections change each day and the restaurants website has a buffet menu that details what you will find each night and afternoon (which are different). The advertising says there are 80 different items on the whole buffet and I would say that is correct - if not an undercount. We were at the restaurant on a Thursday night – as I have said – and the hot foods included baked chicken, tilapia, Salisbury steak, ham balls (meat balls made with chopped ham), pork and sauerkraut – a local dish, stuffed cabbage, corned beef and cabbage, chicken pot pie – another local dish and not the chicken pie that you think, turkey, fried shrimp, and smoked sausage. Other nights you might find meat loaf, pot roast, BBQ chicken, shrimp and rice, and creamed chicken. On Fridays there is fried chicken, baked ham, fried shrimp, chicken pot pie, meat loaf, tilapia, cod, meat loaf, shrimp and rice, and chili macaroni bake. Saturdays bring a variety of the dishes found during the week. There are more hot choices on Friday and Saturday nights which justify the extra dollar for dinner.

There were a number of side dishes including mashed red potatoes that were real mashed potatoes with lumps of potato and the skins mixed in. There is mac and cheese, stewed tomatoes, a variety of vegetables, and potato filling – stuffing made with potatoes.

So how were the hot dishes? The honest answer is mixed. Many were very good. And some, like the soup, were bland. Nothing was bad – just not properly seasoned or perhaps water logged. Any of the meats that were in liquid were bland. The corned beef and cabbage had no taste – neither the corned beef nor the cabbage. The pork and sauerkraut – a dish I have had many, many times in this area lacked the vinegar taste of the sauerkraut. Highly unusual for this particular dish. It is the bite of the sauerkraut that makes this dish of shredded pork mixed into sauerkraut. After those I did not bother to try the turkey that was also in liquid in the serving tray. My wife did, however, and says that it was good. The smoked sausage was baked and despite being a little overdone was very good. The Salisbury steak was very good. The ham balls were very good. The tilapia was tasty but dry. The chicken pot pie was a bit thick but good. The vegetables were good. The stewed tomatoes served sweet in this area were right on and very good. The mac and cheese was good. There were little broiled and seasoned potatoes and they were properly seasoned and good. The mashed potatoes were very good.

In some of my articles I have spoken about buffets needing tending – having a server come out and stir the serving trays and moistening the entrees if they start to get dry in the pan. This hot buffet was on the edge of needing tending. That is not to say that things were not refilled. Late into the night the Salisbury steak tray was refilled to the top. No tray was ever empty and nothing was ever missing on the hot buffet or salad bar.

I speculated that with the majority of diners here seniors, perhaps, the some of the dishes that should have been saltier were prepared with less or no salt to accommodate that clientele, but that did not hold through all of the dishes. Some of the dishes were seasoned just as they should be and some had all the salt that they needed. It is possible that these meats in liquid were in that liquid too long or water was added to them through their time in the server. That would account for the taste – or lack of it. But that would not account for the bland soups, especially the chicken corn chowder that had a cream base.

The dessert bar had many more cake choices when we first started dining but there was a lot of choices in the prepared desserts and puddings. The desserts come from the supermarket bakery and I would also say from the supermarket cold counter where puddings and prepared desserts are sold by the pound. There were several local puddings one of which was cracker pudding, a sweet local favorite that is like rice pudding made with crackers instead of rice. There was rice pudding as well, along with tapioca, two types of bread pudding – one with no sugar added. There were several other sweet puddings. On the cake counter was apple pie and cherry pie – that was what was left ten minutes before closing. Had we realized the time earlier we might have taken a piece of cake in advance. There was also hot blueberry cobbler which was very good. With dessert you are also entitled on the buffet to one dip of hand-dipped ice cream. I kept wondering if this would be fresh made ice cream form the dairy that I still hoped was somewhere to be found on the property. The server brings the ice cream of your choice and it is one scoop as described. There were a variety of flavors. I like chocolate basic ice cream and that is what I ordered, hoping there was still room in my stomach because I was full. This is hard ice cream and not the usual buffet soft serve. The ice cream was good but not, should I say, farm fresh. It was packed ice cream and reminiscent to the hard ice cream that one often gets in a non-buffet Chinese restaurant. If this was farm fresh, then I have had better from ice cream stands from dairies. For ice cream in general it was good. Dessert was good over all.

All of the buffet servers were properly labeled on the glass at the top –every item was correctly labeled. This is great and there was no guessing what you were taking or eating. All buffets need to follow that and frequently now few do or if they do have labels that actually match what they are above. This buffet told you exactly what you were taking. Wonderful!

As is said in this locale, I ate myself full. I should have stopped at the second plate of entrees, but I didn’t and went back for more sausage – and I took too much because I like sausage, some more mashed potatoes, and a little more chicken pot pie (more properly called chicken bot bie in this area). I broke my own rule and ate more than I should have to leave feeling comfortable. So most of had to be good, right?

After the initial wait for our server, the service was good. I had to ask for a soft drink refill toward the end of the dinner, but it was brought right away. My empty glass should have been noticed and I should have been asked right away if I wanted more to drink. Ok. The dishes were cleaned from the table regularly. There was another server who was around the room taking used dishes off the tables and she did a fine job of it. Everyone was very friendly.

The decor was country and nice. There was a large electric train on a track hanging from the ceiling in a part of the dining room and that was running. The room was well maintained and very clean. It reminded my wife of the look and atmosphere of restaurants in the area a number of years ago before the restaurants started adding glitz to impress the tourists. The décor was not in any way dated but had that comfortable feeling – which is good and what you want.

The whole restaurant was clean. The buffet area was well cleaned and there were no spills anywhere. The restrooms were clean. The restroom were located off to the side of the entrance doors and though they had good signage more than one of us had to ask where they were – I guess that it is good that they are not that obvious.

I would definitely go back to Oregon Dairy Restaurant and Buffet – especially now that I know where it is and I can now easily find it. I would recommend this to anyone in this area who wants to try another buffet. I must say that there are better buffets in this general area. The buffet at Yoders supermarket (the most like this buffet to compare to) which I have recently written about is much better – but a distance from here. There are other buffets in this general area that are better but they are a few dollars more for a dinner buffet.

The address for Oregon Dairy Country Restaurant and Buffet is 2900 Oregon Pike (Route 272) in Lititz, PA 17543. The phone number is (717) 661-6804. There is a website and that is listed on this page at the side of the articles.

If you have been to Oregon Dairy Country Restaurant and Buffet, please leave us a comment about your dining experience there!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Makino Chaya, Hawaii - A Buffet That Is Not a Buffet

When is a buffet not a buffet? When the buffet is served to you from a menu. This is another buffet restaurant that I have not been to - and given it's location I probably will never get to, but perhaps some of you may - and this one is so different that when I learned about it I just knew that I had to share it.

Makino Chaya is a small chain of buffet restaurants in Hawaii. There are several locations. It was started by a Japanese restaurateur and the menu - from what I have been able to learn - is focused around Japanese specialties - and of course, what every buffet should have - lobster and crab legs. I say buffet, but the Makino Chaya restaurants offer a very different concept in buffet dining - menus. What!?! Menus at a buffet! That is not a buffet, you say! Well, yes, here it is because when you go to the Makino Chaya you are dining at an all you care to eat menu restaurant. The menu here is a picture menu and you point to what you want on that menu and it is brought to you made to your order - and then you point some more and it is brought to you - and you point again... Well, you get it. This is really something! There are more than one hundred different dishes on the menu for you to select. This is a "sit-down" buffet.

They do impose a rule here - "Ok", you say, "Now the catch!" Well, it is not really a catch it is a small but understandable rule. You may only order two dishes from the menu for yourself at one time -and then you must eat everything from those dishes before you can order another two. That is reasonable. They talk about "rounds" here -a round is a serving of plates. Finish the first round before moving on to the next.

A buffet like this cannot be inexpensive, but the dinner price is not that out of line. The prices that I have been able to find may be slightly out of date but the price I have is $21.98 per person on weekdays and one dollar higher on weekends. Soft drinks are $2.50 and are refillable. Now, while this is not in the OCB, Ryans, Golden Corral range of price, but it is within the range of many of the "nicer" restaurant buffets that I have reviewed. The lunch price is $10.95. I have seen other prices mentioned but all were within two dollars of all of the prices that I have listed. Some locations seem to be open until 11 pm.

There is a typical buffet table set up as a salad bar and a fried bar to start your meal. Here are salads, prepared specialty salads, and also sushi, and things like crab legs, steamed scallops and clams, chicken wings and other dishes. This is all there to lure you in but this is not the place at this restaurant to fill up. The menu and its unlimited possibilities awaits.

The emphasis is seafood but there are meat choices on the menu as well. As I have said there is lobster that is served both steamed and grilled. There is steak cooked Japanese-style. There are grilled fish dishes. There are Japanese pot dishes of noodles and fish, shell fish, or beef. The size of the portions vary from large platters of food to small samplings. But, what does it matter as long as you eat it you can get more! Yet, you must choose wisely because you could fill up on just one or two selections - which is fine, unless you are one that wants to try a bit of everything. There is one thing for certain here - you must like Japanese food! While you are not limited to the exotic and will be able to find things close enough to foods that you like, the menu served is Japanese.

If you want dessert, you have to clean your plates. Dessert is considered another "round". For dessert there are three types of cheesecake (not all Japanese, after all). There is also a green tea cake and a Japanese ice cream dessert.

Customers seem to vary in their comments about this chain based upon location. Some locations get raves and others get more reserved applause. All locations seem to be quite busy with long waits to get in at prime times. These restaurants appeal to tourists and some of the negative comments that I found about the restaurants were based on the idea that these were tourist oriented restaurants. So what! Many of the criticisms that I have read would be paid no mind by a regular buffet goer. We tend to be used to "food cooked in volume". We expect a "cafeteria atmosphere". At this price level, we too might expect better, but I do not think that I would be disappointed. Don't think that customers do not like these restaurants. There are rave comments with five star ratings more than there are criticisms. There were not criticisms that when you are ready for more there is not someone there to make sure you get it - this could be a problem if the staff is not right there. There have been some non-buffet chains that have offered all you can eat dishes and the problem is always that when you are ready and want more the wait staff is no place to be found.

The concept is very intriguing to me - I would love to try one of these restaurants. This unique set up does take away one thing that I most like about buffets, however, and that is my ability to take a little of what I would like to taste and have a sampling dinner that satisfies me at the same time. Here if you are brought the platter to you and need to finish it all there is not going to be a lot of tasting.

There is no website that I can find. I am not going to list addresses because I am not aware of all of the locations. There is a recently opened location in Honolulu.

I would love to hear from anyone who has been to Makino Chaya. If you have please leave a comment and tell us some specifics!