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.

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