Friday, December 26, 2008

Bits of News For the Year End

It looks like 2008 is closing on a down note for the Ryans chain, taken over and brought down by Buffets, Inc. Reports have come that Ryans all over are closing. We have learnedof two more closing. From customer and employee observations most of these were doing well. We have to wonder why productive restaurants are being closed by chain management that is trying to boost their finances.

On the opposite side of the Buffets Inc. bankruptcy story, Buffets Inc. announced in early November that it expects to come out of bankruptcy in the First Quarter of 2009. At the same time it was made known that in at least one state the companies debts to vendors would be paid back at a less than one percent equivalent of debt with stock offerings. Vendors owed money by Buffets, Inc. in this one state will not even make back 3% of the money owed them - if the stock actually pays off.

One of the more well known Chinese/International buffets in the New York metropolitian area on Long Island called EAST has been closed since August 2008 due to a fire in their kitchen. This buffet was very popular and was always filled with Asian guests. Their buffet menu always included very authentic dishes often unknown in the usual Chinese restaurants. I have written at least two reviews about East on this site and those articles may be searched in our archives. There has been great anticipation as to when this restaurant will reopen, and it was recently announced that it will reopen under new ownership. The restaurant will no longer be known as East. There will be some changes made. Of great concern has been what will happen to the gift certificates that many people have for meals at EAST. The new owner has said that he will honor those gift certificates for a limited time when the new restaurant opens. The gift certificates will be covered by the old owner who will reimburse the new owner for each one redeamed. East does have a restaurant of the same name in Queens, NY but that restaurant is owned by a relative of the owner of the now defunct, East in Huntington, NY. At first it was said that the Queens EAST would honor the gift certificates from Huntington, but when that restaurant was called to confirm this they stated that they will not honor the gift certificates. All this said, the new owner of the property has yet to file for any building permits and no work has begun to restore the interior of the building in Huntington. It does not look like this new restaurant will be opening any time soon. As you will read in my reviews of EAST I have always enjoyed this restaurant. The food was excellent. The problem was though that it was very expensive - even on a weeknight with a coupon. I am looking forward to the new restaurant and I am hoping that the price will be more affordable.

There has been a reappearance of the Ponderosa Restaurants chain website. This website has been closed for some time coinciding with the financial difficulties and bankruptcy of the parent company (no not Buffets, Inc. this time). For a while it was uncertain if the Ponderosa restaurants were remaining open and there was no way to search for any Ponderosa restaurant without that site. A month ago or so I got an email coupon from Ponderosa for a meal deal. I curiously looked to see if the website was up and it was not. I then, a couple of weeks ago got another coupon and when I tried the website link there was the website. If you have read my article on Ponderosa and the resulting comments it is still uncertain that Ponderosa can be considered a buffet restaurant. Their focus is always on what you will order off the menu with the "buffet" as a salad bar with appetizers complimenting the plated entrees from the menu.

Cici's newest commercials no longer say that you can come in for a meal for under $5.00. The newest ads tell you the meal is "$5 and change". The last time that I was at a Cici's about two months ago the meal price was $5.99 - add the soda to that and you are at $6 and change. Still a great deal!

I wish you all a very Happy New Year! I hope that 2009 is better for all of our friends who are trying to survive at Ryans. Next week I will be featureing our Buffet of the Year for 2008.

Friday, December 19, 2008


Every so often is a good idea to bring the rules out for all to see. Some of our newer readers may not have read back all the way through August 2005 to see the rules, some may need reminding. Sadly, the more buffets that I go to, the more I see the need for the rules. Sometimes I see things that I think - wow! is that not so obvious that it needs a rule? Like spitting food back into a serving tray!

Well, for the moment no new rules, but do read them over. And remember they are to be kept with you in your head and followed whenever you go to a buffet. Please!

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 the 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. (this is not referring to medical guide dogs)

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.

27. Do not put anything back into a serving tray that has dropped onto the serving counter - and never put anything back into a serving tray (whether from the counter or your dish) with your fingers.

Friday, December 12, 2008


I am writing Part Two of this article for the second time. I wrote the whole article together and in the process of splitting it into two parts when I realized how long it was, I foolishly lost the second half. Oh yeah! So I will say that the original second half was wonderful - a full catharsis of all I wanted to say. This second writing, however, will be even better now that the thoughts have been so well organized in my head. The lesson to be learned when writing on Blogger is never save something with one name and think that when you go back and edit it and change the name, that the original save is still going to be there.

SO - Abusing A Buffet - Part 2

What exactly goes on at restaurants that are abuses? The greatest abuse is taking food from the restaurant. Though as you will read, that is not the only abuse that takes place. Taking food has gone on for years but it seems to be getting much bolder and much more deliberate. It is not just the few cookies wrapped in a napkin anymore. It has become an entire plate of cookies wrapped in napkins and pushed into a pocketbook at the end of the meal. Is anyone going to get upset if a kid is still eating a cookie as he/she walks out the door? Of course, not. But I have seen people - seniors - fill a plate of more cookies than they could possibly eat in the restaurant, wrap them up, and shove them inside a pocket and walk out the door. There goes three dollars or more in cookies that the restaurant intended to serve to a number of guests. Now there are fewer, if any, cookies out for you to take to enjoy for dessert with your meal.

It gets bolder. How about the equivalent of an entire fried chicken? I watched this go down. This was not a kid, but a youngish man who was seated with an older couple. After he finished his dessert he went back up to the buffet and overfilled a plate with fried chicken pieces. When I saw him come back to the table I thought to myself, here is another wacky eating story to tell, thinking that now the he finished dessert he was going to start the meal again eating all of this fried chicken. No. That was not it at all! He brought the plate back to the table and proceeded to unfold several napkins, laying them down overlapping them. He then put the entire plate of fried chicken parts down on the napkins. He folded the napkins carefully to contain all of the chicken in a bundle. I heard him remark to the couple that he was with that he REALLY likes this fried chicken. At that they got up and he tucked the bundle of chicken under his arm to hide it and they walked out the door. Did he know he was doing wrong? Of course, he did! He was hiding the chicken to go out. He was a thief and was acting like one. I am sure in his mind he was thinking, "Look what I am getting away with!"

How about bolder still? One of my readers reported this story to me. Four well dressed seniors (two couples) were at a buffet with a box of zipper bags on the table and a COOLER CHEST on the floor under the table. As they got plates of food for themselves to eat at the table, they also filled plates with food that they brought back and openly put into the bags, sealed them, and then put into the cooler chest. My first reaction was how did they get into the restaurant past the cashier with a cooler chest - and then out again carrying it full of buffet food? But, I know this particular buffet and the employees there never notice anything that is going on in the restaurant much less do the jobs that they are paid to do. So there, out in the open are meals for the week going out the door all for the one price of the senior discount dinner. If I were the management at that buffet I would have seen them out the door in handcuffs!

Here is one that I had to laugh at - we were in a Chinese Buffet and there were two guys in the booth behind us. At the end of the meal with a hefty plate of food still on the table, one of the guys calls over the server and asks her to bring him a take out box to put the food in to take home. She politely tells him that she could do that but he will be charged extra for a take out meal. He became indignant and said that this was ridiculous and that the food would just be thrown away if he left it. She told him that was ok; it's the rules that no food may be taken out unless paid additionally for. He and his friend could not believe this and went on and on about it. When the server left, one of the guys took the stack of napkins on the table and started wrapping the food up - all the while looking around to make sure no one could see (my wife could see and noticeably watched him all the while increasing his panic). They hid the bundles of food as they left.

Not all abuses involve taking food out of the buffet. There seems to be some need for some people to have a lot of napkins on their table. I am not talking about three or four. I am talking about more napkins than a family of six can use in a week. One or more stacks six inches high are taken and placed on the table. Now, I am not talking about the "Napkin Man" who I wrote about a few years ago (look back in the archives or search the site for that name) who had Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and would cover everything at his table in napkins. These are seemingly "regular" people - again often seniors - who are emptying napkin dispensers and stacking hundreds of napkins on their table. All but a few of these napkins go unused and the restaurant cannot (SHOULD NOT) be taking these napkins back and putting them out again for others. Sometimes these napkins are also stashed into a pocket and go out the door. I am not referring to a couple of napkins to take with you - I am talking about the stack. Again, this is stealing.

Another of my readers related this story to me. At a buffet chain restaurant in the Mid-West USA a rather large gentleman eats there every day. In fact he spends the day there. On the days that buffet breakfast is served he arrives for breakfast, stays through lunch, and then stays on to dinner. On other days when only lunch and dinner are served he arrives for lunch and stays on. He brings reading material, an mp3 music player, and he eats all day while socializing, reading, and listening to music. So what is wrong with this? He only pays for one meal each day the first one that he comes in for. You may or may not know that at many buffet restaurants - in particular the chains - if you come in for one meal and the next meal change takes place while you are there you are able to go and take from the next meal selections. Generally, the price goes up from lunch to dinner, but if you are in the buffet at the time of the change, you may just stay. They have to make the meal change and they are not going to clear the restaurant so for the few who are there in-between the buffet says nothing. It has happened to me when we have gone for buffet lunch late. When 3:00 pm comes the lunch dishes are taken away and the dinner dishes are brought out - good bye hot dogs, hello steak. No one says get out or you can't take that because you paid for lunch. But in this situation - this guy is staying for three meals for the price of one! The worse part of the abuse is that he is a regular and management and employees know that it is happening every day and do nothing about it. Perhaps they feel sorry for him, you say. Well, we are paying for each of our meals and pretty soon the price is going to go up and we are going to be paying for all of his "extra" meals.

So what should you do when you see abuses going on around you at a buffet? Sadly, I am going to advise you to do nothing. There are all kinds of dangerous people in this world - even those you would not suspect. If you turn them in to the management you are going to open yourself to the possibility of physical retaliation from the "abuser". Besides, you may not like the management's lack of response because if we are aware of these things going on, they likely are aware of them also. You are not there to be the "Buffet Police". You are out for a pleasant meal and not a fight. It is the manager's job to train his employees to be observant in the dining room, intervene, or report to him/her. The manager can then do the confronting or call the police. And if they allow this to go on, they should not be raising prices because of it. I know there are good managers out there who really care about their jobs - and these are the ones who will do something about it.

Well, there you have it. And as I expected when I started the rewrite - this is certainly the superior version of the article!

Friday, December 05, 2008


For as long as I have been going to buffets I have seen customers abusing buffets. What do I mean by "abusing"? I am talking about both taking advantage of the restaurant and also outright stealing by taking food out of the restaurant.

I have thought about this article for some time, but I have been hesitant to write and publish it for fear that some might take it as a "how to" guide and then do some of this themselves. Several have told me that I should write it, and I have heard over time from some buffet managers who shared some of the terrible things that have been done that have, frankly, resulted in the need to increase the prices charged to everyone to make up for the losses perpetrated by a few.

Taking food from a buffet and then taking it out of the restaurant is a crime. It is shoplifting and it is subject to the same penalties as are applied to someone stealing an item from a store. While few buffet restaurants want to prosecute anyone, most have posted in writing that if you take food out of the restaurant you will be subject to pay for an additional meal. If done to an extreme or casually, the manager of the buffet has every right to call the police, have the person arrested, and press criminal charges. Would this happen over a cookie? Unlikely, but it certainly could happen and should happen with some of the things that I have seen and have been reported to me.

Now, why should you care if you don't do it? There is just so much loss that a business can figure into its routine operating expenses before that loss starts to take a toll. In these difficult economic times, restaurants are struggling. Add the loss of food "walking out the door" and there will be a financial reaction and that will first be seen as an increase in price of the meals at the buffet. This is a problem specific to the buffet business where all you can take is the offer that is made. In a restaurant with plated meals the portion goes out of the kitchen to your table and they do not care what happens to it after that. You eat it, toss it, or take it home - you paid for that specific dish and it is yours to do with as you please. But - in a buffet, the food goes out to the buffet tables with the expectation that it will be taken and eaten by all those in the room. If that food starts going into people's pockets to leave the restaurant that buffet has a problem. SO you say, it is already on my plate and if I don't eat it it will just be thrown away, so why should it go to waste when I can take it home and eat it later, give it to the dog, or feed Aunt Suzi who has come to visit? The answer to all that is no because of the potential abuse to the restaurant of taking more than you can eat. Sadly there are people out there who want to get away with anything that they can. The innocent at heart who have left over chicken on their plate, having intended to eat it all but couldn't,, can't take it home because of those who would intentionally fill a plate beyond what they want with the idea that they can make another meal of it at home. The logic makes sense. It is the temptation of the "dark side" that the buffet restaurant must defend itself against.

When I was a kid - many, many years ago - buffet restaurants (yes, they had them way back then too) would post signs that if you left food on your plate you would be charged for an extra meal. I remember this - and my wife, who I did not meet until we were at the same college, remembers this as well. And interestingly our parents - both sets - had the same reaction to that sign and to each of us, "You see that sign - make sure you eat everything that you take!" Of course, this would cause a general paranoia that someone from the restaurant was watching us eat and keeping track of very pea on the plate. We, both separately, recall finding ways to mush what we could not eat together and stealthily covering it on the plate with a crumpled napkin. I still do this when I overindulge and find I cannot finish something that I have taken - or find that I do not care for something - things get mushed together and the napkin is crumpled and strategically placed - as if anyone in the restaurant would care. This certainly was not the buffet restaurants intention by that sign - but in those days it certainly worked!

Friday, November 28, 2008


I have written about a restaurant in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania called the Family Cupboard Restaurant. There is a second restaurant in the same county run by members of the same family as the proprietors of the restaurant that I have been to and written about. I had an opportunity to visit this restaurant just north of the town of Lititz. As I understand it, this restaurant is the original location and the family that first opened it in 1997 moved on to open the Bird-in-Hand Family Cupboard in 2001. A connection certainly remains between the two restaurants as the buffet offerings and recipes are basically the same. It would be unfair to compare one against the other and I am not going to do that. They are both very good and the food is equally good. Another member of the family runs Dienners Restaurant that I wrote about a several weeks ago.

I will start as I usually do - as if there is no connection and this is an entirely new experience - which it was. The Lititz Family Cupboard restaurant is located just off Route 501, just a mile or so north of the town of Lititz. Lititz is an old and historic community and you drive through the heart of the town as you are approaching the turn to this restaurant. There is a sign for the restaurant on Route 501 and just past the sign you turn off Route 501 onto a side road that immediately brings you to the parking lot of the restaurant.

This is a restaurant that looks small as you enter but within the building are two dining rooms and also a small banquet room. You enter and are seated by a hostess. All of the tables in the main dining room are tables - there are no booths. The room is brightly lit and properly noisy for busy family restaurant. Lititz is pretty much out of the main tourist area of Lancaster County and it is clear by the families dining here that this is a local restaurant and not one that is frequented steadily by the tourists as many of the Lancaster County buffet restaurants are more in the heart of the Amish farmlands. You are sitll in the middle of farmlands and the Amish. This is a restaurant for families and anyone who would like a good meal in a friendly atmosphere.

There is menu dining and buffet dining. Both could be had by diners at the same table - in other words, if you want buffet and your friend wants to order from the menu that was ok. (I say this because there are some restaurants that will not allow this.)

The buffet area is at one side of the room and consists of a long double-sided buffet server, two short double-sided buffet servers, and a refrigerated cabinet with pies. The dining room extends from the buffet area and to the back is another dining room that was closed this Saturday night in early November. Away from these areas and separated by a door was a small banquet room for parties. The restaurant was bustling and many of the tables were filled. We were seated right away but it looked like they were well prepared if there was a wait.

The buffet dinner was very reasonably priced. The dinner buffet on Friday and Saturday nights is $11.99 from 4:oo to 8:00 pm. Like many of the restaurants in this area this restaurant closes at 8:00 pm and is NOT open on Sundays. Monday to Thursday the dinner buffet is $11.19. Lunch during the week is $9.25 for the buffet from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm and on Saturday the buffet lunch is $9.25 from 11:30 am to 4:00 pm. These are extremely good prices considering what the chain buffets have recently raised their prices to. There are children's prices. Children from ages 4 to 11 are charged 80 cents per pound of their weight for lunch every day. The charge is one dollar per pound of weight for the dinner buffet. Children under 3 are free. Sodas are refillable and cost $1.65 each. Coke products are served. There is also an option to just have the soup and salad bar.

We started with soup and there were two homemade soups offered. One was cream of broccoli soup and the other was ham and bean soup. I tried the cream of broccoli soup and while broccoli is not a favorite of mine, the soup was excellent. It was thick and white with cream and the broccoli was chopped very finely.

The salad bar was next and here you will find a selection of prepared salads and lettuce greens, salad toppings and vegetables, and a large assortment of dressings. There was the usual macaroni salad, potato salad, Pennsylvania Dutch chow chow, cottage cheese, apple butter, and a particularly good tortellini salad, among other choices. The tortellini salad was full of cheese stuffed spinach, carrot, and flour tortellinis in a mild dressing. This and the soup tempted me to go back for more, but there was a whole meal ahead of me yet.

The hot buffet server - the long one - had a lot to offer. I said that I was not going to compare this restaurants to the others "connected" to it, but as you read these offerings you will find many of the same in my reviews of the others. There was excellent rotisserie chicken, sliced ham, baked fish, fried shrimp, cubes of beef in gravy as the entrees offered. I was surprised to find no fried chicken which is almost a staple in this area at buffets, but it was not missed. The ham is kept in liquid in the serving tray and was a little more watery than I cared for. There was nothing wrong with it. There were fewer choices than some other restaurants but all were good. The beef cubes in gravy is very tasty. I most enjoyed the chicken and that was the meat that I went back for more of. The side dishes dominated the server and there was a good variety. Here there were fresh (not from a mix) mashed potatoes, buttered noodles, great macaroni and cheese, mildly sweetened carrots, plain green beans, lima beans, backed beans, sweet potato casserole - the kind with the marshmallows baked on top, corn, stewed tomatoes, stuffing (called filling in this area), rice, chicken gravy, and beef gravy. At the side were both white and whole wheat bread rolls. Lots of food - as you would expect to find and all of it properly cooked, served, and maintained. There were nothing dried out, there were no empty serving trays. As things needed refilling they were immediately refilled.

I ate with the thought to save room for dessert and the desserts did not disappoint. There were a variety of puddings, prepared dish desserts, pies, cakes, and a small selection of sugar free desserts. There was also soft serve ice cream and sundae toppings along with cones. The soft serve was very good. There were some local desserts one of which was cracker pudding. This is like rice pudding made with crushed saltine crackers and shredded coconut. This one was just right. There was also an excellent rice pudding. My wife tried something that was different - for us, at least - Oatmeal Pie. It had a baked oatmeal top with a sugar syrup layer at the bottom. It was very good - not too sweet, as I expected when I saw the bottom layer.

The service was very friendly and efficient. Dishes were cleared away quickly, drinks were offered to be refilled, and new full glasses were brought right away. Looking around the dining room all of the servers seemed to be just as friendly.

The restaurant was very clean. The buffet servers were labeled with what was in each tray. All matched. The rest rooms were also well maintained.

This is a buffet that I would have no hesitation going to again. I recommend it to anyone who is in this area. The price can't be beat and the food that you are getting is of quality and nicely cooked. There is terrific value here - and good food.

The Lititz Family Cupboard Restaurant and Buffet is located at 12 West Newport Road in Lititz, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The phone number is 717-626-9102. There is no website. If you do a search for this restaurant you will find a number of positive reviews, but the website that comes up is for the Family Cupboard in Bird-in-Hand.

Friday, November 21, 2008



I have heard from a former Ryans employee in Georgia who has just lost his job when the Ryan's Buffet closed in Buford, Georgia on November 18, 2008. He said that he also learned that another Ryan's was closed in Athens, Georgia on the same day.

This distraught former employee could not understand the closing of his restaurant as this Ryan's recently hired a new manager and business was beginning to improve. The statement by Buffets, Inc. initially was that the Ryan's stores were not making money. Here is a store that has started to make money again and it is closed. Several of the Ryan's managers who have commented on this site have said that their restaurants were threatened and their restaurants were high income producers. The saddest thing is that another company approached Buffets, Inc. and the Bankruptcy Court to take over these Ryan's Restaurants and keep them open - with a generous offer made to Buffets, Inc. As I have formerly reported, Buffets, Inc. turned down the offer.

Is this the beginning of the closings of the restaurants in this chain that Buffets, Inc. was directed by the Federal Bankruptcy Court to keep open? For a number of weeks I have not heard from Ryans employees and managers who had been commenting on the several articles regarding the problems at Ryan's restaurants and Buffets Inc. who had intended to close them (but were stopped by the Court). I had assumed that things had somewhat settled down and that the restaurants and their employees were no longer living under a threat. Perhaps that was a wrong assumtion to make, as this new news is most distressing.

As this former Ryan's worker stated (you can read his comment in Breaking News - OCB Wants to Close 127 Ryans" article) - this is a terrible economic time to be out of work and have to look for a job. With the Holidays upon us it is even more terrible.

My heart goes out to all those who lost thier jobs at these two Ryan's restaurants. I would like to hope that these would be the only Ryan's closed but I, sadly, hate to say that probably will not be.

If any of my Ryan's employees readers are reading this, please comment and let us know how your location is doing and what the most recent news is in the Bankruptcy/Closing proceedings.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Buffets at Thanksgiving

When I was in the Lancaster. PA area on the first weekend of November I noticed that a number of the local buffet restaurants that were serving Thanksgiving buffet dinners were already sold out or had waiting lists for the scheduled seatings. It struck me that in a rural farm area where you would expect to find families gathered around their own dining room tables for Thanksgiving, so many were going out to a buffet to celebrate their Thanksgiving feast.

This started me thinking about the benefits of a buffet restaurant for Thanksgiving or any holiday. Of course, there is the obvious reason to go out to eat on any holiday and that is that you don't have to cook - especially a meal the magnitude of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. You get all the whole meal with any of the work - and probably at less expense. Beyond that though, there is a great benefit to a buffet dinner for Thanksgiving for single people or couples without families. You will never feel lonely at a buffet. You are surrounded by people that are enjoying themselves. This holds at a buffet much more than it does at a plated-meal restaurant. There is a different atmosphere and often the people around you seem friendlier and more welcoming. Though the informality of some buffet restaurants is not always a good thing, on a holiday it can be wonderful for those who seek to become "part of a family" and not be alone. There is also a benefit at a buffet for families with picky eaters who don't always like what is found in a Thanksgiving dinner. At the buffet everyone may choose what they like - and generally, something that they like will be there.

Many chain and local buffets are open on Thanksgiving. Some require advanced reservations and some do not. Some have special seating times where you must arrive at a specified time and be done before the next seating. All, generally, recognize the day with a traditional menu, either replacing their usual Thursday offerings or adding the Thanksgiving dishes to them. But, don't expect every buffet restaurant to be open. I know of a few noted buffets who close on Thanksgiving to give their employees a holiday. If you are planning on going to a buffet for Thanksgiving it is best to call as soon as possible and learn what the plan is for that restaurant for the day.

Chains, such as Old Country Buffet, function as usual with a line at the door and no reservations required. There will be crowds and a wait so anticipate this when making your plans to go Expect the meal to be geared toward the holiday, but don't expect anything different than what you would normally find at that restaurant. If their turkey is usually a carved turkey breast that is what it will be on Thanksgiving. Don't expect to go and see a whole roast turkey with drumsticks. They will put those dishes that they serve through the year that comprise a Thanksgiving dinner on the buffet on Thanksgiving. Usually, there are no surprises.

Am I going to a buffet for Thanksgiving? I would but my good wife likes to have both of our families to our home for Thanksgiving Dinner. I must say, however, that if one of the great buffets was near me, I would surely be considering it. To not have to cook, to not have to clean up afterward, and to not have to prepare for a dinner for a week that lasts about two hours - find a buffet!

Friday, November 07, 2008

Downfall of a Buffet - Failed Economy or Failed Management? - PART 2

PART 1 appeared one week ago.

On my visit in 2006 I found that the recipes were too spicy for what is expected at this type of restaurant in this specific area. This is the Pennsylvania Farm Country - home of the Amish people. The Amish are an American culture all onto themselves with religious beliefs that have them living today as they did in the 1800's. They are farmers with no use of electricity or gasoline driven engines. They travel by horse and buggy on today's roads along side the trucks and cars. They farm with horse-drawn plows. These are "plain" people and there food is wholesome and filing. What they cook is tasty, but they do not generally use hot spices. The food at this buffet in 2006 could have been described as Pennsylvania Dutch Tex-Mex. This was not going to appeal to locals or tourists who were looking to dine "Pennsylvania Dutch". So, bottom line - in 2006 the recipes were just WRONG!

I also found in 2006 that the food trays were not well maintained. Food was dried out. Many items needed stiring. This is all very unappetizing and not at all appealing to the people dining. All and all, my first experience at this restaurant in 2006 was not bad. Were there better choices to go to at the time - absolutely, but this was one of the few that remained open on Sundays - so business should have been a shoe-in!

Let's move on to 2007. I went back expecting a pleasant experience, hoping for better recipes, but willing to have the same experience that I had in 2006. Well, not so. On this visit things had taken a downward turn. What was wrong? Oh, there was oh, so much!

It was a very hot July evening and there was NO air conditioning running. There were floor fans that just seemed to blow the hot air at you faster. This alone made for an unpleasant dinner.

The one soup that was offered on the buffet - where there used to be two - was not hot - in fact it was cold (not intentionally). In the heat of the room this unheated soup server was a breeding gound for bacteria. Looking over to the food servers, there was a single piece of fried chicken and two pieces of pale barbecue chicken in two trays - all not very appetizing in appearance. Other meats that were out looked to be deli-counter sliced meats, heated in broth. Was any of this going to boost business here? Absolutely not. And the temperature of all of the food was just barely warm to cold!

Then there was the incident with the raw chicken. It was discovered by a diner a table away from us and by me that the "barbecued" chicken and the fried chicken was raw inside when you cut it open. I mean blood dripping raw. I said nothing because the gentlemen at the other table said everything. The response he got from the young lady waitress was totally unacceptable.

Let's talk for a moment about the front line staff at a buffet - the people who have direct contact with the customers. If you have this job, whether you like it or not, the basic tenant that the customer is always right and always watch what you say to a customer has got to always be in the front of your thoughts when you are speaking with a customer. Your job is to pleasant, appear to be ready to solve all of the customer's problems should there be any during the course of the meal, and to make the customer feel that he/she is not only welcome but special. Some of the people working at this particular buffet were wonderful and tried to do exactly as I describe. However, there was one young woman who was there in 2007 and involved with the "raw chicken incident" and surprising was still there a year later in 2008 communicating with the customers in just the same manner. Here is the situation - the customer calls the young lady over to his table and tells her that the chicken that is out on the buffet server is raw. What she should have done is apologized on behalf of the restaurant and ran and grabbed the tray of chicken so that no one else would take any. What did she do? She stood there in a defensive tone and said, "You know, I don't do the cooking." She did actually go and bring out the chef who properly thanked the gentlemen for telling him - but you know he did not go immediately over to get the tray of chicken right away. He went back into the kitchen and then came out to take it away. Buffet owners - your staff can make or break you! You can have the best food, but if you have staff that is not on the ball and pleasant with your customers you will not succeed.

So I said that this young woman was still there in 2008. What did she do then? A customer told her that the tray of mashed potatoes was empty. Her reaction, "Yeah, they know. When they come out, they come out." Oh boy. How about, "I am sorry. The kitchen told me that they will be out in five minutes."

In 2008, again on a hot July day, there was still no room air conditioning. There was a through the wall, house air conditioner built into the emergency exit. It churned away in futility trying to cool this large room with steam tables that was open to a room twice its size that had been closed down for some time. Needless to say, it was still hot in the room and not very pleasant to enjoy a large buffet meal. (What would happen if there was a need for the emergency exit I am not sure.)

The food had improved some in 2008. There seemed to be two cooks - at least one was Amish and the recipes were now more in line with the area. The majority of the food was good and the prices were right.

Efforts had been made to advertise and offer coupons that brought the price of dinner to $10. 00 per person. Yet, the parking lot was still empty. There were just a few tables filled. This restaurant is off the main road, but not that far off. People were filling the other restaurants while this one was empty. Can a restaurant that has a two year poor record not turn itself around? In this area it should be able to. Many of your potential customers have never heard of you before and your reputation of lack of it does not necessarily proceed you, because your target customer is the tourist - many here in the area for the first time. Think about the "average Joe" when he travels with his family who is deciding where to have dinner tonight. If there is something to grab his attention - a billboard on the road, a large ad in the tourist newspaper handouts, coupons left in hotel lobbies - he is going to come and try your restaurant. If you have turned your restaurant around for the better, he is going to tell his friends who will come next month to be sure to try your restaurant. You cannot blame the economy when there are tourists in the area looking for someplace to eat - especially when you are open on Sunday and few others are.

We went to see if there was a crowd at this restaurant around the beginning of September 2008. We were struck by the restaurant's sign on the main road where the turn is made up to this buffet that said, "Under New Management". A month before it had not said this. What "new management" was this referring to? Did someone new come in and take over? Or was this the old "new management". The sign also referred to menu dining with hours along with buffet hours - there was no menu dining at this restaurant since 2007. We went up to the restaurant and there was another sign that said "Closed for Renovations". Later that evening I went to the buffet's website. The website had a message that explained that the restaurant has gone out of business - due to the economy.

Now, perhaps someone else is going to give this location a try. Anyone thinking of going into the buffet business - or any restaurant for that matter - can learn a lot reading this article. In a tourist area, every tourist has got to eat. If the economy has not kept them away - and here, certainly, it has not - then be ready to provide good food geared to the locale, served and maintained properly, have good employees who have the interest of your business at heart, provide a clean and comfortable dining room, and give value. In this particular area you can't miss.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Downfall of a Buffet - Failed Economy or Failed Management? - PART 1

Over the past three years I have written three articles about a buffet in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania that took over a beautiful restaurant location that had previously operated successfully by a buffet/menu restaurant that moved to a more central location. The restaurant is now closed.

I will write about what took place from the first article in 2006 through its closing in 2008 now that the restaurant is gone and it may be lessons to be learned for any buffet manager, owner, or employees. Why did this restaurant close? It is not surprising. When all is said and done, it was not a good restaurant. It was bad at the start, it did not improve - even with a change in management who after my article in 2007 seemed to take notice and made efforts, and at the end it never did - I can't say recover - because there was never anything successful to come back to. When I first saw that it was closed, I commented to my wife that I wondered why the finally gave up. She looked squarely at me and said, "It really was a bad restaurant." On my last visit there - as written about in my July 2008 article I found improvements to the menu, the cooking, and especially enjoyed really good fried chicken. But there were not patrons at this restaurant - while other buffets in the area - even those more remotely located than this were packed, there were rarely more than two or three cars in the lot and three or four tables filled. So what can we speculate went wrong here?

Now, I truly have nothing personally against this restaurant while it was open, its manager, its owner, or it employees. There has never been a "vendetta" against it - as I have been accused of in a barrage of comments and emails sent to me by the manager of the restaurant and a very few patrons of the restaurant. Let me start the story here - at some point after the 2007 article - the manager of the restaurant who was brought in prior to my 2007 visit discovered the 2006 and the 2007 articles. He proceeded to begin a series of emails to me which at first acknowledged some of the problems that I noted about the restaurant and then became increasingly defensive, nasty, and, shall I say to be polite, disrespectful of me and my opinions. I took it all in stride and answered the emails with responses and constructive suggestions. What was taking place was that I and this site were the scapegoat for the fact that there were no customers at this restaurant. I would love to believe that this site is THAT IMPORTANT and that while we have thousands of readers, not everyone who visits or lives in Lancaster County, PA reads this site and determines where they will eat by my recommendation. The NY Times Food Critic I am not. I know that some do check this site before they travel some place or look for a new place to eat buffet, but certainly not enough to make or break a restaurant. No, what I am certain of is that I dine out like the average "Joe" and I look for the same things that everyone else wants to find - value, good tasting food, a pleasant dining experience, and cleanliness. If you can't deliver all or most of these then you will not have return business and friends will tell friends where they can find these basics. What I write is what I experience and I have my wife always with me to share the experience. She will tell agree or disagree with my findings and if she disagrees I will adjust my opinion to include her point of view with my own. If I am not certain about something I always make sure to get that second opinion from her. I write so that you will benefit from my experience, to inform you, and to amuse you. I want to like every restaurant that I walk into - and many, many times I do. When I wrote about this restaurant I wanted to enjoy it. Before this restuarant incarnation in this location there was another buffet here that was wonderful (and remains wonderful in its new location). What this location has going for it is an incredible view. After the first experience at the new restaurant, we went back a year later to give it another shot - which was worse than then first, and we went back a THIRD time to try it again and with that I linked the 2007 review to the "better" 2008 review. How much more can one do to be fair?

What went wrong at this buffet? This area is buffet world. There are probably more buffet restaurants in this one county than anywhere else in the country - with the possible exception of Las Vegas and Atlantic City at the casinos. Even in this summer of high gas prices and a poor economy there were hotels and motels in this area with no vacancies on the weekends. The weeks may not have had the tourist population that they usually have seen, but even during the week during this past summer there were tourists out and about. All of the buffets had full parking lots on Friday and Saturday nights and a good number of cars during the week, with one exception - this one. They did advertise and they did offer money off coupons in local papers geared to their target dining audience, the tourists. There were signs - as there always were for restaurants at this location - on the main road with just a short drive up a farm road to get to the restaurant. It was located with a motel - a ready made dining crowd. Yet, it still went out of business.

What did people experience when they went to this restaurant? I am not about to rewrite my three reviews, but I will give you highlights of what was different here from successful buffets near by.



Friday, October 24, 2008


Have you ever wondered where do buffet restaurants get all of the servers and such that create the buffet? Are you a restaurant owner who has decided to turn your restaurant into a buffet - and serve more people with less expense in the same amount of time? You too, with enough money, can build a buffet.

My good wife stumbled across this company and website by chance. Now I am not in any way recommending or endorsing this company. I am not being paid or being given any renumeration for writing about them. I have no idea of the quality or value of what they sell. I just think that it is very interesting to find out about just one of what must be many companies that equip buffet restaurants. The company's name is Gallery Line and you can click here to see their website.

They design and sell a modular system to create a buffet and the various serving stations that make up the buffet. Their system is set up to be both permanent and portable - as each section is interlocking and is on lockable wheels.

Want to see how a buffet is created? They have a video that shows you how - VIDEO. Check out the banner the lady is wearing when they start showing the system -I hope they paid here extra to wear it.

They seem to have everything that you need - dish stackers, a soup and salad bar module, cold servers, hot servers, sneeze guards, and the rest. And it all goes together so easily. Click through their on-line catalog and see all that goes into building a buffet. No prices though - you have to request prices directly. Too bad, because I am curious just how much one of the servers costs. I don't see any mention of beverage stations or soft drink machines - so you are going to have to seach a bit to find those. I am speculating that the soda companies may supply these, but I may be wrong.

There are setups shown to build regular buffet serving stations, cafeteria lines, and fast food counters. It all looks good too. It comes in three color choices and then there are add in panels to match wood decor in the restaurant. And if you don't like the configuration that you put together or want to add something different, you can snap it apart and put it back together - just like Legos. And because it can all be moved, as they show in the video, it is easy to clean under and around each unit.

How about setting up a personal buffet in your home? If you have the money it is likely that they will sell you all the modules that you would need. You can turn your family room or basement into your very own buffet.

Want to know about the inner workings of the servers? Click on the service manual link and the installation and service manual will open on your computer screen.

Thinking about going into the buffet business? It is all here. Well, not exactly all. You are going to need to lease restaurant space in a building, hire a complete kitchen and floor staff, hire assistant managers, bookkeepers, and all of the other valued employees required, purchase tables and chairs, decorate the dining room and, oh yes, you need to equip the kitchen - which is going to be the most expensive part of the equipment that you need to buy. This all and not to forget to mention the many permits, certifications, and licenses that you will need to meet all of the legalities. Not as easy as Galley Line's little video makes it sound. But not impossible.

Perhaps you are ready to take the plunge. When you do let me know where your buffet is and you may find your restaurant on this site.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Ribs Are the Feature at Old Country Buffet

Last week I wrote that Old Country Buffet has a new feature on the weekends - Friday through Sunday at dinner. The feature is Kansas City Ribs and Butterfly Shrimp. As I said last week, the shrimp is no big deal at OCB, but the ribs are actually something special.

When I learned about this new feature I decided that I would take the first opportunity to go back and have the Kansas City Ribs. These ribs and the baby back ribs that OCB has served as part of summer feature menus years past are some of the best that buffets have to offer. I was hoping that the ribs on the new feature would be as good.

I arrived at OCB on a Friday night and there was a long line to get in. Since there has been no publicity for the rib feature other than a small poster located behind the cashier at this OCB I was sure that the crowd was not there for the ribs. I held my anticipation and waited my turn to pay and enter the dining room. Of course, the first thing I had to do after finding a table was make sure that those ribs were out on the buffet. What I found were a few scraps on a carving board in the carving area with a sign that said "Pork Riblets". Pork Riblets! That is not the same as Kansas City Ribs. Riblets are the chopped pork formed into rib shape served at fast food restaurants. I tempered my anger and had my soup and salad.

When I went up for my entree I went back to the carving area and what did I see - cut up Kansas City Ribs! Well, at least three of them, which was all that was left at the moment. Not wanting to be a grabber I took two of them and left the third for someone else. The ribs were not served as they were when they were the summer feature. Then they would be brought out in trays with a nice layer of warm barbecue sauce on top of the hot ribs. Now they were brought out to be carved. As the young lady who was carving seemed not wanting to be bothered by the customers coming up, she just cut up everything in advance and left a serving fork and tongs. This is not out of the ordinary at this particular OCB and I am almost certain that at others you will find that the employees are carving and slicing to order.There was some sauce on the ribs, but not much - not enough.

I took my ribs back to the table to see if they were as good as I remember. The meat on the first rib just fell away from the bone - my preference for this type of ribs. The meat was tender, a bit fatty, and the taste was exactly what I was hoping for. As I say, a little more sauce would have been nicer. The second rib that I had was not as cooked through as the first and the meat did not fall away, but did not take much coaxing to come off.

When I went back for more there were only a few scraps left on the carving board. I took a little of what looked worthwhile and waited for more to come out. When I got back again there were just two ribs left and this time I did take them both.

I thought about adding barbecue sauce, which is out on the condiment bar, but squeezed on sauce is never as good as cooked on sauce and decided that it would just overwhelm the taste of the ribs. These ribs were like the second that I tried. The meat did not fall off the bone but did pull right off. The taste was good and these ribs were not a dissappointment.

It is hard to find good ribs at buffets. Several buffets offer pork ribs. Few that are offered are "really" good. I have long felt that the Kansas City Ribs and the Baby Back Ribs are the best of what OCB has - and they do not bring them onto the menu often enough. I have tried ribs at other chain buffets and they are not as good. These have equalled those that I have had a more expensive restaurants. They are probably nothing like the ribs from "REAL" barbecue places - but I have not been to a "serious" barbecue "joint". Don't compare these Kansas City Ribs to the Beef Ribs that OCB usually serves - these are much, much better.

The feature is for a limited time. How limited I do not know. The feature may also not be offered at all OCB's as the website does not mention them. Call your OCB and ask before using the gas to make the trip (so sad that we need to think that way these days).

Oh and that Riblet sign - why would they do that? How hard is it to take a marker and write a small sign to stick up with the correct name on it? These are not riblets, they were the real thing.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Something New at Old Country Buffet

Actually, there are three somethings new at Old Country Buffet. Every so often we will go to Old Country Buffet for lunch. On the window there were two large posters. - one featured TAKE OUT buffet meals and the other featured Soup and Salad Bar Lunch. Hmm. Interesting.

We went inside and at the cashier there was another poster. This one said "New Feature". Old Country Buffet has not had a menu feature in almost a year - maybe longer. I have written about this during the year. I waited in anticipation of the "summer barbecue" feature that has been the highlight at OCB in July and August. It never came. I put it up to one of the consequences of a restaurant chain in bankruptcy. But now, looking up at this new poster, what do I see? Kansas City Ribs! Kansas City Ribs have been the center point of that summer barbecue feature. They are one of the few things that I will actually say that OCB does well. The new feature is Kansas City Ribs and Butterfly Shrimp. Now, butterfly shrimp have been around on and off for a while. A week ago they were on the Friday night buffet. Shrimp at OCB is no big deal. There is almost always fried shrimp in one form or another on the buffet. It was even there on the lunch buffet. But Kansas City Ribs are special and make an appearance for a very short time when there has been a featured bbq special. According to the poster, the Kansas City Ribs and Butterfly Shrimp are featured right now every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night at dinner. Let's hope that it sticks around for a while.

Now, the other two "new" ideas at OCB. The first is Soup and Salad Bar lunch. This is available Monday to Friday at lunch only and costs $4.99. The regular lunch price costs $7.99 so you save $3.00 by skipping the hot food and the dessert bar. You can add the dessert bar for another $0.99. But how would this work in a buffet where everyone is mixed together, the buffet servers are all grouped together, and there are no wait staff returning to your table to refill drinks who will keep an eye on what you are taking? I was very curious.

I watched through our lunch to see if anyone was having the Soup and Salad Only lunch. As far as I could see, no one was. We looked around tables to see if there were different color table reserved tickets. We did not say any different from the lunch buffet ticket that we had. Finally, we found one of the staff that we know and asked (this person does not know that there is any connection between me and this site - as it is at every buffet that I go to). It was just a curious question about how does the soup and salad only lunch work. What we learned is that, indeed, you are given a different color ticket - and it is up to your table cleaner to keep an eye on you and make sure that all you take is from the soup and salad bar. I waited until we got outside after lunch to laugh. Here is a restaurant where the table cleaner barely comes around - if at all - to take away dirty dishes from the table. This is the person who is supposed to "watch" the tables to make sure no one is eating from the wrong buffet. I suspect that this new idea will be short lived when they find out that many who pay the $4.99 are eating everything - and not just soup and salad - with no one the wiser. (I AM NOT SUGGESTING THAT ANYONE DO THIS - IT IS ILLEGAL AND WRONG!) This is certainly going to happen. This especially will happen if the table is mixed with full buffet and soup and salad bar diners.

I have been to buffets that offer this and it does work, but at those buffets - as I alluded to above, there is a waitress or waiter assigned to your table to bring you drink refills. They are general around and about and will visit your table regularly. If you were to take something from the wrong buffet server at one of these restaurants, that waiter/waitress is going to know immediately. Whoever had this idea at OCB in upper corporate management either is unaware or does not care. I guess in disparate times of bankruptcy and a bad economy, desperate ideas will be tried.

The other new feature is Take Out Buffets. This is actually a good idea and from what I was able to learn an actually generous offer. Take Out lunch buffet is $5.99, dinner is $7.99, and soup and salad bar is $3.99. You are given a foam clam-shell tray, a foam soda cup with lid - and I am assuming something to put soup in. There was no sign of a scale at the cashier and a comment was made by a customer that you are able to fill the tray with whatever and as much as you want - as long as it is not overflowing before it is closed. Done wisely, you can assemble a nice meal for a good price - of course it is not "all that you care to eat", but that is why it is less money. There are many who would like to have the buffet meal but need to be home or want to pick up a nice meal on the way home from work. This will work nicely for them.

None of these new features are listed on the OCB website - curious, but they are not. It may be that these are locally offered. Every poster was an OCB corporate printing - so the offer is coming out of the corporate offices and may be featured at some locations and not or before other locations. Not even the little sign on the tables mentioned these features - these were still pushing the breakfast buffet. But I can say, that these features do currently exist and if they have not come to your OCB, ask why not!

**** Just after I finished writing this article I received an email coupon from OCB (just sign up with an email address on their website) for a free dessert upgrade if a soup and salad lunch is purchased. So I guess they are now starting their campaign!

Friday, October 03, 2008


Ponderosa Steak Restaurants are often called buffet restaurants. I have put off publishing this article several times. I hesitated each time that I thought of posting it. There is an uncertainty about Ponderosa. The reason will be clearer as you read this article. Perhaps it should be titled, "Ponderosa, Is it a Buffet?" In the past month I have learned news that bring up a more important and timely question, "Does Ponderosa as a chain still exist?".

The chain of Ponderosa restaurants is owned by a parent company called Metromedia Restaurant Group. This company also owned and operated Bennigans Restaurants and Steak and Ale Restaurants. In July 2008, the parent company declared bankruptcy, under Chapter 7 and in August closed all of the Bennigans and Steak and Ale restaurants in its holdings - with the exception of very few which were franchised and would continue under independent ownership. The question was raised at the time as to what would become of the Ponderosa/Bonanza chain. Metromedia stated publicly at the time that Ponderosa was operated by a sub-division of thier company that was not declaring bankruptcy and that these restaurants would continue to be open as usual. In September 2008 Metromedia took down the Ponderosa chain website. It was suspected that they would reopen the website at a future date, but going to that web address now brings you to a home page that says that the domain name is "parked there for free". This seems odd to me. If the business will continue as usual, why not have a website for the chain? Why would you not have just a home page that said, "Ponderosa website will be back". The website, when operating, listed the menu, briefly mentioned a "buffet", had a location finder, and had an email club for discount offers on meals. All of that is now gone.

From Internet searches I come across many articles about Ponderosa restaurants closing - some very suddenly, others as a result of law suits against them, and still others due to illegal activities by their franchise owners. It appears that many of the Ponderosa restaurants (perhaps all of them) are franchised ownerships. Franchise owners with more than one Ponderosa are closing all of the stores at once. Articles refer to employees being told not to come to work the next day - there is no work any longer. At one restaurant employees staged a public protest because not only were they told that the restaurant was closing the next day but they would not be receiving their pay checks!

Current searches for individual Ponderosa Restaurants come up with nothing recent. I cannot find a website or customer rating newer than several months ago for any Ponderosa Restaurant.

Prior to this news I had written the following article about Ponderosa restaurants. I present that articel here, but will conclude with some questions for you, our readers.

Several times in my searches for buffets the Ponderosa Restaurants have come up and some of my readers have written and asked why I have not reviewed the chain. Many, many years ago there were Ponderosa restaurants in my area and I did dine there. Back then, there was no buffet. The restaurant was a "discount" steak restaurant that you ordered your meal at a counter and then were seated and wait staff would carry your steak and potato out to you from the kitchen when it was ready. The Ponderosa Restaurants closed around here many years ago. Since then I had never connected Ponderosa with buffet. More recently, there were other Ponderosa restaurants in areas that I have traveled and those I passed seemed to feature a salad bar with your steak order, but that never much appealed to me and I did not go in. Those have closed as well. There are Ponderosa Restaurants in several states and even one as close to me as the Bronx (You know, The Bronx - New York Yankees, Yankee Stadium. Some parts nice and some parts are not the safest areas to travel in).

I asked one of the readers who I was communicating with by email if the Ponderosa Restaurants had full buffets now or was it still an order off the menu restaurant with a salad bar. I was assured that it is a full buffet of the same type as Golden Corral, OCB, etc. With that understanding I decided to do a bit of research and see what I could find out and share with you about Ponderosa. This is another of my discovery articles and I want to be right up front with you all that I have not yet eaten at a Ponderosa Resaturant (at least not for the past 20 or more years), but I will share with you what I have been able to find out. And that is not much.

The Ponderosa website (when there was a website) home page says "Big Honkin' Buffet". That was encouraging. Beyond that there is a description of an order from the menu menu of steaks, chicken, and seafood - much as I remember it 20 years ago. The buffet is mentioned in a small side box with the description of a salad and appetizer bar that includes soups, vegetables, salad, and dessert. The last line states that a variety of beef, chicken, seafood. and pasta dishes appear on the buffet - but items will vary by location and are not at all restaurants. Hmm. I have been through this sought of buffet before - one of my worst buffet experiences was at a Western Sizzlin' in Maryland several years ago.

It has been my experience that when the main business of the chain restaurant is not buffet, the buffet is just a compliment to the items that they want you to order off the menu. Ponderosa talks about getting the buffet with your entree instead of a vegetable and potato. In the restaurants that I have been in that do this ,the buffet is not well maintained and the offerings on the buffet beyond the salad bar are minimal.

A recent special feature at Ponderosa was an All You Can Eat Shrimp Platter served to you at your table and refilled for you by your waiter at your request. This makes me wonder that if there is a buffet, why isn't the all you can eat shrimp on the buffet? Why does this need to be a special that must be brought to you? Another indication that this will not be the type of buffet that we all would expect. Everything on the website is focused around the entree menu including the buffet served as a side dish.

And yet, buffet keeps being associated with Ponderosa - in business articles and in several emails that I have had from readers. On a restaurant trade rating scale of buffet restaurants, Ponderosa was rated higher than OCB. When I went to the Ponderosa website, I truly expected to find a restaurant description that would equal that of Golden Corral, Old Country Buffet, or Ryans, but as I have said it did not.

With what I have learned about Ponderosa (also called Bonanza in some locations) I would want to see the buffet before I committed to eating there. Without one local to me I am not certain that I would travel to one, if I am near one of their locations, to walk in and look around. I certainly would not want to spend money for meals for my wife and myself to find out that we are having a salad bar and hot wings for dinner, which one source stated was what a Ponderosa buffet often has to offer - hot wings, pizza, and pasta - along with a soup and salad bar and small desert selection. Another source stated that some Ponderosa's just have salad bars and not buffets, while others offer a few entrees like fried chicken and meatloaf.

I had been hoping that I would find a description of a "real" buffet restaurant. I was hoping for another chain to explore like Golden Corral, Ryan's, or OCB. I do not think that I have found one.


Now, my questions for our readers - if you have an answer please post a comment.

If you have ever been to a Ponderosa Restaurant what there is to be found on the buffet and how extensive a buffet meal one can have (could one once have had) there?

Is there a Ponderosa Restaurant near you that is still open for business? Have there been any changes there recently? Does it appear that it may be closing?

Has a Ponderosa Restaruant near you or that you know of closed recently?

Friday, September 26, 2008

A Nice Little Buffet - Dienners Country Restaurant

On July 4, 2008 I published an article about a buffet in Lancaster County, Pa called Dienners Country Restaurant. In the article I stated that I had dined from the menu in the restaurant but had never tried the buffet. The food is the same so I could easily recommend the buffet. Well, for the record, I was right. I have just had the dinner buffet and it was all that I expected.

Dienners, as you know if you read the article has unusual hours. It is open from Monday to Saturday but closes at 6:00 PM every night except Friday - which recently started to be open until 8:00 PM. I don't dine early enough to go before 6:00 - which means arriving at no later than 4:30 PM because there is always a wait to get in. When I discovered the Friday night "late" hours I decided that when I could I would get there on a Friday and have the dinner buffet. This was it.

We arrived at 6:10 PM and , yes, there was a wait to get in. The wait was short - just ten minutes. This is a Friday in early September - not Labor Day weekend. The restaurant was full. This is a small restaurant - two small dining rooms with one sharing the buffet serving area.

The dinner price on Friday and Saturday nights has gone up fifty cents in the past two months - along with the prices at every buffet that I have been to. This brings the price for an adult dinner to a whopping $10.75! This is incredible for what you get! It is no wonder that this restaurant is always busy. The restaurant attracts not only tourists but many locals including Old Order Amish - this area is the center of a religious, farm community of people who live much as they did in the 1800's - no electricity, no cars, horse transportation, and a specific form of dress. The kitchen staff appear to be all Amish women and this night when I dined there I had a view inside the kitchen and the women doing the cooking were Amish. The serving staff are not Amish, though the young lady at the cashier desk was.

Why am I tell you this? 1) Local color and 2) you know that the recipes and cooking are going to be authentic to this area. One of the things that I said in that first article in July was that the recipes used were going to be the same as those used at another local buffet run by relatives of the owners of this buffet. Many of the items served on the buffet here are the same, but the recipes are not. While the food at the other restaurant is excellent, the food here - the same items - taste a bit more authentic. I have been eating Pennsylvania Dutch (Amish) cooking for over 40 years. The recipes vary from restaurant to restaurant but over time many have been seasoned for and made toward the tourist's taste. There is nothing wrong with that, but if you come to Dienners you are going to experience Pennsylvania Dutch cooking as it should be.

The buffet servers are a larger than double-sided single buffets but smaller than full double length buffet servers. There are three of them. Less serving area than the buffet servers at the relatives' restaurant (Family Cupboard) and fewer dishes. The decrease is primarily in the entrees offered, though if you are not comparing you would never know - because there are plenty of choices and plenty of good food to eat.

The middle buffet server is a salad and soup bar. There are two soups - on this night there was chicken corn soup and clam chowder. Chicken corn soup is one of my favorites and I will always choose that before all others. This one was a bit different - it was a cream based soup, usually it is a thin or thick but not cream. The soup was loaded with noodles, kernels of corn and large chunks of chicken. It was good.

The salad bar had the usual assorment of lettuce, salad toppings, and prepared salads. There were sliced tomatoes that were deep red and ripe. This is the season for tomatoes and these were fresh from the farm. I am sure that you will not find such tomatoes at any other time of the year. On the salad bar were local favorites such as Chow Chow - sweet pickled vegetables - and red beat eggs. These are common in restaurants and buffets in this area.
On the two sides of the salad and soup server are an entree and side dish server and a dessert server. The entree buffet server had the main dishes together on one end and then went along with side dishes. The entrees included nicely cooked rotisserie chicken, sliced baked ham, fried chicken, fried shrimp, chunks of fried codfish, a local dish that I have mentioned before - pork with sauerkraut, and large cubes of beef in brown gravy. The shrimp and cod are features of the Friday and Saturday dinner buffet. I very much enjoyed the fried cod. It was moist and lightly fried in a batter. There was a thin tartar sauce for the fish. The rotisserie chicken was very good, as well. It was all good. These were my preferences this night.

The side dishes followed along on the server. There were mashed potatoes made from potatoes and not from flakes, kernal corn, string beans, carrots, broccoli, rice, beets, stewed tomatoes, macaroni and cheese, bread filling (what they call stuffing in this area - but actually better with a sweeter taste and more pancake like in consistency) and brown butter noodles. Brown butter noodles is another local dish. It is a cardiologist's nightmare. Take whole butter and put it in a pan over heat. Keep cooking until the butter burns and dark brown pieces form from the burned butter fat. Take all of the mixture of burned butter fat and clarified butter and pour it over cooked noodles so that the noodles soak up all of the butter and are now colored light brown with dark brown spots. The noodles are freshly made, narrow egg noodles and soak up the butter and all of the flavor well. This was one of the dishes that you could tell was made by the Amish and was deeper in flavor than others that I have had in the past several years at other restaurants. At the end of this buffet server were chicken and beef gravy - two of each. Mixed into the middle of the gravy serving trays was a small tray of the stewed tomatoes. If you did not look at the gravies you would not have noticed the stewed tomatoes. That would be unfortunate because they were good. If you are a bread eater there were very good rolls - both white flour and whole wheat.

There is a nice assortment of desserts and they fill an entire buffet server, a refrigerator case, and a soft ice cream machine and sundae bar. There were puddings, tapioca, egg custard, carrot cake, and and something quite different - a chocolate applesauce cake, along with other desserts including hot chocolate fudge dessert and a hot fruit cobbler. In the refrigerator case were an assortment of pies - fruit, custard, shoo fly, and cream. There were two sugarfree fruit pies. The baking (at least the pies) seem to come from one of the local bakeries - one that is quite well known in this area and has been featured on food and travel television shows. I could not resist the blueberry pie and it was wonderful. I had a hard time deciding between that and a blueberry covered slice of angel food cake with whipped cream on top. If I was not feeling already full I could have had both - but I let reason prevale. I did try some of the egg custard before the pie - good- and after the pie, after tasing a spoon of the soft serve ice cream that my wife took, I had to go and get a small serving for myself. There is only vanilla ice cream but it was creamy and good. Not the icy soft serve that many buffets offer. There was chocolate and caramel syrups and other ice cream toppings. My wife took a piece of the chocolate applesauce cake and I tried a spoon of that too. This was very different. It tasted like a chocolate fruit cake. It very much reminded me in taste of fruit cake but not as dense in texture, but then under the fruit cake flavor was chocolate.

This buffet does what the best of buffets do and what all buffets should do - they put a card on your table that shows that the table is occupied and you are still eating. While you are dining you keep the card face up. When you are leaving you turn the card over and it says "We're Finished". With this there are no server errors of thinking that you have left while you are away from the table and up at the buffet server - and clearing your table away of everything. This has happened too often at other buffets. I love it when buffets have this system in place - it makes for a much more relaxing evening.

Service was excellent. The server came regularly when we emptied a plate and took it away. Drink refills were offered, refilled, and offered again. The restaurant is very clean. The rest rooms were very clean.

I said in July that this is a great restaurant. I will say it again - this is a great restaurant. You could even order from a menu and they will allow some at the table to buffet while others menu -which many restaurants will not do.

I very much recommend Dienners Country Restaurant. If you are an early diner go any night (never on a Sunday). If you eat later like me then make sure to get here on a Friday.

Dienner's Family Restaurant is located at 2855 Lincoln Highway East in East Ronks, Pennsylvania (This is US Route 30). Their phone number is 717-687-9571. There is a website and that is listed at the side of this page.

Friday, September 19, 2008

D.J.'s International Buffet, Garden City, NY -REVISITED

Eight months ago in January, I reviewed the re-opening of the International Buffet restaurant in Garden City on Long Island in New York. With the reopening the name had a slight variation to D.J.'s International Buffet. At that time I was disappointed in the changes that were made to this restaurant that had been a favorite of many on Long Island. I had not been back until now.

The price of this Asian buffet is high and that more than anything else has kept me from going back for a second try. With a coupon for $3.00 per adult dinner we decided to go back to dinner mid-week. We went on a Wednesday night in mid-August and the restaurant was busy. This was surprising because other Chinese buffets are not that busy right now in this general area even on the weekends. The price from Monday to Friday for dinner is $16.95 - much higher than other local Chinese buffets. Friady to Sunday dinner is $23.95. They do serve lunch Monday to Friday for $8.95. Children's prices are determined by age and for under ten years old are $1 per year Monday to Thursday and $1.25 per year Friday to Sunday. Children at lunch under ten are sixty cents per year. On Saturday and Sunday they also serve Brunch which they say includes "Traditional American Breakfast items".

This is not an inexpensive buffet. It is not as high as some of the sushi buffets - but considerably more than most of the Chinese buffets. Find a coupon - for this restaurant. They sometimes appear in local newspapers.

I decided when I went that I would review the restaurant not as a replacement for what once was - before the restauant closed for renovations a year ago - but for what it is now - as if there never was another restaurant here. Unfortunately, the former restauarant was so good that it is hard to seperate it for comparison and comparisons still do come to mind.

The layout is the same as I described in my article on January 8, 2008 so I will not describe all of that again. Read that first article for the description and also to see what has changed from then to now.

I will focus on the food - after all that is what is primary. There is a great deal of variety here. This is now more Asian and Chinese than International, but there is plenty to find. There is an extensive sushi bar with sushi and sashimi selections that are not found in most other similar buffets. The sushi is not labeled and while some is recognizable, many is not - though perhaps someone more familiar with varieties of sushi would recognize them while I do not. This night there were two sushi chefs behind the counter refilling the sushi and sashimi. Next to the sushi bar was iced seafood and this included cold crab legs, peel and eat large shrimp, raw clams on the half shell, and raw oysters on the half shell. This was all on a thick bed of ice that kept the seafood properly cold and fresh.

There is a soup bar with a large assortment of soups including wonton, miso, egg drop, hot and sour, clam chowder, and lobster bisque. The lobster bisque was a favorite at this buffet - before the renovation. The soup has improved considerably since my last visit here in January, but it was just missing. It is again thick and rich - as it should be. There was a slight taste of lobster but not enough. The soup needed more flavor. The wontons are now large and full of meat.

There is a dumplings section with a number of steamers. There were shrimp dumplings and pork shumai. The other dumplings were a variety bean paste dumplings and an interesting custard bun that was a large dough ball full of a custard paste. Pan fried dumplings are on one of the other hot servers. The shrimp dumplings tasted of too much pepper. The pan fried dumplings were tasty. The custard bun was good.

There is a small grill area with thin sliced grilled beef on skewers, shrimp and "krab" on skewers, overly sweet spareribs and a two other items that were not recognizable and unlabeled. In this area there was also an over done roast beef being carved and a Peking Duck being carved and assembled to order.

The buffet servers in the middle of the room had an abundance of meat and seafood dishes. Many of the dishes were deep fried and the other dishes were sauteed in a lot of oil. There were large, steamed crab legs (not clusters). There were whole crabs in ginger sauce. There were not many of the usual Chinese dishes though there was pepper steak and chicken with brocolli, which have become a staple at all Chinese buffets. Frankly, when I went to take the "main" course, I had a hard time picking things that appealed to me. While there were labels over most dishes some of the dishes were clearly mis-labeled. What was labeled "Baked Ziti" were potato patties. This is the area that the "International" dishes used to be found. Much of what could fall into that category is a variety of American seafood dishes, creamed spinich, corn on the cob, and collard greens. I hate to keep coming back to the "old" International Buffet, but there used to be things like carved ham, Italian dishes, and several items that someone who did not care for Asian cuisine would make happy. As my wife put it, "I can no longer bring my mother here - she would not find anything." Some of the things were just odd - a Philly Cheese Steak mixture rolled and baked in dough. The grease just oozed out across the pan. There was a Korean seafood pancake that looked interesting. I tried it to find that the seafood inside was ocotpus. While it did not have a bad taste, I did not like the chewy texture - and as I have never been a fan of octopus, I did not finish it.

On the weekends the BIG addition to the buffet is Lobster in Ginger Sauce. For many this is a big draw - one of my readers comes from several states away to this buffet just for this. (I am not sure why.) The problem in all Chinese buffets that serve lobster is that once the lobster is brought out to the buffet server a long line begins at the tray and the first few to get to it take all of the pieces with meat and a partially empty tray with leg sections is left for a long time until more edible lobster is brought out for the whole thing to start again. I have yet to find a Chinese buffet with lobster where a mad scramble does not occur once every hour when a small tray of lobster pieces is brought out.

There are two dessert servers - one a full cold buffet server and the other counter shelves on a wall. There is soft serve ice cream as well. The cakes and cookies on the counter are the usual assortment of "Little Debbie" style sheet cakes cut into little cubes. On the cold server is a variety of fresh and canned fruits, jello, pudding, a Chinese tapica soup, and back again - and missing on my last visit - Creme Caramel. I was excited to see the creme caramel - something I should not eat for so many reasons, but I had to have some. It was dissappointing. Like the lobster bisque soup it was just off from what it should be. Instead of smooth and sweet, it was pasty and bland.

Most of what we ate tasted good. Some things had more black pepper than they needed to have. Some dishes were spicy and should have been labeled as such. Overall the food was fine. (Please read to the end.)

The service was excellent and our plates were cleared as soon as we got up to get more food. Drink refills were offered. The table servers were all smiling and moved about the room taking care of thier tables.

The serving trays were replaced as they needed to be. Some of the dishes could have used some stirring as they sat.

The main dining room still has cameras all over the ceiling pointing at the tables. In the past there were signs that the room was "under video survallience for your protection" and there is still a bank of monitors above the cashier's desk. The signs are gone and the monitors were off. There also are no longer signs on each table with a time limit - stay longer than X and be charged double.

When I paid our check using the coupon that I had there was no problem and when my receipt was brought there was a new set of coupons to use the next time. We left happy and felt that we had a good meal - perhaps for a bit more than it should have cost - especially for mid-week, but with the amount and variety, it certainly was a step above most other Chinese buffets.

NOW, when I got home I felt a need to head for the bathroom. Perhaps it was the choices that I made - because my wife feels fine, but I have rarely had a gasto-reaction to a buffet - this one was one of those rare occassions. I will advise all those dining here to be weary of the oily dishes. Choose wisely - yet, for this kind of money you should be able to choose it all and be fine. I was not as fine as I would have liked to be.

That said - D.J.'s International Buffet is located at 1100 Stewart Avenue in Garden City, New York. Their phone number is 516-227-2472. They no longer have a website. If you search the Internet for this restaurant you will most likely come back to this and other articles that I have written and not much else. The hours of the restaurant are Lunch Monday to Friday, 11:00am to 3:00pm;Brunch Saturday and Sunday 11:30am to 3:00pm; Dinner Monday to Thursday, 4:00pm to 10:00pm, Friday to Sunday, 4:00pm to 11:00pm.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Visit to Ryan's During the Controversy

With all of the controversy going on at the Ryan's chain - see my articles in the past several weeks - I wanted to try a Ryan's restaurant to see for myself what is happening at the restaurant level. I was able to get to a Fire Mountain - these are Ryan's restaurants under a different name - also owned by Buffets, Inc. and also caught up in the bankruptcy fiasco. There are actually few Fire Mountain named restaurants remaining in the chain. A number of them were renamed to Ryan's. I could not pass up the opportunity to dine at this buffet and report my findings to you.

I have been to this particular location before - and I have written and reviewed this location on this site. (August 31, 2007 - Fire Mountain in Mechanicsburg, PA) I am looking at the buffet from a different point of view now and that is to sse how the bankruptcy and some of the struggles that Ryan's managers have reported to us in comments on my recent Ryan's articles.

My article in 2007 was written after the Buffets, Inc. takeover of the chain had taken place. I had, at that time said that there were many food offerings usually found at Ryan's missing from this location. At the time I thought that it was due to the difference in identity, but perhaps it was due to the take over. On this visit there were not only menu items missing but also a distinct change in service for the worse. I do not know that we can blame the change in service on the bankruptcy and controversy, but perhaps some of it can be.

When we entered there was a manager at the cash register. We paid and were told to seat ourselves. This was a Saturday night at 6:45 pm the height of dinner time. There has always been a host person seating dinners at their tables. No one like that is here now. So the manager needs to work as cashier and no hostess. Could this be two employees less on salary?

I must say now that the waitperson who was assigned to our table was the worst server that we have ever had at any buffet. I do not attribute his lack of doing the job that he is supposed to do on anything but him. In the front of the section a young lady doing the same job was busting her butt making sure that her tables quickly got their first drinks, offered rolls, and speedily clearing dirty dishes. In our section tables of dinners were not getting service and dirty dishes were piling high on tables including ours. Perhaps if the manager were not at the cash register this guy would have received the supervision that he disparately needs. Many tables were complaining to little avail.

The bad server aside, how was the rest of the restaurant? I was not displeased with the food selections. There were less items than I have seen at my many visits to Ryans - pre and post take over. The items that there were, were for the most part good. I, again, can put the bulk of my negative findings to poor supervision and the staff. For example, I am used to empty food trays being left empty and not refilled at my local Old Country Buffet, but I have never encountered this in a Ryan's. Several main items remained empty throughout the time we were dining. Another example, was at the salad bar. A tray of grape and cherry tomatoes had an obviously rotten and moldy tomato at the top of the pile in the tray. No one tending that salad bar stopped to look and remove that tomato. Guests just seemed to pick around it - but this is not good.

The grill was as good as always - and the men working behind the grill were doing a good job keeping the food trays that adjoin the grill and carving staion full. The grill chef was doing a great job keeping up with how his customers wanted their steaks cooked - and I actually got a nicely red, but not raw rare steak that was nicely crunchy on the outside. This is supposed to be the same cut of meat that is used at Old Country Buffet, but there is no comparison - this is still much, much better (and properly cooked).

As we know from the comments written here by some of the Ryan's managers, gone are many of the signature items that Ryan's has been known for. There is no chicken pot pie. There used to be two types of mashed potatoes - plain and garlic. Here there was just plain - and that was one of the trays that remained empty for a long time. Managers have commented here that their signature dinner rolls are gone. It surprised us that this restaurant had the rolls. Some of the servers brought baskets of rolls out to their tables as their guests were seated. Ours, of course, did not. No one in his section got any rolls. One table complained and the manager brought a basket of rolls - I guess he left the register unattended while he did. Those who have been to a Ryan's or Fire Mountain before would notice a difference in offerings. Others would have no idea and there was plenty to choose from. I expected to find more similarities to Old Country Buffet but happily I did not see that - other than the promo posters around the entrance which are the same as those found at OCB.

The greatest change was at the dessert counter. Here there was a definite lack of many of the desserts that used to be found at Ryan's/ Fire Mountain. The dessert counter was sparse. At one point it looked like the young man behind the counter was preparing a chocolate cake to put out to serve. He was arranging it on a serving plate and it looked like any moment it would be put out to serve. But it never came out. One cake (different than the one he had) had two slices left. I took one. The serving dish remained with just the other last slice. Usually , there are two soft serve machines with creamy ice cream and yogurt. Here one of the machines was permanently closed down and covered over. The remaining machine was serving icy, ice milk soft serve. Nothing like I have had here or at any Ryan's before - and nothing as good as the soft serve at OCB.

So have there been changes that seem to be evidence of the Buffets, Inc/Ryan's bankruptcy controversy. The answer is a definite yes. Should you not go to a Ryan's because of this - absolutely, NO. PLEASE DO GO. The support of the long standing - and new customers is important to this chain's survival.

Hopefully you wil have a better server than we had - as I said the young lady in the front of the section was terrific to her tables. We had to practically trip this young man to get him to look our way so we could ask for a refill of our soft drinks. And then he never paid any attention to the high stack of dirty dishes that I purposely piled higher and higher, in hopes that he would take notice. Later on I was tempted to stack the empty drink classes on top of the pile as well, but I was good. But again, this was not a reflection on the chain but an employee who has obviously slipped through the supervision cracks.

So go to a Ryan's when you can. It may not be all the same, but it is still good.

Friday, September 05, 2008

La Piazza - Buffet at Caesars Casino in Atlantic City, NJ

The second day that we were in Atlantic City we spent part of the day checking out the buffets in each casino to decide which we would have dinner in that evening - the quest is a story in itself, and perhaps in the future I will tell it. The buffet that we did decide on is called La Piazza located at Caesars Casino on the boardwalk of Atlantic City, New Jersey.

La Piazza goes along with the theme of the rest of Caesars hotel and casino - ancient Rome. The menu only partially reflects this them but the decor puts you in a Roman courtyard. To start out I want to say that the food was excellent, but I wish I could say that the rest of the experience was the same.

The wait on a Monday night in early August was one hour of standing on line to get in. This buffet has three lines to get in. The long line is for us common people - those who are paying cash or have a "gold card", the lowest of the casino's promotions and comp cards. With that card you can earn points by gambling (for an excessive amount of time) and you can use those points for a free buffet (or whatever else is offered). There is a much shorter line for "platinum" card holders. This is the same as the gold card, but these cards are earned by gambling a lot and for this you wait on line much shorter. Both of these lines fed into the same seating line after you paid and the platinum folks and the common folks were taken to tables from the same line. There was also the "diamond" card holders line which was very short and these people were taken to their own short, seating line and were seated first.

While we were waiting they temporarily closed the gold and platinum cashiers to allow the seating line to get shorter - and to allow the "diamond" people to all get to their tables as quickly as possible. Wasn't that nice! In about ten minutes the cashiers were opened again and we continued to advance up the line. We paid and went to the seating line which had about four tables ahead of us. When we were finally taken in to the dining room we were walked through the quaintly Roman decor dining room with columns and a fountain and brought into a dining room that looked lime a catering hall dining room - plain cream color walls and plain decor. This room adjoined the main dining room but it clearly was an overflow room. We were seated and our soft drink orders were taken. Later we found that walking past that pretty fountain was a problem if more than one person wanted to get through - and when someone in a wheelchair came through they could barely pass around it.

Ah yes, let me get the details out of the way before I continue. The price for the buffet is $23.99. (The website lists the price at a dollar less.) With sales tax dinner for two comes to just about $52. Add a tip to that and you come out to $60 or more. This includes soft drinks. There is also a breakfast buffet and a lunch buffet. This price is for weeknights. Saturday and Sunday the price is higher. If you are a gambler, get one of the gold promotions cards and play all day at Caesars and you will probably eat for free. Either way you are giving your money to Caesar.

So... we went up to the buffet to start our meal. The buffet is laid out in a long continuous line. At the far end the line breaks to two stations. What this means is that people interpret this to be a cafeteria. They start a line (a long line) at the salad end and work their way across filling plates to the brim. (No one this night had read the "Rules".) If you made an attempt to reach in and grab a plate and then move around you were met with angry and dangerous looks. This line snaked all along the buffet server. It was such that it was impossible to just walk around and see what there was to offer. Not only this but there was an atmosphere of confusion and tension throughout. This dining experience was far from relaxing as a result - and at theses prices this is not good. We got on the end of the line and moved along slowly until it was our turns at the salad area. One thing that I can not speak about this buffet in terms of section by section or area by area because as we later learned things were scattered all over the place with no reasoning to their placement. There were mixed salad greens and the fixings for Chicken Caesar salad along with other salad toppings and dressings at the start of the serving counter and moving past that there were several prepared Italian salads. The best of these was grape tomatoes with balls of fresh mozzarella cheese in an oil and vinegar dressing and a salad of olives, peppers and other vegetables in an oil dressing. At this point there were no other salads, but three quarters of the way down the counter there were more salads and at the seafood station there were other salads. As you could not walk down the line, look, and choose without waiting for everyone to get what they were taking along the way you would not know about these other salads. After the Italian prepared salads there was a soup server - just one. It had Creme of Broccoli soup - not my favorite choice, but I took some to try and it was very good. Later I found another soup server - half way down the counter - next to a variety of carafes of cold juices. This soup was a spicy Mexican chicken and noodle. I wound up trying this mid-meal. It was tasty but you have to like spice. We returned to our table with salads - and I took the broccoli soup so as not to get back on line. Back at the table my wife commented that some of the serving dishes were so far back in the server that they were almost impossible to reach if you are short.

I had ordered an ice tea and it came to the table with a large sprig of mint in it. It made a nice presentation and was very refreshing. The second glass that I received had smaller sprig of mint. After that there was no more mint in my glasses of tea (they were not large glasses) - yet others were getting ice tea with mint.

Going back up after soup and salad, we decided to forget the line, ignore the stares and attitude and make our way along the outside of the line of people and try to see what there was to offer. I made my way over to the end of the buffet area where there is a pasta station and a seafood station. At the seafood station I tried the seafood salad and the large peel and eat shrimp. The shrimp were big and good. Larger and nicer than most most peel and eat shrimp that you get a buffets. The seafood salad looked like crab, but it was not real crab. I tried it but it was not worth finishing. It was a disappointment - looks are deceiving.

I next went to the Pasta Station. Here there were small meatballs Parmesan, pasta Bolognese (pasta in oil and garlic with finely chopped broccoli and peppers, small cap shaped pasta in tomato sauce backed with mozzarella cheese, and mussels cooked in tomato sauce. There was also small whole sausages and peppers. I took the two pasta dishes and a sausage. All were very good. The pastas were excellent.

I was ready to find the entrees. I got a plate and walked away from the line of people and explored as best as I could for the choices. As the side dishes were mixed in to the entrees I will present them to you as I came upon them. There was a rice pilaf (that my wife thought was Chinese fried rice and was not very much pilaf). There was zucchini grilled with mushrooms that were too salty. The first of the entrees came next - fried chicken. There was mashed potatoes with the skins mashed in. This was good. They had a thin brown gravy to go on top of the potatoes. Finally, I came to the meats. There was slices of turkey that had been grilled - perhaps patties of boneless turkey breast. These looked dry with heavy charred grill marks. My wife, who was looking for turkey, did not take any. I passed it by. Next there was pieces of sirloin steak, also grilled. Next to the sirloin there was a chef slicing flank steak. I opted for the flank steak over the sirloin (I could have had both) because it seemed to me that it had not been sitting and was inclined to be juicier. The flank steak was good. It would have been better rarer, but that is just my taste. Between the two kinds of steak there were carrots in a sweet glaze. There was also a large leg of pork- they called it a steamship round of pork with a leg sticking straight up above the area that a chef was carving. At first glance I though it was a whole turkey with one leg - but it was pork. I took a slice of the pork and was offered pork gravy. The gravy was very good. The pork was good, but had more of ham flavor than a fresh pork flavor. The meat was white like roast pork and not pink like ham. Following the pork was a tray of bluefish in a sauce. Mixed in between there was steamed broccoli (they like broccoli at this buffet). The meats ended here and the counter turned a corner, and then there was a server of red potatoes which led to where there were three or four oriental dishes. One was a chicken in spicy orange sauce, dumplings, Thai pineapple rice (which was pleasantly not spicy and not overly pineapple tasting), and a dish of spicy pork with peppers.

The counter made another turn and here we found the other soup - the Mexican chicken soup. There were bowls here for the soup but no soup spoons. It was necessary to go back to the beginning of the counter where the other soup was to get a spoon. (There was no container for the spoons so it was not that they had all been taken.) As I said earlier, next to the soup were a number of cold carafes of fruit juices including tomato, orange, cranberry, grapefruit, apple, V-8, and others. It would have been nice to have these as an appetizer if you knew they were all the way down the line. The counter took another turn and you come upon fresh fruit - whole oranges, apples, prune, canned peaches, mandarin orange slices and cut up melons. There were also containers of yogurt. You have to wonder if this is a hold over from the breakfast buffet. Here in the fruit section there was also the only butter and margarine. Rolls had been mixed along before and after this.

What followed in two separate counters was the seafood station and the pasta station. I have not yet mentioned a dessert area. This took some looking for. Tucked into the corner of the room behind a short partition was the dessert counter. The dessert counter was an L. The short leg of the L had some very tempting cakes - which were all labeled sugar free. There was also pound cake mixed in with a hot fudge sauce and another hot sauce to put on top. This was not labeled sugar free - BUT it led off the sugar free section. All of the sugar desserts were around the corner of the L. The dessert server was labeled as to what each cake that was out should be - BUT no cake matched its label. The carrot cake was under the cheese cake label. I am not sure which one was the actual cheesecake. There was no label for Tiramisu but one of the cakes looked like it - and they were supposed to have it somewhere. There were two hot desserts - one a chocolate cake (which was very good) and the other was Danish bread pudding. There were tiny cream puffs in a bowl (labeled eclairs). Usually these are accompanied by a dipping sauce - maybe chocolate. These were not, but despite no sauce they were very good. At the end of the counter was an ice cream sundae area, but this was not a make it yourself sundae. There were two people making soft serve sundaes to your order. This sounds like a good idea, but you have not control really of your portion. I would have liked a small amount of ice cream but watching them they were filling the bowls with more ice cream that you really want after a full buffet meal - plus you were again waiting on a line to take your turn to get your sundae - a line at the pace of these two people together making them one at a time.

So how was the service? Service was JUST fair. Dishes were cleared away by the three people moving about this dining room. Drink refills took a long time to arrive. And the ultimate buffet serving problem occured. When we went up to get our dessert we came back to find our table completely cleaned off. Now, we both had caps with us that we had worn while we were out walking around this day. We put the hats on the table - right in the middle at the side. When the server came and cleared off the table of our silverware and half finished drinks, and saw no evidence of dessert having been eaten, what was he thinking when he cleaned off the table. We arrived back at the table - there were our caps where we left them and nothing else. I stood next to the table until the server saw me. He came over surprised. "Oh, not a problem. What do you want?" is what he said. Not a problem for him maybe but a nuisance for me - especially with all of the rest of confusion that this buffet exuded. I looked at him and said that we needed drinks and silverware. Again it took the drinks a while to arrive - as it did the silverware. Also to note, my wife watched an employee refill a serving dish at the buffet and just add the new on top of the old - leaving what is at the bottom to forever stay at the bottom if this continues to be done. The standard is to take take out the old, spoon in the new, and then add the old on top - so it is taken and does not go bad.

Overall, the food is good - some excellent. The set up of the buffet is the worst that I have ever encountered. As I said, it was confusing and tense. The layout seemed to have no forethought. In the world of buffets there are scatter buffets and there are cafeteria style buffets. I have been to both. This one is a cafeteria-style with no organization. There is no problem bringing children here. It is located away from the casino, but there is not much in kid food here. If your kids are picky eaters and fried chicken is not enough, this is not the place to come.

Would I go back? I was hoping for a new favorite. If you have read my recent article on the Virginia City Buffet at the Wild, Wild West Casino, you know that it was my favorite, but has changed slightly - not for the worse, but it has changed. After La Piazza at Caesars Casino, the Virginia City Buffet remains my first choice. It is in the casino next door - go there instead.

The casino has a website and there is a short write up about the buffet. There is a link to there at the side of this article.