Friday, August 29, 2008

Virginia City Buffet - Wild, Wild West Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey

It has been quite some time since I have been to a casino buffet. I am not much of a gambler despite a rich fantasy life of playing against foreign spies in a Monte Carlo casino. I find myself in Atlantic City for two days and an opportunity to try two of the casino buffets. The first that I will tell you about is one that I have written about before. This has been my favorite Atlantic City casino buffet – the buffet at The Wild, Wild West Casino, one of the Bally casinos and it is called The Virginia City Buffet. The theme here is – you guessed it – the wild, Wild West and the theme throughout the casino and the buffet is just that.

This is an unusual buffet in one way. It is an adult only buffet. Yes, no children allowed in this buffet restaurant. In fact no one under twenty one is allowed in this buffet. Why? Because the only access to the restaurant is directly through the casino – and unlike other casinos, there is no public space other than the lobby and one must walk across the casino floor to get to the escalator that leads you up to the restaurant.

It has been several years since I have been to the Wild, Wild West’s buffet and some things have changed while others have stayed the same. The most evident change is where you pay to get into the buffet. Like most casino buffets you pay as you enter. In the past you took the escalator up to the restaurant where you were guided along to a cashier line. Now the cashier is on the casino level just to the left of the escalator. There are three lines – which is not evident unless you know to look for the signs above the alcove that holds the cashier area. Two lines are for the general public – regular folks like you and me. The third line is for Diamond Card holders. These are the casino’s high rollers and not only do they get their own line – and probably free eats – they have their own dining room separated by a fence from the rest of us regular folk. Another change that may just be evidenced by the Sunday night that I went to the buffet is that it was not crowded, there was no line to get in, and no need to make advanced (in person) reservations. Years back when I would come here more often there was always a need to get to the restaurant early – sometimes mid-afternoon to make a reservation for dinner and then you would be reserving a spot on a line no earlier than 8:30 pm. We anticipated this and when we arrived at 6 we were told there was no wait. We did not want to eat that early and went back and hour later at 7:00 pm and walked right in. Sign of the times and the economy? The factor may be Sunday night because on Monday casino buffets were jammed.

The hours of the buffet seem to be earlier as well with the buffet closing now at 9:00 pm Sunday through Friday and 10 pm on Saturday night. Dinner is now $21.99 per person. This is not that far off from the better buffets and certainly worth the money for you get. Soft drinks are included and they serve Pepsi products. Some casino buffets are more expensive on Saturday nights and expand their menu. This buffet is the same price every night and the menu is not expanded. You will get the same great meal no matter what evening you go.

The buffet is laid out in counter stations with different themes at each. The first that you come upon is a large counter of soup tureens with a choice of five soups including both red and white clam chowders, cabbage soup, mushroom barley, and chicken noodle. Here there is another change from the past. There used to be won tons and matzo balls to put into the chicken soup. Now it is just chicken noodle soup.

Follow the soup area around and you come to a selection of rolls and breads. Keep going and you come to the salad area. There is a variety of prepared, mixed, and tossed salad here. You can have plain mixed lettuces that you create a salad with from the many toppings and dressings. You could also pick a mixed Greek salad or a Caesar salad. For the side there were tuna salad and chicken salad. I tried the chicken salad which was very good with tender small chunks of chicken. I also tried the Caesar salad which was as good as “fancy” restaurant Caesar salads that I have had. At the end of the salad area just before the dressings, there is a large bowl on ice of large peel and eat shrimp. These shrimp were very good and what you would expect in a good shrimp cocktail.

Next to the salad area is a counter with Italian specialties. Here, on this night, there were stuffed baked shells, shrimp parmesan, pasta with oil and garlic, bow tie pasta in an alfredo sauce with peas and ham, sausage and peppers, and mixed Italian vegetables. At the side of the counter was pizza. It was all good – between us we sampled it all. (This is the best part of a buffet – you can sample. Take small amounts of many things that you would like to try and then if you are still wanting more – go back and take some more of what you liked best. Now, don’t mush it all on your plate at once. Remember the rules – you can go back!) This is not you usual stainless buffet server. This is all inset into a stone – marble or granite – counter, and behind, there is a chef who is cooking the sauté items and replenishing the dishes. The Italian area is just as I remember it. There are no changes here since I was last at the buffet.

Move along from the Italian station and you come to the biggest change in what is offered since I was here last. This area USED TO be a deli counter with hot pastrami and hot corned beef, and a variety of hot delicatessen dishes. NOW, this station is called “New Frontiers” and the selection here changes on a schedule each time to a different theme. This theme was Barbecue and apparently, according to a nearby sign, this is the second incarnation of the barbecue offerings because they call this Barbecue II. There was an interesting selection of barbecue here. A chef was carving beef brisket and basting it in a sauce that a sign proclaimed as Bo Diddly barbecue brisket. Along the line there was pulled pork that was in a mild red sauce, fried fish, barbecued chicken in sauce, smoked sausages (they called it “grilled Milwaukee bratwurst”) in sauerkraut, and several other barbecue dishes. There was also corn on the cob. I tried the beef, the pork, and the sausage – all good.

Move past the Barbecue station and you will be at the Chinese station. Here there are woks full of oriental dishes. Each is being made just behind the counter by a chef who replenishes woks as they need be. The dishes are good and make both entrees and serve as good side dishes to go with items from other stations.

At this point in the buffet area you take a jump back to the beginning and cross to the other side. The whole buffet area is shaped like a horseshoe. By moving across to the opposite side of the front you come to the carving stations and meats. Included here is steak and Prime Rib, along with carved turkey and chicken. The steak and Prime Rib require a ticket and with each meal you are given one ticket. This is done to put a one steak or Prime Rib limit per person. Read my last article about the Wild, Wild West Casino buffet and you will see that I go on about how wonderful this steak is (was). Here is another change. The steaks USED to be large, thick sirloin steaks. They were cooked over a flame grill and were like good steakhouse steaks. There always seemed to be the same lady cooking the steaks and she always got the requested doneness perfect. Well, she appears to be gone and the steak that is served NOW is a Strip Steak. The steak is thin and the cut of meat is not as tender as it once was. The taste was good, but nowhere as good as it was. My requested rare steak was more like medium well and seemed to continue to cook on my plate because it was well done as I finished it. Frankly, it had been the steak that made this particular buffet my favorite casino buffet (years back we would make this trip often as a one day diversion – I like walking on the Boardwalk – and then there is that casino fantasy thing (from the first paragraph). We would try a lot of the buffets and this one wound up on top of the list). With that fabulous steak a thing of the past this buffet (for me) is not what it had been. It is still good but what I liked best is just not the same.

Past the meats is a serving counter with side dishes and these include sweet potato fries, fried potato pancakes, mashed sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes with garlic, carrots, and a few more assorted vegetables. Side dishes here are good but the least of everything else that is served and for me, I would rather go over the Chinese station or the Italian station and take some of those dishes to serve as sides. I must say that the mashed sweet potatoes were very good.

Ready for dessert? Go back to the buffet area and head for the center of the horseshoe. There you will find a rectangular serving station with a serving person in the inside. On one side of the rectangle are regular desserts – the other side is all sugar free. There are a number of cakes to pick from and real cheesecake. There is a sundae bar in the middle and the serving person is scooping hard ice cream for you. Put hot fudge, strawberries and a variety of other toppings with whipped cream on your sundae. Still want something else- there are hot cobblers. On a diet? There are a number of sugar free desserts – some of which look more tempting than the sugar desserts. Here is just a small warning about “sugar-free” – some sugar free items, especially commercial ones, are sweetened with an artificial sweetener that is actually a laxative. These sugar-alcohol sweeteners are very common and if you look at any sugar free item in your grocery store and read the ingredients you are going to find a word that ends in “tol”. It might be sorbitol or malitol or a large number of other “tols”. These are not something that you really want to put into your system. Not much of it will make you need to make a quick trip to the nearest restroom. Now I am not saying that this buffet is using this to sweeten their sugar free desserts, but I never take that risk and I always avoid the sugar free. In actuality, they are just as high in carbohydrates as their sugar equivalents. So much for the science lesson. Back to the buffet.

Service is excellent. A server is assigned to your table and he/she will bring your soft drinks and coffee with dessert, as well as pick up your plates regularly.

You are getting plenty and there is plenty of variety. The quality is a cut above many of the buffets that I have written about. Here the casinos have buffets and menu restaurants – some which cater to the “elite”. What you are getting at the buffet is not much different (it at all) than the food being served in those “fancy” restaurants.

If you are going to Atlantic City and you want to try a good buffet, try the Virginia City Buffet at Wild, Wild West Casino – but as I said, leave the kids at home.

There is a website link at the side of this page to the casino which will lead you to a brief description of the buffet.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Friends and Family Pizza Buffet

2669 Durham Road
Bristol, Pa. 19007
(Just northeast of Philadelphia, PA)


There are a number of small pizza buffet chains across the United States that are trying to do what Cici's is doing. While doing a search for buffet restaurants in Central Pennsylvania (out of the Pennsylvania Amish area and away from Lancaster County) I came across a recent pizza buffet chain that is corporate based in Pennsylvania. Now, note that this chain came up on somewhere near page 45 of the search engine. I was about to give up my looking page by page to see what I would find when Pizza Buffet caught my eye.

Friends and Family Pizza Buffet started its first restauant about three years ago in Bristol, Pennsylvania which is near Philadelphia. About a year ago they opened their second franchised restaurant in Mechanicsburg, PA. Reading their website I was delighted at what I was seeing. The chain is looking to expand across the North East U.S. - an area that Cici's has not yet set its sights on. The description of the restaurant was great. The decor is Roman with columns and an Italian flair. The descriptions of the pizzas, pastas, and desserts were tantalizing. I was going to be about thirty miles from the Mechanicsburg location - south of the state capital of Harrisburg. I had to go to Friends and Family Pizza Buffet.

I should learn that not everything always lives up to its description and my high hopes.

We found the buffet restaurant with some difficulty. Unless you can see the small sign on the shopping center sign that says "Pizza Buffet" you will never know that this restaurant exists. It is located in a side (not the front) storefront on an L-shaped row of stores. You do not see it from the busy four lane road and if you are traveling on the either side of the road it is difficult to turn around if you miss it. We managed to find it on the second pass and drove up to the side of the building and parked.

The restaurant has a small sign above that says its name. Apparently the large sign in the photo on the website is the other location. We entered and paid at the cash register that is situated much like the set up at Cici's - in fact the counter set up is similar to Cici's but smaller. The dining room is smaller than Cici's but the decor does live up to the description - it is pleasantly decorated with Roman colums at the walls and photographs of Italy. It is very pleasant and carpeted. There are real restaurant tables on a carpeted floor. The room is much quieter than Cici's and does not have the atmospher of a fast food restaurant that is Cici's. Notice that I keep comparing to Cici's - well, if this is a Cici's copy which it is trying to be that will be my basis for comparison. We went on a summer Friday night - not a hot night - at 6:30 pm so we were certainly there at dinner time. Any Cici's would have been packed. This restaurant was almost empty. It remained near empty until we left an hour and a half later. The clientele was mostly families with a table or two of teens. Can no one find this buffet that has been open for a year - or does everyone know somehting that keeps them away?

You take your own silverware and grab a plate. No trays. You seat yourself at any table and then proceed to get your meal. The price for adults is $5.99 all of the time and unlimited soda is $1.69 each. The price is fair - but more expensive than Cici's. The first thing that we noticed was the silverware was clean but cloudy - as if it did not quite go through the full cleaning cycle. Usually the silverware has a shine - no matter what restaurant you are in.The second thing noticed was that the plates were not all clean. Many were, but a number were dirty - some just on the back but someone's plates surface came out sitting on that dirty plate back. I don't mean discolored but dirty. A number of things that were very evident lead us to feel that cleanliness at this buffet is marginal. And this cleanliness problem is with the dishes and at the buffet counter. Many of the covers that covered serving trays were not clean and throughout the evening no one stopped to clean or replace them. And as I said - it was not busy.

The layout of the serving counter is opposite to the counter at Cici's. The pizza starts at the right and the salad area is at the left end of the counter. My wife headed down to the salad area - I can't really call it a salad bar because there was not enough salad items to make a bar. The lettuce was shredded like you would have for hero (hoagie, sub) sandwiches. To add was chopped carrots, shopped olives, and a few dressings. Most of the area was taken up with toppings for hot dogs, which to our surprise were on the next space on the counter next to the pasta tray. According to the website description we were to find a selection of several different pasta shapes and a choice of tomato sauce and Alfredo sauce. There was no Alfredo sauce - unless the melted orange cheese was their idea of alfredo sauce. I think it was actually there to pour over the hot dogs. Well, there was no choice of pasta shapes either - just one shape of pasta which was a twist of two strands of pasta each about three inches long. When we first went to take the pasta we were scooping the bottom of the tray of pasta and the same of the red tomato sauce. It took a while before anyone noticed that these were empty and went to get more.

The website said that there would be soup - there were two soup servers. One had Chili which in many areas is considered a soup. The other had what looked like baked beans in it - it did not resemble soup. So I would say that again, these were to go with the hot dogs.

There was also a tray in this area that was covered in another of the not so clean covers. I opened and looked in to see what looked like the remains of dried out and darkish in color macaroni and cheese. I recalled the website saying that there was mac and cheese for the kids. Well, I would not have given this t o anyone's kids. And it remained just like that the entire time that we were there.

All right already, it is not a pasta, soup, or salad buffet - it is a pizza buffet so what was the pizza like? The pizza was pretty good. The pizza actually might even be better than Cici's. There was more of a variety of regular pizzas out and little duplication. They also make it very obvious with signs all over the counter and the table that if you do not see what you like just ask and they will make it for you in minutes - just like Cici's but Cici's does not come out and say that you may do this. Each pizza was also labeled with a sign identifying it. If you would like a pizza of your own creation there is a list of toppings and you may add any three to cheese. They say that it will be ready in five minutes but do not time them. We asked for a rather unusual combination and it took about ten minutes for it to come out. When it did is is announced by its toppings and it is placed on the pizza counter for you to come back to take. The pizza that was made for us was almost what we asked for - close enough, but not exact. In addition to the standards and create it yourself - and by standards I mean regular cheese pizza, pepperoni pizza, sausage pizza, mushroom pizza, whole wheat crust pizza, white pizza, etc. - there are "Gourmet Pizzas". These include barbecue chicken pizza, hot wing pizza, ham and chees hoagie pizza, blt pizza, spicy barbecue pizza, Hawaiian pizza, chicken Alfredo pizza, meat lovers pizza, mac and cheese pizza, veggie pizza, cheese steak pizza, taco pizza, and Grandma's pizza which is a robust cheese pizza with pepper flakes. Not all of these are out all of the time, and this night only the bbq chicken and hot wing pizza were out from this list. The counter and overhead lights keep the pizza sufficiently hot and each is sliced into uneven slices. Each is set out on a small pizza tray and not the wire screens that Cici's uses. None of the pizzas that were out for any time dried out or got hard. What we tried were tasty and new pizza's came out sporadically - perhaps more would have come out if there were more customers eating.

Where Friends and Family Pizza Buffet shines is the dessert pizzas! There are 15 different hot and cold dessert pizzas and what we tried were great. I had blueberry cheese pizza - cream cheese and blueberry topping mixed in with a sugar icing glaze. We both tried the apple crumb pizza and this was much better than the apple pizza served at Cici's. We both tried the small rolled cinnamon buns which were good and my wife tried vanilla pudding pizza which was the cold pizza that was out. There is even a peanut butter and jelly pizza and a peanut butter and chocolate pizza. These were not out on this night.

The website says that there is scooped hard ice cream but there was no ice cream freezer anywhere to be seen, no signs or mention of ice cream, and no offer of ice cream. Perhaps you could ask for it but if you have to ask and there is no indication anywhere that it even exists then I consider that as there is no ice cream. Again, what you read is not always what you get.

Service was marginal. The stacks of dirty dishes were taken off of our table twice by the young lady who walked around the near empty dining room. Happily, there was no large cleaning cart wheeled around the room which is a negative at Cici's. (That cart at Cici's is put to use cleaning away dirty dishes and cleaning tables but it is disgusting to have this wheeled repeated around the room next to your face while you are eating.)

Oh yes, I need to mention the noise. Every so often it sounded as if people were bowling - in a bowling alley. I started to wonder if there were bowling lanes in the storefront next door - but no, there were not. It was a loud rumbling crash. We asked the young lady who was walking around the room - sometimes picking up dirty dishes. She said that most people think that it is thunder, but it is actually the oven exhaust fan when it intermittently turns on and runs. Oh boy!

So overall - value is ok (if Cici's $5 buffet did not exist I would say that this price is great. Atmosphere is very nice. Cleanliness at the buffet server area is marginal. Service in the dining room is marginal. The pizza is good.

If you are a parent who has the salad bar while the kids attack the pizza selections, forget it. The salad is a major dissappointment in selection. The kids will be happy. You will not.

If you always wanted a hot dog buffet you will love this - lots of hot dog toppings and steam cooked hot dogs with buns. The hot dog was good.

Don't care about anything else but pizza - not even how clean the plates are - then you will love this buffet.

It is very possible that a Friends and Family Pizza Buffet will come near you at some time in the future. This corporation is hot to sell franchises and they are doing it in several ways. There are plans for non-buffet pizza franchises as well as pizza buffets. Some day I may get to try the original location near Philadelphia - no I am not running to get there. It may very well may be that the short comings of the Mechanicsburg location - and these are all really in the area of keeping the dishes and the serving trays clean (which is very important so that people don't get sick) - are better in Bristol. Management and mature managerial supervision of any buffet is ultimately important. Properly supervised this buffet would be A-Class. At the moment - at least on the night that I was there - it was not.

I ate myself full. I managed to get a clean plate each time and I avoided anything that did not quite look up to par. I was satisfied and I was fine afterward (all important!).

If you have tried the Bristol location let us know how it was in a comment. If you are not near Philadelphia or Harrisburg, PA you will not yet find one of these restaurants. This one that I went to is located at 6499 Carlisle Pike, Mechanicsberg, Pa. The phone number is 717-697-4283. There is a website for the chain which is listed at the side of this page. The restaurant is open from Monday to Saturday from 11 am to 9 pm. It is closed on Sundays and most holidays.

Friday, August 15, 2008


On July 25, 2008 I posted an article on this site about what was then the imminent closing of 127 Ryans restaurant by their parent corporation, Buffets, Inc. Since the publication of this article I have had more response comments to that article than any other article that I have written for this site since its start. There are 25 comments and most of them are from Ryans managers and individuals involved with Ryans restaurants.

With these comments these managers of Ryans restaurants have spoken out about their feelings both about the possible closings but also about what has happened to their restaurants since the take over of Ryans by Buffets, Inc. - the parent company that owns and operates Old Country Buffet and its various incarnations. They have all written anonoumously which is fine because they must protect their jobs and their careers. Their sentiments and reactions are so important that I felt that they should be highlighted in an article all their own - and not just left to those who bother to read the comments with an article as well as the article.

In an addendum added to the original article one week later, I updated the news with the final decision of the Bankruptcy Court that blocked Buffets, Inc. from closing the Ryans Buffets. From one of the comments left recently by one of the Ryan's managers I learned that Buffets, Inc. reached an agreement with the lease holder that will allow them to keep the Ryans locations open and they will remain open. In reading the following quotes from the Ryans managers, please keep in mind that this fact had not become a reality when they were writing their comments and expressing their feelings.

Here are the comments from Ryans managers and team members - these quotes are exactly as written - I have not edited nor changed anything.

"I totally agree. As a long time team member of Ryan's I hope Fortress will be allowed to take over our operations."

"as a delivery driver for shoneys and ryans, i enjoy delivering the stores, i think that buffets is just being stubborn and pissed that fortress has lease on the properties"

"one of many managers at Ryans Here! Just holding my breath, trying to find out what's going to happen! (sigh)"
"As a Ryan's Manager, I do agree that Buffets has lowered the standard for Ryan's. The company is bankrupt and all they can talk about is passing a stupid cinnamon roll. Mike Andrews speaks of hard work and loyalty, but he is the first one in line to put those hard workers out of a job."

"As a manager of Ryan's, it is hard to believe that OCB has sdrewed up again, lower Ryan's standard by making us follow their recipes, gone bankrupt and now wants us to be jobless and homeless maybe, WHO CARES NOT BUFFETS - LET'S JUST ACT LIKE NOTHING IS HAPPENING AND WALK THROUGH THE DINING ROOM PASSING THOSE STUPID CINNAMON ROLLS AND ACT STUPID TO OUR CUSTOMERS WHEN THEY SAY THAT HEARD THE RUMOR THAT WE ARE CLOSING. MAYBE WE SHOULD DIRECT ALL THE GUEST TO THEIR TOLL FREE GUEST SERVICE NUBER AS WELL!!"

"As managers of this company we cant believe where Buffets Inc. has taken this successfull company. Since the take over we have been fearing for our jobs, both as team members as well as managers. They fired the majority of the loyal folks that build this company from the ground up, claiming that their folks would do better. Now they realize they cant handle what they took on, filed chapter 11 and now want to shut us down. That comment about the stupid cinnamon rolls is so true, while the man from "down under" is busy makin fools out of us and pacifiying us- the rest of us actually have to satisfy our guest with real problem solving skills. And bump your osat- when was the last time you went to a chinese buffet and were able to call in osats just to tick someone off. Guest with real concerns will let a manager now the rest will find a reason to complain if you give them one, especially if you offer them a $1000 for doing so. Stop being cheap and fix our equipment, now there is a real concern. We love our guest, team members & we take pride in our store. Underperforming and poor you said? Then lets remember that s... rolls down hill. Former Ryan's corporates we miss ya'll. Thanks a million to fortress for steppin in and saving us! Signed-"Old school Home of the Mega Bar"..."

(F0llowing this comment I asked in a comment what an OSAT is. Here is the response.)
"Osat is Overall SATisfaction, When guest call into the camment number on the receipt they are asked many questions, but the only one that matters is rate your overall satisfaction with your visit 1-5. the only number that counts is a five a 1-4 means a negative score. have your percent drop below 65 and you will be hearing from your boss. So we have to cheat and have regulars call in to boost the score. Oh and as i understand it Ryan's always tried to own the property that their locations were on, when Buffets took over they sold the master leases to two company's one of which is fortress, then a year later went to fortress and said that they wanted to close the under performing stores, Fortress said no that it was in violation of the agreement and to do so Buffets would have to pay heavy fines. So at court Buffet's said that they would close all 127 stores, hoping that fortress would Blink and decide that it would be better to renegotiate the leases. Fortress than said that they will just take over the stores. Buffets tried to play a game of High stakes poker with the stores and is about to lose their ass. Maybe we won't have to pass those gawdawful cinnamon pinwheels any more and can get some edible chicken pot pie again."

This from "Driver" - "Look up the Delaware bankruptcy court filing. Buffets would rather have shut down the remaining 127 of the 129 in the Fortress Master Lease than turn the stores over. They wanted this to happen by the end of August. Now, the judge is making them follow the terms of the master lease, not letting them close all the stores because of severance pay and back bills, even though they had an all or nothing option. So, now Buffets is trying to remove their intellectual property before the stores are transferred to Fortress within a 90 day window. I think Fortress is wanting to shut down the poorly preforming stores and keep the remaining open. Problem is, they don't have rights to the Ryans name. The 127 remaining stores have an annual gross income of over 40 million dollars. My worry is that if Fortress shuts down the stores, or goes with a new vendor, my company will probably fold, as we are on a knife edge because of rising fuel and people eating out less."

"I'm a server 4 ryans, we have all been walking on egg shells wondering whats going to happen. It's been nothing but B.S. since buffet inc took over they took are benefits away,most of the perks we had at Ryans. They really need to look at mgt. most of them in the past few years have been idiots in charge. if fortress does take over from what i understand my ryans isnt a part of the 127. Whats going to happen to us. Since buffet inc. will still own us, i've heard they are going too start shutting some of those stores down in august.has anyone else heard anything?"

"Ditto on the cinnamon (just a roll with tons of sugar) pinwheel. We used to have a simple plan. 1.Take care of the employees. 2. Take care of the food. 3. Happy team members make customers that are happy with the food even happier. "Give me any location for me to own and I can make it profitable. However over the years managers have been pushed further and further away from being able to do what is right for their restaurant. They no longer act like owners but are more like puppets on a stage passing out sugar coated dough balls."

"Let Fortress take over, then the 127 Ryan's will be run properly. The original owners of Ryan's were so money hungry, they should have done their homework and found out that Buffets was only trying to stay above water by buying Ryan's. Being the top bidder,they beat out Fortress, but look where Buffets is at now, CAN YOU SAY BANKRUPT!!! nad only dealing with COI for food who are filing bankruptcy also and we don't receive all of our goods from them because of their history. BOY OH BOY, we sure got screwed in the buyout with buffets. Now we only pray that the Judge will force Buffets to let Fortress takeover and that we will be a better run Company and build back up to the Ryan' Standard that most of us are use to."

"I have worked for Ryan`s for 10 years use to like going to work until Buffets inc took over now I walk on egg shells thinking how will i make it if we close. I have a 14 year old to raise by myself since my husband passed away Hope Fortress takes over and we all can enjoy our work place once again.I agree about the cinnamon roll who wants them?I would rather take care of the customer and have my perks back that was taken away."

This again from "Driver" - "COI is not a bad company. They have been in the food service industry for over 30 years. The marketplace as it stands is hard on everyone. They went out of their way to make room for Ryans. Also had a number of concepts go under, and that hurt tremendously. Driver routes are getting shorter to save money on fuel, everyone feels the squeeze."

"I have been working for Ryan,s for about 18 years. I work with other team members that have been there for 24,22,and 12 years! WOW what loyalty. We have become like a family if our store closes it will be like a death in the family. We will miss our coustomers also. I wished we could of kept our old store that had the front line,those were the good-old days!!! Loyal team meamber"

"Ryan's decline began approx 8 years ago under the previous administration. Leadership from the current COO down thru the Mgmnt ranks is weak at best. This is a broke company that I don't see being around much longer. Fortress is just another investment firm looking for profit - not a restaurant company wanting to build a future. They will take the co. further down."

"Just got a email today from the ceo and it looks like we will be continuing to pass cinnamon rolls for buffets. They negotiated a new lease agreement, so it does not look like Fortress will be taking over." "Where is Steve Layt & Mike Andrews Now ? Making sure they get their 500K ?"

(I am not sure who those two individuals are.)

"general manager for ryan's here!!
everything about Buffet's has been horrible from the beginning. they have stripped us from being able to staff our stores with the appropriate number of staff and the ability to buy good food, because they are so cheap, and threaten us with our jobs if we spend to much on food and labor. now where stuck with them forever!! mike andrews is an idiot, and steve layt needs to go back to being a cashier at KFC (where he came from) i used to love my job, not any more!! my unit makes about 50K profit every month. (what's so underpreforming about that!!) so i guess i'll just ride the wave, until they completely run the entire company into the ground. which by the way is what happens when you have accountants playing boss of a restaurant company. I bet someone from the field could but us back on top again. oh and also Rick Kirk your an idiot! how about when you roll out some new program, try thinking about it first.
RESET !!! what a joke.
how about giving us our 401(k) back . talk about LOYALTY!!"

"this is pretty see how much so many others have researched this topic as well. And to think that Corporate, for 2 months, turned their backs on the stores that they felt they were losing, only to re-etablish communications and pretend that it's 'business as usual". I think this is kinda cool, seeing others that can relate to what i go through daily. we need to start a chat room!!! BTW, anyone know where to pick-up the roll mix that we can't get anymore.....i don't wanna go to a table to say " i'm sorry that we don't have our 'signature item'" "

I also got the following comment early on - one that I am sure from its tone and content was posted by someone from Buffets, Inc. I have gotten comments in the past that are very obviously from Buffets, Inc. and while some restaurants do respond and comment to articles out in the open and identify themselves - the seemingly Buffets, Inc. comments are always anonymous -

Posted on August 5, 2008 - "Buffets Inc is NOT trying to close those restaurants. They have been trying to negotiate a fair lease with Fortress under the rules of Chapter 11. Please research your facts before you post."

I responded with this return comment the same day - "The facts for this article were well researched and the decision to not close these restaurants was a ruling by the Court that took place on July 30th= as I posted earlier in this comments section."

In fact all of the details of my article came from both the Washington Post and Reuters News Agency - both of which were credited in my original article.

It is very clear how the Ryans managers and employees who commented feel about Buffets, Inc., the sword hanging over their heads, and how they must now run their buffets that certainly has taken the Ryans chain down. I have written several times since first learning of the Buffets, Inc. take over of Ryans that I was afraid that they would bring what was the best buffet chain down to the level of Old Country Buffet - which statistically is not rated in the top three by Industry survey (yes, my opinion was supported by a survey done in the restaurant industry).

There may be additional comments submitted and published in the comment section of the original article - they just keep coming. Check there to see if there is more. Whatever came in up to the publication date of this article I have included here.

My sentiments go out to every one of the Ryans employees, managers, and related services who commented here. It is wonderful to know that these individuals care about their buffets and their customers. Ryans WAS the best. I know that these managers will do their best to get their restaurants up there once again. Thank you all for caring!

And to the manager who said, "...get some edible chicken pot pie again." - The chicken pot pie at Ryans was my wife's favorite and she has commented several times since the take over that it is not at Ryans any more and she misses it. Yes, do, please, bring that back!


Comments are continuing to be posted by managers and employees of Ryans both on the original article and this article. Please go to the original article and read some of the newly added comments - as well as the comments here. It is tragic what these poor people are being put through.

Friday, August 08, 2008

The Mystery of the Golden Corral

The Mystery of the Golden Corral - sounds like a Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew book. It is not a book but a odd tale, a tale about a Golden Corral restaurant that was there, and then was not there, and then there again.

A number of years ago we went to a Golden Corral in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. This was the second Golden Corral that I had ever been to. The first was when Golden Corral was first starting out offering a buffet along with a grilled steak menu. That first experience was terrible and that Golden Corral is no longer in business. That first experience has nothing to do with our story.

So... a number of years ago we went to this Golden Corral in Lebanon, PA. It was small but so much nicer than that first one. Lebanon, PA is not an area that we often get to, but we do drive through or stay nearby on business perhaps once or twice a year. We found ourselves in the area a few years ago and decided that we would go back there. We drove up to where the restaurant is and it had closed. The building shut up. I checked the Golden Corral website's restaurant locator and that Golden Corral was still listed. Several times after that in years between then and now, we happened to drive past the location. The building remained but it was still shut up tight. Again, I would check to see if the listing on the website had been deleted - but no, it was still there.

Now, we were going to be in the area again this July. A week before our trip I checked the website. There was the listing. I said to my wife that this is really odd. Some websites rarely get updated, but to list a location - with a phone number for a restaurant that has been closed for years just did not make sense to me. The night before our trip I decided to call the number. I printed out the locater map that the website provided to see if the restaurant was in the same place as the restaurant that has been closed. It was. At the top of the map there was a telephone number for the restaurant. I called - "The number that you have dialed has been disconnected," said a mechanical recorded voice. The restaurant was still did not exist.

I went back to the Pennsylvania Golden Corral restaurant listings. Looking at the listing for this restaurant I realized that the number that I just dialed was not the same as the number on this list. Odd. OK - I called this other number. "Hello," a man answered, "Golden Corral." Ah ha! Like out of the mist, there was a restaurant there! The phantom Golden Corral IS there and open!

Of course, when we got to the area we had to go there. Driving up I half expected to see the dark building closed up - the Golden Corral that answered the phone returning to the phantom zone. But, there it was with its bright red Golden Corral sign lighting the front and a parking lot full of patrons.

The mysery Golden Corral is located at 1147 Quentin Road in Lebanon. PA. This is in northern central Pennsylvania. We entered the bright restaurant and noticed that it looked much larger than it had when we were there years before (at least it seemed larger). It must have recently reopened (despite the continued listing over the years) as I over heard a discussion between one of the wait staff and a diner who stated that this was her first time being back - and that just a few of the employees were still there who had been there before.

So how was the phantom Golden Corral?

The layout from Golden Corral to Golden Corral can vary. Some are larger than others, some have more to offer than others. This was one of the larger layouts - though not the largest that we have been too. Once we discovered a small double sided buffet server tucked to the side of the dessert area with a number of additional entrees and side dishes were were much happier with the selection. At first, before we saw this additional server we were noting the absence of dishes that we knew most Golden Corrals offered - especially ones of equivalent size.

I am not going to go into the details of everything that was offered on the buffet. I have written about Golden Corrals before. The salad special that was started as a feature a year ago - an extensive salad area that includes several cold sliced meats - chicken, beef, ham - that assemble into hearty chef's salads. This is great for anyone who would like to eat "light" and have salad rather than the heavier foods, but still have a nice selection of meats to go with the salad. My wife had the chicken from the salad section and it was good.

A short time ago, I wrote about season or monthly features at chain buffets and at that time I introduced Golden Corral's current soecia feature of fish every night in addition to the usual entrees. I tried several of the fish entrees on this feature. There were crab cakes. These were thin crab patties - similar in appearance to Old Country Buffet's fish pancakes and crab cakes. THe similarity ended at the thinness and shape. These were far better. My only complaint is that I do not think that real crab was used but rather the "krab" subsitute. I am basing this not on taste but on color. Some of the crab pieces - and there were many in each cake - were edged in red - usually an indication of "Krab". The consistency of the crab cakes was loose, but I have had really good and authentic crab cakes in "real" crab restaurants that were just as loose. They tended toward the salty side, but definitely tasty.

Also offered on the fish feature were two types of fried fish that I tried. One was tempura batter fried pollack. The other was crispy seasoned fried fish. Both were pretty much the same. The seasoned fish was a bit tastier than the batter fried. The fish was the same. The "crispy" fish's coating was fried darker. There was also fried shrimp and broiled fish.

Two things can make or break a Golden Corral. One is the wait staff who attend to your table and the other is how the chargrill is operated. This is what I mean. At Golden Corral the person assigned to your table must bring you the clean plates that you require to get your meal. He/she must keep bringing you clean plates. This is not a place to have a waitperson who disappears and never comes to your table. The chargrill is where steaks are grilled in mass to various stages of doneness and the grill man/lady must keep steaks cooking to meet the demand. There have been occasions that I have experienced where the grill person has stopped cooking steak early in the evening and closed the grill for cleaning - and other experiences have involved steaks not being cooked to keep up with demand, and the chargrill being closed and steaks fried on the fry grill that is to be used just to keep the steaks warm while serving.

My experience this night was great with both the young lady who tended to our table and the young man who was working at the grill. There were plenty of steaks and they were continually put out on the chargrill to cook as they were needed. The young lady for our table continually came around to clear away dirty plates and leave a stack of clean ones for us to continue eating. She brought refills for our soft drinks and at dessert offered us hot coffee or tea. I made sure to leave her a larger tip than I normally would leave.

Over all this was a good buffet experience. Some of the trays could have used a little stirring - particularly the ones at that additional server off to the side. It was as if the staff also did not realize that it was there. The soft ice cream was overly icy. It has been almost a year since I have been to a Golden Corral, but I recall the ice cream as better.

The owner of this Golden Corral and several others primarily in New Jersey has a Golden Corral frequent diner card which gives you a free meal for every $200 in meals spent. I have not seen this at other Golden Corral's that I have been to and it certainly is not mentioned on the website as chain-wide.

When we entered and paid I noted that the price of $10.49 on weeknights and $11.49 on weekends was more reasonable than prices at OCB. But then I realized that soft drinks are $1.99 each. This brought the weeknight meal to $12.48 which is on the high side - but without the soft drink and just water you can eat for almost $10. Prices are going up at almost every buffet - along with everywhere else. Price increases cannot be too much of a surprise.

We left the restaurant happy. As I got into my car I looked back at the restaurant. It faded away...

Nah! But that would have been a great ending! Hopfully, when I come back to this area again - maybe in a year, this Golden Corral will be there ready for my return.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Do You Want to Know a Secret?


Want to learn some of the the secrets at buffets? Things that they don't want you to know. There are a few "trade" secrets that I have learned and will share. Just don't go telling everyone.

Why all the mystery? There are some things that buffets, and other restaurants do to shorten your time there. Some things that they hope will result in your eating less. Of course, there are also some things that they just don't want you to know.

Here are a few -

1. Dirty dishes not picked up from your table.

A study was done by Cornell about buffets. Their study showed that 28% of the time when dirty dishes are left on a table to pile up, the people eating at that table will eat less.

Now, I am not saying that any particular buffet is instructing its employees not to clean the tables, but it does happen. Many are prompt at making sure that dishes are cleared, but the next time the dishes pile six high, stop and wonder if this is a poor busperson - or an attempt to get you to eat less.

2. Time limit chairs.

Restaurant chairs for tables are sold by "time" categories. There are thirty minute chairs, forty-five minute chairs, hour chairs, etc. What does this mean? Each chair is structurally designed for comfort for just that time. You will be happy in a thirty minute chair for thirty minutes, but sit longer and the chair will become increasingly more uncomfortable to sit in. You are not going to find any of the two hour chairs at buffets.

3. Unlimited beverages.

Hey, wait, unlimited beverages is a good thing! Right? Well, yes and no. If you are thirsty it is great, but the more that you drink the less you will eat. This is especially true for soda with all of those little gas bubbles collecting in your stomach. Buffets are quick to refill your glass, because the more that they do, the less you will fill your plate.

4. Automatically bringing rolls to your table.

One chain in particular has their wait staff automatically bring a large basket of hot, buttered rolls to your table when you are seated. Why not?! Despite the increasing price of flour, bread is not as costly as meat and vegetables. The hope is that you will find those hot rolls with the aroma of fresh baked goodness and melting butter irresistible and fill up before you even first walk up to the buffet tables.

Think about it. It would be just as easy to have those rolls out on the buffet keeping hot. In fact, they usually do have them out there too? Why else bring them to your table before you start on the buffet, if not to entice you to eat them right away?

Face it. No matter how much you intend to eat - want to eat - you actually do have a limit as to how much you physically can eat before you make yourself ill or extremely uncomfortable. The more that the buffet can get you to fill up on less costly items, the better it is for the buffet.

5. The warmer it is in the restaurant the less you will eat - especially in the summer.

If the temperature in the restaurant is kept warm, you will not want to eat a lot. If the air conditioning is not on or on full on a hot day, you are not going to feel like eating much. And if you want to you are going to go for the salads and the fruits - not the expensive hot meats and entrees.

6. Non-meat eaters beware!

This is something that I learned by observation and it could lead to a serious problem for people who do not eat meat for either religious, health, or personal reasons. At Old Country Buffet they serve fish patties on certain nights. These fish "pancakes" are covered in a thick whitish color sauce. The crab cakes when they had them were covered in the same sauce. I have always assumed that this was some type of a seafood sauce or gravy. One night at Old Country Buffet I watched as a fresh tray of fish patties were brought out and they had no sauce. The young lady who was placing them out first made a stop at the CHICKEN gravy. She ladled several scoops of CHICKEN gravy on the fish patties and there they were - the fish patties as they are usually served with the sauce on top. Now I presume (and I may be wrong - but I am not) that CHICKEN gravy contains some trace of chicken or poultry. Even if it is just a poultry bouillon used to flavor the gravy, that does contain poultry. So you thought that you were eating fish when you were not supposed to eat meat - surprise!

7. Small plates and shallow bowls.

Take a look at the plates in some buffets. Do they look smaller than the plates you use at home? It is likely. You fill a small plate with less food - yet, look, you have a plate full. Keep going back and filling plates - oh my gosh! how many plate fulls did you eat? Not all but s6me buffets use small sized dinner plates and shallow bowls to give you the impression that you have eaten more.

So there are just a few of things that buffets would rather that you did not know. Now you know.