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.


Anonymous said...

As a 24 year veteran of the industry, I can say a few things... most of what you say is very insightful and mostly correct.
1. NO we do not try to keep the place hot... we do not gain because people complain and will not return.
2. No we do not want the dishes to pile up, once again this makes our customer service look bad and will cause people to not return...
3. You stated several other items in there that are designed to make people eat less... you are a little off of the mark here. we do not do things to try to get people to eat less... we try to do things to help people to WASTE less... we have no desire to keep people from eating whatever and however much they want... what we need to do is try to keep them from wasting it.. filling a huge plate up with a ton of food, eating 30% of it, setting it off to the side and getting another plate! This KILLS our costs....

Robert A said...

You are one of the better and concerned owners! My hat is off to you! Thank you for caring about your customers!!!

Anonymous said...

Great job anonymous! I think some of these allegations are unfounded as well. Our technique is simple: instead of making a large profit off of a small number of guests a day, we make a small profit off of a large number of guests a day. Typically restaurants shoot for food cost as low as 20% but never to exceed 30%, we only strive to keep food cost at the 1/3 mark and keep meals affordable to everybody. The real secrets belong to the guests that 'play the system' to their advantage, and threaten prices to escalate. For example:
1. I'm gonna complain loud and long to get a refund for the large meal i just ate, then follow that up with a guest relation call to get a free meal offer from the store i visited, and to add insult to injury, i'm gonna e-mail corporate to receive free meal coupons......actually eating 3 meals for nothing!!!!
2. The guest that can put away 25+ pounds of food is charged 1 single low price; however, humans that have a 'gatric-bypass' card from their physician (they had to get their body medically engineered so that it will not take anymore food) want to dine at your establishment for just the price of a 4-yr old. Don't complain about the heavyweight abusing the system, but demand special treatment because some jerk-off brought you to experience your life's greatest weakness, and wants you to be a cheap date. And heaven forbid if you inform them that we don't dictate what portion size dictates 'a meal'....i've been there too many times myself. I get accused of being the 'heartless one', not their companion that would obviously take a reformed former gambler to a casino just to watch the blinking lights.......
3.Bring your 'Big purse' to 'sneak' a weeks worth of food home with you. Also proudly parade the huge napkin wad of goodies as you exit. Go ahead... dare someone to stop you.
Look folks, this is just a balance, we have these things to counter-balance's not the management working against's the people that you're sitting in the dining room with that's working against you. We just try to keep prices affordable for everyone as a whole, there are just too many guests that want the 'lion's share', and a 'little extra'. The big secret is: Grandma has not turned on her oven in the last 20 years, but she has a dozen fresh-baked cookies to offer you......and a bunch of dispenser napkins in her trashcan.

Robert A said...

Thank you for sharing some of the guest abuses - these guests have absolutely not read or follow "The Rules".

I have considered writing an article about guest abuses but then felt that I did not want to give anyone any ideas.

I, too, have witnessed some wild things people have tried and gotten away with - a guy who wrapped up the equivalent of a whole fried chicken (or more) and walked out - after consuming a large meal. It is stealing and in the end everyone else winds up paying for it in higher prices. I also witnessed a woman telling a restaurant that she was paying for her daughter but she would only be eating a little from the kid's plate because she has a note from her doctor about her by-pass surgery. She made quite a loud fuss when she was refused.

Again - we know that many of the managers and owners are doing a great job and are not trying to pull anything on their customers!

Print out our "Rules" and post them in your restaurants - or hand them out! It will make for a pleasanter dining experience for everyone!

Robert A said...

(If you do use the "Rules", please just give this site credit. Thanks!)