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.


Anonymous said...

Do buffets add something to their food to make people fuller faster? Maybe fiber or yeast?

Robert A said...

No - buffets do not add anything to the food to make you fuller faster.

To learn the secrets buffet owners do not want you to know see our article a few weeks ago.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the management team at that location is pretty weak. As well as the employees working that shift.