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.



1 comment:

Amanda said...

I think you've been incredibly fair to this restaurant and its demise has nothing to do with you, but more likely, the management and the poor quality of the dining experiences. You're a reviewer, and your job is to be fair and honest, at which you always succeed.
PS I live in Idaho, so I haven't eaten at or avoided a single buffet you've reviewed. I just enjoy reading your writing.