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.