Friday, December 26, 2008

Bits of News For the Year End

It looks like 2008 is closing on a down note for the Ryans chain, taken over and brought down by Buffets, Inc. Reports have come that Ryans all over are closing. We have learnedof two more closing. From customer and employee observations most of these were doing well. We have to wonder why productive restaurants are being closed by chain management that is trying to boost their finances.

On the opposite side of the Buffets Inc. bankruptcy story, Buffets Inc. announced in early November that it expects to come out of bankruptcy in the First Quarter of 2009. At the same time it was made known that in at least one state the companies debts to vendors would be paid back at a less than one percent equivalent of debt with stock offerings. Vendors owed money by Buffets, Inc. in this one state will not even make back 3% of the money owed them - if the stock actually pays off.

One of the more well known Chinese/International buffets in the New York metropolitian area on Long Island called EAST has been closed since August 2008 due to a fire in their kitchen. This buffet was very popular and was always filled with Asian guests. Their buffet menu always included very authentic dishes often unknown in the usual Chinese restaurants. I have written at least two reviews about East on this site and those articles may be searched in our archives. There has been great anticipation as to when this restaurant will reopen, and it was recently announced that it will reopen under new ownership. The restaurant will no longer be known as East. There will be some changes made. Of great concern has been what will happen to the gift certificates that many people have for meals at EAST. The new owner has said that he will honor those gift certificates for a limited time when the new restaurant opens. The gift certificates will be covered by the old owner who will reimburse the new owner for each one redeamed. East does have a restaurant of the same name in Queens, NY but that restaurant is owned by a relative of the owner of the now defunct, East in Huntington, NY. At first it was said that the Queens EAST would honor the gift certificates from Huntington, but when that restaurant was called to confirm this they stated that they will not honor the gift certificates. All this said, the new owner of the property has yet to file for any building permits and no work has begun to restore the interior of the building in Huntington. It does not look like this new restaurant will be opening any time soon. As you will read in my reviews of EAST I have always enjoyed this restaurant. The food was excellent. The problem was though that it was very expensive - even on a weeknight with a coupon. I am looking forward to the new restaurant and I am hoping that the price will be more affordable.

There has been a reappearance of the Ponderosa Restaurants chain website. This website has been closed for some time coinciding with the financial difficulties and bankruptcy of the parent company (no not Buffets, Inc. this time). For a while it was uncertain if the Ponderosa restaurants were remaining open and there was no way to search for any Ponderosa restaurant without that site. A month ago or so I got an email coupon from Ponderosa for a meal deal. I curiously looked to see if the website was up and it was not. I then, a couple of weeks ago got another coupon and when I tried the website link there was the website. If you have read my article on Ponderosa and the resulting comments it is still uncertain that Ponderosa can be considered a buffet restaurant. Their focus is always on what you will order off the menu with the "buffet" as a salad bar with appetizers complimenting the plated entrees from the menu.

Cici's newest commercials no longer say that you can come in for a meal for under $5.00. The newest ads tell you the meal is "$5 and change". The last time that I was at a Cici's about two months ago the meal price was $5.99 - add the soda to that and you are at $6 and change. Still a great deal!

I wish you all a very Happy New Year! I hope that 2009 is better for all of our friends who are trying to survive at Ryans. Next week I will be featureing our Buffet of the Year for 2008.

Friday, December 19, 2008


Every so often is a good idea to bring the rules out for all to see. Some of our newer readers may not have read back all the way through August 2005 to see the rules, some may need reminding. Sadly, the more buffets that I go to, the more I see the need for the rules. Sometimes I see things that I think - wow! is that not so obvious that it needs a rule? Like spitting food back into a serving tray!

Well, for the moment no new rules, but do read them over. And remember they are to be kept with you in your head and followed whenever you go to a buffet. Please!

1. All you can eat is not a challenge. It is an offer!

2. There is no limit to the number of times that you can go up and get food.

3. Take your food in courses - as you would be served if ordering from a menu.

4. Everyone must pay!

5. No food is permitted to be taken out of the restaurant.

6. Take only what you will eat - do not waste food.

7. For a more social meal, it is polite to wait for the others at the table to finish their plates and then go up together to get more.

8. Take a clean plate every time that you go up to the buffet tables.

9. If you put it on your plate, leave it there. Never return food to the serving tray.

10. Never eat at the buffet tables!

11. Children under 12 should not be going up to the buffet tables alone.

12. The buffet table is not a cafeteria line.

13. Tip the server.

14. Never take a serving piece from one item and use it for another item.

15. Never place your dirty plates on someone else's table.

16. Never use your silverware to serve yourself from the buffet trays.

17. Once you have gotten what you want, don't stand around the buffet tables. Move on back to your table.

18. Children should remain seated through the meal.

19. Do not fill community plates for the "table". Each should take their own plate of what they wish to eat.

20. If you cough or sneeze into your hand, please do not use that hand to pick up the serving utensils.

21. In the buffet, as in any restaurant, children (and adults) should use their inside voices.

22. Don't talk on your cell phone while you are getting your food at the buffet tables.

23. Never bring an animal into the buffet. (this is not referring to medical guide dogs)

24. Never put your hands into a serving tray.

25. Tell your children not to put their hands into a serving tray - and make sure that they do not!

26. Do not carry on a conversation throughout dinner with the people at the tables around you.

27. Do not put anything back into a serving tray that has dropped onto the serving counter - and never put anything back into a serving tray (whether from the counter or your dish) with your fingers.

Friday, December 12, 2008


I am writing Part Two of this article for the second time. I wrote the whole article together and in the process of splitting it into two parts when I realized how long it was, I foolishly lost the second half. Oh yeah! So I will say that the original second half was wonderful - a full catharsis of all I wanted to say. This second writing, however, will be even better now that the thoughts have been so well organized in my head. The lesson to be learned when writing on Blogger is never save something with one name and think that when you go back and edit it and change the name, that the original save is still going to be there.

SO - Abusing A Buffet - Part 2

What exactly goes on at restaurants that are abuses? The greatest abuse is taking food from the restaurant. Though as you will read, that is not the only abuse that takes place. Taking food has gone on for years but it seems to be getting much bolder and much more deliberate. It is not just the few cookies wrapped in a napkin anymore. It has become an entire plate of cookies wrapped in napkins and pushed into a pocketbook at the end of the meal. Is anyone going to get upset if a kid is still eating a cookie as he/she walks out the door? Of course, not. But I have seen people - seniors - fill a plate of more cookies than they could possibly eat in the restaurant, wrap them up, and shove them inside a pocket and walk out the door. There goes three dollars or more in cookies that the restaurant intended to serve to a number of guests. Now there are fewer, if any, cookies out for you to take to enjoy for dessert with your meal.

It gets bolder. How about the equivalent of an entire fried chicken? I watched this go down. This was not a kid, but a youngish man who was seated with an older couple. After he finished his dessert he went back up to the buffet and overfilled a plate with fried chicken pieces. When I saw him come back to the table I thought to myself, here is another wacky eating story to tell, thinking that now the he finished dessert he was going to start the meal again eating all of this fried chicken. No. That was not it at all! He brought the plate back to the table and proceeded to unfold several napkins, laying them down overlapping them. He then put the entire plate of fried chicken parts down on the napkins. He folded the napkins carefully to contain all of the chicken in a bundle. I heard him remark to the couple that he was with that he REALLY likes this fried chicken. At that they got up and he tucked the bundle of chicken under his arm to hide it and they walked out the door. Did he know he was doing wrong? Of course, he did! He was hiding the chicken to go out. He was a thief and was acting like one. I am sure in his mind he was thinking, "Look what I am getting away with!"

How about bolder still? One of my readers reported this story to me. Four well dressed seniors (two couples) were at a buffet with a box of zipper bags on the table and a COOLER CHEST on the floor under the table. As they got plates of food for themselves to eat at the table, they also filled plates with food that they brought back and openly put into the bags, sealed them, and then put into the cooler chest. My first reaction was how did they get into the restaurant past the cashier with a cooler chest - and then out again carrying it full of buffet food? But, I know this particular buffet and the employees there never notice anything that is going on in the restaurant much less do the jobs that they are paid to do. So there, out in the open are meals for the week going out the door all for the one price of the senior discount dinner. If I were the management at that buffet I would have seen them out the door in handcuffs!

Here is one that I had to laugh at - we were in a Chinese Buffet and there were two guys in the booth behind us. At the end of the meal with a hefty plate of food still on the table, one of the guys calls over the server and asks her to bring him a take out box to put the food in to take home. She politely tells him that she could do that but he will be charged extra for a take out meal. He became indignant and said that this was ridiculous and that the food would just be thrown away if he left it. She told him that was ok; it's the rules that no food may be taken out unless paid additionally for. He and his friend could not believe this and went on and on about it. When the server left, one of the guys took the stack of napkins on the table and started wrapping the food up - all the while looking around to make sure no one could see (my wife could see and noticeably watched him all the while increasing his panic). They hid the bundles of food as they left.

Not all abuses involve taking food out of the buffet. There seems to be some need for some people to have a lot of napkins on their table. I am not talking about three or four. I am talking about more napkins than a family of six can use in a week. One or more stacks six inches high are taken and placed on the table. Now, I am not talking about the "Napkin Man" who I wrote about a few years ago (look back in the archives or search the site for that name) who had Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and would cover everything at his table in napkins. These are seemingly "regular" people - again often seniors - who are emptying napkin dispensers and stacking hundreds of napkins on their table. All but a few of these napkins go unused and the restaurant cannot (SHOULD NOT) be taking these napkins back and putting them out again for others. Sometimes these napkins are also stashed into a pocket and go out the door. I am not referring to a couple of napkins to take with you - I am talking about the stack. Again, this is stealing.

Another of my readers related this story to me. At a buffet chain restaurant in the Mid-West USA a rather large gentleman eats there every day. In fact he spends the day there. On the days that buffet breakfast is served he arrives for breakfast, stays through lunch, and then stays on to dinner. On other days when only lunch and dinner are served he arrives for lunch and stays on. He brings reading material, an mp3 music player, and he eats all day while socializing, reading, and listening to music. So what is wrong with this? He only pays for one meal each day the first one that he comes in for. You may or may not know that at many buffet restaurants - in particular the chains - if you come in for one meal and the next meal change takes place while you are there you are able to go and take from the next meal selections. Generally, the price goes up from lunch to dinner, but if you are in the buffet at the time of the change, you may just stay. They have to make the meal change and they are not going to clear the restaurant so for the few who are there in-between the buffet says nothing. It has happened to me when we have gone for buffet lunch late. When 3:00 pm comes the lunch dishes are taken away and the dinner dishes are brought out - good bye hot dogs, hello steak. No one says get out or you can't take that because you paid for lunch. But in this situation - this guy is staying for three meals for the price of one! The worse part of the abuse is that he is a regular and management and employees know that it is happening every day and do nothing about it. Perhaps they feel sorry for him, you say. Well, we are paying for each of our meals and pretty soon the price is going to go up and we are going to be paying for all of his "extra" meals.

So what should you do when you see abuses going on around you at a buffet? Sadly, I am going to advise you to do nothing. There are all kinds of dangerous people in this world - even those you would not suspect. If you turn them in to the management you are going to open yourself to the possibility of physical retaliation from the "abuser". Besides, you may not like the management's lack of response because if we are aware of these things going on, they likely are aware of them also. You are not there to be the "Buffet Police". You are out for a pleasant meal and not a fight. It is the manager's job to train his employees to be observant in the dining room, intervene, or report to him/her. The manager can then do the confronting or call the police. And if they allow this to go on, they should not be raising prices because of it. I know there are good managers out there who really care about their jobs - and these are the ones who will do something about it.

Well, there you have it. And as I expected when I started the rewrite - this is certainly the superior version of the article!

Friday, December 05, 2008


For as long as I have been going to buffets I have seen customers abusing buffets. What do I mean by "abusing"? I am talking about both taking advantage of the restaurant and also outright stealing by taking food out of the restaurant.

I have thought about this article for some time, but I have been hesitant to write and publish it for fear that some might take it as a "how to" guide and then do some of this themselves. Several have told me that I should write it, and I have heard over time from some buffet managers who shared some of the terrible things that have been done that have, frankly, resulted in the need to increase the prices charged to everyone to make up for the losses perpetrated by a few.

Taking food from a buffet and then taking it out of the restaurant is a crime. It is shoplifting and it is subject to the same penalties as are applied to someone stealing an item from a store. While few buffet restaurants want to prosecute anyone, most have posted in writing that if you take food out of the restaurant you will be subject to pay for an additional meal. If done to an extreme or casually, the manager of the buffet has every right to call the police, have the person arrested, and press criminal charges. Would this happen over a cookie? Unlikely, but it certainly could happen and should happen with some of the things that I have seen and have been reported to me.

Now, why should you care if you don't do it? There is just so much loss that a business can figure into its routine operating expenses before that loss starts to take a toll. In these difficult economic times, restaurants are struggling. Add the loss of food "walking out the door" and there will be a financial reaction and that will first be seen as an increase in price of the meals at the buffet. This is a problem specific to the buffet business where all you can take is the offer that is made. In a restaurant with plated meals the portion goes out of the kitchen to your table and they do not care what happens to it after that. You eat it, toss it, or take it home - you paid for that specific dish and it is yours to do with as you please. But - in a buffet, the food goes out to the buffet tables with the expectation that it will be taken and eaten by all those in the room. If that food starts going into people's pockets to leave the restaurant that buffet has a problem. SO you say, it is already on my plate and if I don't eat it it will just be thrown away, so why should it go to waste when I can take it home and eat it later, give it to the dog, or feed Aunt Suzi who has come to visit? The answer to all that is no because of the potential abuse to the restaurant of taking more than you can eat. Sadly there are people out there who want to get away with anything that they can. The innocent at heart who have left over chicken on their plate, having intended to eat it all but couldn't,, can't take it home because of those who would intentionally fill a plate beyond what they want with the idea that they can make another meal of it at home. The logic makes sense. It is the temptation of the "dark side" that the buffet restaurant must defend itself against.

When I was a kid - many, many years ago - buffet restaurants (yes, they had them way back then too) would post signs that if you left food on your plate you would be charged for an extra meal. I remember this - and my wife, who I did not meet until we were at the same college, remembers this as well. And interestingly our parents - both sets - had the same reaction to that sign and to each of us, "You see that sign - make sure you eat everything that you take!" Of course, this would cause a general paranoia that someone from the restaurant was watching us eat and keeping track of very pea on the plate. We, both separately, recall finding ways to mush what we could not eat together and stealthily covering it on the plate with a crumpled napkin. I still do this when I overindulge and find I cannot finish something that I have taken - or find that I do not care for something - things get mushed together and the napkin is crumpled and strategically placed - as if anyone in the restaurant would care. This certainly was not the buffet restaurants intention by that sign - but in those days it certainly worked!