Friday, June 05, 2009

Ryans Buffet - Chambersburg, Pennsylvania

I know that there have been comments made on other articles that criticize my continuing to talk about Ryans and their recent takeover by Buffets, Incorporated. But the change is a reality and since I have just dined at an actual Ryans (and not a Fire Mountain) for the first time since the takeover is complete, I feel that it is only fair to tell you about the experience.

I have been to the Ryans in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania before. As I see, this is the furthest north Ryans on the East Coast - other than a Fire Mountain in Mechanicsburg, Pa. The restaurant is located on Route 30 just before it crosses I-81 which is a major north/south corridor.

I had read that some of the Ryans restauants were now including the beverage in the price of the meal as Old Country Buffet does. This was not so at this location. The meal was priced lower than OCB charges near me (though I suspect because of its Metro - NY location it is much higher than in other parts of the country) The adult price at this Ryans was $9.69 on a weeknight and the soft drink was $1.89. Added together this is still a dollar less than what I pay at OCB.

In the past at the restaurant even during the week someone would seat you at your table. Here we were neither told to wait or to seat ourselves. We sat ourselves, which was no problem as there were plenty of vacant tables throughout the restaurant. This was a Thursday night so that was not surprising - though weeknights at home at OCB are generally busy.

There were three soups and the homestyle chicken noodle soup has not changed. It is still made with thick, doughy noodles. If there were to be any influence from the Ryans chain to the OCB chain I wish it would be this soup.

There are still two buffet servers comprising the salad bar and the assortment of salads, prepared, salads, and toppings has not changed. The Ceasar salad is still a prepare it yourself area of romaine lettuce, dressing, and cheese. This is nice allowing you to determine how much or how little dressing you would like on your salad. There is chicken salad on the salad bar and on Fridays they add tuna salad. There is also a seafood salad, unlike that served at OCB. All of this is as it has always been in my experiences at Ryans.

The entrees and the side dishes are now a mix of what has been served at Ryans and what is served at OCB. The steaks are still cooked to order and served fresh off the flame grill. Other items that used to be served from the grill (smoked sausage and the like) were moved to a carving and serving area to the side of the grill. This was Thursday and that meant under the new nightly features (at Ryans and OCB) that it was Barbecue Thursday. According to the Ryans website that should have meant that I would find smoked sausage - which I did in two forms - and pulled pork barbecue. There was no pulled pork barbecue. There were some type of barbecue ribs but they did not look that appetizing. There was a smoked sausage ring that had to be carved - with no one around to carve it - and there was smoke sausage cut up in a tray with peppers and onions.

On the buffet servers, to my wife's delight, was a tray of chicken pot pie, made like it used to be (before it was discontinued, brought back in an odd form, discontinued again, and now back the way it was). There was broiled fish that looked exactly like the plain broiled fish at OCB. This had not been at Ryans before - at least not in this form. There was fried chicken. There was rotisserie chicken. There were cheeseburgers (not off the grill but in a tray on the steam table). There was a chicken terriaki with pineapple dish that was very much like the same dish at OCB but the pieces of chicken were much larger. There was no pizza which is something that you would always find at Ryans in the past. Spagetti is now improved and served as it is at OCB which means it no longer is sitting in a tray full of water causing the pasta to become overly soft. It now is served in a small amount of butter-like sauce that keeps it from sticking together.

Side dishes were much as they have always been as was the taco bar. Taco meat here is much less greasy than it is served at OCB.

I am certain that the cut of steak that is used at both chains is the same. Here it was not as highly seasoned as the steak that I have been served at OCB. It is just as tough.

The meal was not without its faults. Too many items were drying out in the serving tray. I took what looked like fluffy white rice and it turned out to be large hard lumps of dried out rice - inedible. There was no grill chef anywhere to be found for a while. I actually had some difficulty chosing entrees as I walked around the buffet. This is to my personal preferences, but I do not recall that problem at a Ryans before.

Dessert remains as it always has at Ryans. Full cakes are served sliced into wedges - no sheet cakes. There were pies and sugar free pies. There were several hot cobblers, puddings, etc. The dessert area was full and there are two soft serve ice cream machines - one with yogurts and one with ice cream.The ice cream was VERY icy and not creamy. (Another plus for OCB that has very good soft serve.) Missing from the ice cream area were the candies that were always out - gummy bears, and the like. Perhaps it was the night or perhaps they are no longer served.

The service was ok. Dishes tended to collect until they were noticed and then were taken. Drinks did get refilled.

Maintenance of the hot buffet servers was not what it should be. Items needed to be stirred and tended. This is an issue of management and employee supervision - and more than likely not due to the overall ownership of the chain. Chains and location owners - not just this one, but all of them - should be sending out "secret" inspectors who go into the restauant on several nights and dine. This is the only way to protect your brand name and your investment.

The restaurant was clean - the dining room, the serving areas, and the restrooms. The decor was no different than it has ever been and typical of other Ryans that I have dined at.

Was I not happy at Ryans? No. Is it up there with the best, as it had been The Best of the Chains? No. The best of the chains now is Golden Corral - and this is not just me saying so but also restaurant industry evaluations and surveys.

As a side note, I had an opportunity to go to another Ryans two nights later. Generally, I would have jumped at that chance. I passed and chose another buffet to have dinner at.

If someone has no idea that there is any connection between Ryans and OCB they will never be able to tell by dining here. Overall, it is pretty much the same. This particular location has been better in the past. We will chaulk it up to a slow night or an inattentive manager.

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