Friday, August 28, 2009

Gatti's Pizza - A Pizza Buffet

When I think Pizza Buffet, I think Cici's but that is only because that is the chain most local to me - if local is 200 miles. There are other pizza buffet chain restaurants as well. We wrote about a new, small, two location chain in Pennsylvania a year ago. I recently found another chain that is much more wide-spread across the country. That chain is Gatti's Pizza.

Now, as always, I tell you right up front when I am writing about a restaurant or chain that I have not been to and this is another of those. I have not eaten at Gatti's Pizza, but I will share with you all that I have learned.

Gatti's presentation is very much like Cici's - a buffet comprised of pizza, salad bar, pasta, and dessert. There are also chicken wings - though it appears that these are not included on the buffet, . There is a take out option and there is also the ability to internet order from some of the locations, particularly those in Texas.

Locations are across the US as far west as Texas. There are Gatti's Pizza locations in Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. Most states listed have several locations with the most in Texas. This is not surprising as this is the state where the chain was founded in 1964 with a pizza restaurant called The Pizza Place. In 1969 the founder moved to Austin, Texas and renamed the restaurant using his wife's maiden name, it the restaurant became Mr. Gatti's. The restaurant prided itself on using all natural ingredients to make the best tasting pizza possible. In the 1980's the restaurant expanded to a chain of game rooms that included a pizza buffet. Interestingly, Cici's also began its pizza buffet restaurants in Texas in 1985. (So, who came first?) There are now 140 + locations of Gatti's Pizza. Locations are franchises.

So what types of pizza will you find on the buffet? This is another of the every combination you can think of assortment of pizzas. There is a Sampler pizza, a Bacon Double Cheeseburger pizza, BBQ Chicken pizza, Meat Market pizza, Vegetarian Sampler pizza, Superoni (pepperoni) pizza, Gatti's Deluxe pizza, Buffalo Chicken Pizza, Veggi Sicilian, and Meat Sicilian. There is a separate list of toppings so we can presume that other combinations are possible. Personally, I like to try the exotic when I go to pizza buffets but I am usually happier when I find basic cheese pizza also available.

The salad bar is what you would expect. Salad greens, tomatoes, and toppings with a variety of dressings. The pasta is spagetti with tomato sauce. There is a mention of macaroni and cheese as well. Most locations have a website and these tend to get a little more specific as to what you might find at that location.

The dessert choices are apple pizza and cinnamon bread sticks (what appears to be pizza dough baked with cinnamon). Of course there are soft drinks and it is stated that these vary by location.

To find prices you need to look at the websites of the individual restaurants which are linked on the locations page. For an example over 12 at the West Virginia location the buffet is $7.99. Not bad, but two to three dollars higher than Cici's. Kids over 6 pay $6.49. Only children under 2 are free and there is a senior discounted price of $6.49.

Each restaurant features a game room and large screen TV's in the dining room. There are larger locations call GattiTown which have party rooms and are listed as "destination" locations. Generally, destination means "shoppertainment" - an attraction location offering entertainment, food, etc. These are stand-alone restaurants meaning that they are not inset into other stores, etc. but a larger facility all on its own.

The food looks good. That is no recommendation. If I am in Virginia, West Virginia, or one of the Carolinas I will try it. The corporate website is linked at the side of this page. It is light on buffet information but if you go to the locations page and click on a location's website you will see much more about the buffet, prices, hours, etc.

If you have been to a Gatti's Pizza please leave a comment and tell us all about it!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Time for the Rules - Again!

With all that I have been seeing lately at buffets, it really is time to drag out that list of Rules of the Buffet again! Even if your first thought is not again, give them a read once more. Maybe there is still something you could learn.

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, August 14, 2009

Children at a Buffet

Most buffets are family restaurants and of course, children are at the heart of most families. So it is most common to find children at buffets. As with many things that happen for the negative with children, it is not the child to blame but the parent who is not paying attention to what the child is doing. I have written an article about this same subject in what seems is the long past, but this absolutely needs repeating.

Now don't get all crazy that I don't like children at buffets. That is not true. What I don't like are children who are unsupervised when they are sent up by themselves to the buffet servers. Here are two recent occurrences.

At a certain buffet, not to be named, a boy about the age of nine or ten was up at the buffet server putting rice into his plate with the large serving spoon. He went to drop the rice into his plate and it would not release from the spoon. His first response was to put the spoon over the serving tray full of rice and with his other hand scoop the rice out of the spoon and back into the pan. He seemed to realize that this was not the thing to do, so he moved the spoon back over his plate - and then with this other hand scooped the rice out of the spoon and onto his plate. Of course, he then put the spoon - the serving end just rubbed out by his hand - back into the serving tray. Ycch.

At another buffet, again not to be named, another boy about the age of eleven or twelve, was serving himself from the entrees and sides into bowls. He filled a bowl full of mac and cheese - which is a reasonable amount for a child to eat. He then filled a bowl to overflowing with pieces of fried fish - more fish than two tables of adults could consume in a meal. Certainly, this young lad did not eat all of that fish!

So where were the parents? Good question. Too often children - at all ages of childhood - are up at the buffet server alone. Sometimes taking things on a buffet are not as simple as scooping a spoonful up and onto a plate. Sometimes the pizza needs to be cut apart to get a piece - as the restaurant did not quite cut it through all of the way. Sometimes, like our young boy above, the food does not release from the spoon all that easily. At these times many kids are at a loss for what properly to do - and they improvise. Those improvisations are not always with the best result.

Some buffets post signs. "No one 12 or under are to be at the buffet server unescorted." If only the kids cared or the parents bothered to make sure to follow that simple request.

I have brought a child to buffets myself, and when it is your child or one who is close to you, you will naturally believe that the child is far more capable than perhaps may be. I know that the child that I have brought will want to take everything for himself. At 7 years old, you want to believe that is ok, but I have seen kids take one serving spoon from one tray and go from tray to tray taking food. Sometimes it is a struggle when the child is insistent, but you know what, sometimes you have got to be the adult. Children's eyes are truly bigger than their stomachs - a kid will take far more than he/she can possibly eat. Is it so hard to teach the child to take a little and then go back for more? So silly of me, many adults never learned this.

There have also been problems with kids running around a buffet - especially around the serving area where people are walking with full and hot plates and do not always notice the the little ones scurrying by - alone or with similar aged siblings. I have seen kids just narrowly being missed by a knocked cup of hot coffee. And you know that if the child had been burned the person knocked into would be blamed. Why are the kids running around? Well, where are the parents?

I am not going to belabor this, but I hope that I have made my point. If you take a child to a buffet you need to be with that child when the child goes up to the serving bars - and when you are there fill the plate for a younger child and assist an older one, paying attention to what the child is doing.

Friday, August 07, 2009

I Love CiCi's Pizza Buffet, BUT...

I have written about CiCi's Pizza Buffet many times. I have always recommended it and I still do but I have an ongoing problem with Cici's that I have written about from my first article about the chain a few years back. I know that Cici's corporate is very responsive and they have followed my articles and responded to some in the past. I am hoping that they read this article and maybe make some changes.

My problem - actually two related problems - have to do with the system for table clean up in the restaurant. A cleaning person travels around the restaurant with a cart and picks up dirty dishes from tables and cleans tables when the dinners are finished and leave. In this lies my major problem. This person has no idea if anyone is coming back to the table so any empty table is totally cleared away. I know that my wife and I are not the only ones who will go up together for more food at any buffet that we go to, leaving the table empty. Most buffets have some type of sign or paper saying that the table is occupied. Not Cici's. More than once we have gone up for more pizza only to return to our table to find our cups of soda (half full when we left them) and everything else cleaned away. Once we came back to find people sitting at our table. This has not just happened once but on several visits and at different Cici's.

On this most recent visit my wife had an idea. She wore a sun hat into the buffet and set it down on the table - the idea was that the cleaner would see the hat and then know that we were still occupying that table. I am not going to mention which Cici's we were in but this was one of the most absurd occurences yet. No one had come around to our table for quite some time and the empty dishes were stacking up. We both got up to get more food and the hat was left on the side of the table. We were only gone a few moments when we returned to find - once again - the table was completely cleaned away AND THE HAT WAS GONE. We found the cleaner who said "oh, you are still here." "Were is the hat that was on the table?". we asked. "Oh, its over here by the cash register." We asked why did he clear away the table if the hat was still there showing that we were still there as well. "Huh?", was the reply. Just by coincidence a manager hda come by and asked how everything was going. We told him. His only response was to laugh. (Are you reading this Corporate?) The lesson is quickly leanred just like rats in a Skinner Box, don't get up from the table together and always leave someone behind. Maybe this is fine for others and for those with a lot of people in their family, but it is just the two of us and we like to eat together - not once getting up while the other waits.

So what could Cici's do to fix this? A simple sign that says "occupied" on one side and "open" on the other on each table - a bit of cardboard printed on computer printer would do it. Simple lamination for a few cents would preserve it. Or even more simply, a paper from the cashier that says leave up on table while occupied - just like OCB and so many buffets do. Why is this so hard for Cici's to realize?

My other complaint also has to do with the cleaning cart. The top of the trash bin sits at about face hieght and this cart rolls close to the tables up and down each aisle. As it goes by your nose in in the traah. This is one of the most unappetizing things that any restaurant could do - and it is standard practice at Cici's.

As I state in my title, I love Cici's but the table problem is enough to keep me from going to Cici's. When I dine out I want to relax and I want to be able to pace my meal with my partners. I do not want to be concerned that when we return to our table all will be gone. If this happened once, well, we would chaulk it up to an employee who did not know what he was doing - but this happens 9 out of 10 visits and that is just to much. My wife asked me if it would help if we brought our own sign, but you know, I do not think that would make any difference, because if the system is not changed - and the cleaning staff do not know to be aware if someone is still using the table, nothing is going to work.

So Cici's, I begging you, come up with a system to show a table is occupied. Get over whatever makes you feel that this is not necessary. It is VERY NECESSARY.