Friday, July 09, 2010

A Manager Can Make or Break a Buffet

As in any business, the manager - the man in charge at any particular moment - is a very important factor in the success or failure of a buffet restaurant. Through the years I have observed many good managers and a number of not so good managers. While it is the line staff that the public sees the most. It is the manager who oversees and directs that staff and that manager has to be visible for most of the time that the public is in the restaurant.

One of the best things that a manager can do is walk around the buffet and the dining room with wide open eyes. Are all the tables being attended to? Are there any dirty plates being left on tables? Are the floors clean? At the buffet tables are all of the trays full or near full? Does the kitchen know that any tray is about to empty? Are there serving pieces in all of the trays? And it can go on and on. If a manager has trained his/her staff well, that manager's job is much easier.

I realize that it is because of the economy but many buffets lately are understaffed. A dining room that should have a minimum of three table staff have one. A buffet area that should have several staff including a carver at the carving station or within a few steps has two or maybe three staff total - with the carver doing several other jobs other than carving. While we can blame the economy, this lack of service to the dining public is going to directly result in that restaurant losing customers and losing more money to its eventual demise.

Another important part of the manager's job is to anticipate the needs of the kitchen and the buffet for the day. I know of a buffet that never does this - holidays and significant days that will certainly bring out more patrons to the restaurant are treated as any other day and always results in shortages as the day moves into the dinner period and onto closing. Days like the last day of school, local school vacations, and, of course, holidays bring out an increase in dining out - and a family friendly buffet is always a choice of many with kids. Many of the large chain buffets will do increased advertising, run promotions, and let everyone knot that they want you there for holiday dinner. But recent visits to buffets on two family holidays were a major disappointment. Most, if not all businesses (and the chain buffets are certainly included in this) can go back into their records for that holiday the year before and see how much business was done, how many meals were served. This was easily done before there were computers so with the massive data at a businesses disposal now, this is certainly easy to do. Combined with the dining trend for the current year it is pretty straight forward to accurately predict how much food will need to be on hand, how many staff will be needed, and how to keep every customer who comes in that day feeling that they got what they came for. At one buffet that I have been to, sadly, if this were only the case. They never seem to know that the kids are home from school on a particular day and the dining room is more than full. On holidays things run out at a level that no anticipation or thought had gone into the preparation for the day. Here is an example of what took place at a buffet on a Sunday holiday in June. Long lines kept even early dinner diners from getting a table before hours later than usual - no problem here as if there are a lot of customers there are going to be lines and that cannot be helped. But once inside, these dinners who were out with their families for a holiday meal (one by the way that was well promoted by the buffet) found empty trays, carvings gone, a wait for dishes, cups, and glasses, and many of this not replenished at all. Had this manager (or team of managers) anticipated the needs for this holiday - based on previous holidays this should not have happened. Here is a conversation that was overheard between the manager of the buffet and a "concerned" customer. >>Customer - There are no coffee cups. Manager - There are supposed to be some out there. Customer - Obviously, but there are not. Manager - Oh.. Customer - Could you have some brought out. Manager - Ummm... I will have someone bring some out. << Then this manager walked into his office. It took twenty minutes before coffee cups were brought out. By then I am guessing this customer had given up. What should have this manager done? His immediate response should have been, "I will make sure that some are brought out right away. Thank you for alerting me." And then - just to show this customer that the concern presented was not being ignored, walk obviously over to the kitchen so that the customer could see that the manager was going to get this done. I have seen good managers in similar situations ask where the person is sitting and tell them they will bring whatever they are asking for right out to them - and do. That night continued on to have no more carved meat at an early enough time that there were still people at the cashier being let in, salad bowls empty for the entire night we were there, along with a number of entrees and side dishes empty. At one point earlier, for the lack of being able to find the carver, people were taking the carving knife and cutting their own meat with several just taking what should have been carved down but taking the piece. No wonder there was no more meat later on. Overheard from that same manager - who at this point was sitting at an empty table with an employee rather than tending to what was needed - "We are out of it all. No cake, no cookies, no nothing..." Yet people were still being let in. Why is this bad? Because everyone who pays the price for the meal is entitled to the full offerings of the day. There is no discount or even explanation given to say we are out of many items - be are glad to have you but expect that things will not be there when you come in.

I have seen managers at other buffets when things get to this point not let any more people in. I have seen managers who when a customer brings a concern will turn around and hand that customer either a money off coupon for the next visit or even a coupon for a free meal. While that customer may have still felt disappointed, they walked away knowing that the manager tried his/her best.

There are many managers who keep a close eye on their buffet. I have seen some taking temperature readings at the hot servers making sure that everything is properly kept hot. I have seen managers bring out a whole plate to a customer of an item that was empty on the buffet - just for that customer - while the tray was refilled for all. I have been greeted at my table - along with the guests at the other tables - by the owner of a buffet. He has sharp eyes on his entire operation and this is not a small restaurant and is often visible in the dining room along with his more than competent managers.

So, it is plain to see that a good manager will have a successful restaurant because he/she knows what the customers expect - good and plentiful food and quality service. Here is to all of the good managers out there!

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