Friday, February 25, 2011

The BEST Manager

As many of you know, I have been to many, many buffets. I have come across some greats and some not so greats - and one of the most important things that I have told you is that the manager can make or break a restaurant - particularly a buffet. At a buffet the public interacts with the staff, the facility, and the manager more than in a sit down restaurant. In many restaurants, unless there is something very wrong, generally people are not even aware of the manager of the restaurant. At a buffet that manager needs to be aware of what is happening at the buffet tables, in the dining room, and in the kitchen. There is a lot more direction required - and that does not always take place behind the scenes.

I have seen many managers. I have to tell you now about one that I feel is the best of any buffet that I have been to. His name is James and he is one of the managers at the Old Country Buffet in Bayshore, New York. Yes - you read it right - I just said that the best manager that I have encountered is one at an Old Country Buffet. James is not the General Manager of this location. He is, from what I can tell, just under the General Manager, but he is the most visible when you visit this OCB.

We have been observing James for a while. He is pretty much the reason that we go so far away to go to this OCB (when we have another one just ten minutes away). Why? Because he makes this OCB work right and he does it with a smile and a true appreciation for his customers. There is a reason why this OCB is so much the positive opposite of the other other OCB nearby - and from what can see it is directly related to this man. Let me clarify - there have been a few nights that we have been there when he has been off - and while things remain very good - they are not as good. (Don't say that his influence should carry over when he is not there - it does, but when the boss is away at just about every workplace - things are not exactly the same.)

He walks around the dining room regularly. He stops by tables and chats with the customers. Many of the regulars have come to know him and he, them. When he passes the buffet servers he makes sure that trays are full and makes sure that those needing refilling are refilled. When an item on the buffet runs out, an equal item replaces it - by this I mean - meat for meat, side dish for side dish. (Not the extra tray of rolls brought out to replace the meatloaf that has happened at another OCB.)

I have heard him more than once thank customers for coming there - expressing sincerely that he appreciates them - and has said, without the customer he would not have a job. That is the absolute best attitude that any manager (or employee) can have. And his attitude seems to carry over to the other employees. No one there has ever said = "not my job" - as I have heard elsewhere. Even on the busiest of nights, used dishes on tables are cleared.

I sing high praises for James. I do not know James's last name but if I did I would include it here. Now there is one problem with a manager being so good - sooner or later he will get promoted - and I don't think that anyone as good could take his place.

Thank you, James! You are appreciated!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Souper Salad IS NOT Souper! Salad!

This is so odd that I felt that it should have its own article. I have written several times on this site about a salad buffet chain named "Souper! Salad!". I was doing a search for their website (sure, I should have just come to my site and clicked on the link at the side of the page) when my search engine came up with "Souper Salad - Boston". Hmm? Could it be that this chain has made its way north?

The Souper! Salad! chain is located in the Western US, the Mid-West US, and in the Southeast US as north as North Carolina. They are wonderful and I ate in one about four years ago at their location in Spartanburg, South Carolina. You can read all about that visit here. I have often wished they would open one nearer to me in the Northeast. As you will read, this was a small buffet featuring salads, pasta, pizza, potatoes, and an assortment of other things. The price for the meal is about $6 and they constantly offer coupons bringing the meal down to $4.99. In fact, as a member of their Souper Fresh Club I just got an email with a "card" good for a whole month for as many visits as one would like with the meal at just $4.99. They also offer coupons and special discounts on a Facebook page.

Anyway. So here I am searching for their website and Boston comes up. I went immediately to the link. The site was familiar but was not the Souper! Salad! site. There is mention of a "salad bar" which to me at first means "all you care to eat" but I know that this is not always the case. I poked around on the site. They feature salads, soups, sandwiches, wraps, etc. and the salad bar - but this is not a buffet and none of it is "all you care to eat". The salad bar is listed with two prices - small and large - you take it but you don't go back and pay by the size. There are four locations in Boston.

It just struck me odd. Same name with the difference of two !'s. I am very surprised that the Massachusetts business could incorporate with this so similar name. I am not a lawyer but I was involved with incorporating a business years back that had initials similar to a large corporation and we were blocked from using that name for our corporation because of those initials - and those were very, very different businesses. Here are two salad restaurant chains - one large and one small - and both with the same name (except for those !'s).

I was very disappointed to find that this was not the "real" Souper! Salad!. I could more easily get to Boston than I can to North Carolina where the nearest Souper! Salad! is and I thought that if the chain had moved that far north maybe there were more nearby. No such luck. This is just a little chain trying to cash in on the name of a larger chain and attract those like me who have tried the real thing and want it again. And you know, this Boston chain may be very good but because of this, I would not go there. Not saying that there is any reason not to go there but my annoyance at using the same name.

So I just have to hope that someone decides to open a "real" Souper! Salad! in the Northeast some day. Maybe it will happen... and maybe then I can use those great coupons that I get.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Golden Corral Feature - Beef Lover's Special

The latest special menu feature to come to Golden Corral is the Beef Lover's Celebration. And, of course, what else would this entail but lots of wonderful beef dishes.

Golden Corral still has special features to add to their buffet through out the year. Old Country Buffet and Ryan's no longer do. Golden Corral knows how to vary their buffet offerings and bring customers back who have not visited in a while or give regulars something different. The current feature for a limited time centers around beef.

I have not yet had an opportunity to try out this feature, but when I saw the television commercial for this my first reaction was "Oh, Boy!". The centerpiece of this feature is steak and Golden Corral has taken the lead in chain buffet steak with just their regular flame grilled steak offered regularly on the buffet - cooked to order, hot off the flames, and into your plate. With this feature they are adding several additional steak entrees.

One of the steaks being features is Brazilian Carved Churassco Steak. I have written about Brazilian Churassco all you can eat restaurants on this site. These restaurants flame cook a variety of meats on long skewers and then walk from table to table with the skewers and carve the meat onto your plate at your request. Golden Corral is bringing this style of cooking and steak to their $10 buffet. Golden Corral is skewering and flame cooking steak that has been marinating for 48 hours. The steak is served from the skewer to your plate and is said to be tender. (You know my mouth is watering as I write this...)

Another of the steaks is Bacon Wrapped Sirloin Fillet. This has been on previous feature menus at Golden Corral and it was good when I tried it in the past.

The last of the steak additions, but not the last of the beef features, is Peppercorn London Broil. London Broil is a slicing steak and Golden Corral is serving it covered in their own peppercorn sauce.

Smoked Brisket is another beef feature on this special. Smoked Brisket is a barbecue restaurant's mainstay and here it is added to this great beef assortment. Here the meat is smoked and then grilled on an open flame. Golden Corral is then covering the meat with their own special sauce.

The last of the beef additions on this special is Timberline Chili. Golden Corral says that this chili is specially seasoned and is "packed with lots of meat". Chili makes a nice addition to a beef special.

Of course they have to add a bit more too. There is Grilled Pineapple with Cinnamon. They are grilling a whole pineapple on the flame broiler and slicing it for you at the carving station. And if you have not put fear into your arteries yet, you can also have Smokey Cheese Potato Bake on the side. Potatoes, cheese, peppers, and bacon - oh yes...

This Beef lover's Celebration Special is being served every day after 4:00 pm and on Sundays after 11:00 am. It is not offered at all Golden Corral locations so if you are planning to go, call the restaurant first and make sure that you will find it there when you get there. As is true for all Golden Corral specials this is for a limited time - and that time is not made known in advance. So before it is too late - go and enjoy!

Friday, February 04, 2011

Mommy, I Want Plain Spaghetti

"Mommy, I want plain spaghetti!" That is something often heard from children at buffets and at most "American" food buffets that is certainly something that can be easily complied with - unless you go to Old Country Buffet.

Several months ago, OCB changed much of its menu offerings. One of the items eliminated was the plain spaghetti that could always be found on the buffet along with a serving tray of tomato sauce - often along with meat sauce. What they put in its place are changing pasta dishes - all mixed with some type of sauce and other ingredients. No longer can you just get plain spaghetti.

This was a big mistake for OCB along with several other changes that took place at the same time. This is not only a disappointment now for children - many of which like things "plain" but also many adult diners. In the past, the plain spaghetti could be taken with tomato or meat sauce, it could be taken just as it was - plain, it could be have brown gravy or chicken gravy poured on top like noodles, or it could be mixed with butter and cheese. There were a lot of possibilities with plain spaghetti. I also found that the server of tomato sauce was good to have on the buffet as well. I have added it to the OCB pizza when it has come out of the kitchen dry. It could be placed on top of any of the meat dishes to create other dishes - all at your choice. But not any more.

One of the difficulties in serving plain spaghetti on a buffet is keeping it from drying out and not clumping. OCB was actually one of the best of the buffets in being able to do this. It would be kept moist in a small amount of liquid and just a small quantity of oil - which did not overwhelm the pasta, add a taste, or be too oily. They did a better jog of this that many buffets.

I am not sure why they decided to make this change. It certainly could not be a financial decision. There are still pasta dishes put out with each buffet, but the pasta that is placed out now is always mixed with cheese - lactose-intolerant people beware.

Other changes took place at the same time - and none of them good. And these changes were universal to the chain - not just at some locations. Gone are the beef ribs that were a OCB staple on Thursday and Saturday nights. Many plain vegetable dishes have been replaced with seasoned vegetables. The green beans now are often mixed with ham - forget about those if you are a vegetarian or observe religious practices. Also, new metal serving dishes that are placed into the buffet steam tables have changed. Many of the deeper dishes that kept the food hot as it sat lower down into the steam table have been replaced with shallower dishes. The meatloaf that is now placed into those shallow trays is now always cold on the top and just warm on the bottom. Not good!

I have been spending some time observing the Old Country Buffet Facebook page. I am not the only one who finds these changes to be a problem. There are a number of posts daily from upset customers about the lack of the spaghetti, beef ribs, etc. There are pleads to bring them back. I know that OCB monitors their own Facebook page but they never seem to comment back to those customers just asking to have what they enjoyed about the restaurants brought back.

So - OCB - or perhaps I should address this to the parent company, Buffets, Inc. - please bring back the plain spaghetti and get rid of those shallow serving dishes. There are lots of kids out there - and their parents who will thank you for it.