Friday, June 24, 2011

Old Country Buffet on Facebook

Old Country Buffet has a "fan" page on Facebook. This should not be a surprise as all of the buffet chains have Facebook pages and many independent buffets have Facebook pages. What is interesting about the Old Country Buffet page are the comments that get posted by those who are fans and those who are not such good fans.

This is the only Facebook "fan" page that I have come across with a stipulation posted on one of the page's called "House Rules". Here is what it says: (the bold text is right from there)


Welcome to the Old Country Buffet® Fan Page. We love connecting with our guests through Facebook and encourage you to post comments, photos, videos, and links here. However, we review all comments, and when necessary, remove anything that we find inappropriate or offensive.
In other words, play nice!

All users must comply with Facebook's Terms of Use. Additionally, users may not post, and Buffets, Inc. may remove, any comments or materials that:

  • Defame, harass, stalk, threaten or otherwise violate the legal rights of others.
  • Publish, post, distribute or disseminate any defamatory, infringing, obscene, indecent, misleading or unlawful material or information.
  • Upload or attach files that contain software or other material protected by intellectual property laws (or by rights of privacy of publicity), unless the user owns or controls the rights thereto or has received all necessary consents.
  • Upload or attach files that contain viruses, corrupted files, or any other similar software or programs that may damage the operation of another's computer.
  • Delete any author attributions, legal notices or proprietary marks or symbols.
  • Falsify the origin or source of software or other material.

Finally, comments posted to this Page by users do not represent the opinions of, and do not constitute representations by, Buffets, Inc., or any of its parent companies or subsidiaries, or any of their respective directors, officers, employees, or agents."

Why would a "fan" page need such rules? Because the people who "fan" this page are the people who seem to love to hate Old Country Buffet - and they make that known every chance that they get. There are constant comments about how bad OCB is. There are a few who counter this with "I love OCB" but those are in the minority. And if OCB really is moderating the comments, given what appears on the site, I can only imagine what the ones that they take off say. Are the comments justified? Sometimes, yes, they are but many are not - at least they seem to have been left with no reason other than to be vindictive.

There is an old joke - Two old women are talking about a restaurant and one says to the other, "The food was terrible at that restaurant - the food was absolutely disgusting." And the friend answers, "Yes, that's right - and such small portions!" This is the way many of the comments go on the Old Country Buffet Facebook page. You will get a comment such as - "The food is terrible at your buffet - And how come you are not giving any free coupons this week?"

The pursuit of coupons on the OCB Facebook page is constant. People continually ask for coupons for buy one get one meals or dollars off a meal. On a not so regular basis, OCB does have coupons on their Facebook page for their fans to print out. These are in addition to those that they email to those on their email list. Some of the ones on Facebook are better than the offers that are emailed such as the buy one get one coupons. But people do not seem to understand that coupons are a marketing strategy to bring in customers when there would normally be slower business. There were no coupons given for Mother's Day and people on this Facebook page were outraged! Mother's Day is a day that restaurants generally have good business and there is no need to do anything special to bring in business - certainly not issue a coupon. But the never ending pursuit for coupons goes on. Hey, I like coupons too - and I print them out whenever they are offered - but I understand why they would not be giving it all away every day.

These are probably the most negative fans that I have seen on a fan page. OCB will answer some of the complaints - generally by saying that the person should report the problem to them on the comment form on their regular website. Sometimes - when there is a detailed complaint - naming the restaurant location, the date, and exactly what happened and was wrong - they still give that same stock answer to use the form, when they should be acknowledging that they have the details and will look into it. Even if there is a service running this page for OCB, they still could report the details to those who can do "something". (An aside - the comment form on their website is pretty much useless - they will take your complaint and forward it to the manager of the restaurant who generally was involved in the complaint to start with - and it then goes nowhere. This from experience.)

Well, it is an experience. Check it out - and they will have some coupons there - just be patient!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Tipping at Buffets

Through observation I have found that many people at buffet restaurants do not leave a tip on their table when they leave. These are people that would not think twice about tipping the waitress at a menu restaurant, tipping a cab driver, or tipping the guy who wheels your suitcases up to your room at a hotel. For some reason they do not think that they should leave a tip at a buffet.

Some buffets add the tip to the bill automatically and usually that is around 12%. Our favorite buffet - Shady Maple - does this. When you pay for your meal in advance the tip is included. This is not only because you are paying in advance, but because they are making sure that their service staff are getting a tip.

Why don't people leave a tip at a buffet? The most common answer that I hear is that because you are serving yourself, why should you leave a tip for the person who is assigned to your table - "they are not doing anything".

Actually, the wait person at your table is doing a lot - and generally much more than the waiter or waitress at the menu restaurant. Not saying anything about the job of waiters and waitresses - as I know this can be a very hard job (according to Woody Allen it is the worst job in the world). However, where the waiter or waitress comes to your table to take your order and then comes back and serves the plates to your table, the service person for your table at the buffet must come to your table regularly and take away your empty plates. In many buffets that person also must come and check on your drinks and bring you refills when you want them. They are actually working for you a lot more - AS LONG AS THEY ARE DOING THEIR JOB.

Hey - why did you just say that? I want to make it very clear that tips should not be just expected. They are not a given. Though many just expect that they will be given the full tip no matter what the quality of the service. Your tip is supposed to be your reward to the server for good service. Unfortunately, restaurants including buffets have made tips a part of salary and pay a lower salary with the expectation that a more compensating salary will be reached with the addition of tips - and frankly, between you and me - this is not right. This has also led to pooling of tips so that an equal distribution of wages can be made to the employees - and for some this is necessary to bring them to or just above the minimum wage requirements. But still - if you feel that you did not receive good service - or service at the level that was expected by you - you should either not leave a tip or leave less of a tip. (I tend to leave less of a tip in these infrequent situations - to indicate that I did not "forget" to leave a tip, but I was not satisfied with the service that I received - and then also let a manager know how the service was.

So, how much of a tip should you leave at a buffet? This can vary by the type of buffet. If you are at a high end buffet - one at a fancy hotel or at a restaurant that is considered "a cut above" you might leave a higher percentage than you might at one of the chain buffets. Generally, 12% is a fair tip at most buffets. I take this number as it is the same percentage that is most often added on when the tip is included when you pay. At some buffets I leave a little less and at others I leave more. If I feel that the service was very good I leave more. And if I feel that the service was not good at all - well, I told you what I do then above.

Bottom line - you should be tipping the server at your table at a buffet. Whether that tip is pooled or not - and that, as I said, is generally what is going to happen, that server represented the others working there for that meal for you.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Desserts at Buffets

I have recently had readers ask me to be more descriptive of the dessert offerings at buffets. The problem is that desserts at many of the buffets are not much to write about. Now, that is not to say that there are some buffets with fabulous dessert offerings, but these are few and far between.

I have been to many buffets and over the years I have written about a few buffets that offer a great variety of good desserts. Just about every buffet in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania has a decent dessert bar included with their buffet. This is the heart of the Pennsylvania Dutch Country and the Amish and the Mennonites are known for specialty desserts among which are Shoo Fly Pie, Apple Dumplings, Cracker Pudding, Funeral Pie (raisin pie), Funny Cake, and more. Of these you will find Shoo Fly Pie in each of the buffets in the area. The other desserts mentioned will be found at various times at various buffets. Shoo Fly Pie is a pie shell filled with a wet and gooey mixture of molasses and table syrup (sugar syrup or corn syrup) that is thickened and poured into the shell. That is then covered with cake crumbs. The traditionally favorite of Shoo Fly Pie is called wet bottom and that means that the molasses syrup mixture is moist. It has been a long time since I have seen dry bottom Shoo Fly Pie - and never at a buffet. This version tends to be more cake-like at the bottom. As I say, you can go to any buffet in Lancaster and find Shoo Fly Pie. It is best served warm but few buffets do this. Top it with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Another variation is Chocolate Shoo Fly Pie. This replaces the molasses with chocolate and is a real treat. The Bird in Hand Restaurant buffet has been known to serve this but don't expect to find it on every visit.

The Bird in Hand Restaurant has a dessert only buffet as an alternative to the full buffet and if you like to skip the "real" food that your mother wanted you to eat before you could have your dessert and get to the good stuff, you can go all you care to eat with desserts alone.

The ultimate dessert buffet is in Boston where you can have an entire meal of chocolate desserts. This has been featured in my article on Cafe Fleuri at the Langham Hotel. This is for the extreme dessert eater. I know I could not do it. I know that many do. And it is all done with elegance in one of Boston's top hotels.

The best dessert selection at a buffet that I have been to - and I have written about this several times - is at a small buffet in an out of the way town called Waynesboro in Pennsylvania. This is just above the Maryland border and the restaurant is called Mountain Gate Family Restaurant. The buffet at Mountain Gate is good and the food is American/Pennsylvania German. The desserts are given a section of the room all to themselves and there were more varieties of good cakes and pies than just about any other buffet that I have been to - and included with the buffet at a good price. There was nothing fancy here but the baking was good and there was just about every kind of pie and cake that one can think of. This is an out of the way place to go and there is little around it except a lot of nice scenery, but if one were on a trip to the meccas of dessert - this is the place to include. Of course, there was puddings, fruits, and ice cream, but with all of the things to try... well...

Casino buffets tend to go big on dessert offerings but they are not always so good. They may dazzle you with presentation, but the taste does not always stand up to the show. There are some that are very good. The two casinos in Connecticut - Mohegan Sun (with two buffets) and Foxwoods Casino - both have large and good dessert offerings. Both offer hot desserts and crepes filled with ice cream are the most tempting. Top that with syrups and whipped cream and eat it before it melts! At both you will find cheesecake, layer cakes, fruit pies, ice cream, pastries, and, of course, fresh fruit. While I have not been impressed by the taste of the Atlantic City casino buffets' desserts - I really can not say that any one of those have stood out and there are several casino buffets in the casinos in Atlantic City - the desserts at both Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun deliver taste along with the presentation.

I wish that I could say that desserts are not to be missed at so many of the other buffets that I have written about and been to. When something stands out I do write about it - but too often they do not excel when it comes to dessert. The Chinese/Asian buffets are the worst when it comes to dessert and almost everyone - no matter where it is - serves the same or close to the same little, overly sweetened and commercially baked squares of cake. I have referred to these many times as the "Little Debbie" cakes. "Little Debbie" is a discount brand of snack cakes sold in supermarkets throughout the US. They are small squares of cake - and if you are in need of a sugar rush, well they fill that need quite well. The cakes at the Chinese buffets are just like that. And I have found out that they come from commercial, wholesale bakeries that cater to Chinese/Asian buffets. They are boxed sheet cakes that are cut into those little squares. I have yet to be at a Chinese/Asian buffet - all along the East Coast of the US that has not had these same cakes. Some of these cakes pretend to be something that they are not. If it says cheesecake it is yellow cake with a light spread of cheese and sugar on top. Not cheesecake.

I should note that the Japanese buffet chain - Minado (in NY and other locations) - does have hot crepes made to order with ice cream and toppings. They are good and a pleasant change from the sweet little cake squares that they also serve. Many Japanese buffets also serve green tea ice cream and that is something different to try. It is very refreshing after the meal.

Now, the chain buffets - Old Country Buffet, Ryans, and Golden Corral. Frankly, the desserts are not that great. At one time the desserts at Ryans were pretty good but since the take over by Buffets, Inc. that then turned Ryans into a carbon copy of the other buffet chain that it owns, Old Country Buffet, the desserts took a downturn. Golden Corral is not much different though I have on occasion have had a nice cupcake at Golden Corral. These are not always offered. There is always soft serve ice cream at all of them and with that a section of syrups, nuts, and candies to put on top. Golden Corral has fresh fruit - mostly melons of various types cut up and without syrup added. You will also find hot bread pudding at all three and some form of hot fruit cobbler - fruit filling in a pan with pie crust on top and kept hot in the steam server. At Old Country Buffet right next to the fruit cobbler you will find a hot chocolate dessert that is brownies mixed with hot chocolate syrup. While this sounds tempting, it is overly sweet. It is a good thing to mix in with vanilla ice cream. Do avoid the "haystacks" at OCB - these are canned Chinese snack noodles covered in chocolate and allowed to harden Not good at all though they look good and are tempting until you try one.

When the desserts merit talking about, I always talk about them. I just wish they were worth talking about more often. As I say, you really have to go out of your way to find a really good dessert selection at a buffet. The standard is fine to fill a sweet tooth and I know that many fill plates to the brim with more dessert than a family of six should eat together - and devour the whole thing, and if they enjoyed it then good. Keep in mind though that as I do with everything that I eat at buffets - take a small sample of what appeals to you and if you really want to, you can always go back and have a little more of what you really liked.

Friday, June 03, 2011

I Knew I Would Regret It

Over the years I have been pretty hard on Old Country Buffet but the fact of the matter is that it is not the overall chain of Old Country Buffets that I have a problem with but just one location. Since this location is nearby to me, it is the one that I have visited the most and the one that I have come to call - "the worst Old Country Buffet in the country". It would take one extremely bad to be any worse. I pull no punches and will tell you - as I have told you before - that this is the Levittown, New York Old Country Buffet.

Despite its location I do not go to this Old Country Buffet any longer. We drive about a half hour into the next county to go - regularly, I might add - to the other Old Country Buffet on Long Island which compares favorably to other Old Country Buffets that I have been to outside of New York. I have written about the managers at the two and the differences. Others who have been to the Levittown OCB have left comments and have written to me and have agreed. There is a problem at this location - and despite changes in managers, the problem persists.

I recently had a week where I had been physically ill - not due to eating at any buffet or food poisoning, though I will admit that the thought passed through my mind as I went through this stomach virus. But, it was a stomach virus and nothing more. It came and went but I spent the week not eating much but it got to the point toward the end of the week that I had to start eating regular again and have full meals once more. It was a Friday and we generally go out to dinner on Friday nights - either to a Chinese buffet or OCB. I was not yet up to a Chinese buffet and decided that OCB would be fine.

It was time to head out for dinner and I did not really feel like driving the distance out to the other Old Country Buffet - the good Old Country Buffet. I told this to my wife and I suggested that we give Levittown a try. As soon as I said that to her, I also said, "Somehow I know that I am going to regret this."

We arrived at a little after 7 pm which for this area and OCB on a Friday night is not late (people were still coming in to start eating here at 9 pm). There was no line and we went in and got a table. We went up to the buffet for soup. I passed the salad bar and noticed that the Caesar salad bowl was empty. I brought my soup bowl back to the table and while my wife collected silverware to bring to the table, I went up to the "beverage bar" to get our soft drinks. The "beverage bar" costs $1.99 each now and has for a while. With the introduction of paying for your drinks separately from the meal price they lowered the price of the meal to $10.99, BUT the beverage and the meal now costs more than it did before. Yes, prices are going up all over but this price went up before everyone else's did and before there was any real reason for the jump. This is true now at all OCB's and has nothing really to do with any one location. Back to my tale - so I went to get our beverages. I went up to the ice tea dispenser, put my glass of ice under the spigot and pulled the handle and nothing came out. OK. It happens. I looked around for someone to tell and there was no one. (Let me add one more fact about the Levittown OCB - if the majority of those working speak English, they pretend not to - if they really don't speak English, well there is one of the problems that many encounter at this OCB. So even if you try to tell someone about any problem, you get very little response or resolution.) I took soda instead, but I really do prefer a non-carbonated beverage with my meal and if I am paying $1.99 for it and it is not there, well... I figured that sooner or later it would be refilled.

We finished our soup and went up for salad. Again, I went to the empty bowl of Caesar salad. No one had noticed and there was no one to tell. I got back to the table and said to my wife, "I said I was going to regret coming here, didn't I?" Big deal? More of an annoyance, but an annoyance that is being paid for - and therein lies the rub! I am a strong believer in value - as those of you who read this site regularly know from my reviews of buffets. I have said many times that if you get something of value, it is not a problem paying a little extra for it, but you must get value for the money that is so hard to earn these days.

Finished with our soup, and now finished with our salad plates, the soiled plates were stacking up on our table. I looked around for the person who is supposed to clear the plates away. She was cleaning a table across the room that a group had just left. When she was finished with that I expected that she would start to make the rounds of the tables that were occupied and clear away the stacks of dirty dishes. No, she didn't. She seemed to disappear for a bit and then when she reappeared she was off cleaning another table that was no longer occupied. Now, don't write and tell me that she had to get tables ready for new guests because there were few coming in and there were plenty of clean tables. It was not until we were well into the hot entrees that she came by for the first time and picked up the plates off our table.

I counted the tables that she was responsible for - about twenty five. This really is too many tables for one person in this buffet. There need to be more employees AND that is the main reason why there are so many problems at the Levittown Old Country Buffet.

Looking around at who or the lack of who is doing what - there are too few people working to handle jobs that absolutely require more employees and this goes from the table people to the people working at the buffet servers to the people cooking in the kitchen. There is no one looking after the salad bar. There is one person who comes to the refill trays that are empty on the buffet - and when that person goes to the heating unit that is in the wall between the serving floor and the kitchen what they need is rarely waiting for them to put out. Next to that unit is an intercom and repeatedly you hear the person covering the buffet tables ask for the same item - over and over again. This is not just this one night but on so many other occasions when we would go there semi-regularly - before we decided to go to the next county. On this night a "new" manager came out and started carving as there was no one else to do it. Between carving and during carving she would run over to look at a near empty or empty tray and then dash to the intercom to ask for that item to be brought out. A long while later - still nothing to refill that tray and she was still the one carving. I have to wonder if there is actually anyone paying attention or listening to the other end of that intercom. This one worked hard on this night - and the restaurant was not that busy. But little was accomplished. Another recently new manager was going in and out of the kitchen - most times with empty hands, but every so often he was filling trays. At one point a guest asked for a dessert item that was empty. She was told it would be out as soon as HE went into the kitchen to make it. Business here is not that bad that the managers are doing all of the jobs. There needs to be people hired - and with the unemployment rate there is no reason why there are not more people - and responsible, responsive people working here.

In comparison, the other OCB has none of these problems. For one thing the manager sees something is empty on the buffet and he goes into the kitchen directly and with a booming voice that can be heard in the buffet area tells the kitchen crew exactly what he wants sent out and he wants it immediately - and comes out very quickly after that with several people coming in and out of the kitchen refilling trays. Yes, on some nights I have seen management help where needed. But this is not often needed - and there are weeks that I have been there on more than one night.

Well, the ice tea was never made. The Caesar salad finally came out as we were finishing dinner - about an hour and a half after we arrived to see the empty salad bowl. There were a few points that we went up to take food and were at a loss for what to take as there was little there.

Another typical night at Old Country Buffet in Levittown. I am not sure why but it continues to live up to the name of Worst Old Country Buffet in the Country. To correct that I believe it needs a clean sweep of employees and management. It needs a newly trained staff of employees who actually care about working and have a desire to do a good job and there needs to be a strong manager with equal commitment to the guests. Over the years there had been good employees and there had been some good, but short-time spent managers. Whenever they seem to get a good one that makes some improvements, he/she is shortly gone and it all slips back again. Yes, I should have made the drive out to the next county on this night, no matter how I felt about driving. I would have been much happier.

Threatening emails and comments from employees of this OCB - as I have received in the past - will not be acknowledged. Legitimate comments are always welcome.