Friday, September 16, 2011

Two Nights at a Golden Corral - Williamsburg, Virginia PART 1

On our trip in August we went to the Golden Corral in Williamsburg, Virginia. One of my readers commented that not all Golden Corral restaurants are the same - and that is very true. It is difficult to judge a large, national chain but one location or even a few. There is something different at each. Each takes on the personality of its management and its employees. Some things at chain restaurants are system wide - policies and procedures sent down by the corporate offices that the chain expects to be implemented at each location. Experiences on the first night at this Golden Corral were the result of both the specific location and corporate procedure.

It was a Saturday night in mid-August in a restaurant that is located in the middle of a heavily visited tourist area. I have been to this Golden Corral many times in year's past. It has had its share of ups and downs. This Saturday night was one of the downs - and not because there was anything wrong with the food. It was because of the crowd - and the inability of the restaurant to handle it.

Suffice it to say, the restaurant was packed. It did not appear this way from the line. We waited a relatively short time to get in and we had no wait to be taken to a table. Looking around the restaurant the crowd was not overwhelming, but once we went up to the buffet area, everything changed. What there was, was a mass of confusion by the people dining here. I am certain that some had never been in a buffet restaurant before. The layout of this buffet lends itself to the problem as the main food area is laid out in the shape of a small U. At the closed end of the U is the grill and each leg of the U is a food bar. The space around the legs of the U is narrow with short partition walls closing this area off from the cashier area and a dining room on the other side. Each food bar area had one way in and out - and people were insistent on lining up cafeteria style to move around the food bar, serving tray by serving tray from one end to the other. So if you wanted string beans that were located toward the end of the bar (nearer the closed end of the U) the crowd expected that you should wait at the end and move around the whole buffet server until you came to the string beans rather than walking in - when there was room to walk in and go up to the string bean tray and take some.

The grill at the closed end of the U was serving steaks off the char-grill, and at the end was serving the feature pan seared seafood. This end of the buffet was just opposite the salad bar and the aisle between these is also narrow. There was a rope set up to direct traffic into the grill and create its own line, but on this night, it was mostly ignored by the patrons and was made part of that looping cafeteria line that ever increased in length into the restaurant.

So, so far the problems encountered had to do with a poor physical layout and with patrons who so much wanted to relive the days of eating in a school cafeteria - "no cutting in line!". One of the biggest problems was the result of the pan-seared seafood feature. This feature was one of the worst thought out features ever to come to the mind of some corporate restaurant executive. You just cannot cook every dish to order at a buffet. I wrote about this feature a few months back when I went to it on the first night that the chain offered it at the Golden Corral in Bensalem, PA. I liked it that night - it was not crowded and the chef working the skillets had a way to ore-saute the fish selections to speed up the final, individualize preparation to order. Here what was happening was after waiting on a long line - yet a different line from the other that I have mentioned, when you finally got up to the window where he was cooking, you told him what fish you wanted and then he started started sauteing the raw fish in a frying pan on the griddle. (He would allow you to mix the seafood - scallops and shrimp, etc. if you would like which the chef in Pennsylvania would not do.) This process took several minutes on its own and THEN he moved that pan over to another grill in front of him to finish it for several more minutes before he plated the fish and then asked you what you wanted on it - pasta, rice, or vegetables and one of the special sauces. Without exaggeration each person's order was taking over six to eight minutes. I had decided to try it again - despite the crowd - and my wife who had returned to the table with her plate from the regular buffet wondered what had happened to me for so long while her plate went cold. In addition to the process, the finished dish was not nearly as good as it had been that night that I had it in Pennsylvania. The vegetables were different - sauteed spinach here instead of nicely sauteed mixed vegetables. The Lemon Picatta sauce was not good - as it so much had been. It was sharp in taste and very greasy. Later that night I regretted having it. A word for Golden Corral Buffet Corporate - forget the cooked to order in future features - put out the cooked fish, the sauces, and the base vegetables, pasta, and rice and let your customers come up and make their own combinations.

It was pretty obvious that the restaurant was filled with tourists and I cannot blame the restaurant for one of the big problems that night. We were seated at a table that backed on to one of the two cases where clean dishes and silverware are kept to be taken to use. This is new to Golden Corral - and generally a good thing - as in the past your server gave you clean plates when you needed them - and hopefully was around at those times. So our table was up against this on an end of the row. Unbelievably, people were leaning on our table, sitting in our booth, and stretching across our table to take plates and silverware from the stack. There was open access to the front of these stacks. All you needed to do was walk up to the front and take a plate and silverware. But for some reason, it was necessary for them to sit down with us to do so from the rear. This was just too much - and I have never seen this behavior at a buffet before. Again, this was not the restaurant's fault but the people who were eating there - and it was not kids, but adults. And they said nothing - they just did it and went on. I stopped it by making it very cluttered on the table where they were looking to lean - saying something had no effect - and it was not just one or two people but a number of them!

This night was an experience unlike so many others at buffets that I have had. If I never was in a Golden Corral before I would never go back. If I had never been in this Golden Corral before, I would never go back. But I have been to this one in the past - and other than the physical layout - there had never been a night like this one.

When we left, all I could say is "Wow!" and not in a good way. Now, believe it or not the next day, my wife - who is not a big fan of Golden Corral in the first place said to me, "Maybe we should go back another night to Golden Corral and see if that was a one night thing - or if it is like that every night." This really took me by surprise - I have written before about my picky eater wife and her inability to find things to eat at Golden Corral. But I agreed -maybe it was the night and the people. We waited a couple of days before we went back mid-week.

The story of the second night continues next week.

End of Part I.


RemixedCat said...

where is part 2???

Writer said...

You have to wait until this Friday night for Part 2! :)

RemixedCat said...

awww ok ;-)

hope you have more reviews soon...

but I finally managed to make it to a ponderosa! been years.... I have a review on my blogspot page if you wanna take a look.