Friday, October 28, 2011

Rules for Buffet Staff and Management

We have looked at buffets from the start of this site primarily from the view point of the people who dine at them. I want to turn that attention now toward the people who manage them and work at them. After a few collective not so great experiences, I feel that it is time for a set of rules for those who serve the public at a buffet. It seems odd to me that such a list is necessary, as these people are doing a job and at some level - whether it is self-pride in doing a job well or a manager making sure that everyone does their job well - people who are paid to do a job would do it in a way that would benefit the business and in turn keep their job. At some buffet restaurants, there is no question that this is how things are, but there are some - and I am not going to name them now - that need perhaps to have it spelled out for them - the basic expectations of the people who come to the restaurant and pay for a meal.

So - you will find some of these just plain common sense, but as with the Rules of the Buffet for diners, sometimes plain common sense is just overlooked. This will be a continuing list - this is by far not complete and will be added to as we go along. Also, this list is not in any specific order. Just because one rule comes before another does not make it any more important. They are all of prime importance.


1. Everything on this list of rules is the responsibility of every employee of a buffet restaurant. If you are not authorized to do what is necessary, immediately get someone who is.

2. Make sure that there are plates and silverware always available. When the number of plates or any particular utensil starts to get low, bring out more immediately. Do not wait for them all to be gone.

3. The temperature of food must be kept at a specified level - hot foods must remain hot and cold foods must remain properly gold. Check the serving trays regularly with a food thermometer to make sure temperatures are correct. (This is a Board of Health regulation, but it seems that some buffets don't pay much attention to it.)

4. When a tray of food is half full, alert the kitchen that more is needed. Do not allow any tray to become empty.

5. Stir the trays of food regularly around the entire buffet. Do not allow any tray to become dry.

6. At least one employee needs to be assigned the job of walking around all serving bars and inspecting the food.

7. Any item that does not appear presentable to eat should be removed immediately.

8. Parents with children should be told when entering that children under 12 must be accompanied to the food bars and may not go up alone. Signs of reminder need to be posted at the food bars.

9. If there is a carving station, a carver must be present at all times and within sight of the carving station - ready to serve the next person who steps up without delay.

10. A manager or supervisor should always be visible in the restaurant - and keeping an eye on employees in both the dining room and at the buffet.

11. Finished plates need to be picked up from a table promptly. Plates should never have to be stacked up on a table before they are picked up.

12. If beverages are served at the table, table staff should ask diners if they would like a refill as soon as the glasses are just a quarter full.

13. Table staff should introduce themselves to the diners at their table when the diners first sit down.

14. Every serving tray must have its own serving piece.

15. When an employee sees that a serving piece has been placed in the wrong tray, it should be picked out immediately and replaces with a clean serving piece.

16. Items that will drip should be placed at the front of the buffet server and not behind other items that they will drip into when served.

17. The dining room needs to be kept clean throughout the day. Serving area counters need to be wiped down and floors need to be kept clean of food items dropped including around and under tables.

18. Correctly label every item out on the buffet. If an item changes in a location, change the label at the same time.

19. If beverages are not included in the buffet price - and drinks are self-service - if a dinner is seen taking a beverage or there is a beverage on the table that has not been paid for, report this to a manager immediately and the manager should speak with the customer.

20. Smile at all times. At least look like you enjoy your job.

21. Managers need to anticipate a busy night and prepare accordingly with food on hand, food being cooked, and an adequate number of employees on duty to handle the business.

22. Managers need to make sure the kitchen staff is keeping up with the demand at the serving bars and make sure they are keeping ahead of need.


As I said, I am sure there will be more coming. If you would like to contribute to this list, please email me through the link at the side of the page or leave a comment. If you leave a comment please understand that I will take your suggestion from the comment and not publish the comment. If you would like credit for the "rule", let me know and I will include a screen name of your choice with the rule.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Peking Restaurant - Revisited, Williamsburg, Virginia

I wish that I was saving the best for the last of the restaurants that I recently dined at during my trip to Williamsburg, Virginia, but my trip to the Peking Restaurant - the Asian Buffet that this site named as the best in 2007 - was a bit disappointing. I have been there since that article was written, but there have been some changes - and sometimes change is not good.

Let me tell you a little about this buffet in general. It is located in a shopping center next to a K-Mart on one of the main routes in Williamsburg, Virginia. It is well known by the locals and we have had many dinners there sitting near employees from both Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens. This has been for a long time, a must stop and dine for us - and often we will have more than one meal there during our trip. We planned the same for this recent trip and we went there the first night that we arrived in town.

From the outside all looked the same. I had read before we went that they have added a "sushi train" and also a Thai food section to the buffet. I have not really had Thai food before other than a dish or two included at Asian buffets so this would be something different to try. I wondered how a buffet would incorporate a "sushi train" but I will talk more about that as we go along here. We went inside. The room to the right of the entrance which was once a gift shop is now an additional dining room. The rest of the dining room was pretty much as it had been. The large flat screen TVs were still around the room at the ceiling playing Oriental videos, though there seemed to be less of them. They are not loud and interesting to glance up at during the meal for what they are playing. What I did notice was that the layout of the buffet was different. The serving stations were changed to now line two walls (one of those walls, the divider to the dining room). The large round Mongolian grill was still where it had always been. There has always been another grill area at the opposite end of the buffet and that was there as well, but the sushi bar that had once been at the end of that was now a dessert station and the "sushi train" was now taking up a section that had once been table space (apparently why they needed the dining space now where the gift shop had once been).

The price for the meal is still good. With the tax and the tip, the dinner came to $17 per person including unlimited soft drinks which is not bad for a large Asian buffet meal. Again, remember this is with tax and tip. This is more than the $10.99 that it was five years ago - but not much and think how much everything else has gone up in price in five years!

There is a large section of soups - several different soups beyond the usual wonton, egg drop, hot and sour selection. Clam Chowder, Vegetable Chicken, Seaweed, and Miso soup were there among the usual. There is also a noodle soup station in the middle of the grill area on the left side of the restaurant. Here you can get one of the several types of noodles cooked with broth and vegetables to order. We love Vietnamese Pho and they will make that for you here. While the pho broth is not seasoned as it would be in a Vietnamese restaurant, this soup is good here. We both enjoyed a bowl of that.

Let me now tell you about the "sushi train". This is something that is popular in Tokyo and has come to some Japanese restaurants in the United States. The idea in one of those other restaurants is that you sit at a long counter and a moving line of sushi dishes travel past you. There you take what you like and you are charged per plate at the end. HERE - there is a section on the side rear of the restaurant that has a U-shaped, tall counter covered with plexiglass that has doors every so many feet. Inside there is a track upon which single pieces of sushi travel along on plates. There was all types of sushi - far beyond what Peking Restaurant had in the past. Many were spicy. Each plate has one piece of sushi on it. Now, here is the problem. This is a buffet. How many small plates are you going to pick up and take back to your table? You are not eating here at the counter as is done at a "sushi train" restaurant. So you take a couple - maybe three -and you go back and you are up again a few minutes later for more. Some were taking larger plates and emptying the smaller plates into the larger plate - but this area is not set up for this and there is no place to put these empty little plates. You also need a hand free to open the door to reach inside the moving conveyor belt to take a plate. Knowing what each plate had on it was also a problem. There was some attempt to place a name on a crystal block in front of the plates of each type of sushi as it went along - but some of these were obviously not correct, and if you missed the name as it moved past, you were guessing what was on each plate. There was also some attempt at color coding each plate color for the type of sushi that was on it - roll, spicy, fish, raw, vegetable - but the chart got complex - fast! This was a good idea but not for a buffet. I wound up taking things that looked like what they were not. I love sushi - I moved on from this quickly. It was not worth the effort that it took - and it was almost impossible to go back and find the same thing (even basic things) that I had taken and wanted again. Put this in a buffet situation where you sit down at this moving line of sushi and it would be something special. Here it was a gimmick gone wrong.

The Thai dishes were laid out along a counter all together. There was Thai Dumplings, Pad Thai, Sweet Coconut Rice Cakes, Fish Cake, Sticky Rice with Tropical fruit, Green Curry Shrimp, Thin Rice Roll, and Thai Fried Rice. Things were labeled that they were spicy - and they absolutely were. I tried what appeared to be the milder of what was there and it was beyond what I enjoy in spicy/hot dishes. If you are a Thai food eater, this all may be great. To the uninitiated, this was not for the beginner.

On the grill there is terriaki beef and terriaki chicken. There were also dumplings here. There used to be hibachi beef and chicken here right off the grill, but that is gone, much to my wife's disappointment.

The assortment of hot dishes also seems to have changed and there seemed to be less of them and what was there was more on the spicy and sweet side of Chinese dishes than a broad assortment. In the past there had been more of the simpler and less common on a buffet Chinese dishes, as simple as chow mein or moo shu. Those were not there as they once had been. There is a large variety of rice with three types of fried rice and also brown rice.

The Mongolian barbecue is there to make up for what may be missing on the rest of the buffet. Here you can make what you like by taking raw meat (chicken, beef, pork, shrimp) and mixing it with raw vegetables, adding a sauce on top and having the chef cook it for you while you watch. This was as it had been. You make what you like and season it to taste. Here you can be as simple or as complex as you want. Choose only vegetables, if you like, or choose only meat. It is all up to you.

Desserts are now more of the typical Chinese buffet fare - little pieces of pastry/cake, fruit, pudding, and soft serve ice cream. Nothing really to talk about.

Service is still good. Dishes were picked up right away, soft drinks were refilled, and the staff is friendly.

We had more than enough to eat. There was no question that there was not a variety nor was it hard to find something that you would like. It was not the same though. If walking in here for the first time ever, it would not strike me that this would rank as a "best" and that is how I have always felt about this restaurant in the past.

After the meal was another story, and something(s?) that I chose to eat did not sit well. This happens rarely to me at a buffet. Perhaps it was the small taste of one of the Thai dishes that I tried or the spicy sushi. But it was something, and I did not enjoy how I felt and what happened later that evening. My wife was fine, however, but she does not eat the unusual. She picks the simple and the things that she knows. After this, I had decided that we would go back to Peking Restaurant another night and see what happens. However, with the choice of the other nice, new buffets that I have written about in the past several weeks that we could go to, and the memory of how I felt after this meal, we did not go back. There will be another trip and I am sure that we will try Peking Restaurant again - but I know that I will be cautious in what I select. And you know what? At a buffet like this you should not have to feel that you need to be cautious.

So, my conclusions about Peking Restaurant? Frankly, it will be wait and see the next time. Two months ago I would tell you that you MUST go here for a wonderful meal. Now, I will tell you that it has been great in the past. Maybe I will say that again in the future - I just did not have a good experience this night - after the meal. Others who live close by tell me it is still great. Maybe I picked up the wrong thing to put in my mouth. I don't know...

The Peking Restaurant in Williamsburg, Virginia is located at 120 Waller Mill Road in the Big Kmart Shopping Center. (Kingsgate Green Shopping Center – Bypass Road (Rt.60)). There is a website and that is listed at this side of the page.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Wasabi Oriental Buffet, Williamsburg, Virginia

Wasabi Oriental Buffet was a pleasant find in Williamsburg, Virginia. Our trip to Williamsburg, Virginia included a buffet meal every night with the idea of bringing our readers some new buffets to visit in their travels. Three of those meals were at Asian buffets. We almost did not eat at this one. In fact, the first night that we went to eat there the parking lot to the right side of the restaurant was full. On a second night's successful attempt, we saw that the parking lot to the left of the restaurant is not just for the motel that is right behind, but there is a large section next to the restaurant that is just for this restaurant. I am glad that we saw this because we had a very pleasant meal.

The Wasabi buffet advertises itself as having a Mongolian Grill (in this area all of the Asian buffets include a Mongolian Grill), having Hawaiian BBQ, and having a sushi bar. I was very curious to discover what Hawaiian BBQ was. When we entered what we found was the usual Asian buffet setup with hot and cold buffet servers and a section behind a counter with a grill and sushi bar. We were pleasantly greeted and brought to our table which was in one of the two dining rooms that this restaurant has. One dining room is just off the buffet area and is very traditionally decorated. There is another dining room through an alcove that is much larger and is much more modernly decorated. Each room has a distinct look - both very nice. The other dining room is used for catering as well as an additional dining room and they have had weddings and parties in this room.

We paid just $29 and change for the two of us for dinner on a weeknight and this included the price of the meal, unlimited soft drinks, the tax, and the tip. Compared to prices at home at a comparable Asian buffet this is very good.

We started with soup, as always. There was the usual assortment of wonton, egg drop, and hot and sour. Lately, I have been mixing egg drop with hot and sour to tone down the hot in the hot and sour. It is an unusual combination but I like hot and sour and don't like it spicy, so while this may not tell you how the hot and sour soup is on its own, the combination was good. My wife had the wonton soup and liked it.

There is a small salad area and as is typical of Asian buffets it is really just an afterthought. Few go to this type of buffet to make a salad, but if you are inclined, the lettuce, the dressings, and the toppings were there for you to do so. There was cold, peel and eat shrimp at the salad bar. Clams and mussels were also on ice.

There was a large sushi bar and there was a broad variety of sushi rolls - but it was all rolls. There was no plain fish or just fish on a bed of rice. If you enjoy, sushi rolls you will be very satisfied with what you find. If you like the fish and don't want the rice, then you will be picking it out of the rolls.

There are hot crab legs but they do cost $5 extra with the buffet. If you take crab legs, you will be charged the additional $5.00. Again, this is not unusual in Asian buffets that I have been to in the South. Frankly, I prefer it this way. If you are not going to eat the crab legs why should you pay for extra that is added to the buffet price. This way the crab legs are there for you and given the price of the buffet meal, an extra $5 for the crab legs is not unreasonable.

Hot dishes abound on this buffet along with a nice variety of appetizers. On the hot buffet, there were three types of dumplings - fried pork dumplings, steamed shrimp dumplings and peach buns - a doughy, steamed dumpling that looks like a peach filled with sweet bean paste. Entrees included General Tso's chicken, baby clams in a red sauce, spicy chicken, beef with broccoli, egg foo young, crab and cheese casserole, scallops, teryaki chicken, salmon, sauteed green beans, shrimp and seafood legs combination, bourbon chicken, ribs, boneless ribs, sweet and sour chicken, mussels with cheese, lo mein, and others. There were egg rolls, fried cheese filled wontons, "sea" balls, fried shrimp, and sesame bread. The buffet also had a lot of side dishes - consider some "international" - and these included fried rice, mashed sweet potatoes with marshmallows, fries, cabbage, broccoli, red potatoes, rice noodles, corn, and garlic spinach. Dishes may change by the night as there are other dishes shown on their website that I did not see the night that we were there.

Now, what about the Hawaiian BBQ? On the hot buffet there was a tray with a Hawaiian BBQ chicken and Hawaiian BBQ pork. Both were the meat in a slightly sweet sauce. Not bad, but not what I imagined as Hawaiian BBQ - perhaps I was thinking roast suckling pig...

The Mongolian BBQ was the usual selection of raw beef, pork, chicken, and shrimp available to mix with an assortment of raw strips of vegetables. You place what you want on a plate - add a sauce for it to cook in and hand it to the chef behind the counter who cooks this all for you on a large, very hot, flat griddle. This is always a good addition to an Asian buffet because if you don't see what you like on the buffet you can create it yourself at the grill.

Dessert was the usual Asian buffet assortment - small pieces of cake, fried dough balls in sugar, chocolate pudding, and fresh fruit. This is standard oriental buffet desert fare and one does not go to an Asian buffet for the desserts.

So how was it all. At first, I had my concerns. The first of the hot foods that we took, after the soup, were warm but not hot. They should have been hotter. As the meal progressed and more was put out, however, the temperature of the foods increased to proper temperatures. This was not a concern into the meal. The taste of the food was good. It was an enjoyable meal. There was plenty to choose from and plenty to eat. We certainly were not hungry after the meal and we both said that this was a restaurant that we wanted to come back to again. When we were leaving the Oriental gentleman at the front cashier's desk (perhaps the owner) bowed to us. This was the first time anyone at a buffet bowed to me.

We both were pleased - remember my picky eater wife - she was pleased. I think that you will be too. If you are in Williamsburg, Virginia try Wasabi Oriental Buffet.

Wasabi Oriental Buffet is located at 1203 Richmond Road, Williamsburg, Virginia. This is right near Colonial Williamsburg and William and Mary University. Their phone number is 757-645-3988. There is a website and there is a link to that website at the side of this page.

If you look in the free tourist magazines that are at all of the hotels, you should find a coupon to save money on your meal at Wasabi. This makes it an even better deal!

Friday, October 07, 2011

Captain George's Seafood Buffet (Revisited) - Williamsburg, VA

In my last article I wrote about a very disappointing return to a seafood buffet. In this article I want to tell you about an excellent return to Captain George's Seafood Buffet. I can't believe that my last (and first) article on this buffet was in 2005, as I certainly have been there since, but it has been at least three years since my last visit. There has been a change to the decor, but the buffet and its abundance pretty much remains as it was - and the price in all of this time has not increased too much.

Captain George's has several locations in Virginia and North and South Carolina. I have only been to the one in Williamsburg, Virginia, but I have been told that the rest are very similar. Captain George's is primarily a buffet restaurant but there is a menu also, though I have rarely seen anyone order from it rather than ordering the buffet, but I am sure some do. If you are set on having lobster, then you are ordering from the menu, as there is no lobster on the buffet. There is so much other than lobster that unless you are really set on having lobster, you will not be unhappy with the buffet.

This location is a few miles outside of the historic area of Colonial Williamsburg toward the direction of the several outlet malls. There is a large parking lot just for this restaurant. The restaurant is large and there are several dining rooms. This buffet also has a dinner theater type production murder mystery that takes place in a dining room well separated from the dining room in which the general public is seated, though the diners from the dinner theater do come in at intervals to the same buffet serving area. There are also private dining rooms for parties.

The decor in the main dining room has been changed since we were last there about three years ago. The walls in the past were made to look like a little village of shops. Now those facades were gone and the room has been decorated to look more elegant with chandeliers and a more colonial ballroom appearance. It is very nice, though my wife missed the quaint village look of the past. The buffet is set into a facade of a clipper ship complete with masts with sail rigging.

Price for the buffet is now $31 per adult. Children from 5 to 12 are half price and children four and under are free. There is an early bird special on Sundays from Noon to 4 pm at $27.00 per adult. They are open every day except Christmas. Soft drinks are charged separately and you get free refills. With soft drinks, tax, and tip the meal, for me, was expensive at over $70 for two. For many others, it would be considered an average dinner out. For the money spent, there is value here in what you are offered and what you get, especailly compared to other restaurants in this area.

I started my meal with one of the two soups that are always found on the buffet. There is She Crab Soup and there is New England Clam Chowder. I have had both. Both are very good. I have always enjoyed the She Crab Soup and that is what I choose again on this trip. This is a thick, white cream soup with pieces of crab and tiny pieces of potatoes, peppers, and vegetables. It has a velvety texture and tastes great. They say it is a secret recipe. This is not like the red, thin Maryland crab soup. It is more like a bisque than a chowder. The New England Clam Chowder is a thick white cream chowder full of clams and potatoes.

There is a salad bar that is a mix of lettuce and salad fixings with a variety of salad vegetables to add to the lettuce and then top your salad with a variety of dressings. There are also seafood salads to enjoy like crab salad and shrimp salad.

I am not sure if one would consider crab legs and steamed shrimp as appetizers or entrees, but they are in abundance. There are both hot and cold steamed crab legs and shrimp. Since hot tends to be what is preferred I will focus on those. Large snow crab clusters are continually brought out to the buffet server replenishing what is being taken. These are whole clusters that are of significant size. There is butter sauce and there is cocktail sauce. There is also hot steamed shrimp. There are also steamed crayfish and there are steamed hard shell blue crabs. All of this is found on a second clipper ship buffet server off to the side of the main server. There are also oysters Rockefeller - baked oysters stuffed with spinach and cheese. The crab legs and shrimp are good. I find the crayfish - everywhere that I have had them - not just here - to be very fishy in flavor and I now tend to pass them by. Others love them! I took one of the blue crabs but I have never mastered the art of getting the meat out of them and there was little to be found after I got through with opening the shell that I was sad that the poor crab gave his life for so little. I would much rather pick the loads of meat out of the snow crab legs and joints. If you like mussels you will also find steamed mussels and you will also find small steamed clams.

There is a lot more here than just shellfish - in fact there is more here than just seafood. After the soup, and the salad, and then the shellfish, I moved on to the main buffet server where the entrees and the side dishes are. Now, note that I said, "I", my wife who does not eat seafood other than shrimp had moved on before me. The entrees vary from pre-sliced prime rib of beef to local seafood specialties. Just about all that I remember from past meals were here still. Of special note is the Norfolk Special which is a mixture of crab, shrimp, and scallops in a lightly seasoned butter sauce. You get all the goodness of the crab and other shellfish without the work of getting it out of the shell. Another local dish is Crab Imperial which is a casserole full of crab meat. There is no skimping on the crab here - and it is the real thing - no sea legs are used here when it is supposed to be crab. I also enjoyed the fried scallops and the fried clams. The clams were nicely and naturally sweet.

There is much more seafood. There is broiled salmon, mahi mahi, fried pollack, fried shrimp, a changing broiled catch of the day, baked clams, stuffed mushrooms, and more. If you want other than seafood there is fried chicken, slices of prime rib, Italian manicotti, fall off the bone barbecue ribs in sauce, and broiled chicken. Of course, there has to be side dishes (well, in most places there have to be side dishes - see last week's article). There is corn on the cob, string beans, steamed rice, sauteed mushrooms, broccoli, potato salad and cole slaw. You will find baked rolls, fried hushpuppies (fried cornmeal dumplings), and cornbread muffins. It is all good. And there is far more than anyone can eat at one meal, so if you want to try it all, take a little taste.

I know my readers want to hear about desserts and there is a nice assortment of desserts at Captain George's. Several of the desserts are Greek and they are famous for their rice pudding and their honey oozing Baklava. There is also Chocolate cake, Strawberry shortcake, carrot cake, and cookies - all fine bakery quality. There are also hot fruit cobblers (apple, cherry, and peach), flan, and seasonal fresh fruits. These desserts are worth saving room for, so keep the dessert area in mind as you go back for just one more plate full of seafood.

Our service was very good. Our server took our soft drink orders when we sat down. I asked for an unsweetened ice tea. The ice tea that I was brought was sweet. When I called her over and told her I expected an automatic, of course, let me bring you another - but she was so certain that she had it right. She went off to get another and had to ask if this one was the same as the other - it wasn't. She was still surprised, but that was the only glitch in the entire meal with service. She was very pleasant the whole time and she was prompt at clearing away plates, bringing refills on drinks, and leaving a plate to pile empty crab shells on.

Is it good? Yes. Will it cost you more than the usual OCB meal? Yes, a lot more (3 times more). Is it worth it? Yes. Will I go back? Absolutely. I have been back many times before.

As I said when I started this article, there are three locations of Captain George's in several places besides Williamsburg, Va in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. These are all popular vacation spots and you can be sure that the other locations are in vacation areas as this one is Virginia Beach, Myrtle Beach, and Outer Banks. (There are actually fewer locations now than there were six years ago.)

I very much recommend that you try Captain George's. If you go to one of the other locations, let me know how it is.

This Captain George's is located at 5363 Richmond Road, Williamsburg, VA 23188. The phone number is 757-565-2323. Large parties should make reservations in advance during the summer. There is a link to the main webpage for all locations at the side of this page.