Friday, April 06, 2012

The Manager Can Make All The Difference

I have said on this site before that rather than go to the Old Country Buffet that is less than four miles away, we drive about 20 miles each way to another Old Country Buffet location - and we do this fairly regularly- at least once a week. The reason is that the closer OCB is terrible, has poor staff, and poor management - and has been this way for a long time no matter what change in manager takes place. A few weeks ago, we went to what is now our regular OCB, and the manager there that is one of the best buffet managers that we have ever observed, was no where to be seen. This was odd as it was one of his usually scheduled work nights. This is the manager that I referred to as "Mr. Smiley" in an article written some time ago. The next week he was still not there and someone else was evident as the manager. I asked one of the staff that we know and, with a chagrin on this employee's face, we were told that he was gone. Both my wife and I looked at each other and said, "Oh boy!" I should say that this is not the general manager of the location. This is the secondary manager but it is he who seems to have complete charge of running the floor and the kitchen, training the staff, and doing a far better job than the general manager does when he is the only one there. The employees here responded to the gentleman who has left - he commanded their respect and it is very evident in their work. It was also very obvious when he was not working - things did not run as smoothly. We, of course, were going to give the new manager the chance that he deserves, and we would keep going. It had to be better than the other OCB.

A week later we were there on a Saturday night. We have been there before on Saturday nights, but now there was a new manager. The restaurant was crowded (though not much more than other nights we have been here), but he seemed to be handling the waiting line well and was doing a good job in getting people seated. That night, seating was the last thing that he seemed to do right.

Several times that night there were no plates - at all - out. Of course, they were being washed in the kitchen but no one was directing the kitchen to continually make sure that plates were being washed and put out. At one point, there were only salad plates, and people were taking these for lack of dinner plates. During this, the new manager came out, pretty much ignored the comments of where are the plates, picked up a salad plate himself and filled it with food from the buffet, and then went back into the kitchen, presumably to eat. The former manager always ate in the dining room, keeping an eye on everything. At this point there were empty tables and there was no apparent reason for him to not be visible - as any good manager should always be. The plate situation got worse. He came out for a moment, but despite people coming up to ask where are the plates, he went back into the kitchen. After a short while the hostess, decided that someone had to get involved and came to the area where the plates should be, reassured people that plates would be coming out very soon and then went into the kitchen to confirm this, came right back out and kept talking to the guests who were getting more and more upset. She was doing what the manager should have been doing - but he was no where to be seen.

Then the food started running out on the buffet and nothing was being replaced. Again, he came out of the kitchen, looked around, said nothing to the people getting upset with the lack of what was out, and then went back into the kitchen. What was going on?!? This was the worst that we ever experienced this particular OCB. This would never had taken place before. The manager would never have allowed it to get this far. He was excellent at anticipating. He would stick only his head in the door and shout what was required out on the buffet, and wait out on the floor to be sure it was out and out fast. We looked at each other that night, and realized that our "oh boy" may have been justified that "Mr. Smiley" was no longer there.

We went back the next night. Yes, we did. I had to see what would happen. Things were a little better. There were plates. Most of the food was out and replenished, though the assortment was a bit odd for the usual Sunday night. But again he was no where to be seen on the floor. He did come out of the kitchen a bit more often. But over all, he was not visible.

The next Saturday was St. Patrick's Day and I enjoy the corned beef and cabbage buffet that OCB has on St. Patrick's Day. I was a little hesitant because again, this was a Saturday night, the crowd would be heavy due to the holiday meal being served and the coupons that were put on the OCB Facebook page for $3 off a meal, and I had our experience from the last Saturday here in mind.

When we arrived there was a long line to get in. We decided that since Saturday hours are a little later than weekday hours, we would wait a little before going in. We waited about a half hour and when we went back, the line was much shorter. We were seated by this new manager and the hostess that had come to everyone's aid the week before. I have to tell you that on this holiday night things were much better - and one of the reasons is that he was on the floor almost the whole time we were there - to the point that he had on rubber gloves and was helping at one of the cleanup stations. He had an eye on everything that was going on and for the most part, food was refilled and there was no shortage of dishes. I don't know if someone clued him in to what is necessary to run this type of restaurant well or he figured it out for himself.

As I have always said on this site - the manger can make all of the difference between a good buffet and a buffet that no one wants to go to. I have seen this many times at many different types of buffets. When a buffet is good, the manager is always visible - and active.

Hopefully the new manager will keep up with his change in management. There are a number of regulars at this particular OCB and we have yet to see him make any move to be friendly with them as his predecessor was. Maybe soon he will get the idea that you need to go out of your way to welcome your guests - regulars or first time visitors. We like this buffet and want to keep liking it. There are no other OCB's, or American buffets for that matter, for a hundred miles that involve a lot of money in tolls.

We wish all of our best to "Mr. Smiley", wherever he has gone. I certainly hope that it was his decision to leave. We do know that he would talk often about getting offers from other restaurants. He was that good. OCB and Buffets, Inc. lost one of the best when they lost him.

We went back another night... The manager was there and once again did a good job in getting tables seated. Following that he was nowhere to be seen on the serving/buffet floor. Part way through the meal, I saw our server go and fill a plate and on the other end of the dining room sit down to eat. Another server adjacent to her area was actively taking care of her tables. Our server is new - hired since the new manager started. She said nothing to any other server to cover her tables while she had her dinner break. I have no problem with her having her diner break, BUT her tables still needed to be covered. Proper management would have instructed her to make sure when she goes on a break, she alerts other servers to cover her tables for her - which she would do for them when they take their break. She did not do this. She was off for some time. Here is the result on our table- just one of several tables like this. Eventually she finished eating and then got around to the tables - but stopping first to clean unoccupied tables that were not needed for the rest of the night, due to the hour near closing. She then was off again, in an empty part of the dining room on her phone. I know from observation of past nights at this restaurant watching the former manager in action, that this would never have been tolerated, nor would any of it have taken place as he was always out on the floor and aware of what each of his staff were doing - and not doing. I have never had dishes stack up at this particular OCB like this. By the way, a fifth plate was added to the stack before she picked up the dishes. It is very evident that at this Old Country Buffet, things are starting to slip in operation.

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