Friday, April 12, 2013

Still the Worst Old Country Buffet

All the way back in 2006, I wrote about the worst Old Country Buffet, the OCB located in Levittown, New York. Since then, and have had comments emailed to me and posted on various OCB articles here agreeing with this assessment of this particular OCB. I have been back many times - generally when I am not able to get to the another OCB that is about twenty miles from here. There have been better times there - management at this location seems to change regularly. How this OCB operates is very dependent upon the manager there at the time and the employees. Of course, management and employees can make or break any restaurant - and particularly a buffet restaurant. When there has been more diligent managers things get better. When there have been different employees combined with better managers things get better - and there have been times here that that combination has made this location fairly good. But for some reason, good managers don't remain here very long - perhaps they get as frustrated as some of the customers get, and they are soon gone.

Things have been downward here again, and so many of the same things that made this the worst Old Country Buffet before are at the same down point now. This is based on not just one visit but a number of disappointing visits. I have been to Old Country Buffets in a number of States. All have been far better than this one. Now, there had to be something keeping me going back there other than convenience and for about a year or so that has been the Thursday night feature which had been - at least up until now - a few of the old favorites at Old Country Buffet. Long gone are the Barbecue Beef Ribs, but they have had - particularly here, barbecue smoked sausage and country fried steak. Both certainly not the most healthy things one can consume but as an infrequent indulgence these can be a forgivable sin. These are dishes not generally found in restaurants in this area, and for this indulgence I have been drawn to this OCB on some Thursday nights.

Over the past several months, the smoked sausage has been an on again and off again item on the buffet on Thursday nights. At one point we called and asked if it was on the buffet that night. What we were told was that it runs out early. Fair enough, but an item that runs out early because of popularity should be stocked in greater quantity. The night we called we were told that it was there on the buffet. We actually rushed on over. When we got there the tray was still half full - until a manager went up to the buffet and filled his plate with the remaining sausage and then sat down to have his dinner. Hmm. Another found no smoked sausage and another visit after that found another half full tray - and with no manager in sight, I made sure to get a portion before it was gone - but this should not be like this. The country fried steak and white gravy had been there on each visit - until this last visit, when that was gone also - and on an evening when it had been snowing through the day and the restaurant was far from crowded. But what gets put out instead here when something runs out. Well, meat dishes are replaced with potatoes or rolls. Rarely does an equivalent meat dish come out to take its place.

Now, this is not about not finding two particular dishes. This about a lot more than that. In that first article, cleanliness, the failure to refill empty trays of food items, and table staff who do not do their jobs were the key problems here. These all still exist - perhaps worse. Food trays go down to a few scraps or completely empty and sit empty for more than an hour. On one night the string beans - simple dish to prepare and replace - were empty on arrival. At the time we were ready to leave a new tray finally came out - barely cooked and almost raw. On another visit, an hour and a half before closing the carved turkey was gone - and never came back out - and no other carving replaced it. On one night there were scraps of pork ribs in the tray. Over an hour later more finally came out. Then there are the items that because of an attempt to get them out - or lack of it - come out undercooked or overcooked. Chicken needs to be cooked through - broiled chicken has come out undercooked. On the opposite end - fried chicken has come out so well done that it was impossible to bite or cut through. On one night, corn dogs were served one shade of brown lighter than black - and shriveled. And you ask who is watching all of this? Who is making sure that the food that comes out and assures that more food does come out, comes out properly cooked and promptly. There are managers - if they are around, but this all seems to be left up to the few employees who are responsible for things like carving, the Mongolian Stir-Fry, and tending to the soft serve machine. It is very evident here that there is not enough staff - and some of those who are here just seem to go through the motions. On more than one night, we have had empty dishes pile high on our table - and this is not just happening on our table. When we eat at a buffet, we do not pile one plate so high that you can not see what is there at the bottom. We both take small portions and then go back for more of what we want. We might go up five or more times during a meal and take another plate of small portions. At all of the buffets that I will recommend to my readers - and that is a lot - each of those dishes is taken away by the table server shortly after it is set to the side of the table. On one night, we sat down at a table that (along with the other tables in the section) had no salt and pepper shakers and no dish of sweeteners and sugar. None of the tables here had them - other sections did have them. The table server came over to wipe down the table and greet us. As it is supposed to be. I figured that he would soon be back with at least the dish of sweeteners - as we had purchased the additional $1.99 beverages, clearly marked on our table paper that the server signs at the bottom, and perhaps we were going to have coffee, tea, or ice tea. That was the last time we saw that server all night. He was off in another section and never came back. With a stack of plates piled about eight high including soup cups and salad plates, another server came walking past to his section, saw our plates and picked them up. Some more empty plates followed those on our table, and as we were just getting ready to leave, the original server showed up again, ignored the plates and put down a dish of sweeteners on our table along with a salt and pepper shaker. I have had poor service here and at other buffets, but this tops them all as worst.

To make things worse - on Thursday nights - Thursday has been, chain-wide, children eat for 99 cents. A nice gesture, but other than cotton candy at this particular OCB, there is little to no kid food other than the usual pizza. And, partially due to parents who do not control their children, and partially due to a restaurant management that only weakly makes announcements that children should not be away from their tables unsupervised rather than stay visible and tell the children who are running around wildly in the dining room and around the buffet tables to stop, the entire room becomes more of an uncontrolled playroom that a restaurant. Again, I have been to other OCBs and also Ryan's on Thursday nights when it is children's night and there has not been problems like this. I like kids, but here someone has to be in charge - and when it is not the parents (as bad as that is), it needs to be the proprietor of the restaurant - or someone falls, gets burned, or hurts someone else.

It is all too much! What would I do if I was running this OCB? I have said this before to people who have spoken to me about this OCB and agree with what I am about to say. For a manager to come in and take full control and make this a location that is desirable to come to, all employees need to go and need to be replaced with well screened new hires that would be kept as long as they demonstrated that they did their jobs well. This would allow the management to do what the management needs to do and that does not mean hide in their office or off the dining room/buffet table floor. I would also change the system here for informing the kitchen what is needed. There is an intercom here that is the only communication with the kitchen. Apparently, to actually go into the kitchen requires I don't know what, but no one in authority seems to go into the kitchen. They shout into the intercom - "we need more X, Y, Z" and at some point it is passed to the buffet area through a warming bin that opens on both sides. Now, what happens - the order for more X, Y, or Z is forgotten on the floor and never does appear in the warming bin - which results in another yell into the intercom - maybe - if anyone even bothers. At other OCBs, I have seen a manager look at the serving trays, go directly into the kitchen - you can see it is the kitchen as they open the door behind the buffet tables, and in a few minutes come out - hopefully, with what needs to be replenished. I can only wonder what is going on in the "secret" kitchen, that results in an hours wait to get basic items that should be cooking continually, per the crowd that is dining, back out onto the buffet. And many buffets when a night is slow, bring out smaller servings and make sure to keep more on hand in the kitchen to refill. Not here. One other thing that needs to be watched here is that the recipes are followed according to the OCB book. Often at this OCB, food is over spiced and over salted - to the point that it is inedible.

The Old Country Buffet in Levittown, New York is still the wort buffet in the chain. Will I go back? Certainly I am not going back to be disappointed on what is not there on Thursday nights any longer. I will likely give it some time and try it again to see if there has been any change for the positive, but on those occasions so far, the positives have been short lived.

There is another Old Country Buffet on Long Island, New York. It is in Bay Shore. It is a lot better than this one! If you are in this area, go there. Despite the drive, you will be happier.

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