Friday, November 08, 2013

An Open Letter to Anthony Wedo, CEO and President of Buffets, Inc.

Dear Mr. Wedo:

A week ago I published an article on this website in review and reaction to your appearance on the television show, Undercover Boss. One could look at why you decided to go on television on this "Reality Show" as either a publicity "stunt" for your restauants or to actually show your sincerity about helping a business that has seen two bankruptcies in managing several chains of restaurants and, at the same time, caring about the quality of restaurant and service those restaurants bring to your customers. I would like to believe that your reason was a little of both, with an emphsis on quality and service to customers, because that is the only reason that will keep your businesses running.

I have been dining at Old Country Buffets, Ryan's, and Fire Mountain restaurants for many years. I have generally had dinner in one of your restaurants at least once every week for the past several years. As we are located in New York on Long Island, there are two Old Country Buffets locally. I dined at one of those Old Country Buffets tonight with my wife. We are just five minutes from the Old Country Buffet in Levittown, New York. We usually drive forty minutes to the Old Country Buffet in Bay Shore, New York. We spend the extra money for gas to make that trip because that location has been far superior to the Levittown location. I have to share that immediately after my last two meals at that Old Country Buffet - a week and a half apart from each other - I had food poisoning. We decided that we would not go back there for a while and despite the long standing problems at the Levittown, New York Old Country Buffet we would try that location again, the next time that we would go to an Old Country Buffet.

You went undercover to four restaurants in your chain for a day each. Everyone of your customers is going undercover to your restaurants every day. Actually, I was amazed that you only encountered one problem employee and less than satisfactory conditions at only one of the buffets that you visited undercover. I only wish that I had the clout of a corporate executive at Buffets, Inc. to react to what took place at the Levittown Old Country Buffet tonight. My readers know that I have said several times in the past that I would not go back to the Levittown OCB because of what goes on there, but every so often I decide to go back and give it another try and see if there maybe has been an improvement. Less than five minutes of coming through the door and paying for our dinners tonight, I was regretting having come back.

We were at the buffet on a Sunday evening for dinner.  The dining room was crowded and we sat ourselves - as the sign indicated. There were two tables for four open next to each other in the center of the dining room closest to the buffet. One of those tables was covered in dirty dishes. The other table at first glance looked like it had been cleaned and prepared for the next guest - at least there were no dirty dishes or glasses on it. As we were about to sit down, we saw that the table was covered in grease and sticky dried food. My wife said that we should not sit there and looked for another table. There were none - other than tables for six and we did not want to take up such a large table for just the two of us. We looked for an employee to clean the table that we had first found. There was no one around. We looked across the dining room and saw no one to speak with to ask to have the table cleaned. At this point, I suggested to my wife that we take the dinner ticket and receipt, return to the cashier, and ask for our money back and leave.  My wife was about to agree and then suggested that we could wash the table ourselves if we brought napkins up to the water spigot at the soda area. That was what we did - we washed the table ourselves - as best as we could. The table still was not clean. We looked around at the surrounding tables and saw that no one had been around for quite some time to remove dirty dishes from the tables and on each table dishes were stacking up in piles. I wondered then what you would have done had you been there "undercover". We went up to the buffet to start our meal.

We went over to get a cup of the soup. The soup tureen in the steam table with the chicken noodle soup was empty and floating up and out of its place. The corn chowder was half full but did not look very appetizing. We decided to move on to the entrees and have soup later in the meal. We went then to get utensils.

There are four areas at the end of buffet servers in this OCB where there are utensils. The first one that we came to was completely empty. The next was also empty. The  same with the third, and the fourth was mostly empty with a few forks, knives, and teaspoons still there. Before going any further, I looked at what was out on the buffet to eat. The roast beef was blood red and nearly raw. The turkey was gone. The ham was there. The steak - which here is cooked in the kitchen and brought out to the steam table where it is set under a cover to continue to cook to more than well done, was running out. There was fried chicken, baked chicken, baby back ribs (which I have liked but may have been the source of my illness on my last two visits to the "other" OCB so I was avoiding those), and there were fried shrimp which resembled tiny, hard, dark brown balls. Again, I was regretting having walked through the door to this OCB and again suggested to my wife that we leave before taking anything. She now was inclined to go but said, "let's just deal with what there is." She also asked why did I expect this dinner at the Levittown OCB to be any different from all of the other nights that we had been here in the past. She was surprised when I said that I had hoped that it would have improved. We stayed.

She was not quite feeling that we made the right choice to remain, though, when she then spotted a woman manager and went over to ask politely if more chicken noodle soup was coming out and if more silverware was coming from the dishwasher. The  manager responded to my wife with an attitude of why are you bothering me. Her snapped answers with a scowl on her face were "There is plenty of silverware out!", pointing to the few utensils left at the end of the buffet server - and - "It will be more than 20 minutes before that soup comes out!" Then she turned her back and walked away. Somehow my wife had expected a much different answer and attitude - maybe something like this, said with a smile: "I'm sorry. There is soup cooking right now in the kitchen and we will get it out as soon as it is ready - though that may take about twenty minutes. And we will have more silverware out right away - thank you for letting us know!" But no, that did not happen. My wife was to blame for asking for soup and utensils. Sorry that we bothered you, Ms. Manager!

As it turned out more utensils never did come out the entire night, and the soup actually did come out about fifteen minutes later - the chicken soup that was brought out consisted of nearly raw and raw celery and carrots, a few noodles, no sign of actual chicken, all in boiling water that had a hint of chicken flavor.

We took food from the buffet and by doing that we made a commitment with that to stay - and we did stay. We don't overfill plates of food. We both take a portion of one entree and side dishes, and when that has been eaten go back for more. As a result we have plates for each course that in most buffets will be taken away as soon as we are finished with them. There was still no sign of anyone working in the dining room where we were sitting and as a result our plates were stacking up on the table as were the plates on the tables of other guests dining in this area. Almost a half hour into the meal a young man made an appearance in the cleaning area at the side of the dining room. He went over with a wet cloth to clean a table, ignoring all of the tables with guests and their piled dishes. The people about to sit at that table after he "washed" it down told him that it was still dirty. He said that it wasn't and wiped once more with the dirty dishcloth. They reluctantly sat down. He then disappeared again. Every so often he would make another appearance. I decided that I would wait to see how long it would take him to come over to us with our dishes piling higher and higher. When he did come to our table finally, he smiled and asked us how we were. I could not resist making the comment, "Well, you finally decided to come out of hiding and come over to us." He laughed at that. I was was not laughing. He was about to walk away when he asked if there was anything that he could get us - I pointed to the empty napkin dispenser on the table - the last few napkins in it having been used by us to wash the table - and told him that we needed it filled please. It was obvious that it was empty. "Oh," he said, "is it empty? I can fill it for you." He went off and came back with more napkins. We did not see him again for some time.

While he was not paying any attention to the tops of the tables all around - some with people at them and dishes still left untouched by him right up until the people left - he was not paying any attention - nor was any other employee to the carpeted floors that were piled with dirt and food under each table and in the aisles. Of course, people drop things, but at most buffets, someone comes over with a dust pan or floor sweeper and try to pick up what can be picked up before the table fills again. This never happens at the Levittown Old Country Buffet. The floors are never clean. I have heard comments here of "disgusting". And that, among other reasons is why we travel to the other Old Country Buffet which generally has been cleaner. The employees here are another reason that we go there. Our table server here being one example.

We went up to the carving area - which here is just the end of one of the steam tables. The woman that was carving - if she spoke English - was seemingly going out of her way to pretend she didn't. I suspect that she didn't speak English - which is fine for those customers who speak Spanish, but the number here that don't were having to point for her to get what they wanted. As she cut a small slice of steak, I recalled that really nice steak that you served the woman on the television show - how it was cooked as she asked for it - and how you were concerned that it was right. I have never been in an Old Country Buffet like that. I have had that happen in a Ryans - one in particular in Virginia - where the grill chef out on grill made sure the steak was cooked just as I asked for it and even brought it over to my table when it was done. That is the exception - not the rule - and I don't expect anyone to bring anything to me at my table - that was just an added nicety which has happened at that one Virginia Ryans more than once. It has never happened at an Old Country Buffet and with the usual language barrier of the employees who most need to understand what each customer is asking for - it is not going to happen when you have to point and even then maybe (or maybe not) get what you would like.

This is a location that you need to go undercover to. Come on a weeknight or a weekend night. What you will find will be just what I have described here. On this night they did not run out of any items - though that is common at this location and if, for example, an entree runs out, it is not replaced with an entree dish - it is often replaced with another tray of rolls. On one night here in the past there were three trays of rolls on the buffet where entrees had been earlier. Of all of the buffets that I have dined in, and those amount to many, many, many buffets, this ranks as one of the worst - and is certainly the worst of the many Buffets, Inc. buffets that I have been to in a number of states.

As we were completing the meal, still with dirty dishes piled on our table as well as other guest's tables around us, we were discussing our experience during this meal. As we are talking I am watching a little boy around four years old walking around the buffet table with a plate in his hand and a spoon in his mouth who is putting the spoon down on the food trays and then back into his mouth. No adults are around. My wife asks what I am watching and I tell her a little boy at the buffet server. She asks if it is, as she put it, "the plate licker". With that, it was time to leave, regretting that we had come. I always tip at a buffet. I did not leave a tip on this night. I looked at other tables - no one else left this guy a tip, and rightly so, as he did nothing to earn the money that you were paying him, much less get a tip.

Sir, you need to know what goes on in your restaurants. That will not happen if the boss or any of the "suits" walk through the door. When that happens everything is always good. No, you were on the right track with being "undercover" but not with cameras following you.

Is every one of your restaurants and employees like this? Absolutely not. But more than you realize are. So I got to go "undercover" on this night as a customer. Every meal that I have at a buffet I am undercover.  I am writing to you here - openly for all of my readers - and there are thousands of readers - to let you know what I observed "undercover". While there, I was looking for the changes that you spoke about on television that were to come. There has been no change in the frustrating cash register experience. The same register and the same charge card machine are there as they always have had. There was certainly no sign of the old favorite food items that have been taken away in the past several years that you said you were bringing back. And most importantly there has been no change, at least here, in attitude by management or employees.

I admit that the consolation to this meal was that afterward, I did not get ill as I did on my last two occasions to dine at an OCB. And that was the only good thing about the night. Will I go back to Levittown OCB? No. I may go back to Bay Shore though I do so with trepidation - though I have had hundreds meals there including Thanksgiving dinner in the past four years that I felt perfectly fine afterward. But when the best buffet manager that we have ever encountered was fired from there about a year and a half ago (one who cared, ran a tight ship, and welcomed every guest as if he were welcoming you to dinner at his home), things have definitely gone down hill there as well, but that is another letter that I have yet to write. There is an email address in the column on the right at which I can be reached if you wish to respond privately and perhaps that will legitimatize who is responding through the return email address. I suspect some will try to respond with comments posing as you that will not really be you - and those will not be published.

Thank you for your time and consideration!


Art of the Buffet


songbird's crazy world said...

The experience you describe here is reminiscent of the experience I had in the Levittown location. I was there once and refused to go back. For more or less the same price I can go to Chen's across tge street and sit at a clean table, choose from food trays that are appropriately replenished, have drinks brought to me by a caring staff . . .Friends went there for Thanksgiving last year and never got any turkey, it ran out and was not replaced. Horrible, horrible place.

Anonymous said...

I, too, love buffets but I will never spend ANY money at OCB-the quality & variety does not remotely come close to Golden Corral none of which sadly are close to home-we DO patronize an excellent Chinese buffet when in the area but our usual weekly dining out is at the neighborhood diner/pizzaria

Anonymous said...

I guess I just don't understand why you keep going back to the OCB's at all. With the countless dining options available, I don't understand your loyalty to these places

Writer said...

In this area OCB is it other than Asian buffets if you want to eat buffet and we find buffet dining easier to manage and to afford. And that is why we continue to go. We have been back to Bay Shore OCB twice since this article - definitely not Levittown - and it has been OK. It is not loyalty. It is what we do - and if I am going to continue this site - which I am - what we need to do for me to be able to share our buffet experiences - good and bad.

Anonymous said...

Being a former Manager for Buffets Inc. now Ovation Brands I am not surprised by what you are saying. With the labor hours we had to make for the week we were set up for failure. I was in one of the top 5 busiest OCBs. From the emails we used to get, the Levittown OCB would always be at the top for guest count. They would have an average of 900 guest for dinner while many other OCBs would have a 500 guest count average. With the hours they were alloted you would probably have 1-2 dishwashers, 1-2 cooks (Yes only 1-2 people cooking all that food) 2 Employees at the hot foods buffet, A carver for only the dinner rush (5:00-8:00) 1 Employee in the Salad area, 5 Service Assistants (For over a 300 seat reastaurant), 1 Cashier and Maybe a seater if the hours were allowed. (usually the managers job) All these main employees would also need breaks and it would work out that you would have to take some employees off the floor to give them a breaks and the manager would have to cover the shift and try to manage the restaurant. Its really a shame that paying guests would have to suffer because Buffets Inc. would not allow their Managers to schedule the appropriate amount of people. Does it look great on paper? Yes. Does Guest service suffer greatly, Yes. Hopefully with the new brand they will be able to figure all this out. One of the main reasons I left Buffets Inc. was because we were set up for failure and me as a manager couldn't deal with that so i had to move on and find a better opportunity which i did. I hope your local OCB gets its act together and hopefully the Corporation figures it all out and sets the restaurant up for success. Best Of Luck!

Anonymous said...

You are so right about Levittown. One Thursday night(never go on "kids" night), we walked in and there were barely any entrees out and the silverware was non- existant. When the manager finally rolled out the cart with the silverware, my boyfriend reached for some as the manager was refilling the area, and he slapped my boyfriend's hand back. We were shocked at such behavior and later told the guy off. The manager eventually apologized and sent someone over with a coupon for next time. We end up eating here (Bay Shore is too far)because it is reasonably priced when you use their coupons, but the quality and variety is not very good anymore, and the restaurant is generally not well maintained. There are some hard workers there such as Mercedes, who clears the tables and has been working there for years. She always has a pleasant hello for us.

Anonymous said...

Re the information from the former manager -

Levittown has only one person working the hot foods who is also carving.

I have never seen 5 Service attendants, more like 3.

Anonymous said...

Home Town Buffet locations in San Diego County, California are just as bad. All Mr. Wedo needs to do is take a look at Yelp and he will see that there are major problems with his restaurants.

The Santee, CA. location is in steady decline. I will no longer eat at these restaurants.

Anonymous said...

Oceanside, CA today 3/30/15, 11:15am. I tried responding to and wrote so many complaints that the site timed out and asked me to start over. Not being able to report all the problems with the Home Town Buffet today really ticked me off. Plates so old and scratched you cannot tell if they are dirty or full of bacteria, feet stuck to the floor in the drink area, olny about 80% set up and ready for business 15 minutes after opening. Sucks!

Anonymous said...

Doubt that anyone at Buffets Inc., of any importance, will see this, but I have tried for two years to contact someone in the Crave department regarding a problem with my membership. I have talked to the manager of the Stockton,CA restaurant, Michael, four times and he always says someone will contact me....but they never do. I am very frustrated and upset and disappointed that no one seems to care. Guess I will stop going to Home Buffet. I also find the TV commercial, with Anthony Wedo, very misleading. He raves about Home Buffet's wonderful roast beef and shows a large cut of same at The Carvery. It is blood rare in the middle. Just like my husband likes it! But when he asked for a slider that was a little less cooked, not so dried out, the only response he got was "no"! How rude! We understand the reasoning, but what a response. And then to see the roast beef bleeding was too much!
(And the men's restroom was so bad he couldn't use it.) I would like to talk to someone about the membership problem, but you make it impossible.


Writer said...

To the above commenter - This site has no connection whatsoever to Home Buffet or Old Country Buffet or the parent corporation of both - Ovation Brands (formerly Buffets, Inc.). On occasion we have had suspicion that someone at corporate reads this site - so perhaps someone will see your comment though they will have no way to contact you about it. I suggest in regard to your Crave Connection membership that you use a different email address and get a new membership. As to what they show on commercials and in photos - I completely agree with you. Beef comes out of the kitchen close to raw or way over done. There seems to be no in-between. I know one manager who commented that most want beef that is well done and that is how they bring it out. Other buffets will cook it rare and offer to put a serving back on the fire to cook it well if desired. I know of one buffet that puts out three Prime Ribs to serve - rare, medium, and well. That is the way to do it! Now, there is a contact us on the OCB/Home Buffet website and they have been responsive and also telephone complaints about a restaurant are responded to. I only know this because I know people who have complained and have gotten a response.

James Pimentel said...

To Mr Anthony Wedo c/o Buffets Inc
I am a disabled Vietnam vet. I have been in your Visalia Can. And your Oxnard Ca. Well and they don't give discount to DISABLE VETS.. I need help will milk much was empty you have to wait until I get time so I did not get a drink.. So I move out of Calif. I do visit my brother in Visalia and my sister in Oxnard Co. I dont know if I want to eat there with there way they treat vets. J.R. Pimentel

James Pimentel said...

Dear. Mr Anthony Wedo @ Buffets Inc.
I am a Disabled Vietnam vet and your rest in Visalia Ca. And in Oxnard Ca. Said they don't veterans discounts and don't want to honer any vets. We went to war to fight for our country. Home depot and Lowes .. So this is how your employee treat vets. J.R.

Anonymous said...

Wedo was fired a couple weeks ago. The employees at a location I visit in the Denver area were very pleased by this. I'm pleased because the quality and selection of the food has improved. No more of those cheesy little individual servings taking up enough space for several other entrees and no upcharge for steak. It's good to have the old Country Buffet back. Wedo, you suck.

Writer said...

We learned this recently through a contact to this site from Corporate. There are supposed to be some positive changes coming - some of which have already taken place. We may do an article regarding this at some point in the future. For now it is wait and see.

Anonymous said...

I would like to add that while watching Undercover Boss, I thought that this CEO was rude to the customers he encountered. When he couldn't get the credit card machine to work quickly enough he almost snapped at people standing in line. If you wants to set any kind of friendly example to his employees, he should check his own attitude. To me, he comes off as a complete jerk. I would hate to work for someone like him. He never smiled, he was not friendly at all, and he was overly rude to almost every person he had interactions with. If he is up reading this, directly to him I say... Your a jerk man.

Writer said...

You might like to know - as stated in our most recent article about the company - that the man was fired earlier this year and then the corporation was taken over.

Anonymous said...

Watching the episode for the first time, seeing Anthony not being able to keep it in his pants within the first few minutes was disappointing. Have to rack it up as an ego who really didn't want to really work in his restaurant chain. I've have done a stint in a new restaurant before entering my role in the corporate office, you have to stick out yu our job assignments, not to show out who you really are. My experience came me what I needed to exceed at corp.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps Wedo's most shocking failure, and glaring demonstration of his lack of management instinct, had to be the tens of thousands of dollars he gifted to 3 of his struggling employees.

In my OCB I had scores of employees working two jobs, struggling to make ends meet - a manager could count on overhearing, "Do I buy food and clothes for the kids this week, or medicine, or gas for the car" conversations among the employees every day.

"I can't afford my rent, and don't have anywhere else to go" - happens all the time, every week, in virtually every one of the restaurants in his charge.

The stress and heartbreak of managing productively in that environment 70 hours a week was the lot of virtually every manager in his company.

The segment I recently saw rebroadcast served to demonstrate that Wedo couldn't cut it as a manager - and, apparently, nor as a CEO.

Easy enough for Anthony to pass out tens of thousands of dollars to the three employees he actually had to meet face to face, among the thousands of his other employees facing similar struggles, so that he could have a warm, fuzzy, PR moment on television, and go home with a salved conscience.

That he would put himself in a restaurant without being prepared for that reality does much to bespeak why his "turn-around' failed.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe you guys actually criticize this man. He helped out a few employees b.f.d. Im sure if he helped your restaurant and employees out you wouldn't be saying this. Just stick with Golden Corral

Writer said...

Since Mr. Weedo's deal to sell this company, 2/3 of the entire chain has closed. He helped no one but himself - and then he was one of the first to be fired. You need to read our more recent articles of the closings of these restaurants across the country. And those employees he "helped" on television for the sake of the cameras - well, they went to work one Sunday morning last month and found themselves locked out of the place they worked at and without a job.