Friday, November 01, 2013

The Boss of Buffets, Inc. Goes Undercover To Find Out What We Already Knew

A week before the airing of the CBS television show, Undercover Boss, on which Anthony Wedo, CEO and President of Buffets, Inc. corporate owners of Old Country Buffet, Ryans, Hometown Buffet and Country Buffet, we told you here that this show was coming. This is a reality show in which a boss of a corporation is disguised and put into the retail outlets of his own company to discover first hand what goes on. While the boss is "working" in his store he is, of course, followed around with a camera crew which gives the people working in the store an idea that this is not just another new hire. For Buffets, Inc.'s boss the story was that he was on a reality show that would win him a opportunity to start his own business. The disguise picked for Wedo was a long, blond hair wig tied into a ponytail and a glued on mustache. On the show he visited four restaurants around the US including Ryans and an Old Country Buffet. At each those four restaurants he takes on a different job at each location.

Let's start with the disguise. If anyone knew what the man looked like and that was unlikely to start with, they certainly would not have recognized him in his long hair and mustache, but I wonder if that choice of disguise did not set some of the people that he encountered off, particularly in his role as "manager" for a day in the first location. It was here that he encountered a very unhappy employee and it seemed that part of that employee's attitude toward him was the long hair. But to be fair, this employee should have been fired on the spot and given someone a job that would have been much better appreciated. What took place at that restaurant was actually far more the norm at some Old Country Buffets that I have been to where employees are unhappy with their jobs and their job performance shows it. Here Wedo encountered it as a manager put into the dishwashing area to learn how that job is done. We have encountered this attitude from employees in the dining room with the customers and also sometimes that same attitude has come from managers. On the show this took place in a Ryans. At this Ryans he not only encountered this very angry employee but also a burned out manager - one of three at this location. The manager seemed aware of the problems and was very sincere but when confronted by Wedo (who actually broke cover with the manager because of the attitude of the dishwasher) on the attidude of his employee, the lack of training of the employee, and the level of problems that Wedo was observing, the manager shrugged his shoulders and basically admitted that while he, himself, tries to do what is right, the other two (unseen) managers at this location did not really care what went on. It sounded as if anything that he could do correctly, the other two undermined to the negative. Managers that don't care? Welcome to Old Country Buffet! For that matter, so many former employees at all levels from dishwashers to managers who were fired during the mass closings of buffet locations will tell you that those up on top at Buffets, Inc. don't care. This was not the impression that Wedo was giving on the show. I will let those employees respond with comments with their feelings about that. Anyway, not to get off on that - it was a surprise to Anthony Wedo that employees would act this way, that managers did not properly train, and that a good manager can get so frustrated that no matter how much he wants to, without cooperation from the other management team, the result at the restauant is not positive. This manager reminded me of another manager that I have written about in the past from an Old Country Buffet - the man I called "Mr. Smilely". Mr. Smiley was the best manager that I ever encountered at an Old Country Buffet. Perhaps the best manager at any buffet. He welcomed his customers as if he was welcoming them to his home for dinner - and his employees not only were well trained but when he was present, everyone snapped to. Mr. Smiley was fired - cause unstated when I inquired of employees, but the hint given was that it was not something that he did wrong. In the year or so since Mr. Smilely has been gone, the restaurant location has gone way down hill - and some of the employees now are much like the angry dishwasher that Mr. Wedo met on the show, but they are not in the back where they can't be seen or heard. They are out at the buffet and in the dining room.

He went to three other restaurants and at one he was a grill chef, at another a cashier, and at another a general dining room worker. At each he was teamed with the employee that regularly does that job. And everyone of those employees were exceptional. And I have met my share of exceptional employees at Old Country Buffets and Ryans. At an Old Country Buffet he was put on the grill to cook steaks and learn to cook stir fry. I have heard that there are Old Country Buffet locations where the steaks are cooked right out there in the dining room on a grill at the carving counter - just like is done at Ryans. I have never been to one. It was surprising to see him concerned that the steak be cooked exactly as the customer ordered it. At every Old Country Buffet that I have ever been to, the steaks are cooked on a grill in the kitchen, brought out in a tray to the carving area and put into the steam table under a lid where they continue to cook until they are inedible and overdone and no longer chewable. I have asked for a steak that is less done, possibly pink or even red in the center, and the reaction of the employee at the carving station has been a laugh. "This is how they are", is what I have been told on so many occasions. "The steaks are always cooked this way", I was told several times. I love steak. I no longer bother with it at Old Country Buffet. Ryans is a different story as the steaks are cooked right there in front of you and only once was I given a steak at Ryans that was not the way I wanted it - and so many times the person cooking told me that as soon as it was done the way I wanted it, it would be brought to me at my table. That is how it should always be. And the size of the steaks Wedo was serving. I have never had a whole steak at any OCB or Ryans - it is always a piece of a steak and while that piece at Ryans is generally decent, at OCB it has always been about one to two inches of steak with one steak divided for about ten customers.  Maybe Mr. Wedo should come to the Old Country Buffet's in New York undercover...

What took place at the cash register was a big surprise to Mr. Wedo. I have to wonder how a man who claims to visit locations all of the time as himself, never knew before this show that the charge card system that they have is the worst. He got stuck in the middle of a sale for the charge card machine to process a sale- and he and the customer waited and waited. This has happened to us at OCB many times. Sometimes at both registers at the same time and sometimes with the sale being abandoned after a ten minute wait at one register and the same thing happening when the dinners were then rung up on the adjacent register and charge machine. The boss claims that this will now be changed and that an entirely new system will be put into all of the buffets. I will see when I go back. It has been several weeks since I have been to an OCB and I will not say why that is - though it was not pleasant.

The cashier, the general employee, and the grill chef, as I say, were the exceptional employees - and they really were - and each had a sad story to tell, which is typical of the Undercover Boss show - and at the end of the show - as is also typical of the Undercover Boss show they are rewarded by the Boss - we are supposed to believe that the Boss's company is giving these rewards. I truly hope that it is CBS and the show that is giving the amount of money that is given to these good employees because on this show the rewards totaled several hundred thousand dollars amongst the three rewarded employees.  This is the company - Buffets, Inc. - coming out of bankruptcy with all of those employees put out of work in the last few years. The amount of money given away by the Boss on this show, could have fed a lot of other good employees and their families but just letting them keep their jobs and nothing more.

Mr. Wedo did not have to go on Undercover Boss to find out what is right or wrong about his companies restaurants. All he had to do was come and read the articles here and go out and talk to the people who like and don't like his restaurants. I understand that there are some opinions that must be dismissed. The OCB Facebook page is full of them - "I hate your food and how come I don't get eat free coupons anymore!" But there are a lot of comments with a lot of truth - and the response when there is a response from the company is call us and tell us your complaint - and we will have the manager call you - well usually the problem originated with the manager so even I don't bother with that route any longer.  As I say, he needs to go undercover more often - and without a camera crew. Maybe if all of the locations were visited by a corporate executive undercover, the restaurants would suddenly get cleaner, the food would be better, and all of the employees would have a better attitude.

Some of my readers feel that I don't like Old Country Buffet but actually that is not true. In fact, I have eaten more Old Country Buffet meals than buffet meals at any other buffet restaurant and I have been to Buffets, Inc's buffets all over the East Coast. As I have written many times, I have been to some exceptional Ryans. I have been to some good Old Country Buffets. I have also been to some very bad Old Country Buffets, Ryans, and Fire Mountains. Where there is a visible and involved manager the restaurant has always been better than when there is no sign of a manager (despite Mr. Wedo's claim on the show that the manager is always in the dining room talking with the guests) the experience at the buffet that night is rarely positive.  No, I don't dislike OCB in general - but I have expectations that OCB rather too often does not meet. Cleanliness is just one. And for goodness sake- one employee cannot do six jobs at the same time. This is a general problem at OCB. You can't expect the person at the carvings to go around and refill trays and go over to the stir fry grill, and more because while he/she is taking care of X then Y and Z are not being done. This is just Business 101.   Oh, and Mr. Wedo on the show acknowledged that customers miss the so many regular food items that have been taken away over the years and that they will be brought back. I agree that this is a consistent complaint - remember those beef ribs, chicken parm, etc, etc. - and they need to be brought back - because right now just about every night at the buffet is the same and there are just so many ways that one can cut up a pork roast and call it some type of ribs.

The show can be viewed if you missed it on on the Undercover Boss page and at the moment the link is featured on the webpages of all of the Buffets, Inc. restaurants.  If you have not seen it, see it. It will make some happy to watch and some very mad (I say this because I have already heard from former employees who were not happy watching all of that money given away when they are out of work.)

Come back next week to read my Open Letter to Anthony Wedo, CEO and President of Buffets, Inc..


Anonymous said...

I see you have not heard the breaking news that Buffets inc. no longer exist. They have changed thier name to Ovation Brands. Article yesterday in restaurant news.

Anonymous said...

I went to a newly remodeled one in Whitehall Pa. They made less seating and the wat was longer. One employee stood out. he was talking all the time. He went all over the place too. From filling up glasses to cutting the individual steaks. He hit another employee with a tray and made loud commens. The last straw was when I went to the toilet, he was peeing and he didn't wash his hands. He went right back to work. I tod themanager who claimedtht he had spoken to the employees about that just before they opened that day.

The plates were always empty and I saw more kids running around unattended than at any other buffet. They put plates back, ran into other diners and ran through the restaurant. Nothing was said to them.

This place has gone down hill since the remodeling. The women who took he dirty plates were very good though. I did hear other patons say that people were coming back to this one since the golden corral across the street was a dirty mess and had poor food quality.