Friday, November 29, 2013

No Buffet for Thanksgiving This Year

For the past several years we have had Thanksgiving dinner at Old Country Buffet. I know that it appears at times that I don't like OCB, but we have more buffet meals at OCB than any other. The reason is that OCB is the only "American" buffet in this area and any other involves leaving the state.

This year we decided that we would make Thanksgiving dinner at home. There are somethings about a traditional Thanksgiving dinner that you don't get at a buffet - and they don't really have to do with the meal itself. For one, there is the smell of a whole turkey roasting in the oven all morning and until the meal. For another, there are are the turkey and sides leftovers that make for a late night snack on Thanksgiving night and then for meals for days to come. I love turkey - real turkey. By real turkey I mean a whole roasted turkey and not a turkey breast or the turkey-like turkey breasts that some restaurants (and buffets) serve. And then there are the leftover sides and the combinations that they can be put to - along with the turkey of course.

It is not hard to prepare a Thanksgiving dinner just for two and while it takes time and effort the end result is very satisfying. Now, when you are just two, there are somethings that you don't get when you have Thanksgiving at home. One of the things that I like best about OCB on Thanksgiving - particularly one OCB - is being with all of the people dining all around with you. For anyone who is alone, this is something to very seriously consider. At a buffet, you are not dining alone. You are there with many other people - and at a buffet this is much different from a menu restaurant on a holiday. You are up at the buffet with everyone else - interacting and you definitely are not alone. It is not a time to be shy - smile and wish those around you Happy Thanksgiving - and they will do the same back. In a way, it is like being part of a very large family dinner. Many singles do not want to go through all of the effort to cook a complete Thanksgiving dinner for just him/herself, and often find a menu restaurant - especially on a holiday - as isolating as remaining at home. A buffet, however, makes for a completely different experience.

We did look at local ads for restaurants that were serving Thanksgiving dinner as a buffet. These are all either menu restaurants that set up a buffet just for holidays - and when a menu restaurant does this it is generally a disappointment or they are catering halls that cater an open to all Thanksgiving dinner - which one would think would be good as the caterer is in the business of doing large buffet meals but those too are often a disappointment. It takes a buffet restaurant to do a Thanksgiving or any holiday buffet right. As I say, here that is just OCB - and frankly, while we have enjoyed OCB in the past on Thanksgiving - what they are serving is not much different from their usual Sunday dinner menu. The Asian buffets were open but I am a traditionalist and while we have gone to an Asian buffet for Christmas dinner, Thanksgiving really needs a traditional menu (which I realize changes by the cultural background of one's family).

For those in other areas - and that is most of our readers - there are Thanksgiving dinners being served at most of the other buffet chains - and some of those have real whole turkeys being carved - and not just turkey breasts as at OCB. Golden Corral is one and at just $12.99. For those not far from or willing to travel to Lancaster County there is a buffet there that has a very popular Thanksgiving buffet dinner and that is Bird-In-Hand Family Restaurant and Smorgasbord. Their reservations for the several seatings sell out fast in October and early November. There used to be another in Lancaster County, PA that had a wonderful (as I have been told) buffet Thanksgiving Dinner and that was Family Cupboard which sadly this past year went out of business. The most of the other buffets in Lancaster are closed. All of those that I would normally recommend in this area other than Bird-In-Hand are closed.A buffet meal in your area is worth checking out for Thanksgiving!

As I write this, the scent of turkey roasting is wafting through the house. I am going to enjoy this meal, but I will miss the experience of a buffet on this holiday. I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving dinner and those who went to a buffet had a wonderful time! Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Bird-In-Hand Family Restaurant and Smorgasbord, Bird-In-Hand, PA

It has been about a year and a half since I have been to the Bird-In-Hand Family Restaurant and Smorgasbord in Lancaster County in the town of Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania. This buffet has not been one of the buffets in this area on my short list of where to go because it has been higher priced and at times has been inconsistent. We were in Pennsylvania recently and we discovered a coupon for $2.00 each off the dinner and decided to go back. As it turns out, the last time that we had been there was on a Wednesday night and this night there was also a Wednesday. 

I was happily surprised to see that the price was only $15.99 and with the coupon it would be $13.99. The dinner smorgasbord price also includes the beverage which brings this meal to within a dollar of what I pay at OCB near home. The $15.99 is two dollars less than what this buffet was a year and a half ago - and I have found in the past that the price here does increase during the summer months. The price now on Friday and Saturday is $18.99.

The buffet menu here changes by the day and each day's menu may be found on the restaurant's website. The weekend buffet adds carvings and also a children's buffet section with "kid food" selections.

What struck me most on this visit - and something that I had not realized before - was that on Wednesday night here (providing they don't change the items offered) you are getting some of the most authentically traditionally cooked Pennsylvania Dutch food found at any of the area's buffets. Every Pennsylvania Dutch dish that I had on this night was just as I remembered it should be in taste, texture, and appearance. Now, all of these same dishes are served at many of the buffets that I have told you about - and they have all been good when I have indicated them as such at those other buffets - but here there were just a bit different - the best way to describe this is "more traditional".

These are all foods that you are most likely not going to find if you are not in this area of Amish and Mennonite Pennsylvania Dutch. I am talking about Chicken Bot Bie, Pork and Sauerkraut, Baked Country Sausage, Ham Balls, Chicken Corn Soup, string beans and ham, and the like. I have described Chicken Bot Bie before. It is a local version of Chicken Pot Pie but there is no pie and it does not have a cream sauce as Chicken Pot Pie has. It is pieced of boiled chicken with potatoes, carrots, and celery with squares of thick dough noodle dumplings in a broth. Often this is served at other local buffets in a thin broth. Here the broth is thick and richly amber in color. The noodles are properly thick and kitchen-made. The taste is exactly as it should be - just as I remember it from so many years ago when I first sampled it in this part of Pennsylvania. The Ham Balls are meatballs made of chopped ham and here are not overly sweet yet still served in the traditional pineapple sauce, but the sauce does not overwhelm the ham. The Pork and Sauerkraut is neither too sour or sweet. This dish is traditionally served on New Year's Day in this area. The Baked Sausage is Country Sausage - not Italian sausage. It is local and is seasoned to the taste of this area. Chicken Corn Soup is served at many restaurants around here but this one is, in my opinion, the best. It is often no more than a thin chicken stock with chicken and corn. Sometimes this soup will include chopped hard boiled eggs. Here this is not a thin soup but a thick soup with plenty of chicken, corn, and hard boiled eggs. I have tried to duplicate this soup at home and have tried various ways of getting it as thick as it is here. It is not a cream soup. The thickness is found in its texture which has slight grain feel to it. I believe that what is thickening this soup is a blended creamed corn. I don't know for sure, but what I do know is that it is exceptional. I could easily make a meal of just this soup alone.

At the end of this meal, I said to my wife that if we want a traditional Pennsylvania Dutch meal we have to come back here on a Wednesday night and she agreed. But these PA Dutch dishes were not all that was served to us on the buffet. I have written about this restaurant's turkey before. It is the best turkey that I have had and I have had a lot of turkey. This is not a carved turkey breast. This is both white and dark meat taken from the bones and placed in the serving tray in a turkey broth. This turkey is tender and juicily moist.  There was also roast beef, Swedish meatballs, sliced ham, and broasted chicken. 

There is a salad bar that has a nice selection of salad items to create a salad. It seemed lacking to me as it had not been in past visits. There were few prepared salads and no longer were there any of the meat salads that I have had here. There is a nice selection of bread and rolls on another server where you will also find a selection of cheeses. There is also apple butter to try with your bread - or put on top of a dollop of cottage cheese from the salad bar - another traditional Pennsylvania Dutch treat.

There is a large dessert bar. There are some cakes and assorted pies, a few prepared desserts including two hot cobblers, cookies, small pieces of whoopie pies (chocolate cake cookies with cream in the middle), and soft serve ice cream. For the size of this dessert bar there should be a lot more. The baking does come from the Bird-in-Hand Bakery which is part of the Bird-in-Hand complex and is good. There is a better variety of dessert selections at other area buffets. That is not to say that you will be disappointed with what you decide to take here.

Service was good. On the off-season, you are dining with local people at this restaurant including Old Order Amish and Mennonites. During the tourist season, the restuarant will be filled with tourists and you may have to wait on line to get in.

We had a great Pennsylvania Dutch meal - as I say - traditionally cooked. Would I be as pleased on another night when there were not as many PA Dutch dishes featured? Maybe not as pleased. The price, however, off-season and with the coupon which is only found in one of the local area tourist papers handed out free at many gift shops and tourist spots - and right at the restaurant in the Lobby before you go in for dinner, can't really be beat, at least on a weeknight. I will go back again if we are in the area on a Wednesday night - and the price remains the same.

As this article will appear right before Thanksgiving, there is Thanksgiving Dinner served both on the Smorgasbord and at your table family-style. Reservations for this, however, are needed months before, as it does sell out.

Bird-in-Hand Family Restaurant is located at 2760 Old Philadelphia Pike, Bird-in-Hand, PA 17505. The phone number is 1-800-665-8780. There is a website located at the side of this page.The restaurant closes at 8:00 pm and is not open on Sundays. You will not be seated for the Smorgasbord after 7:30 pm.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Buffets, Inc. Changes Its Name

During the last week in October, 2013, Buffets, Inc. the parent corporation of Old Country Buffet, Ryans, Country Buffet, Fire Mountain, and Hometown Buffet changed its corporate name to Ovation Brands, Inc. A new logo was unveiled at corporate headquarters in Greer, South Carolina at the same time. The new logo is white and blue showing a plate and spoon.

The company claims that the name was changed to celebrate the company's 30th anniversary and to mark a new phase in its "post-turnaround plans".  Nation's Restaurant News quotes Anthony Wedo, CEO and President of, now, Ovation Brands, Inc. saying "We are a different company now; we are foundationally about continuous innovation. We are passionate about building a new operating culture across all of our brands. The name Ovation Brands represents a call to action for all our teammates and guests: Our goal is to ensure that each and every day our six brands are worthy of applause.”  Wedo also stated that the name change would allow the company to develop non-buffet concepts.

Often when a corporation that has had difficulty changes its name it is to put distance and cut recognition and identity with the former corporate name. In a sense, it is a corporation hiding who they were, but still are. And this name change drops the concept of their, to now, main business out of the corporate name. Gone is the word "Buffets".

As we have reported on this site in the past, Buffets, Inc has gone through two bankruptcies in recent years. Wedo was brought into the company this past December to turn the company around. The most recent bankruptcy ended in June 2012. One of the changes that have been instituted has been to change the interiors of the buffets to become a "Market Street" and this has been completed with the Country Buffets in Denver and they claim this has resulted in a "significant double digit" increase in those locations' sales. (Double digit does not sound very significant to me...) There has also been a new advertising campaign to accompany these newly renovated buffets - "Make it Right". In these ads, Wedo pledges a "commitment to quality food and service". If you have not seen photos of a "Market Street", think Golden Corral which has had this concept in layout for years.

That is quite a pledge considering what many experience in their buffets now. They have a long way to go to quality food and, in particular, quality service. Many of the Old Country Buffets - the largest of the chains - are understaffed and unable to provide quality service even with the best intent. Perhaps the company needs to look at increasing the number of employees at each location and insure that management both trains and constantly supervises their employees, if they are truly serious about quality service. But now Ovations Brands, Inc. has "a call to action" for those of us who dine at their restaurants and the employees who work at them. Is our call to action to continue coming? If that is the case then they have a lot of work ahead of them directly with their "teammates" (employees) to get to work and make the buffets someplace that their guest actually want to go back to. That will be a big job for Mr. Wedo and Ovation Brands, Inc.

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

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..