Friday, March 07, 2014

The OCB Remodel That Wasn't a Remodel

This past January I wrote an article that OCB announced by email to local customers that the Levittown, New York Old Country Buffet would be closed for remodeling. The email included a photo of what the new remodeled OCB's look like - separate food stations, each with an attendant and brightly decorated. I was looking forward to this. I was skeptical in the article that this particular OCB could provide the level of service needed for the "new" Old Country Buffet concept, but I was looking forward to it.

We passed the restaurant several times during the time of the "remodel" and the restaurant always looked open as usual. One of our readers did go to this location - after the makeover - and wrote a comment that all that it looked like they did was put in a new carpet and maybe repainted.

I have had so many negative experiences at this particular OCB location that I was hesitant to go to see for myself. One night when we wanted to dine at OCB and the weather was not permitting us to travel out to the OCB in the next county, we went to Levittown to see the "new" remodeled Old Country Buffet for ourselves. An email coupon just received helped in our decision to go.

We walked in on a weeknight to a semi-crowded restaurant. We looked around to see what the picture showed the remodel should be. The restaurant inside and outside looked exactly like it always had - with the exception of the artwork on the wall. This OCB used to have large framed black and white photos of restaurant scenes in the 1940s. They were pleasant and interesting. Where those pictures once were are now what amount to advertising posters for Old Country Buffet. Not paper posters tacked on the wall, but canvas prints that are not framed. The walls may or may not have been painted. The restaurant seems darker but it was hard to say that the brown paint on the walls was new. In some places it did not look new. As to new carpet - only one section of the restaurant looked to have carpet that was replaced with the same carpet that was always there before. If you look closely, the pile is not as worn as it is in other parts of the restaurant.  New or not, it was dirty.

There are no food stations. The same buffet servers that have always been there were exactly the same. There was no cook to order grill. The same carving station was still there with steaks brought to it from the kitchen through the same heating unit in the wall that is the way food comes from the kitchen - if anyone goes to look to see if there is anything there.

What was different were the employees. Had they read our articles and finally made the necessary changes. The few people around the buffet that were working were new. The managers - two were evident through the night - were new. Perhaps something good was afoot.

We paid at the cashier who appeared to be a manager. He was very pleasant and suggested that we try their cream of broccoli soup as if it was something new. It is not new. We walked through the dining room looking for a table. There were tables that looked vacated but were full of dishes. We walked on and there were two tables that were definitely empty - but both were filthy with food not wiped off of the tables. We looked for someone to come an clear one of these tables for us. There was no one in sight. We went to the lesser dirty table and I cleaned it myself with napkins and water from the beverage area. So, new employees or not, something else had not changed.

I still kept wondering if the remodel actually had happened. Someone else did as well, because we overheard someone asking about it. The manager at the cashier said that oh yes, they had a remodel and a lot of work was done. If a lot of work was done, other than changing the pictures on the walls to posters, none of the work is evident.

So what happened during dinner. Eventually, a young man came to pick up the plates that were stacking high on our table. He actually, after that did show up semi-regularly to take away used dishes. On the buffet there were three trays of mashed potatoes out, two trays of the same ribs, no rolls the entire night, at one point a half full tray of carrots was removed and replaced with another tray of mashed potatoes. A manager did come out to say to the only person who was trying to keep food in the buffet trays that there were "complaints" and that he needed to do a better job. Which seemed to result in just putting out anything that came through the wall holding heater no matter how many other trays of the same thing were out. There was no rolls out the entire night, nor was there corn bread. There was a roast beef at the carving area that was near raw and had fat congealing on the top. And then there was the steak.

There was no steak out on the carving board. I went over to the young man who was carving when he was able to get back to his job there from running all over the rest of the buffet serving area and asked if there was steak. He was pleasant and most importantly spoke perfect English - another new face - and he opened the cover over the steak tray. I looked in. There were three small steaks inside - all charred black. He reached in with his serving fork and put one on my plate. I looked at the steak and smiled - not out of pleasure but humor - I had to keep myself from laughing and could not keep in a small laugh as I walked back to our table. The steak was not just well done but incinerated. It was covered top and bottom with a thick charcoal crust. If you read this site regularly you know that I like rare to medium rare steak. Now, I do like a steak that is charred like this on the outside and red rare inside. This was something else. The steak was about a quarter of an inch thick throughout. OCB steaks start out fairly thick - at least three quarters of an inch> This one had been burned away a half inch. I expected to get to the table, try it, and just go back to the buffet tables in hopes of finding something else - the main thing not being put out was meat.  I am going to admit something here that I can't believe I would admit. It was charred, burnt, and crunchy. It tasted good. I think it reminded me enough of what a steak should be - just on the very outside - that I liked it. I did eat the whole thing. I doubt though that anyone else would have enjoyed it. My wife, who likes meat very well done, made a negative face when she saw this steak. For much of the meal she just ate vegetables.

When it came to dessert, we knew going into the restaurant that there was a sign on the door that said that the ice cream machines were broken. They were up front about this literally up front as you entered and could not miss the sign. People were still complaining that the ice cream machines were broken. The result of this, though, was that all other desserts disappeared fast. When we got to dessert, there was nothing left. A woman came from the back and started pulling desserts from the refrigerators that are behind the dessert counter. She put out what was there and that went just about as fast as the desserts had before. But she was making an effort - and that is something that was not happening here in Levittown in the past.

The meal should have been much better. Other than the dirty tables and the usual dirty floors, there seemed to be an effort being made. The effort needs to be much better but it is a start. It is enough to bring me back again to see if there are further improvements - or at least if there is not a slip backwards - as seems to be the norm here when things appear to get better.

The remodel was not a remodel. It was just - well, nothing.

Some observations -

The carpet - I don't understand why carpet is used in these restaurants (and while OCB is not the only buffet to use carpeting in the dining room, this location always has dirty carpets). If tile were used, spills and things dropped could be picked up - by an aware staff - quickly and cleaned easily.

Cleaning tables for the next customer -  I watched the two young men who were working in the dining rooms. Yes, there were just two in the whole restaurant. They were both doing the same thing. They would take the dirty dishes away and leave the spills and dropped food on the table. They did not come back to clean the table further - which is why we found only two tables to choose from and had to clean the least dirty one ourselves. I have been to many OCBs and many other buffets. This does not happen anywhere as badly as it does in Levittown - and now with new employees it did not change.

One of our readers who works for OCB or the parent corporation, Ovation Brands, Inc. wrote to say how many employees should be out working in the dining room and around the buffet tables. The Levittown OCB does not come close to the minimum number of employees stated by this corporate employee. We have also been told that at many OCBs this is intentional to keep expenses down. This is not the place to cut expenses. Service needs to be as good to keep customers returning.


Michele said...

Maybe OCB would do well with taking part in an episode of 'Undercover Boss'.....

Writer said...

Michelle- They already have - look back in our archives a few months for the article about it - and you can go to the Undercover Boss website and seen the episode in their archives. Considering what the boss said that would happen to improve things at OCBs following the show and the nothing that has actually happened or changed, it was just a long commercial for OCB.

collards said...

I went to the OCB in Whitehall, PA this weekend. it was fully remodeled, but the cashier station was poorly planned. There was a large line due to the wait at the cashier's. There were many empty tables. The carpet was there, but not totally filthy, but it could have used some cleaning between customers.

The steak was very good. The baby back ribs were good as well. They had a very good variety of other foods and some even in their own little pans to add more choices.

The desserts were plentiful even more than usual.

Overall, it was a nice experience and the food, service and cleanliness was above average.

They had plenty of plates and utensils.

Just across the street is a Golden Corral. That place is a garbage dump with dirty dishes, dirty floors and horrible cheap food.

Writer said...

It is nice to hear that a remodel went well and it is evident that they did something. Also nice to know that at some OCB they are still serving baby back ribs - those have not been served at the two OCBs here for about four months or more.