Friday, March 27, 2015

What the Heck is Going on With Old Country Buffet?!?

There have been some big changes at Old Country Buffet over the past six months - perhaps longer in other areas of the country - and not for the better. I am not talking about any particular Old Country Buffet location but with the chain as a whole. I am talking about the change in menu and how some foods are not being served.

To start - and certainly, no surprise to anyone that regularly goes to an Old Country Buffet or has been to one since this past summer - there is no longer steak served. Steak was a regular feature every night - as it is (was?) at Ryans and as it is at Golden Corral. Now, I was never a big fan of OCB steak as in all of the OCBs that I have been to it was cooked on a grill in the kitchen and brought out to a steam table where it sat until each steak was carved and served. I know that there are OCB's with grills right out at the carving area and steaks are cooked to order, but that was not chain-wide. Well, it does not matter any more as steak every night - or any night - is gone.

In the place of steak, in the two OCBs that are local enough for me to go to, a buffet table was partially covered with a flat heat tray and little pots of meat - sometimes steak sitting on one type of potatoes or another are laid out. As it turned out these pots change every couple of months to what they are calling new features. So there has been pulled pork barbecue sitting on potatoes, pot roast - the same that used to be served on the buffet, chili, a variety of little pieces of steak seasoned in various ways and always overwhelmed by most of the little pot filled with potatoes. Then there has been just mashed potatoes with a little cheese and bacon bits put on top, and little pots of macaroni and cheese with bacon bits put on top. Why? And I have to say that these pots of food are the most unappetizing looking foods that I have ever seen. I have heard more than one guest say what I thought the first time I saw this - "Little pots of dog food!" The best of all of these little pots has been chicken pot pie which is actually very good and looks good too - covered with a pie crust. Unfortunately when you get under that crust you will find a few small cubes of chicken with a few small carrot squares, a few pieces of potato, and peas. It does taste good but this particular pot is popular and disappears as soon as it comes out and there is a long wait for more to come.

These little pots work to make a long standing problem at OCBs (almost all from what I hear from various employees and managers who write to us) even worse - taking an already occupied employee away from the buffet (sometimes even the person carving) and into the kitchen, not only to get these pots and bring them out, but also to assemble them. So with this each buffet is minus one employee needed at the buffet.

And the little pots are not just for the hot foods. They have found their way to the dessert area. Instead of a tray of bread pudding, there are now little pots of bread pudding. Instead of a tray of fruit cobbler, little pots of fruit cobbler. Instead of a tray of chocolate cake with fudge sauce, now a little pot of chocolate cake with fudge sauce. Often these are too hot to each and very much too hot to pick up and put on a plate to take to your table.

The benefit of a buffet is not only that you can eat all that you care to eat, but you can also eat as little of something that you would like to eat. Perhaps you might like to take a little pulled port to try it - you have to now take the whole pot. Perhaps you would like just a small treat of bread pudding or cobbler - now you have to take a whole pot of it. Then there is the waste - and I ma just as guilty of this as everyone else. I want to eat just so much of potatoes. I don't want to have to eat a pot of potatoes each time I take a little pot just to eat the meat. So I eat the meat and leave the potatoes to be taken away to the garbage. I felt like a couple of spoons of bread pudding and before I would have taken just that - a very small serving of bread pudding. Now I had to take the pot, eat the few spoons that I was allowing myself to have, and the rest was thrown out. I just don't get these little pots. The restaurants are told that this is how corporate wants it now and that is that.

The newest of the changes has been to the carvings and the two local OCBs now have areas set up away from the hot food buffet tables just for carvings - with a sign "Carvery" over it. Well in one this is the end of the dessert counter but that I guess makes sense to someone. The first time we encountered this we thought that they had eliminated carvings all together. It was not until well into the meal when we looked over toward the dessert area that we saw the sign and the carvings. And the carvings - there used to be ham and roast beef every night, but not any longer. Now there may be smoked sausage and what they call "chopped steak" that are thin hamburgers that are over cooked. There may also be turkey but no longer on Sundays are there the three - turkey, ham, and roast beef all together as there had been in the past. Then on some nights when there is smoked sausage (and I like smoked sausage) at the carving station, there has also been smoked sausage with sauerkraut and smoked sausage in barbecue sauce on the buffet table. How much smoked sausage should take up the buffet at one meal period? Certainly, not three kinds at once. One of the better things brought back - now as a carving though it is served in a tray on the buffet - are baby back ribs. Two summers ago, the OCB baby back ribs were terrific. They are not quite as good any longer - though it may just be that whoever is cooking them now here, does not know what to do with them.

Hopefully, the little pots will go the way of the stir fry - that was a failed and short lived idea of Corporate. The not so new anymore CEO either has poor advisers or bad ideas on his own.

My wife wondered if Corporate was looking to put themselves into bankruptcy again. We have seen people come in, look at what is on the buffet and walk out. We have seen people who have paid, come in and go back and ask for their money back. All within this period since this past summer.  If you needed to find a way to lose business intentionally, what has been going on is it. We do not see the crowds that we saw on weekends at OCB that we saw just a year ago. Another problem now is also with a price for dinner of $13.99, it is just too much for many couples and families.

Well, I don't know what the heck is going on with Old Country Buffet now, but it is not good. If anyone on the "inside" wants to share it with us, please leave a comment.  We have not been to a Ryan's since this started, so I don't know if this foolishness has extended to there - but I suspect it has.

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