Wednesday, 14 September 2016

How Do Buffet Restaurants Make Money?


'All you can eat' buffet dining is a popular phenomenon that you'll be able to find on pretty much every high street. On the face of it, it seems to be a bad deal for the restaurants- but that's usually far from the case.



The concept is simple- you pay a fixed fee, you grab a plate, and you take however much of whatever food you want. On the face of it, it seems a great deal for the customer. You can try multiple dishes, so you have a much lower of ordering something you don't end up liking, and, crucially, you don't have to leave the restaurant not feeling like you've eaten your fill.

But take a look at buffet dining from the other side, the side of the restaurants. Offering customers the opportunity to take as much food as they like seems like a risky proposition, right? This is what it may seem at first, but it obviously isn't the case- since, of course, buffet restaurants continue to exist and thrive. So what we're going to look at today are 3 reasons why buffet restaurants are profitable businesses.

1) What would you like to drink today?

If you do go to a buffet restaurant, this is probably the first thing you'll hear when being seated. Have you ever been to a buffet with free refills on drinks (if you have, please let me know)? Probably not, because drinks are a significant part of revenue at buffet restaurants. Not only are they generally far more expensive than their equivalents elsewhere, but sales of drinks actually complement the all you can eat food offer.

It's rare to find a buffet that doesn't include salty staples, such as fries or crisps, that significantly increase our thirst levels. Add to that the highly oily food offered, and finally just the sheer quantity of food we consume at buffets, and you've got the recipe for plenty of drinks orders. So, buffet restaurants enjoy the best of both worlds- higher margins on drinks, and high volume of orders. Result = profit.

2) 'All you can eat!'

Firstly, the very phrase 'all you can eat' holds some appeal among most diners, and can be a decisive factor when we choose where to eat, regardless of the actual quality of the food. This is a feature which buffets can market and leverage to bring more customers through the doors.

But the key word here is 'can'. Buffet restaurants depend largely upon the sizes of our stomachs, and how quickly they can be filled up. So ideally, a buffet would want us to be consume quick-filling foods, usually carb-based things such as rice or potatoes, which are cheap and easy to prepare. So such products will form a significant part of the offering of any buffet, and some buffets may even try to nudge us to consume more of them, by decisions as small as placing a larger spoon in the rice tray. Ultimately, the more of these cheap accompaniments we eat, the quicker we fill up, and the less of the more expensive stuff the restaurant has to prepare. Result = profit.

3) Keeping costs low

But, buffets still have to be prepared to serve more premium main dishes, and this can be where costs can get out of control. Most buffets therefore maintain a tight control over these dishes, to ensure they are made in the most cost-efficient manner possible. This can be done by things as simple as cutting meat into smaller pieces (our irrationalities may dictate that we take fewer pieces of anything, regardless of overall size), using cheaper cuts of meat, or creating multiple dishes out of a single base sauce.

Arguably the biggest cost savings, however, are linked to the very nature of the buffet restaurant. We, as customers, go up to pick a plate, serve ourselves the food, dress our own plates- this all saves a significant amount of work from restaurant staff, and thus a significant amount of money. In most buffet restaurants, waiting staff don't have to be trained to carry 5 plates in one go, how to serve a table, or how to take massive orders. They just need to take drinks orders, serve drinks, and keep an eye on who sits where. Chefs, too, don't have to spend time preparing individually decorated plates of food, nor must they know how to. This means that buffets can hire fewer waiters, fewer chefs, and spend less money training them.

So there's a lot more to buffet restaurants than meets the eye. Of course, these things don't guarantee the profitability of the buffet- as with any business, it faces its unique challenges- but next time you visit a buffet, take a moment to just think about and witness all the small things they do to stay profitable.

Mohammad Lone Editor