Even if your restaurant isn’t a buffet concept, adding a weekday lunch or Sunday brunch buffet may be a smart strategy for bringing in additional customers, speeding up service, and enhancing your visibility in the local market.
Ricetta’s, a pizzeria and Italian restaurant in Falmouth, Maine, began offering a lunchtime buffet two years after opening in 1991.
“It gives customers a lot of opportunities to try new menu options that they might not order on their own,” says owner Ron Stephan.
He’s found that while many customers might come in for the buffet initially, they often order food from the regular menu as well. “We also see those customers doing take-out and delivery and coming in for dinner,” he says.
The buffet proved so popular that Ricetta’s now offers a buffet dinner option Monday through Wednesday as well.
Although buffets aren’t known for high profit margins, they can help boost patronage. Patrick DiSalvo, owner of DiSalvo’s Trattoria in West Palm Beach, Florida, says that adding a weekday lunch buffet enhanced an otherwise slow lunch business.
“A lot of workers don’t have an hour or an hour and a half for lunch,” he says. “Give them 15 or 20 minutes, it’s hot, ready to go, and all-you-can eat.”
So what strategies should you take for implementing a successful buffet? Consider these tips:
Come up with a plan to minimize waste
One danger with prepared-food buffets is that food could go to waste.
At Ricetta’s, Stephan avoids this problem by making sure that the front-of-house and cooks are in close communication. “We’re continually replenishing, and keep a close eye on our customer counts,” he says. “Nothing really goes to waste.”
DiSalvo also pays attention to day-to-day dining trends in determining how much food to prepare. “Mondays are slower, but Wednesday and Thursday are busy,” he says.
Alternatively, restaurant owners might consider ways to recycle buffet ingredients into the core menu, says Dean Small, founder of Synergy Restaurant Consultants. “If you don’t have a way to recycle those ingredients, you have another whole set of inventory, which becomes a cost issue.”
Make it a big deal
Volume is important when it comes to running a successful buffet, so do what you can to promote it.
“If you don’t get the customer volume, you can’t keep the product fresh, and people will pass on it,” says Small.
He suggests using premium ingredients to create a buffet menu that will be known for its high quality, and incorporating live music and other special events to draw in a larger crowd.
Consider why you want to do it
If you have a popular establishment already, and you’d like to move people in and out faster than you can right now, a buffet may be a good idea.
“But if you don’t have enough volume to offset the food cost and labor, the question is, ‘Why?’” says Small.
Balance out the costs involved with the potential payoffs before moving forward with your plan.
By Kathryn Hawkins