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The buffet death spiral

The buffet death spiral

Old Aug 29, 19, 11:11 pm
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The buffet death spiral

Anyone seen this happen in a place?....

Restaurant that's not exclusively a buffet place starts offering a buffet as an option, perhaps for lunch.

Buffet becomes popular.

Restaurant raises prices rather than compromise on food offered. Also to keep buffet from losing money.

Some people decide it's gotten too pricey, others still like it but make more of a point to bring an appetite.

Prices get raised again rather than compromise on food.

Customers decide it's "serious eating" and they really need to bring an appetite if they get the buffet.

Prices raised again, driving away more people but attracting or retaining the big-appetite folks.

Prices raised yet again (rinse and repeat).

* * *

A buffet at one of my favorite places, Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen, will end in just over a week. It's a privately owned "chain" with limited locations across the country, and one of the two brothers in charge from the founding family made his first visit out to that location in 15 years and ordered the plug to be pulled (in the name of uniformity across the chain, or something like that).

Most locations don't offer it, but this one had done so at lunchtime Monday-Saturday for I'd guess close to 15 years. They had AYCE cold shrimp of a good size (would guess 20 count), 2 kinds of salad, gumbo, crawfish etouffee, dirty rice, chicken tenders, mashed potatoes, red beans and rice, fried shrimp, salmon filets, banana pudding, s'mores, 2 other kinds of desserts, and other things I'm forgetting. All of a high ingredient standard (same as on the a la carte, except a different roux on the crawfish).

When they introduced it, it was $9.95 some 15 or so years ago, but the price has crept up repeatedly to where it's now $24.95. Which is well out of lunch price range for many people (though their other items also had gone up a good bit). I'd gone less frequently with all the increases (maybe 3-4 times a year) and made sure to bring the appetite, and I'm sure others played it the same. In its heyday you had to get there before 11:30 or wait in a longish line, but lately there's much less line but still always customers, at least when I'd gone. They used to offer it until 3 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, but a few years back went to strictly 11-2.

I have mixed feelings about the demise. Had always eaten too much when there and it was a menace to health, but at 3-4 times a year it had to be treat-level, anyway.

I think it suffered the death spiral, though. But to the restaurant's credit, they never cut the food quality in all the years they had it.
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Old Aug 30, 19, 6:08 am
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I've witnessed the "death spiral" at a local Japanese restaurant which isn't a buffet but offers an AYCE option where diners order from an I-Pad. Since opening the price has gone up and the quality and crowds have both declined. Ordering off the menu is a better option but this restaurant won't allow it if another person at your table wants AYCE.

Buffets are just slop troughs for human hogs and I avoid them as much as possible. My loathing of buffets began years ago at an Indian restaurant near my then office in Toronto where colleagues and I ate lunch once a week. The buffet was passable with a limited assortment of the usual dishes and eventually we tired of it. The first time we ordered different dishes from the menu it was a revelation and never ate the buffet again.
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Old Aug 30, 19, 11:09 am
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It actually seems like most buffets raise prices while cutting costs and quality. It gets to the point where the quality (and, in turn, the word of mouth) is so bad that people stop going, and the buffet can never recover.

I've never heard of Pappadeaux serving a lunch time buffet.

Mrs. Swede now limit ourselves to a local Indian buffet maybe once a quarter, and we also do a Sunday brunch buffet somewhere about once a year.
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Old Aug 31, 19, 5:02 pm
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Originally Posted by pseudoswede View Post
It actually seems like most buffets raise prices while cutting costs and quality. It gets to the point where the quality (and, in turn, the word of mouth) is so bad that people stop going, and the buffet can never recover.

I've never heard of Pappadeaux serving a lunch time buffet.

Mrs. Swede now limit ourselves to a local Indian buffet maybe once a quarter, and we also do a Sunday brunch buffet somewhere about once a year.
The same Pappadeaux also has had a Sunday brunch buffet (priced somewhere in the high $30s, I think) and I believe they're keeping that one. I've never gone because of crowds. The Monday-Saturday lunchtime buffet must have been a unique thing.

Some of the Las Vegas buffets have really gone downhill, but in those cases you've got the complicating factor of how much the casino is subsidizing it. Generally they've been less willing to prop up something really good, perhaps out of fear of becoming too popular with a money-loser.
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Old Aug 31, 19, 6:38 pm
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The only difference between a buffet and a a la carte ordering is that the pricing for the former has to be based on the average customer while the latter is based on what each person orders.

As people wallow at the trough more and longer, either the quality drops or the price increases. Or, I suppose the buffet gets dumped or the restaurant goes under. Hardly surprising.
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Old Sep 4, 19, 7:01 pm
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Originally Posted by Badenoch View Post
I've witnessed the "death spiral" at a local Japanese restaurant which isn't a buffet but offers an AYCE option where diners order from an I-Pad. Since opening the price has gone up and the quality and crowds have both declined. Ordering off the menu is a better option but this restaurant won't allow it if another person at your table wants AYCE.

Buffets are just slop troughs for human hogs and I avoid them as much as possible. My loathing of buffets began years ago at an Indian restaurant near my then office in Toronto where colleagues and I ate lunch once a week. The buffet was passable with a limited assortment of the usual dishes and eventually we tired of it. The first time we ordered different dishes from the menu it was a revelation and never ate the buffet again.
On the lower end I would agree. But a high-end brunch buffet or something like the buffets Disney World has to offer are a different story. Particularly a buffet like Boma at WDW allows you to try foods you would otherwise pass up on the menu. But otherwise I'd rather have bamboo shoots jammed under my fingernails than go to a place like Golden Corral.
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Old Sep 12, 19, 6:53 pm
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The late, great Pappadeaux buffet

Inspired by the responses to this thread so far, and having an extra week before the last day (so they could put out some communications like e-mails), I decided to hit it one last time and take pictures:




The sign at the door



Looking down from the salad side


Looking down the other way from the dessert side. I got there just after 11 to beat the crowds



The peel & eat shrimp was clearly one of the star items, and a challenge to keep filled.


Gumbo is another. Also good for dropping some extra peeled shrimp into.


"Butterfly" fried shrimp was also popular.


As was the crawfish etouffee, though for whatever reason the roux was milder on the buffet version. They also had dirty rice in the next tray.



Some of the desserts. Banana pudding and bread pudding were staples, plus the lemon tarts and the empty plate that had s'mores on it.


Also there but not pictured: Chicken tenders, green beans, mashed potatoes, salmon filets (cooked to varying doneness), red beans and rice, and anything I'm just plain forgetting.

It has always been about food quality more than quantity of items offered, and most people have a favorite 2 or 3 things they can fill up on.


What my first plate looked like.

Anyway, it started at a pretty incredible $9.95 (drinks not included) some 15 or so years ago but has crept up to $24.95 now (hence my theory about the death spiral). Some of the items are undoubtedly not cheap for the restaurant to do on an AYCE basis, but they haven't compromised on the food quality. Even though current pricing is out of lunch range for most people, they were still able to keep it going at higher prices until one of the brothers from the founding family told them to pull the plug.

As mentioned, I have mixed feelings. Always ate too much and had to limit it to a roughly quarterly treat, but it was always good food and never like Golden Corral or the price-point Chinese places.
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Old Sep 13, 19, 12:27 pm
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That does look good, although $25 for a workday buffet is way too much.
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Old Sep 13, 19, 4:07 pm
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Whenever I think of buffets I think of the Sunday breakfast buffet in the hotel I was staying at in Geneva. I had just arrived Sunday morning after an overnight flight JFK-ZRH and a train to Geneva. My room wasn’t ready and I hadn’t eaten for a while so I went to the buffet. About 90€. Welcome to Switzerland. Prices slightly higher.
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Old Sep 16, 19, 4:03 am
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Interesting to see how one interprets the title relative to OP's thoughts. The spiral really depends on the type of restaurants and where in the world (literally) we are talking about.

Based my experience in Hong Kong my first thoughts of the death spiral would be restaurants that are on the verge of going under. Typically the restaurant starts off as an a la carte place, then starting to offer AYCE as a last resort solution before closing down. It's particular true for Japanese restaurants in Hong Kong as a friend of mine is a wholesaler/distributor that has a large clientele of Japanese restaurants. When one of his clients informs him and starts ordering foods/supplies as an AYCE style place he starts worrying about the client's ability to pay the bills.

I would imagine for OP's seafood restaurant, they weren't making enough money at $24.95 and raising the prices would drive people away from the restaurant in general, hence the solution was to stop offering the buffet.

For the example of the Japanese restaurant in Ontario, Canada, they obviously see the AYCE is more profitable and having both a la carte and AYCE at the same time is basically asking the kitchen staff to find another job.
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Old Sep 16, 19, 8:54 am
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Originally Posted by Chromie25 View Post
Interesting to see how one interprets the title relative to OP's thoughts. The spiral really depends on the type of restaurants and where in the world (literally) we are talking about.

Based my experience in Hong Kong my first thoughts of the death spiral would be restaurants that are on the verge of going under. Typically the restaurant starts off as an a la carte place, then starting to offer AYCE as a last resort solution before closing down. It's particular true for Japanese restaurants in Hong Kong as a friend of mine is a wholesaler/distributor that has a large clientele of Japanese restaurants. When one of his clients informs him and starts ordering foods/supplies as an AYCE style place he starts worrying about the client's ability to pay the bills.

I would imagine for OP's seafood restaurant, they weren't making enough money at $24.95 and raising the prices would drive people away from the restaurant in general, hence the solution was to stop offering the buffet.

For the example of the Japanese restaurant in Ontario, Canada, they obviously see the AYCE is more profitable and having both a la carte and AYCE at the same time is basically asking the kitchen staff to find another job.

Well, my first thought was of people being on a death spiral from going to buffets too much but I figured out pretty soon that wasn't the direction the thread was intended to travel down.
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Old Sep 16, 19, 10:04 am
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Old Sep 18, 19, 3:15 am
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The OP's pictures in post #7 perfectly encapsulate half the reasons why I detest buffets: mediocre food kept warm for way too long. You can't even like to imagine that a chef has prepared food fresh for you (I know that most restaurants in the USA don't have proper chefs, but merely follow instructions on the over-sized catering packs, but it's good to practice some self-delusion occasionally). The other reason to hate buffets is that having to jump up and down the whole time ruins the ambiance of the meal. How can you have a proper conversation if you are always jumping up and down, or being jostled by over-sized people returning to their tables with over-filled plates?
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Old Sep 18, 19, 10:52 pm
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That buffet in the pictures looks like it would fill you up, but it does look a lot like what you'd get in a half decent J lounge ie food that can sit for far too long without losing its flavour or texture. Not sure I'd spring $36 Aussie for it.
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Old Sep 21, 19, 11:25 pm
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The pictures might be a bit misleading because I showed up that day just after 11 a.m. when crowds would start arriving at 11:30 and more so around 11:45. I knew that trying to take pictures then would be a problem, and the seats at the bar also might be gone (much better for tea refills, etc.)

The food generally wasn't kept out long...for some things like the salmon and the shrimp they had to do multiple refills, and I don't think there was any item that didn't have to be replaced at least once. They had kitchen staff assigned to watch the buffet, but there was still sometimes a lag time for new trays. They went through a lot of food. But because they didn't lower the grade on it vs. the restaurant food (as a Chinese buffet might do), they couldn't hold the price point if they got hit with some big eaters. Hence the start of the "death spiral" and how $9.95 became $24.95 gradually over time.

I guess the flip side (and maybe I should take pictures next time there also) would be a Japanese-Chinese buffet place in Travelers Rest, South Carolina, holding onto a $7 lunch price (excluding drink also, though most people get water). A fairly good buffet in that vein normally is over $20 (Todai, Nori Nori in Atlanta, etc.). There's one near me at $14.99 for lunch. But the Greenville area (and South Carolina in general) has lower discretionary income and lots of price resistance because of that. Still, it was amazing to see a basic-sushi/Chinese dishes/very small shrimp/soft serve ice cream buffet attempted at $7.
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