Buffets have become more popular and have become a standard offering in many restaurants. I happened to visit a chain restaurant which served buffet for lunch and that too Indian food. I had mixed reaction to the entire experience and here are some of my thoughts as how things can be done better and may be differently.
Why have a buffet?
The reason I recommend that you open your self to a whole new market who want fast and value for money business or any other attribute which you as the operator need to be aware of.
From an operational point of view, buffet for lunch must means reduction in operating staff both FOH and BOH. If you need 1 captain for every 10 covers , you can now have 1 for every 20.
This makes sense as lunch business tends to be only 20 to 30 percent of overall business.
Buffets are appeal to a market segment and if you do not saving on labour costs it does not make sense to close the ala carte sections. Some reasons are:
- Simply ala carte customer is different kind of customer who operates at different price points and wants different attributes from his or her experience.
- There are guests who do not like buffets and for good reason. Why deny them access to your restaurant.
- A lot of customers are small eaters who would not like spend a bundle for lunch. They may spend less but may come often. You would deny these customers access.
The argument that ala carte will cannibalise buffet business. Let it!! The final judgement for your value proposition is made by the restaurant guests and not as you the restaurant owner.
One of the areas of concern is how the pricing is done of a buffet. Here most operators talk of the obsolete concept of APC ie average per cover. APC is attempt to unsuccessfully target increase in revenue per transaction. A mere statistical illusions. You don’t take APC to the bank.
The alternate is to evaluate your REVPAC ie revenue per available cover. This is essentially total revenue divided by number of covers. REVPAC measures the total productive utilisation of your assets. It may be the case that your APC is 500 for lunch session but your REVPAC is 200. What this means is that you are selling high but are not getting the required volumes to have a full house. Your pricing strategy should be to peg the price of the buffet a slightly above the REVPAC levels. This will results in higher revenues and profits and better value proposition.
To ensure profitability you need to evaluate the total gross margins earned from both the strategy.
This is strategy is relevant specially when you are having only buffet option.
The Indian buffet should have the widest appeal, well because its in our country. But there is a danger of it being commoditised. It’s a commodity buffet experience if you sell me an Indian buffet but its an buffet experience if you sell me a north west frontier buffets. So wow me , when you have a buffet when you have themes.
Every restaurant fulfills their customer needs actually their fears. The restaurant says that restaurant has brand offerings to overcome their customer needs. Now there are different customers kids, corporate, women, families, couples, groups or any way you look at them. Whats is your buffet doing for them. Its does not have to be a price discount . In fact it should never be. You sell an experience.
Indian buffet are jaded and boring. How about some exciting alternatives. Have an action station!! Its old idea but is it not done? Dal is central to out food. Can you customise that for me? Dal station where you give me different choices of tempering. How about a tiki station? And a chatt counter? And a special counter where roomali are being tossed in the air? How about gourmet kulfis? Kulfi sundae? Shall we go beyond chetna? How about a them, if your concept borrows from all over India – the Andhra station or fish grill or a roast counter where the meat like Raan is carved out and plated. That would be fun and unique.
You say you are famous for lets say biryanis. Sell the point to me. If I come at lunch, I’ll come for dinner. You have to take very moment to buy into the mind space. How about biryani flights or tasters where guests savour different styles. It need not be large but smart ¼ cup portions.
Food must be interactive not just in the form of live station or action station but right on the table. How about create your own wrap just as the guests sit down. It could be fun? A popular restaurant allows the food to be grilled on the table. Nice idea , poorly executed. Or gueridon trolley for masala papad. There can be variants. The beverage section can have its own area of fun, the smoked chaas, the filter coffee, ice tea flights. All fun.
Amuse bouche to wet the appetite. Must be well presented giving physical evidence of the class of the organisation.
Buffets can be broken up to appeal to different segments eg only mains, appetiser and mains and finally appetiser, mains and dessert. The clever point is that you can maintain profitability by offering each of these offerings and appeal to a wider audience.
The food quality was a bit disappointing. The food wasn’t piping hot. My first question is that do they have a quality plan which they have determined the quality characteristics of the food they wish to serve. Lets says food has to be hot is a customer requirement. How does the restaurant ensure that the food is hot? Do they take temp of the chaffing dishes? Have they set the temperature of chafing dish to ensure that food is always piping hot.
Buffet food sensory quality are constantly declining when they are on the buffet. So the food will taste different from 12.30 and 3.00 clock. The question that needs to answered is that does the kitchen have a production plan for the buffet. How much food will be made at 12.30, then at 1.30 and then at 2.30. Do they forecast footfalls? Sure things will go wrong but by better planning and production methods things can be managed.
Finally, ask your guests what they thinks of it. Measure the feedback on all the attributes to reach a score. This is a powerful tool and can give strategic direction to build the voice of the customer in the design of the services. For a chain restaurant brand averages can be calculated. In the hand of statistician using multivariate analysis , its possible to calculate which attributes affect satisfaction the most. It may not be your portion size or the variety you think you offer.
Now your thoughts!!! Your feedback.