3 Obvious and 4 Not So Obvious Ways Buffets Make Money

How do restaurants like Golden Corral and Old Country Buffet offer a never-ending smorgasbord for $12 and still turn a profit? Much of it comes from finding the right menu items and preparing food with great efficiency. But there’s more to the story, and it has to do with old-fashioned behavioral psychology.

It’s easy to see how restaurants like Chipotle and Five Guys have found success. They make just a few things, they make them really well, and with uber-efficiency. And they sell them at a reasonable, but not cheap, price. That keeps lines long, but moving fast. It also keeps the cash register ringing out $10 check after $10 check like a printer at a mint.

But how are restaurants like Golden Corral and Old Country Buffet able to charge just $12 per person for what seems like a never-ending smorgasbord of food? How can they possibly turn a profit? In short, much of it comes from finding the right menu items and preparing food with great efficiency.

But there’s more to the story, and it has to do with good old-fashioned behavioral psychology. They’ve got us figured out, and they’re guiding our choices all the way along that buffet line, from the mashed potatoes to the bread pudding.

First, let’s take a look at the more obvious things buffet restaurants do on the operational end to give themselves the best chance to stay profitable.

1 – Frugal proteins

Menu items have to be chosen carefully to strike a balance between cost and quality. A restaurant isn’t going to get a whole lot of repeat customers serving gristly and gray mystery meats. On the other end of the spectrum, it might be able to pack the house every night offering unlimited lobster or New York strip steaks, but it can’t expect to turn a profit at $10 or $12 a diner. Instead, you’ll find cheaper — but not cheap — cuts of meat, fish, and poultry that the restaurant can buy in bulk and use in quantity.

2 – Food prep efficiency

Food in buffets is also often prepped ahead of time, in larger quantities. There’s no need to have chefs and line cooks preparing individual dishes made to order. Done right, this saves on labor costs. It also allows a restaurant to turn over tables quicker, since diners aren’t waiting for food to arrive. That’s important during peak business hours, when lines for tables can turn into lost dollars.

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