BIG BUFFET BLUES
I had the pleasure of eating a few buffets lately and they are always a challenge. I am not the most patient in a queue, then there is the piling up of everything onto the plate and finally traipsing back to the table with a mix of stuff that really should not be eaten together. If you ask any questions of the service staff dishing it up it only slows things down for the guests behind you so you just want to grab your grub and get away from the area as quickly as possible. I usually end up looking grimly at my plate regretting half my choices and not enjoying the meal at all.
In my cooking days I actually enjoyed preparing buffets especially at the high end where the decorating of the service tables was as important as the food itself with all sorts of associated paraphernalia appearing if the occasion had a certain theme. There would be spotlights, marble statues, ice carvings, plants, garlands and chocolate fountains. I even made his flag out of icing sugar for the King of Sweden. We would often have to dress up in costumes too in order to fit in with the look of an event. All in the spirit of the job.
We also have the other all you can eat style buffet which I am a fan of. The French do it really well and I have had a few of them there that were excellent. The ethnic versions are great value and the good thing is you can just take your time and go back and forth for a small plate each time eating things in a sensible sequence.
I adore the more gourmet style ones which are a treat and for around fifty Euros these days you can get stuck in to a bewildering array of proper de luxe starters, mains, cheese and desserts with drinks separate of course. We just do not have them here sadly. These joints work as a business model as it’s all about volume and if you can turnover five hundred covers all day which is easy in a big city like Paris or London and you open all week and all year you are talking ten million plus bucks a year revenue in food alone.
With self service and no booking in advance the place can really pack them in along with reduced labour costs on the floor and you have sufficient capacity to seat a couple of hundred at a time. The trick is to avoid rush hour and come really early before noon or after lunch around two and then you will get a seat. Eating wise there really is only so much the greediest customer can stuff into themselves even with the biggies like oysters, foie gras pate, lobsters and steak, the margins still add up at the ends of the day once the numbers are met. Therefore you can serve up the expensive items as firstly not everybody will eat or like them and secondly you will get to know how much of every dish to prepare each day as we tend to know as chefs what will be popular or not.
Hence a lot of people will fill up on some of the cheapest foods like mince dishes, salads, fruits, vegetables, pasta, rice and bread. The difference between buying the most luxurious and most mundane ingredients is enormous and this is why we have to estimate the ratios of how much of which item will be consumed on a daily basis. Before you know it all the averages will even themselves out and the profit margins will be met. It is a major financial juggling act to avoid wastage which has to be at a minimum in this particular catering game.
The reason this specific buffet format does not work everywhere is because you need to have a full on foodie culture in the country too, it has to be in a central location full of tourists and locals so you need the serious population to sustain it and the business must be rock solid consistent in its product range and quality. They can even afford to have kids go half price or nothing at all if younger. So you can see how attractive they are and I know if there was one near me I would be a weekly visitor.