Beginners guide to a pizza/salad buffet...

Can some one walk me through the highs and lows of operating a buffet? Looking at a new location. I think a lunch pizza/salad buffet would kill it. I have no idea what I’m doing as far as a buffet goes, or how much $/food cost/waste/complaints/ to expect. Thank you!

Just closed mine. Between min wage law here and now the Sugar tax ($0.02 per ounce) it was no longer profitable.

Back before all these changes, i ran about 30% food cost on a good day. Waste is minimal as long as you pay attention to the trends (and are a good guesser). Complaints were nothing more then the usual, why don’t you have this, this is out when are you putting more out, etc.

It will take some time to build a good base. And only one or two days to destroy it for awhile (bad service). It will all depend on your available labor and speed in getting more out more when large crowds show up at once.

Some buffet pointers:

  1. Cheap stuff first: The first 3 items on the buffet will be the ones you move the most.

At our old location the salad bar was in line after the hot food, not so much salad needed. New location has the salad bar right after the appetizers, so a whole lotta salad moving and a few points knocked off food cost! Put your less expensive pizzas in line before your more expensive ones too.

  1. Maintaining Stock: Have a method for knowing when you need to put replacement pizzas into the oven.

Every time we see 3 Buffets rung up and hitting the make-line monitor, we begin cooking a pizza. More of an art than a science knowing which one to cook, but if you wait until a pizza pan is empty you’re going to annoy some customers. Figure out your system for just-in-time replacement that doesn’t break down when you get swamped.

  1. Payment: If you’re not trying to upsell beer and you’re not worried about tips, having the customer pay upon arrival makes it so much easier on everyone. Often when everyone arrives at once (like during a lunch rush), they all will want to leave and pay at once too which can be a friction point.

  2. “Full” Service or Self Service?: Will you trust customers to seat themselves? Can you set up a fountain machine so that customers can access it? Will you use real plates & glasses or have paper plates & disposable cups so you don’t have to worry about washing dishes? Will your customers balk at paying more for your buffet because you have a wait staff? Either way you’ll need someone to bus tables and clean… constantly clean.

For the above two points, we have a host that seats customers (and helps with stocking, bussing and cleaning), a wait staff that takes orders & brings out drinks & beer, and a dishwasher who can help with bussing. The customer pays at the table afterwards. This provides the more upscale experience we’re going for and earns the wait staff very good tips, but we can get behind on service with an unexpected rush. It also forces us to charge more for our Buffet.

We often kick around the idea of doing the buffet self service when we talk about opening another one or run into staffing issues. I don’t think one service level is better than the other, but you need to figure out which direction you want to go and set up for that.

  1. Waste: Oh Lord, so much waste. Old pizzas pulled from the line*. Pizzas set out right before business dies*. Customers who take more than they can eat. *- these we donate to the local food bank.

I’d start off pricing your buffet high and running an introductory “special” until you get the feel for your operation’s level of waste and you tweak everything you can to reduce it. Then slowly cut back that introductory special discount until you find your food cost sweet spot.