Buffet Pricing

We are seriously looking to expand our current Delco location into some space next to our current store. We think we could increase our lunch business significantly along with dinner since we are located in an area that has a lot of lunch business but people need to be able to get in & get out quickly. In addition to that, we are located in Texas & without air conditioned seating this time a year nobody is coming for lunch.

My questions is for current buffet operators, how do you price your buffet? With a pizza it is straight forward in that I can determine my food costs, & as long as the ultimate price is within the competitive market I am good. However, I am struggling trying to figure out how to estimate the amount of pizza a normal person will eat at a lunch buffet. Do you worry about that or just price according to the competition? I am flying in the dark a little bit here. But of the area buffets, one is a Pizza Hut at $6.99, the other is an average at best local joint for $6.99 & the last is the long time local place that is pretty run down for $4.99. We are a new local place, but have already won the best pizza in town competition. We would be adding fountains & seats for approximately 45-50. I am pretty sure the buffet will be a hit, I just want to make sure it is good for our bottom line.

I have no experience with buffets or determining just how much the average diner consumes when it’s “all ya want”, but I’m certain that deductive reasoning can play a part in your pricing strategy. My suggestion is that whatever price you choose should be HIGHER than Pizza Hut. You have already been selected as the best in town, so why would you have a price equal to, or lower than, a competitor that finished lower in the same category? Moreover, your intuition that you are going to be busy means that the public will see you as a value destination for lunch…so why leave anything on the table by too low pricing that would serve only to pack the place with bargain basement customers (who would go poof in the night for a competitor with even lower prices).

There was a high-end restaurant in Washington D.C that practiced a pricing strategy that included surveying all the other pricey restaurants in town every 6 months to be sure that none were priced higher. Then, they would raise their prices to be sure that they were “never oversold”. The public ate it up, equating the higher prices with the highest quality, service, etc… Now, I’m not suggesting that a lunch of pizza is on the same level as a $400 dinner for two in a tablecloth joint, but there is value to being seen as “the real deal”.

Good luck with it. Sounds exciting.

our average buffet customer is generally a downtown worker on their lunch hour. When we cook pizzas, we plan on each customer eating 1/2 a 12" pizza on average (four slices). I think you probably see an initial fill and a refill on the drink and a plate off the salad bar.

I have been running a pizza/salad/soup buffet for about 3 years now. We currently charge $7.49 for our full buffet or you can get soup and salad for $5.49. The problem with a buffet is NOT what to charge as much as it is making sure you have adequate customer flow to not have a large amount of waste. Waste with a buffet is going to happen, the challenge is how to control it as much as possible.

Alot also depends on what you are offering. We have an 8’ salad bar, 2-4 soups daily (depending on daily special…wing friday, etc), and only a 7’ pizza bar. We calculated the total amount it costs to fill each part of the buffet with the “normal” items we place on each buffet and then assume at least 10% waste. Everything must stay fresh looking (you realistically have 12-15 minutes to sell that pizza), so in your calculations assume that a “new/fresh” buffet will be placed 4 times per hour.

There is much less waste with a properly refrigerated salad bar, and do not underestimate the amount of repeat buisness you will get with a salad bar that has good variety and is kept fresh.

Soups are homemade, and are made 3 times per week, we use four 4qt containers on soup bar…very little waste.

We also only operate the pizza portion of the buffet from 11-2 and 5-9 daily. The soup and salad bar stays operational all day.

Add all these things up and figure how many customers you will need to make the money you want to make…can you get the support you need?

We do not include the drink in with the buffet. On average, one out of four customers fills their drink a second time, one in twenty gets a third drink. We are self serve on the drinks also.

I hope this helps at least a little…its a bit hard with so many variables to give any specific direction.

i also ran a buffet for about three years. (or did it run me?) anyway, it was fun, successful and very popular. it also put me out of business. i took over an existing location that was set up like a Ci Ci’s. the difference was that i actually make good pizza. i use ingredients from companies named; grande, stanislaus, hormel, etc. my pizza is expensive to make, likewise, it is expensive to throw away.

as second hand lion has said. pizza is not green beans. you cannot leave it out on the buffet for hours until someone eats it. after 15 minutes they will begin to ignore it. after 20 they will demand you make it fresh. if you don’t, they won’t come back.

are you in a small town? i am. the flow just wasn’t enough to keep waste down. you won best pizza, so your product is not cheap to produce either. be prepared for noah’s ark. (people coming two by two spaced out just enough for you to have to keep making product).

however, if you are in a large area and you can keep your buffet in a set time period, and if you can fill your place during that time, then, it may be worth it. if not, run, run very fast away from this idea.

btw, we relocated to a non-buffet eat-in and delco and are doing somewhat better.