How Do Restaurant Buffets Make Money?
Enter a restaurant buffet and you'll be faced with an almost overwhelming choice of appetizers, salads, vegetables, roasts, chops, ribs, seafood, breads, rolls and desserts. Some buffet restaurants compound the diner's dilemma by offering Italian nights, Mongolian stir-fry, barbecue themed-dinners, Southern dishes and holiday specials. Restaurant buffets make money like any other restaurant, but do have some advantages over full-service restaurants.
A full-service restaurant has to guestimate how much of what menu items will be sold. Preparing too much of an item that isn't ordered in expected quantities results in waste and a higher food cost. Buffet restaurants know what will be served on which days. Their challenge is estimating how many customers will be served each day. For example, if there have been 100 to 125 customers each Friday night for the last three months, it's reasonable to expect that many customers for the future. The buffet restaurant has more reliable food costs.
While it probably takes the same amount of time for customers to consume the food, the tables turn over faster at a buffet because the food is ready immediately. There is no waiting for the meal to be prepared to order by the kitchen staff. As the tables turn over faster, more customers can be served during a meal's time period. For example, if it takes 60 minutes for a meal to be ordered and consumed in a mid-priced restaurant, three sets of customers can dine at the table during the dinner hours of 5 to 8 p.m. If it takes 45 minutes for a meal at a buffet that same table can serve an additional set of customers during the same time period. The more customers served, the more money the restaurant makes.
Buffet restaurants don't require wait staff to take orders, bring food to the table and give customers the bill. Customers serve themselves from the buffet. Sometimes entrée items are served by the staff to cut down on customers overestimating what they can consume. The buffet doesn't have as big a payroll as a full-service restaurant.
Some buffets include only salads, vegetables, entrées and breads in the fixed price of the meal. Drinks and desserts are additional. The margin on both those items is high resulting in more money for the restaurant. Alcoholic beverages also have a high markup.
Full-service restaurants do repurpose leftover food to a certain extent, for example when today's roasted chicken shows up in tomorrow's chicken pot pie. Buffet restaurants do it on a regular basis. The roasted chicken is showcased the first night and any leftovers are incorporated in a chicken-and-mushroom casserole or chicken soup the next night.
All-you-can-eat restaurants base their pricing on what the average customer will consume. The hearty eater is offset by lighter eaters, senior citizens with smaller appetites and customers who are more health conscious. Additionally it's no mistake that the salads, breads and "fillers" such as creamed vegetables, mashed potatoes or cheesy rice are displayed before the diner arrives at the main entrée selections -- the higher food-cost portion of the menu.