Self-service and multi-cuisine buffet restaurants are big - in size but also current popularity. However in terms of covers none is bigger than Za Za Bazaar in Bristol and BigHospitality took a behind the scenes look at the operation for a special video report.
With a ready supply of impressive stats, such as 4,500 diners served a day, 100 members of staff on duty at the busiest times and 200kg of chicken cooked a week in the Chinese section alone; it can be easy to become blasé to the sheer scale of the Bristol harbourside eatery.
What is less easy however is working out just how such an operation functions logistically, what the most significant challenges are and whether other operators can pick up tips on super self-service.
Running a city
Likening the scale of the project to 'running a city' or a '400-bedroom hotel', Varun Singh, general manager of Za Za Bazaar in Bristol revealed the secret to its success was six live cooking stations dotted across the 25,000 sq.ft. site each headed up by chefs who specialise in a particular cuisine.
"When I walked in when it was being built, and I have been in this industry for ten years, my initial reaction was 'I think this is too big' but it has made a believer out of me."
By having a team cooking food to order, the restaurant can better control portion sizes and food waste while providing 'theatre' to the dining experience to replace the interaction with waiting staff in a conventional eatery.
Each station is run like a mini restaurant with the head chef in control of his own staff and food ordering while preparation is carried out in an extensive support kitchen.
Lessons to learn
BigHospitality took an exclusive tour of the restaurant from the ground floor bar, waiting area and support kitchen to the first floor restaurant where Singh explained how the size of the space as well as cleverly-designed place mats were all part of the concept with nothing left to chance.
As well as the extensively-reported growth of multi-cuisine buffets , self-service elements are increasingly common-place in many restaurants, pubs and hotels.
Singh explained why he believed Za Za Bazaar could help give tips and advice to other operators looking to expand or introduce self-service.
"The operation here is virtually a 24-hour operation - the restaurant opens from 11-11 but at any given time the building is not empty with staff doing one thing or the other."
"I am sure you have been in a restaurant where you just wanted to start with an ice cream but were too embarrassed to say that to your waiting staff. Here you are your own boss - you do what you want," he concluded.