'All you can eat' is nothing new…
Indeed. But the genre has hit the headlines worldwide after a hotpot restaurant in Chengdu, south west China, closed after just a few weeks despite serving some 500 customers a day.
Did people bring in larger plates like Alan Partridge did?
No. The owner unwisely offered a loyalty card for the equivalent of about £14 that entitled the holder to unlimited food for a whole month. Unsurprisingly, Jiamener was mobbed. Some people broke the rules by borrowing other people’s cards, too. Just two weeks after opening the restaurant was overcome with debt.
What did the owners have to say?
That the strategy was designed to help build business through repeat customers, which it sort of did. Co-owner Su Jie, who didn’t sleep for more than two to three hours during the “crazy” two weeks, said that the uncivilised behaviour of the diners was secondary - the main problem was the poor management.
Come to think of it you don’t hear much about all you can eat places these days…
The market is tough for everyone at the moment but buffet players are having a particularly hard time of it. Such businesses are especially vulnerable to rising food prices and sites are often very large so the companies behind them have been hit by rising rents and business rates. Red Hot World Buffet is no more and Cosmo - a large buffet player that serves some 150 dishes at each of its locations - closed two of its restaurants earlier this year citing tough trading conditions. Its more upscale Cosmo Luxe brand which debuted in Leeds in 2017 also appears to have failed to get off the ground. Bottomless is a more popular route these days.
The more controllable practice of offering supposedly unlimited quantities of a certain product. It’s been embraced by a surprisingly large number of restaurants and is a particularly good fit for brunch. Bottomless items often need to be ordered from a waiter or waitress, which reduces the amount people consume.
What can all you can eat operators do to survive?
They already have a fair few tricks up their sleeves. There’s the previously mentioned small plates which Partridge famously circumnavigated by bringing his own. Other tactics include presenting dishes in small receptacles to make diners feel self-conscious about taking large portions; pushing people towards cheap and filling foods; and preparing more expensive items such as steaks to order to reduce wastage and delay hungry diners.