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The Hidden Limits of the ‘All-You-Can-Eat’ Buffet

When considering an all-you-can-eat buffet, diners calculate not only whether the experience is worth the price, but other factors such as accommodating the tastes of a group. Restaurant owners, who often operate a razor-thin margin, must calculate the total cost of food and service against the aggregate appetite of everyone who walks in the door. How do they deal with people who eat several times what the proprietor calculates?      

Born in midcentury Las Vegas, the American all-you-can-eat (or AYCE) buffet was all about excess from the start. The phrase itself can be an issue for proprietors, insofar as it sounds like a challenge. Someone might level the place just to prove a point, not because they’re actually that hungry. To that end, owners might include “within reason” in the fine print or style the offer as “all you care to eat” to instill a sense of moderation — that’s on top of various other tricks for getting you to leave before you do too much damage, like uncomfortable seating, not clearing your dirty plates right away and enticing you to fill up on bread and beverages instead of more expensive items.

Every buffet restaurant has a story about someone who ate more than should be humanly possible, but dealing with them is a delicate balance of economics and reputation. Read about the many ways it's been handled, for individual cases and as policy, at Mel magazine. -via Digg    

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The CEO of Red Lobster lost her job over that. I saw a similar promotion in a local "oriental" buffet. It didn't last long. Fried rice is one thing, snow crab legs quite another.
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In 2003, Red Lobster ran an "Endless Crab" promo - they calculated that they'd still make profit with each customers eating a second helping of crab. But they didn't count on American seeing that as a challenge: many of them ate a third and a fourth helping and almost sent the company into bankruptcy!
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