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Monday 16 December 2002

Old Country Buffet Customer Service

I admit it, I eat at Old Country Buffet. I like that the food there is normal food, the kind your mom used to cook. Nearly all restaurants these days have some sort of gimmick: the waiter pours olive oil into a dish on the table, instead of offering you butter; the bread you dip in the olive oil is strange; the desserts are all some “Chocolate Decadance Orgy” idiocy, which is offensive both in its misunderstanding of the meaning of the word decadence and because it’s usually no good.

Old Country Buffet, on the other hand, is incredibly gimmick-free. They serve ham, and roast beef, and vegetables, and rolls, and — this is the really exotic thing — ordinary chocolate cake (among other things) for dessert. I suppose the fact that you’ve got to go schlep the food from the buffet yourself — and can thus have three entrees if you like without seeming like too much of a weirdo — is a gimmick of sorts, but at least the food is normal.

OCB’s menu varies from day to day. On Thursday, they have banana splits, and this appears to give them license to go crazy. A person in a giant bee costume roams around (he’s the O.C. Bee, get it?) shaking hands with kids and handing out balloons.

Last Thursday night, at the OCB in Manassas, Virginia, the balloons were exploding. Spontaneously. Tino was there at the time, trying to eat dinner — trying because these balloons were popping, quite loudly, every five minutes. At first, I thought that kids were popping these things, but when the fifth balloon went off, I happened to be looking right at it. The balloons were either defective, or they were being overfilled, or both; they were exploding on their own, at somewhat predictable intervals.

After the fifth balloon went off — and after I threw peas all over the place when I jumped at the noise — I went off to find the manager. When he finally appeared from the kitchen, I told him that these balloons were exploding spontaneously, and that this was cramping my dinner style.

His response: “What would you like me to do?”

This is a standard customer-service line. I get asked this all the time when I point out that I’ve been waiting for my entree for thirty minutes, or that it’s impossible to find prices for any of the items in the store, or that my pizza has the wrong toppings on it. “What would you like me to do?” I think the point is to convey to the customer the idea that his wish will be the manager’s command: “What wouldst thou, O great one?” Aside from the fact that the customer is being asked to do the manager’s job for him, one problem with this approach is that the question is perilously close to “What do you expect me to do about it?” — the difference between them is largely in the tone, and the presumably overworked managers at these kinds of places very often deliver the line to sound like the latter.

So, anyway, there I am being asked to manage the OCB by proxy, giving commands to the manager. (See Rules For Retailers #3, “Don’t make customers work for the privilege of giving you money”.) I tell him that I’d like him to see to it that no more balloons explode before I leave. I actually say that: “I’d like you to see to it that these balloons stop exploding, by getting rid of them if necessary.” I don’t think that this is an unreasonable request: “Please stop that startling BANG noise that fills your restaurant every so often.” I point out that I’ve been exposed to balloons in the past, and that these explosions were not a necessary consequence of having balloons around. I point out that I’ve been in the presence of balloons in the presence of that very restaurant before and that there were no explosions. Basically, I said, balloons != explosions, there must be something else wrong, and it’s interfering with my enjoyment of the experience for which I have paid Buffets, Inc.

His response? “It’s only one night a week.”

His response, expanded to what he really meant: “We only have balloons one night a week, so if you don’t like to eat dinner in an atmosphere of loud BANGs, I suggest you don’t come here any more on Thursday night, you miserable fucking customer. Either lower your expectations, you asshole, or don’t spend any more money here, because we cannot be bothered to ensure that the place is even minimally commodious. Fuck you, fuck your patronage, fuck your money, and fuck the horse you rode in on.”

This, of course, is the route to profitability. I left immedately — I don’t need to spend time in a place that so clearly does not want me there — and I’ll give him what he wants: he’s won. I will not go back to that Old Country Buffet for some time, if ever (which, in practical terms, means I won’t go back to any Old Country Buffet for some time, if ever.) Eventually, if Mr. Joe Pina continues with his customer-service practices, all the potential customers will be equally disgusted with the place, and he won’t have to bother with us at all. From the looks of the place Thursday night — there were only a few people there for dinner — he’s well on his way to that happy state already. Golden Corral, a competing buffet chain, has a restaurant right down the street, and on Thursday night they had a line out the door. Perhaps Mr. Pina is a Golden Corral fifth-columnist.

Posted by tino at 13:29 16.12.02
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Iit’s time for to build a resurant in the southwest suburbs of the Twin Cities, MN. Suggestion Chaska or Shakopee.

Posted by: at January 27, 2003 06:23 PM

15 February 2003

Congratulations on your new building. Do you ever take reservations for groups on a Saturday night? I have been told ‘no’ that is not possible. Do you have any plans for adding a banquet room onto your new building in Union Gap, WA. or perhaps opening another restaurant in this area? Your old location in the Valley Mall seemed to offer more seating and we never had a problem of getting a group of 30 seated immediately.

This evening a few minutes before 6pm about 10 members of our group had arrived and been seated. The remainder, about 23 people, waited to be seated. Finally we said we would take tables for 4 where ever they were and try to move the group together as tables opened up.

What happened is that we ate in small groups. I was sitting at a table waiting for some of our members to join us for dessert and a waitperson said they could use my table if I didn’t need it. Not wanting to cause a fuss I felt compelled to squeeze in at another table. I lost part of my meal on the floor when I changed tables. This was more than a little embarrassing.I felt that I was not treated with warmth or hospitality.

For whatever reason your present facility cannot physically accommodate large groups. We are investigating alternatives for our March meeting.

Posted by: Mary at February 15, 2003 11:54 PM

yes i was in one of your rest.saturday the 15 of feb.03 i paid 58.22 and the food that i receive for that price was not tastey some of it was cold and some taste like it had been their all day. i would love to haer from some one oh the rest is in indianapolis indiand in georgetown plaza thank you

Posted by: MARY WALLACE at February 17, 2003 02:14 PM

@ about 2:30pm wednesday august 6, 2003 my husband and my self were at old country for the last time due to the general manager he first started laughing at an elderly woman and the made a sexual coment about myself . it would not have been so bad if he was a regular employee or sitting more then a table in between us . needless to say i was verry upset and really offend that he did such thing to the both of us. i was not able to sit there and eat with out his comments neithier was the eldery woman in the next booth.

Posted by: Toni at August 6, 2003 05:20 PM

Good Day,

I was recently at the Rolling Meadows, IL location and had a terrible experience. I went over to the yogurt machine and got myself some yogurt, as I pulled a spoon from the spoon holder a roach came out!!!! It was very gross and upsetting to see and even more gross that it was in all the spoons. He was very fast and walked under the counter and came out again and hurried into the door. I mentioned something to the manager who was having lunch, and her response, “they come every four weeks on Friday, I guess I’ll have to call them”. That was that. I then went to my table and told me husband, and we left because who wants to eat after that. After thinking about it and talking to other people about it, it bothered me on how the manager handled my problem. Obviously we would have enjoyed our meal much more if we had not experienced this critter. We also would have stayed for more food if we had not had this happen. I feel that the manager should have done a little more to please us. I told her about it so that no one else would hear me. I did not see her get up to do anything about it. Also, if it was out during the day in the area where customers are-I wonder how the kitchen area is? I’m sorry but I feel that once a month is not enough for a place with food everywhere. I will not be back to this location again.

Please let me know your reponse to this. Or if you can’t help me, tell me who I need to call or talk to.



Posted by: Debbie at October 1, 2003 09:11 PM

All I want is a listing of addresses of Old Country buffets in the minneapolis/St. Paul area.

Thanks, Marilyn Kreps

Posted by: Marilyn Kreps at January 25, 2004 04:18 PM

What is it that apparently leads people to believe that I am Old Country Buffet? What on earth?

The Buffets, Inc. website is here. Do people really read through that rant about how awful OCB is, and then think that this is somehow run by the company?

Posted by: Tino at January 25, 2004 05:01 PM

I ate at OCB Tonight. I enjoyed the salmon and some of the other food but I must say it was gross. I do not enjoy eating like the farm animals did all crunched up and tramping over each other. The most gross thing was the smell. That place stinks real bad like maybe some of the children had an accident and it was never cleaned up. I must say the price isn`t bad but I leave wondering how long I will keep the food down. I will be calling the phone number provided just to make a nice suggestion about replacing the many years old carpet and improving on the smell. And the clientel well if you ever ate there you know and you may fit the discription and I dont mean to offend anyone I have no room to comment about anyone but we all do.I told my wife we could just sit there and make fun of the fat people but we didnt we ate and ate and ate and before we left the fat people well we really fit right in there. Heck they could have made fun of us what pigs we were trying to make hogs of ourselves.

Posted by: Ron Moore at April 2, 2004 10:38 PM