Restaurant space planning for buffet dining in hospitality

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Monday, August 18, 2014


IN THE past, changes in the hospitality industry, economy and varying guest tastes rendered an emphasis on cost-cutting that led the rise of buffet preparation. The changing times and turnover of culinary personnel has greatly influence dining and buffet presentation in the past. Today, buffet dining is all about creating a unique dining experience.

Buffet dining is something Filipinos understand. All too well. Filipinos' penchant for great deals has made many buffet restaurants famous and very well patronized, not to mention filled to capacity; to say nothing of the waiting lists. Evidently, there is a consistent demand. Try and check out the latest review on the top 10 buffet restaurants in Manila. EJ Dela Vega gives a rundown on the various top players in buffet dining in Manila (http://insights.looloo.com/2014-mid-year-10-best-buffet-restaurants-in-m...) which is trending so to speak.

Buffet dining in the Filipino setting is essentially "superlatives on culinary display". You read and hear words like, "Sky's the limit", "all you can eat", "variety", "affordability". When all these are combined together, brace yourself for the grandest, and exceedingly sumptuous display of seductive selections of food and beverage in one venue. Irresistible indulgence at its best.

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The Philippines, being a melting pot of cultures and flavors, has rendered "restraint in dining" obsolete, with the exception of our senior population who opt for the healthier options. "Smorgasbord", though archaic a term, is symbolic of the Filipinos' love of gastronomic adventure. Hence, it has become indispensable for restaurateurs to evolve and consider buffet dining in the restaurant mix.

Designing for restaurant space is inevitable in hospitality, especially when the only suitable route is innovation. When this ensues, redesigning and renovation for the ultimate dining experience is critical and requires experience and thoughtful understanding of several factors and considerations.

Considering buffet dining in your restaurant space is the best decision you can ever make. Allocating a bigger, wider space to balance the set up for buffet and the dining area makes a lot of sense for the restaurant bottom-line and customer satisfaction. In making space planning effective for successful buffet dining, following basic considerations are studied:

1. Buffet Space. Buffet dining with its self-service, market-style set up, where cooking is elevated to performance art, will need wider or bigger room for positioning and flow. Service tempo and table setups rests on available space for buffet set up and dining area. To balance buffet set up and area for dining on optimum seating capacity is key. The right buffet setup saves invaluable time and money. A well laid-out space plan allows diners to get what they want without long queues. Layout tables and stations away from doorways and good distance from the dining area to avoid overcrowding. Chafers that can serve many sides allow excellent and flexible flow that is quick and smooth. Generous space allows most 5-star properties dedicate a special room for either cheese, chocolate or tapas or delicatessen. Physical capacity must meet buffet demand capacity. Style your layout around a theme.

2. Table Space. Once the layout has been ascertained for buffet and dining, table types and styles based on the layout may be varied depending on space size and arrangement. Tables and stations are better scattered than lined up. Round or rectangular tables that can be accessed on any side provide good mobility and good traffic. Using tiered display stands allows for more food to be featured on the table in a confined space while adding depth, dimension and unique factors to the tablescape. Drape risers or use of mirrored stands create a decorative feel. Plan the table set up to allow for privacy and comfort.

3. Access, Flow and Distance. Buffet service via presence of Interactive or Action/Mobile Stations add movement to the buffet space plan and destroy monotony. Abandon the straight line buffet. Offer good variety for your stations. Free-standing stations that maintain good distance and accessibility, such as carving, waffle, crepe, sushi, pasta, omelette, ice cream, dessert stations are just few of the examples. Guests like to see the chef and the culinary staff interacting with them in the dining room. Distance from the dining area to the stations should be well thought out and aid movement to each of the stations that add layers of excitement to the overall effect to the dining experience. The presence of interactive stations require electrical outlets so it is essential that location and availability of outlets are planned prior to mapping out floor space. Consider all equipment that will be used. Countertop stations generally require induction burners. Check this beforehand for compatibility with the induction plans that will be in use. Prior to setting up any buffet, ensure that the setup is compliant with fire department codes in case the stations will include open flame cooking, grilling, or whether gas or electric is opted.

4. Speed of Service. Well-designed space for buffet dining allow better access, good flow, which cascades to speedier buffet service.

5. Variety and Creativity. Every dish on the buffet menu has to be to stand on its own to shine. Every decoration and theme has to be carefully planned and must not be an afterthought nor an overwhelming distraction. Every display has a purpose and contributes to the overall enhancement of the buffet presentation. Most successful buffet restaurants approached each buffet with a very simplistic layout that was evocative of the simple, yet manifest an elegant lifestyle. For example, if you intend to showcase Mediterranean Cuisine in your buffet, you can have the buffet displayed on available furniture, no table cloths or risers. Theme, décor and food serving equipment must have a rustic appeal. You may use broken marble slabs, terra cotta bowls and traditional serving dishes. Instead of keeping hot food warm in chaffing dishes, use terra cotta casseroles or copper pans and pots propped on hot bricks. Buffet decoration may include stone or pottery urns filled with colorful vegetables and fruits commonly used in Mediterranean cuisine.

6. Labor Cost. Labor cost that goes with offering buffet service can be controlled and is generally lower than going completely A la carte. Labor to service the buffet during the opening times is minimal, as the productivity per employee increases because it is easier to service a buffet than to prepare individual dishes each time. Staff requirement for service is lower, and although it will demand a higher number of culinary personnel for the interactive stations, the recommendation here is to cross-train production staff and other employees to work the various stations. Once an employee is skilled completing the simplest station, she or he may e trained for the next level and so on.

Buffet dining now is becoming a theatrical event unto themselves. It is an exciting feature for guests to look forward to every time they visit your property. It is not the abundance of food on display or the elaborate décor, but all about the extraordinary experience you can offer your diners.

At the end of the day, space planning for buffet dining is all about striking a balance between value engineering, restaurant revenue and the guests' overall dining experience that guarantees success.

-o0o-

"Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is so endlessly delicious."

~Ruth Reichl

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on August 19, 2014.

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