Wondering how to start a buffet restaurant? We take you step-by-step from start to success.
Buffet Restaurant Industry Overview
Buffet-style restaurants operate according to a value-based business model. For a flat rate, diners can serve themselves as many portions of the restaurant's menu items as they want. Since most buffets cater to families, pricing is reasonable -- somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 for adults with discounts for kids and the elderly.
Several major chains (e.g. Old Country Buffet, Ryan's Steakhouse, Hometown Buffet) have established a strong presence in the buffet industry as well as specialty buffets that offer Asian fare. Although there is always room in the market for startup buffets, emerging restaurateurs must focus on delivering high quality and affordable food that is differentiated from other providers in the local buffet market.
Day-to-Day Operations in a New Buffet Restaurant
As your buffet restaurant begins to take shape, there are hundreds of decisions (large and small) that need to be made. Will you serve three meals a day or just two? What are your standard buffet items? Do you have enough staff to adequately cover every shift? What about suppliers?
The decisions you make regarding these and other questions will shape day-to-day operations in your buffet. Rather than answering these questions piecemeal, you need to develop an operational plan that includes processes designed to make your buffet run like a well-oiled machine.
Before you set anything in stone, we recommend researching other buffets to identify the processes that will deliver the maximum benefits to your operational plan. The National Restaurant Association and other trade groups offer resources and networking opportunities that can be useful for researching operational best practices in buffet restaurant ownership.
Buffet Restaurant Cost Management Tips
In a buffet restaurant, profitability inevitably comes down to cost management. Buffet patrons have a lower tolerance for price increases than other diners, so to maximize profitability you'll need to focus on increasing store traffic and managing your expenses.
If your startup isn't turning the corner on profitability after six months, you should re-shuffle your menu to leverage lower cost buffet dishes. You should already be paying bulk pricing for ingredients, but you may be able to reduce food costs even further by consolidating your purchases to fewer vendors.
Another issue to consider is the cost of beverages. Many buffets feature tableside beverage service and exclude beverages from their "all-you-can-eat" pricing. If beverages are currently provided for free, consider transitioning to a different beverage pricing model.
Business Plans for Buffet Restaurants
As a startup buffet restaurant owner, writing a quality business plan is one of the first tasks you need to address.
Now here's the good news: You can minimize the amount of time it takes to write a business plan by buying business plan software. A reliable software solution will increase the accuracy and consistency of your business plan, dramatically improving its value to your buffet restaurant.
Properly utilized, business plan software has the potential to transform your business plan from a throwaway business requirement to an integral strategic resource.
Don't Be Shy
If you're a startup buffet restaurant owner, you understand how important it is to anchor your new business in the local community. Most buffet restaurants serve highly localized markets and are acutely aware of the need to be responsive to the needs of area customers. For this reason, we strongly recommend that you survey local residents whether they would do business with a new buffet restaurant, if one were to open up in the area.
Take a Look at Competitors
Before you open a buffet restaurant in your town, it's a smart move to see how many competitors you have. We've provided the link below to help you find competitors in your area. Just enter your city, state and zip code to get a list of buffet restaurants in your community.
Prior to opening your doors for business, be sure you fully understand the competitive landscape and where your new business will fit in.
Turning Competitors Into Collaborators
If you are interested in starting a buffet restaurant, the next step is to have a conversation with someone who is in the business. If you think owners of nearby buffet restaurants will give you advice, think again. What's in it for them?
But, a person who owns a buffet restaurant in another town will be much more likely to talk with you, once they realize that you are not going to directly compete with them in their community. In that case, the business owner may be more than happy to discuss the industry with you. If you are persistent, you can find a business mentor who is willing to help you out.
Where would you find an owner of a buffet restaurant that lives outside of your area?
Here's how we would do it. Try the useful link below and key in a random city/state or zipcode.
Acquired Buffet Restaurants: Competitive Advantages
Pursuing a buffet restaurant acquisition can be an effective route to profitability for emerging entrepreneurs.
A business acquisition also delivers an established brand - a big advantage in competitive markets. In fact, many entrepreneurs pursue acquisitions for the primary purpose of buying an established brand.
From a competitive perspective, an established buffet restaurant may also deliver an industry leadership position – an enviable feature that can take years for a startup to acquire.
Consider Buying a Franchise
The odds of achieving your primary goal of becoming a successful entrepreneur greatly improve if you purchase a franchise instead of doing it all on your own.
Before you get too far along in your plan to open a buffet restaurant, you ought to assess whether buying a franchise could alleviate your startup process.
The link below gives you access to our franchise directory so you can see if there's a franchise opportunity for you. You might even find something that points you in a completely different direction.
These additional resources regarding getting started as an entrepreneur may be of interest to you.
If you came here to learn about selling to buffet restaurants, we've got better information for you elsewhere on our site. Try these resources instead:
If you are interested in starting a different kind of business, please browse our directory of guides below.