economics of AYCE buffets

Hey y’all. Was coughing yesterday felt like pho. As I tried to find parking near Pho Hanoi in Palo Alto I noticed Darbar indian buffet. Do I want to pay basically same price plus mandatory tip for a bowl of pho or eat as much as middling indian food as I want? I chose the buffet.

My question is why are there no proportional increases in buffet prices as restaurants even fast food raise prices 30, 40 50%+?

It’s hard for me to justify paying more for even the best resturants when I can get decent meals at good, now great value at places like Gen, Mantra, Tomi, etc.

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For many, myself included, quality matters more than quantity.

I would rather have one bite of fantastic Neapolitan pizza than a whole Dominos.

Even if I had to pay more for that one bite of fantastic Neapolitan pie.


Looking those up! I think we should be talking more about great value places, although I am sure it would be hard to reach consensus.

From October 2023

I don’t know why they don’t increase prices ( maybe the buffet is a “loss leader”).


With regard to AYCE buffets, AYCE depends on how much I can eat, and what I want to eat. Sometimes I like what is on the menu better.



A year or so back, there was a TV documentary about the AYCE industry in the UK. One statement stuck in my mind. That was the owner of one buffet saying that if a customer only made 5 visits to refill their plate, the owner was still in profit. That’s probably going to give some decent scope for them not to increase prices. There will still be profit and, of course, drinks prices are likely to be on the high side, so very profitable.

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ACYE places wouldn’t be in business if they didn’t make a profit but can be tricky to run. I think they operate on decent/good foot traffic and people generally having “bigger eyes than stomachs” and the idea of variety. If there’s foot traffic and reasonable turn over of fresh food, it can work. However no foot traffic and food sitting kills AYCE…unless it’s super cheap. Don’t think that’s a thing any longer.

Personally, I don’t think you can ever get your moneys worth, with a few exceptions….like super big people who can chow down, or competitive eaters…like under 1%. I once tried to “win” an AYCE buffet, in my younger days…when eating was sometimes a “sport”. In the early 90s, there was Leon’s, soul food ACYE near the SF Zoo. It had everything…ribs, blackened fish, all the side…and I made four trips. Could barely walk out from all the food and laughing at how ridiculous it was.

I’m now on the smaller portions but better quality train. Taste, texture satisfaction over volume and gorging. I simply can’t take advantage of AYCE and no longer find it fun….so I don’t. Yeah, it’s a young person’s game (bring your teenage kids). Frankly looking at all the food in the wrong mood or when not actually hungry can be gross.

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As noted in the University of Michigan study that ‘shrinrap’ linked to, there are significant labor cost savings in buffets for cooking in bulk and fewer floor staff. As a consumer, there is the fun factor of being able to try bits of 10 or 15 different items as an experiment without cost.

From the U of Mich article:

However, in reality this is not the case. Buffets are not made to order and hence can be prepared en-masse, allowing restaurants to exploit economies of scale leading to huge cost savings. Furthermore, buffets reduce the demand for waitstaff and kitchen staff.

Besides buffets, I’d like to see some threads on institutional food such as hospital and employer cafeterias. Lately I’ve been eating at the Kaiser Oakland cafeteria on Broadway at MacArthur. Service is usually quick, there is an attempt to offer healthier options, prices are reasonable, and you can pick up an advanced medical education while listening to the nearby hospital staff still in their scrubs.


I think Kaiser SF has doctors and other staff from " Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives" with a “Teaching Kitchen Collaborative”.

ETA Not that there’s anything wrong with this topic @matt337 !

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Personally, I don’t think you can ever get your moneys worth, with a few exceptions

How is $20 indian lunch buffet not worth money when avg run of the mill eateries charge $15-$25 per entree?

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I think in this respect Gen makes more sense. Since the customers are doing all the cooking there should be substantial labor savings.

Because the food in those AYCE Indian Buffet chafing dishes are not the same as what you order off the menu.

The Butter Chicken, for example, in a chafing dish, aside from the fact that it may have been sitting there nearly an hour and “refreshed” with warm water every 10 minutes or so, is not the same as the Butter Chicken you order off the menu a la minute. The chicken pieces, for one, is different. The sauce to meat ratio is also different. And the list goes on.

Ask me how I know.

(Plus, who the hell wants to eat 5 plates of butter chicken? I can, but I don’t want to. If I get to eat all I want, I want variety, and most AYCE buffets, especially Indian ones, offer a very limited variety, probably about 1/20th of the regular menu.)