The Extirpation Of Hometown Buffet

Extirpation is the local elimination of a species. Hometown Buffet may well be doing just fine outside this local area; but here it is going out of business.

Hometown Buffet is just what it sounds like. A large cafeteria like operation where you pay a fixed price as you enter, pick up a plate, load it up at any of a few different tables / lines with traditional American style foods. There’s a “Carving Station” that typically has a beef roast, a large ham, and sometimes a turkey IIRC. In addition, there’s a salad bar, and a long set of hot sides and baked main dishes – meatloaf, fish, fried and baked-seasoned chicken, dinner rolls, mac&cheese, and more.

20 years ago there were 3 of them in the area. One in the more “upscale” area near Campbell, one in San Jose in a more sub-urban shopping center, and one on the major restaurant row of El Camino nearer to Santa Clara.

Over the years I’ve watched that area of El Camino shift what restaurants are thriving based in large part on what new ethnicity is entering Silicon Valley. Originally lined with Italian and French, and places like Denny’s. At one time the Filipino population was larger, then chip fab moved off shore and with it the army of folks who assembled chips. Their foods left with them. Then for a while Korean and Japanese restaurants popped up (some still surviving). A large population of Pho restaurants arrived with the Vietnamese (then moved to “Little Saigon” in San Jose). Lately the number of Indian restaurants has risen along with more Mexican places (though we’ve always had an underlayment of Mexican foods). There’s also been an uptick in Chinese restaurants.

So it isn’t a surprise to see turnover in restaurants.

What is different here is that the change has spread away from that El Camino / Lawrence entry point for new arrivals (lots of apartments, not as many single family homes, very near traditional Silicon Valley chip makers) and is more widely happening.

Along the way, the Hometown Buffet chain has lost the Campbell and San Jose stores. Last night we had dinner at the Santa Clara / El Camino area one. It is clearly struggling. It can not long survive given what I observed. (Note: I’m not certain exactly which town each is in, it is near the named one but they all run together into one urban metroplex).

So what is doing it?

A clue comes from Sizzler.

We’ve also had a local extirpation of Sizzler. Last I looked there was only one left in the area, and it may well be gone now. Over by the Eastridge Shopping Center. We really like Sizzler but have not gone to one in a few years.

Both serve traditional American foods. Both are directed at the “Middle Class”. Both are a step up from chain fast food places, and both are not in the “fine dining” or “special treat” category. They are aimed squarely at the working class family looking for a nice, but not expensive, night out.

That’s what is missing. The “American Middle Class” and “affordable”.

California has imported a large number of “immigrants”. As a “white guy” I’m a minority here. You are as likely to need Spanish as English if talking with the folks working in the restaurants and grocery stores. Campbell has become an Asian Mecca (they had a reputation for “good schools” about 30 years ago and Asian immigrants have paid up for that reputation) with the population largely shifting strongly to Asian since then. East San Jose has always been the Hispanic area, but that has now expanded across San Jose and into Silicon Valley tech areas.

But that is not the whole story.

A few years back, at the San Jose Hometown, it was still packed with diners. There was a lot of Spanish being spoken, and they added a Taco Bar with choice of hot sauces. I did notice the typical downfall of buffet operations: the crowd had more “large size” folks loading up lots of plates. The Hispanic working class was being efficient about it, and making sure everyone was really hungry before they showed up. A feast more than a dinner.

For the San Jose location, they also suffered through an Agenda 21 “friendly” gentrification / make over. With 3 story apartments added around the perimeter of the shopping center where they were located. Facelift on their building. Parking lot made “pretty” but harder to navigate. During those years they hung on, despite fewer folks willing to brave a construction zone for a dinner out. Then they were gone. Replaced with some overpriced fru-fru place. I’m left to assume their rent was raised too high after the construction was done.

Then there was what I think was the “last straw”. The State of California raised minimum wage for restaurant workers to $15 / hour. Hometown had to raise their prices. It became too expensive for the Hispanic Family Feast and not a “good deal” for the regular middle class folks.

That is how you go from 3 stores, full of customers, to mostly empty in just a few years. It is a death spiral of lower sales, needing higher prices to make the rent, giving lower attendance.

Effectively, The State has priced the mid-scale lower priced places out of the market.

Last Night:

We went to the local, last standing, Hometown Buffet. We arrived at about 5:45 PM. We were in the habit, from prior years, of making sure we arrived just before the “rush” at about 6 PM. There was one guy with 2 kids in front of us. Nobody was at the register. Maybe 1/2 dozen tables (out of room for, I’d guess, 200 seats) had folks seated. After a too-long wait, I “jumped the line” and told the buss boy they needed to get someone to the front or customers (i.e. me) were going to start leaving. He rang someone, the cashier showed up, and we paid.

$38 for 2 people, one a “senior discount”. Now an old couple is just not going to eat a whole lot and certainly not $38 (and change) worth. It used to be about $20 for 2. Now the drink is charged separately at $3 and the meal proper has gone up to $14… plus the 10% Sales Tax. Just not “worth it” even if the food were good.

But the food was not all that good. Some bits were, some were not. An operation designed to make large trays of food and turn them over fast does not work well for a dozen tables. Fish especially does not “hold well” in a hot table. The baked / sauteed fish was dry and leathery on top – it had clearly sat in the table too long. The breaded fish was similarly dry. The fried chicken was overcooked and way too peppery. I suspect their cook is now a Hispanic and is seasoning to his tastes, not the corporate recipe.

We did find some good to eat. The herbed baked chicken was good, as was the roast ham. The mashed potatoes were clearly instant, but not too bad. The jello was, well jello. There was even a nice cheesecake dessert.

But when you must pick through the foods to find the ones that are good enough to eat, wastage goes up, and costs with it. We spent a good hour slowly having dinner, talking. That put us pretty much into prime time Dinner Hours. There was never a line to get in. (In the past, the line would reach from the register along one wall all the way out the door). There were mostly empty tables and never more than a dozen or so tables occupied. They often had one adult and some kids – I think they have some special for kids at low cost or free.

Plus they have “speed bumps” in the parking lot. The quickest way to kill a shopping mall is to put speed bumps all over it. Folks just choose to go somewhere that doesn’t bounce them off the chair to get parked.

So we’ll not be going back. This will accelerate the decay and the extirpation of the last Hometown Buffet in the area.

We’ve mostly gone to “dine at home” ( I pick up “to go” sushi at the local grocery store and we can have a very very nice “dinner for 2” for $20 ) and the occasional “fast food” place. So our $60 “night at the sushi restaurant” has basically ended. Now the “sometimes go to Hometown” is over. We used to take a group of 7 (grandma, spouse and twin, me, 3 kids) every couple of weeks sometimes with a friend or 2 added on. Then it was just our family of 4. Then just the 2 of us. Now “never again”. That is how you go out of business.

Essentially, it is way too expensive for the “low end middle” to survive thanks to the high rental costs and high wage costs. IF folks are going to “pay up” they expect a special experience. So the very expensive very high end places can survive. The “meat and potatoes” middle can not. Fast Food can hang on some, but even there our frequency of use is way off. What was $4 for a quick lunch and “worth it” is now a $9 cost and portions are sometimes smaller. Even Taco Bell has gone from a $5 lunch to closer to that $9 point. More on that below.

It isn’t just the chains. At a KFC in Georgia I got a very good and filling meal for $5, drink included. Here in Santa Clara, I bought the same $5 box. The chicken parts were clearly much smaller – since price is fixed nation wide, other means need to be used to pay the excess costs here. It was OK but not the same. The local Jack-in-the-Box where I used to get a quick breakfast of 2 x b’fast Jacks for $2 and a drink now runs about $5 for the same thing. That is THE cheapest meal you can get there. It can easily run up to $9 if you buy anything more ‘high end’.

So now when driving somewhere, instead of just planning on J-B and KFC along the way, I load an ice chest and bag of groceries into the car. Why pay $3 for a drink if you can get a flat of water at Walmart for about that much and stuff your ice chest? Why pay $2 for a bit of bread with an egg and ham slice on it when you can have a whole loaf of bread, some hard boiled eggs, and a whole package of ham? The “convenience” is not worth it.

Sidebar on Taco Bell:

Over the years, Taco Bell has regularly been pushing the “up sell”. I originally loved and bought their “Bell Beefer” (Young folks will never have seen one). A hamburger bun with a big scoop of taco filling on it. Think “sloppy Joe”. Then they eliminated it from the menu (but for a few years you could order it if you knew). Then it was gone.

They have done this regularly. Eliminate the low cost item, add a high end fancy item. 7 Layer and all sorts of more complicated things. All at higher prices. So I moved on to the “Combo Burrito”. Beans and meat on a tortilla instead of a bun, but close enough and reasonably priced. It went through the same cancellation thing. A few months ago you could get it by ordering a “beef burrito + beans” for about $2.75 or something like that.

Now they have eliminated the Beef Burrito (at least at several stores from Oklahoma or near there to Arizona to California). I was told by one clerk I could still get it if “You order a Bean Burrito, no beans, add beef”. I then realized I could get my preferred “Combo Burrito” by ordering a “Bean Burrito add beef”… One wonders how long the bean burrito will survive… So my old $5 lunch at Taco Bell is now a complicated navigation of the rules and about $8. Um, no thanks. I’ll take “ham sandwich in the car” for $1..

So why do they do it? Because they want you to order the $3 or $4 upsell item from the menu, not the $2 to $2.75 item. Price, cost, and profit pressures. It is now hitting even the low cost fast food end of things.

In Conclusion

It isn’t hard at all to arrange your own “Fast Food” on the road. A sandwich kit, cooler and flat of drinks, small bag of fruit. Toss in some kippers for breakfast. Heck, a drip (now sometimes called a Pour Over (tm – Melita) coffee maker and camp stove / hot pot and even the coffee stop isn’t needed. I’ve gone coast to coast without a single restaurant stop – though I did occasionally get a giant coffee at the truck stops. Unheard of a decade back.

For the spouse, I ‘make her lunch’. About 1 day in 10 she will do a lunch out (often when at a remote site or special event). The other days it’s a pre-made meal in a tub that gets microwave warmed. This, too, is unlike a decade back. I’ve gotten quite good at the assembly operation for these meals. At $8 each, that’s $40 a week or $120 / month. (Which, thanks to our progressive tax system would require $240 of wages to have that $120 take home pay). At that price point it is worth it and the fast food place isn’t. I make 3 or 4 at a time and they go into the freezer. It is faster and more convenient that “going somewhere” too.

The restaurant business is very competitive and cost sensitive. By forcing costs high, California is killing the middle class coffee shop and buffet, and damaging the Fast Food end of the market. Someone forgot that the grocery store is part of the choice spectrum. Low end restaurants especially are an economic “canary in the coal mine” as they are entirely optional and the first place folks “cut back”.

It is still doing well in The South, and next time I’m there I will be stopping at that same KFC that gave me good “value for money” last time. But I no longer buy a KFC lunch in California. Or a Jack-in-the-Box breakfast. And the Taco Bell menu has become hostile enough I’m pretty much done with them, too. I just feel silly ordering a “Bean Burrito no beans”…

Sure, I could afford those meals and I could keep going, but I’m not motivated too. It’s OK as a fast “fill you up” volume; but so is a loaf of bread, some lunch meat, and an ice chest of drinks. And I don’t have to deal with cashiers who can’t count change and have trouble understanding enough English to get my order right.

The extirpation of Sizzler and Hometown Buffet point out that same effect is up to the mid-scale middle class restaurants as well. An indicator of the extirpation of the Middle Class here.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
This entry was posted in cooking, Economics - Trading - and Money, Food and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to The Extirpation Of Hometown Buffet

  1. D. J. Hawkins says:

    I see the same dynamic within my family. Take two adults and two children out anywhere and you’re looking in between $50 and $100, depending if it’s a “real” restaurant or Applebee’s or even Wendy’s. Our solution is to pick up a roasted chicken from Stop ‘n Shop, make some rice (Uncle Ben’s Long Grain and Wild, if Mom’s feeling fancy), cut up the chicken and mix with the rice. Choice of toppings: shredded cheese, General Tso’s sauce, soy sauce, or the boys get adventurous with whatever salad dressings are in the fridge. Maybe $20? I’d love to support my local restaurateurs; I just can’t afford to.

  2. ossqss says:

    @EM, you could have probably amended the “Why I am Leaving Cali” post with this write up ;-)

    Short story. My son and I hit Applebee’s last week. He ordered a flavored ice tea, it was $3.50! My 2 for one beer was cheaper than a friggin ice tea? That ain’t gonna happen again.

    When necessary, I hit the dollar menu at the FF places and add the free cup of water down here. I can fill up for 3 bucks + tax and be on my way.

  3. Tom Bakewell says:

    I watched this happen in the Houston area. Demographics also drive this exterpation as well. I believe our younger folks were not that exposed to cafeterias, or if so, maybe at school and those were not too good. One of my friends has a “Square Fish” T shirt from Luby’s cafeteria. Pictured is a square patty of fish, nicely crusted and a wonderful meal. Alas, now, except for his T shirt, just another memory of good food, well prepared and affordable. Grumble.

  4. Rhoda Klapp says:

    Tom is right, kids don’t want to eat that way any more, they’d rather fast food.

    On the road I’ve done well out of eating at Whole Foods. Some have only hard seats and plastic cutlery but now you can find some with a decent eating space and a bar. Plenty of self-serve food and some bargains among the ‘how much?” items.

  5. E.M.Smith says:

    @Rhoda Klapp;

    While in Florida, the spouse and I had a few good and reasonably priced meals at Whole Foods. Since it was “by the pound” for some of the foods we didn’t pay a lot for just what we wanted. Bottled drinks were at grocery store prices (and a lot of choices). Selection was broad and interesting too. FWIW I think it was a couple of $/pound cheaper than here in California…

    @Tom Bakewell:

    I think there is some of that happening… but; also in Florida we had large crowds at the Golden Coral and the local Asian buffet. ( I don’t now how the Asian placed stayed in business. Something like $8 / person all you can eat with decent sushi, various fish and shell fish, and more; all reasonably well prepared). There was also a bumper crowd of Brazilians at the Brazilian Buffet place (the stew like soup was spectacular… I wish I remembered the name of it).

    Now Orlando is over-run with vacationers, so it is not representative of the US cultural norm. Portuguese was spoken by about 90% of the folks at the Brazilian buffet of mostly visitors. There was a fair amount of German from some tables at the Golden Coral, along with British accented English. A mix of Anglos and Asians at the oriental buffet with a few different languages around.

    So my point is only that the buffet is not a dead venue everywhere. Here, Harry’s Haufbrau is still in business. Not a buffet but a cafeteria like place priced by the piece. (Though prices have gotten high enough we’ve not been there for a while…)

    It is quite stark when shuttling between the two coasts. Just very different environments for the restaurant business. The Cici’s Pizza in Florida has an “all you can eat” lunch pizza buffet for something like $5. Not great pizza, but certainly good enough. (Even less with a Senior Discount card IIRC, or maybe it was also $5 for dinner…) It’s hard to get a drink in California for less than 1/2 that. So for the price of 2 drinks, all you can eat? Hmmm….

    I do think it is the intersection of very high costs and very high taxes on the income you do have. It’s a multiplicative effect. No State income tax in Florida… They don’t need to load in 30% of the State Economy as hidden taxes on everything and everyone…

    So I guess now you know one of the other attractions about the move to Florida ;-) All you can eat for $5 at lunch or about $10 for dinner and the food is pretty good too 8-0

  6. Larry Ledwick says:

    When I was growing up there were several different buffet style restaurants, the employees cafeteria of the main Denver Montgomery Ward store was open to the public and we would eat there when my parents stopped down there to pickup an order. My Mom had worked there as a teen so it was familiar territory for her, and the food was actually very good for an employee cafeteria.

    There was also the Luby’s cafeterias, but closer to where we lived was a local restaurant called “The Little Banquet” we ate there quite frequently as it was good food at sensible prices. As the major cities push for $15+ per hour minimum wage the cafeterias might come back as their labor costs compared to number of meals served might make them profitable again, as you basically have kitchen staff, a fee collector at the cash register and bus boys cleaning the tables.

  7. E.M.Smith says:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luby%27s

    looks like Luby’s still exists… but basically a Texas thing…

    Luby’s, Inc. (formerly Luby’s Cafeterias, Inc.) operates restaurants under the brands Luby’s, Fuddruckers, Koo Koo Roo, and Cheeseburger in Paradise. It was founded in 1947 in San Antonio, Texas, United States by Robert Luby (1910-1998).

    Its 83 Luby’s cafeteria-style restaurants are located in Austin, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, the Rio Grande Valley, El Paso, and other cities throughout Texas; plus one in Mississippi. Its headquarters is in the Near Northwest district of Houston, Texas.

    Its Fuddruckers restaurants include 56 company-operated restaurants and 129 franchises across the United States with one in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, five in Puerto Rico, and one each in Villahermosa, Tabasco and Santo Domingo. Luby’s Culinary Services provides contract food service management to eighteen healthcare, higher education, and corporate dining locations, such as Texas Children’s Hospital, Lone Star College, and formerly, Baylor College of Medicine, which ended its relationship with Luby’s in March 2015.

    Have to look for one next time I go by and see how they are doing…

  8. Larry Ledwick says:

    Fuddruckers made absolutely fantastic hamburgers but all their branches here in the Denver Metro area went out of business and shut down. 1950’s theme and real honest to god two hand hamburgers with thick beef patties of real beef that did not seem to be made out or rubber. The kind of hamburgers you get in small town drive in restaurants small town diners.

  9. Tom Bakewell says:

    When I visit Dallas I try to fit in a visit to the remaining Luby’s. The “square fish”is my favorite, and they do a great job with liver and onions for us Neanderthals. The Lou Ann plate is a smaller sized portion with two side, just the right amount of food for an old toot.

    If we had a Brazilian Buffet here and Reno I’d be a faithful and frequent attendee. Look up the recipe for fejouada, basically a black bean stew with whatever types and scraps of pork are handy.

    My stomach is youmping at the thought!

  10. Jeff says:

    Here’s another case of a local (and national) legend fading away into obscurity, after over 100 years of excellence, indeed a piece of America. SEARS, (no) thanks to Fast Eddie Lampert and the Brennan Brothers.
    https://www.businessinsider.de/sears-failing-stores-closing-edward-lampert-bankruptcy-chances-2017-1

  11. E.M.Smith says:

    @Tom Bakewell:

    Yes! Fejouda, that was it. A wonderful sort of bean and meat stew thing… and I remember group leader telling us just that “you tossed in whatever pork or meat was available”.

    Oh, and yes, I really like liver and onions too ;-)

    @Jeff:

    Yeah. Really sad, that. I think it is a classic example of how large companies get out of touch management that becomes a “caretaker” instead of a competitor, then it ossifies and dies.

    The original Sears was the Amazon of its day. You could get anything from the magic book delivered to your home. When they dropped the catalog some years back I knew it was just a matter of time.

    What they ought to have done was essentially taken the competitive space Amazon grew into. Gone to a full online catalog along with the magic book… and had both local store pickup and mail delivery. Keeping prices affordable. Instead they tried to go more upscale and higher prices. By the time they absorbed Kmart as an attempt to get some of the price sensitive shopper back, it was too late. They had already lost the customer mindshare and killed off their greatest asset – that magic book, the dream book. Just Another Overprice Brick & Mortar… JAOBAM?

    FWIW, OSH is also closing. Orchard Supply Hardware was a local San Jose rooted operation. From back in the days when Silicon Valley was all orchards. A fine hardware store that had all manner of odd bits you could not get anywhere else. I remember the first time I went in and there was a wrench about 3 feet long with about a 1/2 foot jaw / nut space. I think it was for the axle nut of a combine harvester… Even if they never sold ONE, it got me to come back just to look at what all they had. And I told a dozen friends. Then Sears bought it and it became “Sears tool department” plus some work clothes… with a garden department attached. Just a couple of years ago they did a complete “do over” of the look of the store, complete with a move to a new building… and higher prices. By then I didn’t shop there anymore. I didn’t need a yuppy urbanite idea of a home improvement store. I’ve replaced faucets in the bath 3? times now. The first set I bought 30 years ago at OSH. The last set at Home Depot… for a reason…

    Retail is not an easy thing to do, but clearly the folks running Sears / Kmart / OSH can’t do it well at all. They ought to have been Amazon. Instead they are bankrupt. Lack of vision (well, quality vision lacking anyway) and out of touch with the customer.

  12. H.R. says:

    E.M., I had the same thought about Sears when I heard about their bankruptcy; they were Amazon more than a hundred years before there was an Amazon.

    Absolutely, Sears’ demise started when they decided to go brick and mortar. From their catalog, you could order anything and everything. You could buy a house. At a Sears store, they can carry what… maybe 10% or 15% of what was in a catalog? And the merchandise the stores carry has to compete with a half-dozen other stores in walking distance that carry the same types of merchandise. Sears gave away the store, so to speak. They surrendered their competitive advantage which was, “No need to even consider anywhere else. We have everything.”

    This brings to mind a company that most here are familiar with; McMaster Carr. They have everything needed for production facilities and your order arrives the next day. If what you need isn’t listed, they will call their suppliers as it is usually available as a special order from the manufacturer and might still arrive the next day as a special order shipped direct from the manufacturer.

    The only expansion they seem interested in has been adding a few strategic distribution centers to better guarantee their next day delivery. My bet is they studied Sears and decided Sears made a mistake.

  13. ossqss says:

    I am glad you all mentioned Sears, as I have been putting off the trip to get a backup garage door opener. My current one is starting to exhibit the signs of coming failure, so it is time to get the “exact fit” compatible replacement to minimize change out issues while I still can (plus its $50 off).

    I am not a fan of NPR, but this was a side of Sears I was not even aware of. Mail order homes?

    https://www.npr.org/2018/10/20/657770791/sears-is-fading-but-memories-of-its-mail-order-homes-endure

  14. philjourdan says:

    Golden Corral. PLus we have the Hometown Buffets as well. THey are for the younger crowds as you say because old folks just cannot eat enough.

    We use to have a Chinese Buffet. It was great! But the area just could not support it at the prices they had to charge (due to crab legs – they could have done without them).

  15. ossqss says:

    Well I got my $50 off garage door opener, along with an additional $50 dollar credit to use over the next 2 months and a $20 online cash coupon too at Sears. Lots of stuff/tools there at 50% off along with $50 credit if you spend over $100. The manager substantiated what I had read about Craftsman bringing manufacturing back to the US on their products also, along with the Lowes relationship that is now in place. Sears website was pretty accurate on what they had on hand, which surprised me a bit.

  16. philjourdan says:

    I like going go Lowes. Saw that the last time I was there. I knew they had already sold their Kenmore line. They are out of assets to sell.

  17. Steven Fraser says:

    @EM: a few thoughts…

    – On the road, esp with kids, frozen grapes and almonds are excellent, just not together.
    – a head of lettuce, 2 carrots, 1 cucumber and 6 cherry tomatoes make a nice salad for 2. Add walnuts for crunch. O&V for dressing.
    – Lubys… was there last Sunday for lunch. Square fish, w/crunchy crust, with 2 sides and a water. Largest brocolli I ever saw.

  18. Steven Fraser says:

    Philj: mgmt has sequestered the biggest assets away from the bankruptcy… the real estate. All part of the plan.

  19. Larry Geiger says:

    Morrison’s Cafeteria in Jacksonville, FL. My mom worked there when she was a girl. Down on Beach Boulevard. Walking in that place was a delight to the nostrils. Lots of lovely young women in pretty pinafores and aprons lined up behind the salads and dinner sides. Huge apple pie pieces and every kind of drinks a young man could want. We didn’t go out often but when we did it was Krystal or Morrison’s. I could fill up one of those large trays with salad, sides, yummy meats, cornbreads, rolls, buns oh my. Lots of gravy when you wanted it on your mashed potatoes, dark brown and salty. Real silverware, ceramic plates, glass glasses and cloth napkins. Waiters came around and refilled your tea or Coke without being asked to.

    There are things in this “modern” century that you can’t have because they just don’t exist anymore. Sometimes that’s a shame.

  20. Power Grab says:

    My first regular job was as a coffee girl in a public cafeteria. I only worked the high-volume meals. When I cleaned tables, I got to keep the tips. :-)

    I didn’t want to wear a hairnet, so I got a wig. My friends never recognized me. ;-)

    I miss all-you-care-to-eat (AYCE) cafeterias. I miss NOT HAVING TO wait to place an order, then wait to have the food prepared, then find a place to sit down so you can eat. It appears that the young people of today grew up on fast food, so it doesn’t bother them to have to spend so much meal time waiting, and waiting, and waiting.

    Oh, and 4 times this month (at last count), the fast food places really messed up my orders. I’ve never seen it so bad! I hate returning stuff, but one time the food they gave me was only worth a fraction of what I had paid, so I drove back and walked into the restaurant and stood amongst the crowd holding my sack in the air. When I finally caught the eye of someone behind the counter, I simply said, “This is not what I ordered!” in a firm, loud-enough voice. They gave me a full refund and made me fresh food.

    I suspect that today’s restaurants (for the most part) don’t have real cooks anymore. People behind the scenes just nuke stuff and fry stuff and stick cups under dispensers that automatically shut off when the cup is “full”.

    I can even remember when food service on a college campus(!) was pretty darn good. There was a full-service bakery that served the campus and the community. One unit did smoked ribs once a week. Another unit regularly had steak cooked to order (but not AYCE). There was always a variety of entrees, side dishes, breads, and salads, as well as desserts. Plus 3 kinds of milk and 2 kinds of ice tea and coffee and 5-6 types of soda. If you could get the best price, it was $4 a head! The highest price was $7.50 a head. If you got something that you didn’t like, you could put your tray on the conveyor and go get something else. If you really liked something, you could get more. The rib place had some really yummy smoked chicken leg quarters one time for supper. We got seconds of those!

    Good times…

    I may have misspoke about young people and what they prefer to eat. A year or two ago, my usual holiday guests brought their two teenaged grandsons with them. They first went to see some other family members in another part of the state, and went out to a restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner. They were disappointed. It wasn’t like homemade. Knowing that, when they came to my place, we pulled out all the stops making our family favorites for them. I hear they are looking forward to a repeat performance this year!

    It’s always more fun to cook for someone who appreciates it! :-D

  21. Larry Ledwick says:

    That is one of the reasons I like to eat at Cracker Barrel they cook like my Grandmother and Mother did, and you feel like you get an honest meal for the money, and never have to wonder what it was you just ate.

  22. E.M.Smith says:

    There was a small chain out here, once, called The Big Yellow House. The restaurants were built to look just like a big mid-western home. Food was served “family style” with a limited but good menu. So you might order steak and me fried chicken, but one big bowl of mashed potatoes was set on the table for us to share. Things like spuds, salads, rolls, were refilled if needed.

    Wonderful feeling of eating at a friends house where they cooked traditional American food well. Kind of like an all you can eat buffet with table service.

    Sadly, after about a decade, they suddenly expired.

    Some of the buildings still exist (no longer bright yellow…) though.

    Many restaurants now have gone to the “frozen and microwave” service model. No big tray of made on site lasagna for them. Just Stauffer’s and a microwave… Since I can do that at home, I typically no longer go to that “mid-scale” type restaurant. It’s either very clearly made on site, or I’m just not willing to pay up for frozen & nuked. (Or it’s a low end fast food place…)

    Part of why I like Cracker Barrel… real food.

    BTW, part of how you can spot the frozen&zap folks: They have way more things on the menu than can be kept ready made and sold in one service. So figure they have seating for 100, but have 100 things on the menu. That’s an average of one of each sold… Unless the lasagna is a “special of this evening”, it isn’t being made custom for your one meal and it isn’t part of a flat made to serve 20… Typically things like fried stuff (steak, chicken, grilled cheese) can be made as one-off, and things like ‘noodles & sauce’ can be a one off, but the al forno stuff takes time to assemble and cook – so it’s either a big batch or pre-made frozen. Now they could have premade done on site, and then just zapped as needed; but then you are basically getting left-overs.

    Compare the Italian place down the street with seating for 100 and 3 turns / meal – now they can, and do, make a big flat of lasagna (or a set of a dozen al forno baking dishes) on site and fresh since they known they can sell a dozen of them at least (and likely 25 to 50) in that dinner shift.

    So too many times of too many styles for the seating? Something is up. Smaller menu choices from limited themes and enough seats to turn it in an evening? Probably made on site.

    So the place with 3 Asian dishes, 5 Italian, a half dozen American, some French & German and seating 50 folks? Let’s just say it’s likely chunks of the menu arrived frozen in a box…

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