By Aline Duchene
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Quentin Tourt, 22, is responsible for La Muraille de Chine, at 17, rue de Serre, in Nancy. The family restaurant has existed since 1994. But, in the early 2010s, the formula had to be changed. In question: all the big all-you-can-eat buffets landed in Nancy.
So, in 2011, Quentin’s father followed suit and also launched his all-you-can-eat buffet. Since then, the organization has been well established. Quentin gave us his secrets to staying profitable, even when customers have the right to devour everything.
€14.90 lunch buffet, €20 evening buffet
Here, no fuss. The buffet is not very big but offers four different hot dishes for each service. As for starters, there are a few salads, steamed ravioli, or spring rolls.
Finally, a sweet buffet has different desserts such as donuts or fruit. For evening service, the buffet expands with sushi and two additional types of fried food. As for prices: count €14.90 for the lunch buffet and €20 for the evening one.
“At lunchtime, people eat less”
Even if there are “customers who eat little and others who eat a lot”, the manager has noticed that on average, his customers serve themselves five times at lunch (2 starters, 2 main courses, 1 dessert) and seven times in the evening (3 starters, 3 main courses, 1 dessert).
A difference in quantities which can be explained: “At lunchtime, people are quite in a hurry because they work so they eat less”, indicates Quentin.
25 customers per service to make the buffet profitable
But in the end, what counts for Quentin is not knowing how many times his customers refill themselves, it’s knowing how many customers he has in his room. “You need a minimum of 25 customers per service to make the all-you-can-eat buffet profitable,” he explains.
And if it’s a bad day and the restaurant is almost empty, the manager and his team don’t set up the buffet. “If the room is really empty, we cook as much as we want on the table to avoid spoiling the dishes by putting them in the buffet trays”, he describes.
“The more you buy, the lower the prices”
“We are almost 100% homemade to be as profitable as possible,” explains the manager, who specifies that apart from the donuts and fruit salads, the desserts are not homemade.
To earn a little money on his raw materials, he buys “in bulk” from Metro in Nancy and Exo Est in Essey-lès-Nancy. “The more you buy in bulk, the lower the prices,” he says.
One of the most used ingredients at La muraille de Chine: chicken. Quentin buys about twenty kilos a week at a rate of 6.56 per kilo.
Provide day to day
And to be sure not to buy too much or not enough, Quentin supplies himself with ingredients on a daily basis to avoid having “a dormant stock”.
“We notify at the last moment, depending on reservations and times of the year,” he explains. For example, during school holidays or the end of the year, he has more customers and therefore has to buy more ingredients. His low period: the summer holidays.
“Drinks are where you make a profit. When you do a buffet, you hope to sell a lot of drinks,” says Quentin. So he always tries to buy new beers or new wines.
“Also, I try to have coffees consumed to accompany the dessert,” he says, explaining that coffees can make a real difference on his margin.
The “less good” sauce trick
Among the star products: spring rolls. “We put as much as possible in the buffet, it’s the product that works the most,” says Quentin. Conversely, there are also dishes that work less, such as those with pork.
“We noticed that people often left leftover pork on their plates,” he observes. So Quentin has his little trick: “For chicken, beef and shrimp, we put sauces that go well. But pork works less. So, we put a slightly less good sauce, ”he explains.
Thanks to this, customers who don’t really like pork are not tempted to take it just because they are attracted by a tempting sauce. A trick that “avoids waste” and leftovers on the plates for the manager.
The trend is starting to change
And even if the all-you-can-eat buffet business is profitable, Quentin observes that the trend is changing on the customer side. “On weekends, customers more often take a la carte dishes rather than the all-you-can-eat buffet,” he noted.
In the evening, only half of the customers opt for the buffet. “At lunchtime, the buffet works well because it’s fast,” he explains.
For the time being, Quentin will continue to run his buffet at La muraille de Chine, which is a great success in the neighborhood. And he will surely try to sell you one or two coffees at the end of the meal, for the road and… for the margin.
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