Are all-you-can-eat deals worth it?
Once reserved for Pizza Hut and Sizzler, all-you-can-eat dining deals are making a modern comeback. Venues ranging from restaurants to casual pub bistros are enticing customers with unlimited food in order to create buzz and increase revenue. For the owners of Salt Meats Cheese and The Coop Bistro, all-you-can-eat deals have boosted their brands and attracted a new wave of diners.
WHAT’S THE DEAL?
Across Salt Meats Cheese’s portfolio of Italian restaurants in New South Wales and Queensland, Monday night is dedicated to all-you-can-eat pizza. For $20, plus the price of a drink, customers can eat as many pizzas as they like and choose from five options. “The main goal for us is to get people to know the brand, try the pizzas and come back another time,” says co-founder Stefano De Blasi.
Brisbane chicken pub The Coop Bistro offers an all-you-can-eat chicken nugget deal on Saturdays. For $20, customers are given a wristband that grants them access to bottomless nuggets, French fries and house slaw.
Co-owner David Flynn says while they don’t encourage people to overeat, the deal has a “competitive, fast-eating” appeal that customers are drawn to. “We wanted something on a Saturday that would be a value option for diners but also something that’s a little bit fun,” he says.
LOOKING AT THE NUMBERS
A hot pot restaurant in China made headlines recently when its all-you-can- eat deal failed and was forced to close. Ultimately, poor planning and underestimating how much customers can consume left the restaurant with an enormous debt which led to its demise. But don’t let that scare you — Salt Meats Cheese and The Coop Bistro both agree most diners don’t go overboard.
De Blasi says customers at Salt Meats Cheese generally eat between 1.5 to two pizzas per person. “The pizzas usually cost $24–25, so customers are getting two for $20 — they love it,” he says. “We have a wall of fame in Brisbane for people that eat more than three pizzas, but there aren’t many.”
Customers at The Coop Bistro eat about 20 nuggets each, plus fries and slaw. “When we costed it out, we figured if most people eat around 20 nuggets we’re still doing alright [profitwise],” says Flynn. “A lot of people eat less and some people will eat more, but the 20 nugget mark is pretty substantial with the chips and the slaw. We put a two-hour limit on the eating time, but generally people don’t last that long.”
In order to keep food waste to a minimum, Salt Meats Cheese only delivers a new pizza to the table if the previous pizza has been eaten. Similarly, The Coop Bistro serves bowls of 10 nuggets at a time to ensure there’s no wasted food.
“From a business perspective, it’s not great to be wasting food and from an ethical standpoint, I don’t think it’s ever pleasant in any food-related business when you’re taking plates into the kitchen and scraping a whole heap of stuff into the bin,” says Flynn. “We have what we call the house rules, which advise [customers] in a friendly way that we don’t want to waste food. You’re welcome to eat as much as you like, but we just keep topping you up rather than serving a big plate of nuggets and having it sit on the table.”
DON’T SKIMP ON QUALITY
There may be a certain stigma attached to all-you-can-eat offers that suggests the food quality is lowered in order to make it profitable for venues. However, De Blasi says premium ingredients and a high level of service are critical to ensuring the deal is successful.
“If we don’t use premium ingredients, the customer won’t be happy or come back — they’re going to have a bad experience,” he says. “I get upset when competitors offer all-you-can-eat pizza with cheap bases and not much topping — they cheapen their own brands and they cheapen the concept.”
BOOSTING PROFITS AND BRAND AWARENESS
While extra profits are a welcome benefit for Salt Meats Cheese, the deal is primarily about building brand awareness and attracting new customers. “It’s important to breakeven, but if there is a small loss, it’s not the end of the world,” says De Blasi. “From a marketing point of view and brand awareness, it’s amazing.”
By encouraging customers to purchase an alcoholic beverage, De Blasi says the deal becomes more profitable. “Most people are very polite and have an [alcoholic] drink — they understand there’s a business behind it, so they’re not coming in just to have pizzas and tap water,” he says. “Sometimes they order a beer and drink half of it for the sake of making it work for us.”
Creating a busy environment on a normally quiet night also ensures staff are kept busy and happy. “Bringing in a lot of people on a quiet night is amazing — the team is always busy and you boost staff morale; it’s not just about the customer and the profit.”
Venues often use all-you-can-eat deals to increase foot traffic on weeknights, however The Coop Bistro use it to create atmosphere on the weekend. “Saturday worked best because it’s a day where people can come out for lunch or mid-afternoon — they’re not restricted with office hours,” says Flynn. “We want to give people the opportunity to hang around and have a couple of drinks with their nuggets. A weekend day is just a little bit more conducive to that.”
Flynn says the deal has also been beneficial as it aligns well with the brand. “We take a different approach to the typical casual pub-bistro idea in that we champion chicken and that’s our core offering,” he says. “Chicken nuggets are a good fit with that as a weekly offering.”
The deal has also created a buzz throughout the media and social platforms. “It has given us a little bit of free publicity — we had a lot of local publications pick it up and we even had Qantas do a Facebook post,” he says. “It’s one of those ideas that’s fun and a bit on trend.”
All-you-can-eat deals are a sure-fire way to create excitement around your venue and attract new customers. Offering a high-quality product and setting out clear guidelines is key to making it profitable and ensuring customers return for more.
This story originally appeared in Hospitality‘s August issue. Subscribe here.