End the all-you-can-eat buffet!

Twenty years ago, agencies offered a $25 all-you-can-eat buffet to their customers. This was a simple and profitable business. The buffet line had everything:  beef, pork, chicken, lobster, seafood, vegetables, salads, desserts -- a real all-American spread! All of this for one fixed price; all-you-can-eat. Customers loved it!

Today, under pressure from customers, the fixed all-you-can-eat price has been dropped to $12.50. However, customers have required a more varied buffet with new offerings: Thai, Vietnamese, Vegetarian, Mexican, Sushi, Healthy Choices, etc. Obviously, this increased variety has had to be financed in some way, but since prices are lower, agencies have had to cut-back on kitchen costs. Actually, the kitchen staff has been cut in half, so that the average chef now has to prepare twice as many dishes as in the past. Kids right out of cooking school are doing the work; they come relatively cheap.

This is a real shame, because food quality used to be first-rate, and each agency's all-you-can-eat buffet was unique. This is no longer the case. One buffet line looks pretty much like another. Customers, who shop around more frequently for meals, get bored quickly and move on -- and then get bored again and continue to move on.

The all-you-can-eat buffet has been priced down; it is no longer feasible. It's time to phase in a la carte menus and pricing. It's a different kind of business, requiring higher quality and accountability for results -- but it is the only practical way that the business can be run in the future. How much should each entree cost? What are the ingredients? How much time in the kitchen should be dedicated by a skilled chef and his/her staff?

These are new questions requiring some hard work. The first step is for the agency top management to make the commitment.