“It’s like home here!” » exclaims Florian, enthusiastically, in front of the entrance to Grill’Inn, an all-you-can-eat buffet located in the commercial area of Beauvais (Oise). This Saturday in December, under a clear sky, the thirty-year-old, thrifty in a Parisian palace, waits for his grandmother. It didn’t take long for it to arrive on the arm of one of his grandchildren.
Behind them, the rest of the family follows. At lunch, there will be ten of them around a table which will bring together three generations. Florian appreciates the friendly atmosphere of this restaurant. According to him, it is important that “everyone eats as much as they want and when they want: there is something for everyone”. The principle of these brands is simple: for a fixed price menu, customers help themselves to abundant and continuously replenished buffets.
Studies on these new catering spaces, often former hangars of several hundred square meters located in commercial areas or along the highway, are still rare. And for good reason: the phenomenon is recent. “All-you-can-eat buffets on the outskirts of cities were developed by the Chinese community around ten years ago,” explains Bernard Boutboul, founder of Gira. According to estimates from this consulting firm for food professionals, there are today 10,000 in France, and “these establishments record high scores. On average, 600 to 700 dishes are served each day with a peak of 1,000 on Saturdays.
Among the reasons for success, the variety of choice, but also an unbeatable price. That is on average 15 euros at lunch for an adult and between 20 and 25 euros on weekends or in the evening. “This lunchtime, I’m going to help myself to three or four plates and I’ll get away with 20 euros with drinks,” Kevin calculates. Here, you can treat yourself to what you can’t buy on a daily basis, like salmon or shrimp. » Because inflation has been there: the price of food products increased by 7.1% over one year in December, according to INSEE. The young couple’s shopping budget has increased by 100 euros per month, and the trip to Bo’Buffet sounds like a parenthesis in a difficult economic context.
Another strong point: serving yourself gives everyone control over their time and provides a feeling of freedom. As soon as an offer runs out, a server sneaks into the aisles to ensure replenishment. Customers in a hurry can have lunch on the go. “We don’t come so much for the quality or the unlimited side as because it goes quickly and we work alongside,” explains Jordan, seated with his colleague at the Royal Wok, in Champs-sur-Marne (Seine-et -Marl).
Such abundance spontaneously raises the question of food waste. Once the services are finished, the restaurateurs would have little to manage according to Xia, cashier at the Grill’Inn, because the buffet ensures “very good stock management”. At the individual level, it is different. If there are in fact not many big eaters with overflowing plates, the unlimited supply can lead to excessive behavior. To deal with this, most buffets have put in place regulations and announce a fine of between 5 and 15 euros for the customer leaving a plate too full at the time of departure. A paradoxical threat of sanction when we promise “at will” service, but rarely put it into practice: “We never apply a fine,” admits Xia. It serves more to encourage people not to use too much. »
It’s also an opportunity for a little education for parents. “The children take what they want but in small quantities,” explains Nathalie, who came with her husband and their 6-year-old twins to the Grill’Inn. “The condition is not to waste, even if it means refilling. »
A winning recipe
How do these establishments, with such an abundant offer, amortize their costs? “The large quantities served ensure profitability,” explains Bernard Boutboul. Unconsumed food is returned to service the next day. There is ultimately little waste. » The catering expert also notes a gradation of the different types of all-you-can-eat buffets: those of hotel chains such as Campanile or Ibis which are not profitable; those which serve large volumes and which are therefore found on the outskirts of towns; and those more prestigious, even gastronomic, like the Grands Buffets de Narbonne, founded in 1989 by Jane and Louis Privat. According to Bernard Boutboul, this restaurant and those of Club Med, pioneers in the field, may have been a source of inspiration for other brands developed more recently in peri-urban areas. Who, in turn, put profusion and freedom to manage their time on the menu, the winning recipe for contemporary consumers.