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Richmond restaurants shift to all-you-can-eat in challenging economy

Restaurant owners are exploring innovative ways to stay afloat when customers’ spending power decreases 

As many people feel the financial strain amid high inflation and interest rates, more Richmond restaurants have or are turning to all-you-can-eat buffets to attract customers by providing more value for their money.

The all-you-can-eat buffet is a model where people pay a single fixed price regardless of how much they consume.

Last week, Liuyishou, a Richmond-based hotpot chain with more than 20 restaurants in North America including three in B.C., announced it would change the traditional order-and-serve model to an all-you-can-eat buffet, offering unlimited hotpot, sashimi, snacks and dessert starting from $39.99 per person.

Previously, it was common for people to spend $60 or more each at the restaurant just for the hotpot.

“The current market and economy are experiencing a downturn and we feel the need to provide more cost-effectiveness in the food and services to our customers,” said Rita Ran, senior director of Liuyishou International Management, at its Richmond location on Garden City Road.

“The new model means higher food costs for us because people tend to order more. But our team’s years of experience in offering all-you-can-eat in the Toronto market helps us control the costs without sacrificing the quality of the food, so we can offer the same quality of food at a much more affordable price."

Several restaurants in Richmond have shifted to all-you-can-eat over the past year. K-Squared Mansion, a Northeast Chinese restaurant on No. 3 Road, introduced a $14.99 all-you-can-eat lunch menu last April and other restaurants such as Tasty Secret and 2Gather Grilled Fish & BBQ followed suit.

A few new barbecue restaurants that opened their doors last year also offer an all-you-can-eat buffet, including Datang BBQ & Beer, Kanae Yakiniku and Kazuhan Yakiniku, with a starting price ranging from $48 to $58.

“We've seen more and more happy hours, all-you-can-eat or menu specials. Restaurants are trying to employ different ways to keep the economic value forefront in the mind of the consumer,” said Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of BC Restaurant and Food Services Association.

Lowering margin in exchange for profits 

Jeff Tang, co-owner of K-Squared Mansion, said the restaurant made the transition post-pandemic after seeing local customers consuming less.

“With a slowing economy and high interest rates, people have less money in their pockets," said Tang.

"So we decided to offer the all-you-can-eat lunch so they can have nice Northeast Chinese food, eat as much as they need, at an affordable price.”

Customers can choose from 12 to 18 dishes and the restaurant offers a $10 deal for seniors 60 years and older and half price for children aged eight to 12. Children younger than eight can dine in for free. The lunch buffet has been popular since its launch and lineups are often seen at the restaurant.

“If I tell you I’m not making any money, I must be lying. But do we have high profits? We don’t,” said Tang.

“We have to do our best to control the costs including always comparing the price of different suppliers to make sure that we can make some profits and keep the restaurant afloat while providing quality food to customers.”

B.C. food services and drink establishments saw a 6.9-per-cent month-over-month decline in January, according to Statistics Canada. As of March 2023, 34 per cent of restaurant companies were operating at a loss, and another 17 per cent were breaking even, according to Restaurants Canada. 

“It's very challenging right now. You really need to be a very good operator in terms of purchasing, marketing and controlling your costs to be in this business to make a little bit of money,” said Tostenson.

Quality and innovation are key

Compared to Toronto and the U.S., the B.C. market is relatively small but there are a large number of restaurants, creating fiercer competition, according to Ran.

She said the key to staying competitive is to understand and meet the demands of customers and ensure quality and efficiency.

“We have an experienced management team and a central kitchen that ensures the standardization of our products and helps control the costs. That’s one of the reasons our brand has lasted for 10 years in North America and no restaurant was closed during the pandemic,” she said.

“All-you-can-eat is the model we consider most suitable for the current market. Maybe there will be a new model that works best for the market in the future. The market keeps changing and we need to keep up with innovation.”

Tang said his restaurant also constantly looks at innovative ways to attract customers and bring down costs. Last week, it introduced a new dinner menu including all-you-can-eat barbecue – instead of letting customers order their skewers, chefs grill different types of meat they choose and bring them to the tables.

“In this way, we can serve the barbecue in the fastest and most efficient way, which also helps control the costs and bring down the price,” said Tang.

“Competition is fierce but we are not too worried. No matter what other people do, we just focus on ourselves and if we provide good service, quality food with good value, we believe customers will come.”

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