Instead of spending $20 or $30 for a regular-sized meal at a restaurant, a growing number of people are now returning to an old way of piling on the savings— visiting buffets.
It's quite a change from just two years ago.
Many buffet-style restaurants did not survive the pandemic. But those that did are now doing brisk business, thanks to their affordable prices and their menu as American as apple pie.
When a decent sit-down dinner can cost $100 for two people, buffet restaurants like the Golden Corral, Cici's Pizza and the Pizza Ranch have managed to roll back time.
Tim Branham visits the Golden Corral, one of the nation's biggest buffet chains, several times a week.
"You can hit the bluebird special for $10.99," he said.
He also loves the ever-changing menu.
"I like the variety. Anything you want, you got it on the counter here," he said.
Al Cherry loves the price and the quality.
"The variety of food that you are able to get, for the price you are able to get it for, is really good," he said.
Demand rising due to prices, fewer choices
Dr. David Corsun, director of the Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management at the University of Denver, says demand for buffets is climbing because so many buffets didn't survive the pandemic.
"Some of that is driven by less supply in the marketplace," Corsun said.
In the spring of 2023, foot traffic at three of the largest buffet chains was up 125% compared to January 2021.
They also outperformed comparable "fast-casual" and "full-service restaurants" during the same time period.
Corsun says buffets are a great choice for people who are budget-conscious.
"You can make that your meal of the day depending on the time of day you go," he said.
Frequent diner James Barnard says if you long for the "good old days" of delicious desserts and home cooking, you can find it at a buffet.
"They even serve chicken and dumplings or pork chops every now and then," he said.
If you long for those older, simpler times with affordable prices, those days are still around at your local buffet, a little slice of Americana that hasn't disappeared.
And that way you don't waste your money.
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