The promise of an all you can eat restaurant has always been a red flag to a greedy bull. There’s something inherently challenging about a cook daring you to eat as much as you can - implying that there’s no way you and your puny appetite can possibly conquer his or her ginormous menu. You’ll show them, you say to yourself, before collapsing in a sweaty pile after three or four trips to the buffet.
Defeat at the hands of an all you can eat challenge is something that ambitious foodies know all too well. But, for all the heartache - both literal and metaphorical - brought on by eating way too much food and still not making a dent in the restaurant’s supply, a story from China has shown that, when patrons band together they can achieve the unthinkable and beat the buffet.
The story starts with ambitious but inexperienced restaurateurs Su Ji and Wang Mengfan. After joining forces to open new eatery “Jiamener” in Chengdu late last year, the pair decided that they needed a radical promotion in order to entice undecided punters. Specialising in the region’s signature Sichuan hot pot, they settled on a variation of the all you can eat offer. Unfortunately, it had one critical twist.
Su and Wang decided that instead of setting up the standard buffet, patrons would be given a $20 card that would entitle them to unlimited food for the four week duration of the offer. Essentially, this meant $20 for a month’s worth of food. That’s a whole lot of dinner for next to nothing. Not the firm foundation needed for a successful business venture.
Though they suspected that they might make a small loss during the promotion, Su and Wang reasoned that this was a risk worth taking. Speaking to the New York Post, the owners revealed that, though they “knew we would be losing money”, they also hoped that “the special deal would not only earn them repeat customers, but also discounts from vendors for purchasing greater quantities of food”. How wrong they were.
Seizing advantage of the ridiculously cheap bonanza, locals swarmed to the restaurant. Within two weeks, Jiamener was being overrun by over 500 customers a day, all essentially eating for free after their initial $20 outlay. Lines started at around 8am, with some patrons staying put until midnight.
The result was a disaster for Jiamener. Unable to cope with the onslaught of public interest, the restaurant was forced to close just two weeks into the offer after accumulating debts of nearly $80,000. When asked to comment on the reasons for the business’ failure, Su acknowledged that, though greedy customers had played their part, the primary reason for closure was poor management.
It’s very rare that diners get the better of an all you can eat offer. Time and time again, full stomachs come up an impenetrable wall of greasy, deep fried food that thwarts even the most determined of challengers. But, as the Sichuan story proves, if people join together and the restaurant gets it wrong, sometimes the unthinkable becomes possible.