About 360 units are open and another 30 are expected to go live before the end of the year.
As Golden Corral CEO Lance Trenary reflects on the early days of COVID, he recalls the brutal national headlines.
One outlet called the restaurant a “zombie society” and another proclaimed that “the buffet is dead as we know it”.
Long after those first few weeks, the trip remained tenuous, with immense pressure from the Delta and Omicron variants. Golden Corral over-indexes families and seniors, and these are usually the most reluctant groups.
The declines have been substantial, acknowledges the CEO. The chain’s footprint has shrunk by nearly 100 restaurants since late 2019.
“If you think of it as a whole, it’s been really tough for the industry, especially casual and fine dining family dining, but for the buffet segment, it’s been hellish,” says Trenary.
Instead of fueling negativity, Golden Corral used attention as a rallying cry and developed a saying: The return is greater than the setback.
Around this time last year, about 250 restaurants were open for the buffet, weekly AUV averaged $65,000-$70,000, and comps were down about 25% from 2019.
Each of these metrics has improved significantly to start 2022. Approximately 360 buffets are open, the average weekly AUV exceeds $80,000, and offset sales are flat compared to 2020. Another 30 stores are expected to reopen before the end of the year. year, depending on lease negotiations. with the owners.
Golden Corral also managed to open 13 restaurants during the pandemic.
“Which is crazy if you think about the perspective of the buffet segment,” says Trenary, referring to the number of store launches. “To have new organic growth during the pandemic, we really felt that spoke very strongly for our brand. The confidence that existing franchises and new entities both have in building our brand once they saw that Golden Corral was going to not only survive, but be able to thrive again, I think people really excited about where our brand was where it was going.
Before the pandemic, Golden Corral did not have a sophisticated offsite program and was forced to create one from scratch. The weigh-and-pay model evolved into partnerships with Olo and Punchh and the integration of third-party delivery providers. As a result, the off-premises mix increased from around 2% to over 8%.
Some stores have implemented impromptu drive-thru and are seeing delivery/takeout make up around 20% of sales. The challenge, says Trenary, is educating customers about Golden Corral’s new capabilities. If this is successfully conveyed, he believes the brand can sustainably achieve an offsite mix of 15-20%.
“They just don’t see us as takeout,” Trenary says. “They see us as a buffet, going together and picking a bit of everything. We’re really trying to build a platform around our value and our family meal replacements and things of that nature. And so we’ve started advertising it now, and we’ve had pretty good success.