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Western Sizzlin: a guide on how not to run a buffet

A photo of the Western Sizzlin located at 2210 N Broadway St, Poteau, OK 74953
A photo of the Western Sizzlin located at 2210 N Broadway St, Poteau, OK 74953
Marc Hayot

When this examiner was living in a town called Altus in Southwestern Oklahoma he worked at the town's Golden Corral for a short bit. One November day, the staff arrived for work only to find the restaurant closed permanently. So what killed the Golden Corral in Altus? Part of it had to do with mismanagement and the rest had to do with losing all of its business to the local Western Sizzlin. Ask people in the city of Altus and they will say that the Western Sizzlin is the best buffet that ever operated in Southwest Oklahoma. This is a rare victory for a chain that has routinely come up short in food quality.

Western Sizzlin began in Augusta, Georgia in 1962. Nick Pascarella, the company's founder, discovered that if you added flames to cook the top of a steak while searing the bottom you have a steak that would taste twice as good. In 1966 Pascarella began selling franchises and the rest is history. At some point in the chain's history Western Sizzlin added a buffet. This is the point were Western Sizzlin screwed up. The problem was not that Western Sizzlin added a buffet, it is that they offered a low quality buffet.

The problem with Western Sizzlin's buffet is that they offer a small number of items, and those items do not have a pleasant taste. Visit a Western Sizzlin and you will notice that there are only three tables: one for hot items, one for salad and one for dessert items. Salad bars are the same no matter where you go and desserts are subjective to one's preferences and medical conditions, so this examiner will focus primarily on the hot table. Most of the items on the hot bar are fairly common: fried chicken, baked chicken, a plethora of vegetables and other dishes and soup. This may seem like a lot, but anyone who visits the buffet will see how little there is, at least compared to Furr's, Golden Corral and Hometown Buffet. While Hometown Buffet is primarily a buffet, Furr's and Golden Corral are best known for their steaks. These restaurants added a buffet afterward. These buffets started small and have grown to include numerous tables, freshly carved meats and even a chocolate fountain at Golden Corral. The buffets at Western Sizzlin...have remained the same. Every business knows that in order to remain competitive you have to continue to improve. Western Sizzlin has only succeeded in standing still and being left in the dust. If having a small buffet was not bad enough, Western Sizzlin has a buffet with items that just frankly taste terrible. It is not that the items are not safe to consume, they just have an odd taste to them. The best way that this examiner can describe these items is that they taste old, like they have been under a heat lamp way too long. So the bottom line is that Western Sizzlin has a buffet that offers little choice and low quality. The problem as this examiner sees it may have to do with the direction that the corporate office has taken.

Western Sizzlin was founded on the premise of offering a better quality of steak, and the company has worked hard to consistently improve on the original Flamekist steak. Unfortunately Western Sizzlin has continuously put its buffet on the back burner and the quality shows. So how has Western Sizzlin managed to stay afloat so long with a low quality buffet? There are two main reasons: their steaks and locations. Western Sizzlin has always served quality steaks. This examiner has eaten their steaks several times and and have always enjoyed them. This chain has truly perfected their Flamekist steaks, and this has made up for their buffet. The second reason has to do with locations. What separates Western Sizzlin from other buffet restaurants is that they are willing to place locations in rural communities that other chains would not consider. This has helped them (at least in the opinion of this examiner) to remain profitable. The Fort Smith area has five locations: two in Fort Smith, one in Poteau, OK, one in Sallisaw, OK and one in Van Buren. For people in Poteau, Sallisaw and Van Buren, Western Sizzlin is the only chain restaurant in town that offers a buffet. This means that for anyone who is craving a buffet, but does not want to head into Fort Smith, Western Sizzlin is the only game in town. As for the locations in Fort Smith, well those have Furr's and Golden Corral to compete with. This means having to compete with restaurants with buffets that are far superior to Western Sizzlin's.

So what does this all boil down to? When people choose to eat at a particular restaurant, the main reason is usually food quality. Western Sizzlin offers quality steaks, but unfortunately their buffet is usually lacking. The fact that many are located in smaller communities ought to help sustain the chain for years to come, but if Western Sizzlin wants their buffet to be taken seriously, then they need to take a step back and reevaluate the direction in which it is headed. When they decide to do this, then maybe they have a chance to compete with other chains whose buffets have evolved beyond Western Sizzlin's own.

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