Sign of the times: Multi-concept operator Landry’s Restaurants has opened a new restaurant at its Kemah Boardwalk complex near Houston. But it’s not something from its stable of existing brands. Instead, it’s a new concept: Lighthouse Buffet, where customers eat for a modest fixed price. When a casual dining giant opts to enter the buffet segment, it shows how important a strong value proposition is for today’s market.
The big news out of Landry’s last week was that Tilman Fertitta, Landry’s founder, chairman, c.e.o. and largest stockholder, raised his bid to buy the rest of the company’s publicly traded stock, presumably with the goal of taking the company private. Other powerful financial interests are in play here, so don’t expect any deal to be finalized soon.
But the rollout of Lighthouse Buffet might be telling us more about where this company is heading. Landry’s operates 174 restaurants spread across multiple concepts. Most of its properties are full-service operations that have been developed in-house. Others (Rainforest Café, Chart House, Saltgrass Steak House, Muer Seafood Restaurants) are prominent full-service chains Landry’s has acquired along the way. Lighthouse Buffet was developed in-house.
So what’s the concept? “Lighthouse Buffet is a destination for high quality food catering to many different taste and cuisine preferences,” Fertitta told the Galveston County Daily News. “We are pleased to add Lighthouse Buffet to Landry’s diverse portfolio and look forward to introducing new and innovative concepts to Landry’s guests.”
Located on the Kemah Boardwalk in a building that once was home to a Chart House unit, Lighthouse Buffet offers a 65-item lineup. Guest can select fresh seafood, traditional comfort foods, and multiple soup and salad options. There’s a dessert bar, too, where a self-serve frozen yogurt machine is flanked by a spread of pies, cakes, cookies and cobblers.
It’s plenty of food for the price, with the tab for lunch (served from 11. a.m. to 4 p.m.) being $15.99 for adults and $13.99 for seniors. The price increases slightly for dinner, available from 4 p.m. to the close. Then the cost is $18.99, $16.99 for seniors. Kids meals (10 and under) are $7.99 in either serving period, drink included. The operation shuts its doors at 9:30 p.m. on weekdays, staying open until 10:30 p.m. on the weekends.
Other Landry’s full-service concepts that do business on the company’s Kemah Boardwalk property include Cadillac Bar, Joe’s Crab Shack, The Flying Dutchman, Landry’s Seafood House, Red Sushi, Aquarium and Saltgrass Steak House. But the company still had plenty of other concepts to draw from when it came time to replace Chart House.
It says a lot that Landry’s instead went to the trouble of developing a new concept aimed squarely at value-seeking diners. And it’s informative to other operators that a company that collects as much customer feedback as Landry’s does from across its many different concepts opted for a no-frills buffet. The fixed-price format says plenty about how the company sees customer expectations today, as does the sharply reduced tipping pressure that prevails in buffet restaurants where customers lug their own food to their tables.
Keep your eyes open to see if other restaurant operators decide that the once-moribund buffet segment has started to look like an area of growth in the current operating environment.
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