This all-you-can-eat buffet chain is making monumental changes — and one visit made us realize why they were necessary

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Hollis Johnson

Golden Corral is making some drastic changes.

The all-you-can eat buffet chain is revamping its design with airier dining rooms and more streamlined footprints. On Monday, Golden Corral announced it’s installing meat smokers and adding more barbecue options to the menu at its nearly 500 restaurants.

With revenue falling 2.6% last year, according to CNBC, the chain desperately needs to jump start its business. But, what exactly needs to change?

We visited a Golden Corral in Waynesboro, Virginia, to find out if this American classic needs a makeover, or if it’s beautiful just the way it is.


The Golden Corral we visited looked like a modern fortress, overlooking the blue Shenandoah Valley with its boxy, yet bland, facade.

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Hollis Johnson

Apparently, it’s the best buffet in Waynesboro — but we’d be the judge of that.

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Hollis Johnson

The entrance was a bit confusing for a Golden Corral ingénue. First, you get your drink and pay, before even finding your table and loading up on food. Prices vary by location, but we paid $8.69 for lunch and $2.29 for drinks.

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Hollis Johnson

The decor was hospital drab — insultingly inoffensive for any dining establishment. Neutrals reigned supreme in this sanitized buffet hall.

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Hollis Johnson

Based on our dining companions, it seemed that demographics skewed older here. Perhaps the all-you-can-eat deal doesn’t have the same appeal to millennials as it does to previous generations?

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Hollis Johnson

Wandering around the buffet, the options seemed endless: American classics, Southern comfort cuisine, and attempts at more international fare.

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Hollis Johnson

We loaded up our first plates and got down to business, sampling collard greens, mac and cheese, pot roast, fried chicken, and a burger slider.

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Hollis Johnson

We quickly realized the biggest problem with Golden Corral’s menu: it’s stuffed to the brim with viable imitations of tasty home-cooked fare, but it falls short of offering anything memorable or unique. The burger was the lone standout of plate one — a juicy nugget with a nice char and a darling little pickle.

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Hollis Johnson

Another plate: more mediocrity. The meatloaf was disturbingly mushy, the onion rings were so-so, and the cheese curds even less so.

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Hollis Johnson

The spaghetti was slightly sweet and may please a child, but it’s nothing worth paying for.

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Hollis Johnson

The soup bucked the trend by packing the flavor that other items lacked. It was a solid broth — well worth a trip to the soup cauldrons if one finds themselves at Golden Corral.

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Hollis Johnson

Perhaps this widespread mediocrity is part of the problem. If we could assemble the perfect meal at Golden Corral — a handful of knockout items you could down plate after plate — then, it may be worth the $8.69 for lunch. But with dozens of items, there are dozens of chances to be disappointed.

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Hollis Johnson

Take the salad. In this case, the lettuce was more vehicle for dressing than anything else.

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Hollis Johnson

This plate represented the best and worst of Golden Corral. The bread? Divine. The pizza? Hellish. Fried chicken? Okay! Cheese sauce-smothered vegetables? Evil.

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Hollis Johnson

A self-proclaimed Golden Corral expert told us: “Golden Corral is where I discovered that people put cheese sauce on vegetables to make them more edible.” We did not find that the cheese improved the taste of the cauliflower and broccoli in the slightest.

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Hollis Johnson

The bread, though. Bread is the cornerstone of civilization. And, it is the cornerstone of Golden Corral’s empire. While other food trends come and go, the roll was slightly sweet, fluffy, and NOT TO BE UNDERESTIMATED.

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Hollis Johnson

Another plate, another batch of carbs. A few years ago, Golden Corral tried to cash in on some trends with the Bourbon Chicken. It was fine! We came in with low expectations and they were not exceeded. Sigh.

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Hollis Johnson

We hoped the desserts would elevate the meal.

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Hollis Johnson

We got a peach cobbler, pumpkin pie, cookies, and a chocolate fondue-dipped marshmallow.

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Hollis Johnson

Everything was work-potluck-level tasty, with a pumpkin pie high and a peach cobbler low. A fondue fountain is always entertaining, but the gimmick can only take you so far.

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Hollis Johnson

We’ve talked the talk and walked the walk of Golden Corral. We’ve sampled and we’ve sought something more. We left Golden Corral full — yet empty. With so many options, the chain lacked a unified direction.

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Hollis Johnson

As the all-you-can eat chain buffet looks to a new dawn with fresh menu items and a revamped design, it cannot uphold the status quo. Instead, it must destroy the complacency at its core and strive for something better — a menu that may not be as broad, but one that is both a deal and enjoyable.

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Hollis Johnson