Old Country Buffet opened in 1984 with the idea that not employing wait staff and bartenders, the buffet would have a lower payroll than a more formal restaurant and a lack of waiters/waitresses might appeal to customers who preferred not to pay gratuities.
The restaurant menu was based on typical “country-style” American food, including fried chicken, hamburgers, chicken fried steak, french fries, creamed corn, and hot rolls.
The chain was initially a big success and expansion followed. By 1996, there were 250 restaurants scattered across the US.
Before Old Country Buffet filed for bankruptcy the first time in 2008, its parent company Buffets, Inc. had merged with Ryan’s Restaurant Group in 2006. After the 2008 Chapter 11 filing, the chain reduced some of its 626 locations and slashed debt by a whopping $700 million.
The company filed for bankruptcy again in 2012 and yet again in 2016. With each filing, the company closed restaurant locations.
In 2014, the company was sued for salmonella poisoning and the subsequent brain damage it left behind for one patron. The company didn’t respond to the filing since the health department had fined them for 18 violations the month before. The plaintiffs were awarded more than $11 million.
The restaurant chain closed all locations during the COVID-19 crisis and subsequent quarantine. As of June 2020, a few locations have opened including one in Columbus, Georgia.
Old Country Buffet maintains a corporate office in San Antonio, Texas.