Monday, January 7, 2008

More Buffet Strategies: Going the Distance Against IHOP’s All You Can Eat Pancakes

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

if i were you, i would hop away from this one

Not unlike the Olive Garden and its transient never ending pasta bowl of lies, IHOP periodically offers a short-lived menu item geared towards us gluttons for food (and punishment)—the All You Can Eat Pancakes. Always a popular destination for poor college students looking to score breakfast treats at 9 o’clock in the evening, IHOP was a favorite of mine growing up due mostly to its Funny Face pancake: a chocolate pancake decorated with whipped cream, chocolate chips, and maraschino cherries arranged in the shape of a face that still haunts my waistline to this day. It was with youthful eagerness that I made my triumphant return to IHOP this weekend, but it was with utter disdain for my personal eating abilities that I left.

Choose Your Flapjack Battlefield

IHOP realizes that pancakes do not a meal make, so that’s why the All You Can Eat Pancakes meal always comes attached to an egg combo meal. At our local IHOP, the menu offered the following combos, all of which came with “unlimited” pancakes.

  • Eggs only. Two eggs, any style. Hash browns too, I think. The cheapest unlimited pancake option. $4.99
  • Eggs and bacon. The option I chose. Two eggs, a ridiculously large mound of hash browns, and four strips of bacon. $6.99
  • Eggs and sausage. My wife went this route. Two eggs, that mountain o’ hash browns, four sausages. $6.99
  • Eggs and ham. The eggs, the hash browns, and an unspecified quantity of ham. $6.99
  • Eggs, sausage, and bacon. Eggs, hash browns, and three each of bacon strips and sausages. The priciest option. $7.99

a color-inverted boobieSeniors of the Punny Money School of Buffet Tactics should quickly identify the first error we made at the IHOP table: we didn’t go with the cheapest option. We should have gone with the eggs only menu option. Instead, we each paid two dollars more for a tiny bit of extra breakfast meat. While meats are usually a goal item at buffets, they should not be at this one. Those strips of bacon and links of sausage probably took up two pancakes’ worth of stomach space. Lesson #1: Go “eggs only” at All You Can Eat Pancakes. For bonus points, slip the eggs into a purse and eat them later or the next day.

Pancakes Stacked A Mile High—In Midget Nautical Units

Accompanying your breakfast meat(s) will be the first round of unlimited pancakes: two flapjacks, each approximately four to six inches in diameter and 1/4 inches tall. I had heard complaints about the misrepresentation of the thickness of these pancakes in IHOP’s ads; while mine were a bit thinner than pictured, they were much healthier looking than some of the others I’ve heard people have encountered during the course of this promotion. On top of the first and subsequent stacks of pancakes is a wad of butter. Lesson #2: Don’t eat the butter. It’s heavy, and a few lumps of it will fill a pancake’s worth of stomach space.

you may need some extra ammo for this battleIn order to get your next serving of pancakes, you need to clear the first two from their plate. You do not need to finish your breakfast meats or hash browns to get more pancakes. Lesson #3: If you intend to eat them, make your breakfast meats last. I found keeping some eggs and bacon around for round two made it easier to get through more pancakes. Otherwise, if all you’re eating is pancakes, you may get sick of them pretty quickly. If you run out of breakfast meats, you may want to defy conventional buffet logic and invest in one of IHOP’s bottomless pots of coffee or another flavored drink to offer the occasional taste detour to endless pancakes.

The second and future stacks come in threes, but be sure to tackle each pancake individually rather than eating multiple layers of pancake at once. Lots of air can sit between pancakes, and that air can fill your poor tummy fast. Lesson #4: Take it one pancake at a time.

Service With a Smile, Eventually

As with any full-service unlimited food offering, you are at the mercy of the wait staff to bring you more pancakes. Another complaint I’ve read about IHOP’s pancake deal is that it takes forever to get subsequent stacks of flapjacks. There are some things you can do to increase the rate of service, even if you draw a slow server.

  1. Dress rich. Bling yourself out with gold, diamonds, and anything else that makes you look worth at least a million bucks. Sure, you’ll look like Donald Trump in an inner-city whorehouse, but the server may recognize the potential for a bigger tip and stop by your table more frequently.
  2. Make eye contact. If you need another stack o’ cakes and your server isn’t getting close enough to your table, you’ll need to catch his or her eye to draw them in. Give them that “come hither, my pancake slave” look and watch them come running.
  3. Go with a friend. It’d be awfully sad if you went to a buffet by yourself, but I won’t judge you, fatty. If you hit this deal with someone else, you’ll clear plates more frequently, and you can split the next stack while waiting for another.
  4. Activate your hash brown cloaking device. Those hash browns are especially useful for hiding your current serving of pancakes so you can show a clean plate and expedite your next round. Then you can dig out your pancake treasure while your next batch is cooking.

Be sure to make your tip reflect the server’s extra efforts (or lack thereof). If buffets are not the norm at a restaurant, 20% may not be enough to properly thank a server who keeps your plate full. Ours did a fabulous job and earned himself a 35% tip.

The Syrup Showdown

While a few folks may enjoy their pancakes au naturale, most of us will need a hefty dose of syrup to coat these wheatie wonders. Each table is normally equipped with four syrup dispensers; here were the choices available at our table:

  • Old-fashioned syrup. This is pancake syrup with no added bells or whistles. By far your best choice for pancake deliciousness.
  • Blueberry. I didn’t even try this one because I have bad memories involving blueberries and pancakes.
  • Butter pecan. Probably your second-best option. A little sweeter than the standard syrup, but not too overpowering.
  • Strawberry. Too sweet, and not a good substitute for putting strawberries on top of your pancakes. Maybe try one pancake with this, but don’t douse your whole pile in the stuff.

I also suggested to my wife that IHOP should offer alcoholic pancake syrup at a premium price. I bet your stomach could fit a lot more pancakes in it if the rest of you were numb.

The Endgame: Pancake Buffets are a Goldmine

even honest abe cannot finish off five dollars worth of pancakes in one sittingI’m too embarrassed to reveal our exact pancake figures because we just could not get through very many of them. I knew going into it that this would be even harder than the Olive Garden pasta deal to get our money’s worth. Now that I’ve crunched the numbers, I realize that it’s not just hard, it’s downright impossible to eat even five bucks worth of pancakes at once. That’s because you can make about a dozen huge pancakes of comparable thickness and flavor to IHOP’s with two cups of Bisquick (cost: 20-30 cents max.) and another 25 cents of ingredients. To eat $5 of those pancakes, you’d need to plow through over 100 of them!

You better believe that IHOP is welcoming even the most experienced buffet eaters with open arms to this promotion. Personally, I’m surprised they don’t offer it more often and try to charge even more for it. At its price, it’s still one of the cheapest unlimited food deals around. But experienced buffet tacticians may want to save their money and invest it in tastier, more diverse menu options somewhere else.

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