Program offers leftover buffet food at discount prices

Posted at 7:26 PM, Nov 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-04 12:18:14-04

SAN DIEGO - A new program is helping San Diegans save money and minimize food waste.

Americans waste roughly 70 billion pounds of food each year, but at the same time, one in six Americans go hungry, according to Feeding America.

BuffetGO works with local buffets to offer customers discounts while helping restaurants get rid of leftover food.

The program has been popular in Europe, and it has now made its way to San Diego. BuffetGO's success here depends on how people answer the question: "Would you eat leftovers from a buffet?"

J.J. Lin runs Yummy Buffet in the Midway District. The all-you-can-eat restaurant serves up a mix of Asian and American cuisine, but too much food can be a big problem.

"We could throw away about 20 pounds of food, easily," Lin said. "Seeing this food go to the landfills, you know, I might as well put it in somebody's mouth."

That's where BuffetGo comes in. The company sells a limited number of vouchers each week on its website. Customers print them out and show them when they arrive.

"Restaurants can minimize food waste and still get cash back," Lin said.

Lin can serve customers leftovers at 73 percent off, but they must wait until about 9 p.m. Around closing time, they'll give customers a box and they can fill it with whatever kind of food they desire.

The buffet, normally priced at $15, will cost a customer as little as $4. It's some extra cash for Lin and deep discounts for his customers.

"I had customers that come from maybe an hour away, just to come here to get a deal. I don't know how much they pay for the gas," he said with a laugh.

For 90-year-old Mission Beach resident Phillip Prather, 9 p.m. is a little too late. He eats at Yummy Buffet a few times a month. The WWII vet is also concerned people who can afford higher priced food will take advantage of the deal, stopping those who need it the most.

"People, you know, need the food and it's good food and everything. I think it's wonderful, but I would be stealing from them basically if I did that," Prather said.

Lin and BuffetGO must also fight the stigma associated with the word "leftovers."

"Some items are made an hour prior. You're still getting the quality of the food. It's just selection wise, you're limited," he said.

What he hopes to limit now is hunger.

"Every little bit helps," Lin said.

Currently, only two buffets in San Diego County participate in BuffetGO, but you'll find more options in Orange County and Los Angeles, where the company is based.