Monday, October 8, 2007

Incredulous in Iloilo

Iloilo City. Not that she didn’t like the steaming molo soup she had for dinner at Century 21 Hotel the night before. But the visitor, who fancies herself an adventurous eater, wants to try something else for lunch -- elsewhere. After all, she calculates, the series of meetings she has gone to Iloilo for does not begin until 2 p.m.

She decides to walk, prodded on by the pleasant drizzle that greets her outside the hotel lobby. She goes past an Internet café, a hardware store, an ukay-ukay shop, a pharmacy, and sundry establishments before she realizes Quezon Street wasn’t restaurant row. So when the drizzle threatened to escalate into a downpour, she backtracks.

Opposite the hotel she came from, she espies a three-storey shopping center which she must have overlooked on the way out. “Payless Plaza” – it says. It looks promising. “Why not,” she tells herself and makes a dash for it.

Past a cashier who tries to tell her something urgently in Visayan, she goes smack into a buffet setting.

“How much?” she asks one of the service crew. “Fifty pesos ma’am, but you have to pay first.” Back to the kahera who earlier tried to stop her, she asks again: “Are you sure it’s P50?” The kahera nods with a smile. “Eat all you can?” “ She nods again. “Is this lunch?” “With dessert,” she answers this time.

The buffet spread was incredible for the P50 being asked. Two kinds of salad: vegetable and macaroni. Five main dishes: fried chicken, chicken afritada, dinuguan, pancit, laksa. Plus a bounty for the sweet-toothed: ginatan bilobilo, custard cake, kutsinta, and halo-halo.

The visitor does not expect gourmet-quality fare and she doesn’t get it. But it is passable. The laksa is good, the ginatan tastes homemade, the cake moist and creamy. The halo-halo counter features ube, kaong, beans, saba chunks, among other sweet stuff and a big pitcher of milk.

She looks around. There is a long cue at the buffet table, half of the seats are taken, and a horde is just coming in.

She hurries through her plate, feeling a strong curiosity and urge to talk with the manager.

Paul Go, owner-manager of Payless Plaza, recalls his store was a flourishing one 10-12 years ago. Lately, however, with the commercial boom in Iloilo City, with the influx of SM, Makro, Atrium, Iloilo Supermarket, and others, Payless Plaza was being trashed by the competition.

Paul had to think fast as he observed his market dwindling. It was a matter of survival, after all.

His idea of putting up a pangmasa eat-all-you-can lunch and merienda spread was an inspired one. He named it Payless buffet.

Today, three years after opening, the buffet attracts 500 to 600 customers a day, many of them students, some whole families that find it more practical to eat there than cook at home. They keep coming because the lunch and merienda fare is different each day.

Paul says that after dining, a good part of the buffet crowd shops at the grocery section and goes up to the second and third floor department store sections to shop.

“But you must be losing money on this deal,” the visitor speculates, referring to the buffet itself.

Paul denies this: “We don’t make too much, but we do break even.” He adds: “It’s a marketing strategy -- we are happy to just break even on the buffet.” The strategy has worked, he says smugly. Panghatak ng tao, he calls it.

“Big men with big appetites come here,” the visitor persists, eyeing a muscular guy seated nearby.

“Well, for every big appetite, there are two small ones,” Paul says smiling at the petite visitor.

“We get our supplies in volume and we get good discounts from our suppliers. We are fine,” Paul concludes happily.


tutubi said...

wow! such a frugal food find. i'm always in the prowl for similar things here.

chateau said...

Ah, the lunch adventure in Iloilo! Even if the food wasn't gourmet, at 50php pwedeng pwede na! I'd probably feast on the laksa and halo-halo.

Even in Baguio, the businesses along Session Road had to amp up to be able to compete with the giant SM (though I have not heard of 50-peso lunch buffets there). Of course we consumers are the clear winners! :)

Belle said...

that is cheap! i really don't know how they can do it.

my husband and i like to go to a Chinese buffet in phoenix that offers quite a bit selection, including roast duck. i am one of those with small appetites so for me it is a waste of money.

Heart of Rachel said...

Wow, this is the first time I've heard of a P50 buffet. Great deal! Glad you had the chance to meet the owner of the place. Hope his business thrives despite the tough competition.

Weng said...

hi annamanila!

we had the chance to go to iloilo and guimaras in july last year, a few months before the oil spill. all we did was eat! too bad we missed payless plaza! i can't get over the price, P50 for a lunch buffet! waaaah!

i'm super inggit! where will i find lunch buffet for over a dollar here in texas? wala! anyway, we loved iloilo and the ever malambing ilonggos. we hope to go back if only to eat at tatoy's along villa beach. ;)

have a great week! :D

snglguy said...

Hey I know that place! The department store used to be a client of the company I used to be connected with. So he's now into the restaurant business? Man, times sure have changed. But it's good to know he's doing well though...

Foods are always cheap in the province ano? ;-)

rhodora said...

Ah, you were in Iloilo! Hope you enjoyed your sweet time, my friend. :)

P50 for a lunch buffet? E sa ordinaryong carinderia, isang kanin, isang gulay at isang karne lang yan, e. :)

auee said...

Too good to be true, but there you are!

Toe said...

That's just a dollar! Amazing! :) You make a good reporter Annamanila... you're usisera... hehe. :)

pining said...

ang mura nga!
you made my mouth water a bit, *should have some lunch...*

exskindiver said...

dito nalang tayo magkita kita!!

Gypsy said...

Very shrewd. :) What's laksa? I only know the Malaysian Laksa with is Curry noodle that what it is?

Julie said...

That definitely tops a marketing strategy. PhP50 for a buffet? Grabe!

Personally, I am saddened about the presence of big supermarkets and malls in the provinces. This is progress yes, because people shop in convenience and they have more choices. On the other hand, these so-called progress kill the small businesses in the areas and people lose their jobs. If people loss their jobs, how else would they patronize the malls then? Perhaps they will go abroad na lang.

Sorry to dampen the spirit but I think, maybe in my heart, I prefer small town charms.

Kisses for the baby. :)

ScroochChronicles said...

Ang mura naman niyan. I cannot imagine how he can stay afloat. But if he says he's fine, maybe he is. He wouldn't be around if wasn't. Di ba?

Glad you enjoyed your Iloilo sojourn. Where is the next adventure?

BTW, come on over to my site to pick up your award :)

rowena said...

Hi Annamanila, grabe shock naman ako P50 buffet...sana me ganyan din dito Manila, asa pa noh...Hope magtagal pa business nila over there in Iloilo.

geri said...

Bless the "smaller" businessmen like Paul Go, I hope this marketing strategy will go a long, long way for him. When I was in the Phils I swear the monopoly of the Gaisano Malls has made them even more arrogant each yearand their customer service has even gotten lousier.

Jap said...

I'm hungry. I notice, I get hungry everytime I visit your blog, Anna hehehehe

intsik said...

hi anna! how's iloilo? i like it there, payless plaza. i miss iloilo bigla. dstayed there for many years din. hehehehehe

coffeefreak said...

hi anna! i have to hand it to you: you really know where to find the best buys. btw, you're also blog-awarded...

Jerry said...

I would have been unbelieving too, in your place.

Iloilo is a good place for adventurous eaters, I know.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
MONACO said...

50 bucks for a buffet? wow!

i used to work for a chinese businessman. they have good marketing instincts. profit, no matter how small, is still profit. not like pinoy negosyantes, gahaman! he he.

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