Korean consumers flock to buffet restaurants amid rising dining costs

By Park Sae-jin Posted : May 13, 2024, 14:49 Updated : May 13, 2024, 15:06
Getty Images Bank
[Getty Images Bank]
SEOUL, May 13 (AJU PRESS) - Burdened by rising dining costs and service charges, Korean consumers are increasingly turning to all-you-can-eat buffets as an alternative to traditional restaurants where food is priced per dish, recent statistics show.

According to data released by Statistics Korea early this month, dining costs increased by 3 percent in April, compared to the same period of last year, outpacing the average consumer price hike of 2.9 percent. The surge in dining costs is primarily attributed to the steep rise in ingredient prices, particularly agricultural and fishery products, which soared by 10.6 percent in April.

Data, released by Openup, a platform operated by fintech firm Finda, shows that sales in the food service industry stood at 11.5 trillion won ($8.3 billion) in April, up 16.5 percent from the previous month. By sector, sales at buffet restaurants showed the sharpest increase rate of 20.9 percent, followed by fast-food restaurants (7.5 percent) and bakeries (3.4 percent). This trend is likely driven by high dining costs elsewhere.

According to an analysis by Food startup Siksin, workers spent an average of 10,096 won ($7.3) for a modest lunch meal in the first quarter of 2024, up 5 percent from a year ago. Dining out at a traditional restaurant costs around 100,000 won or more for a family of four, while buffet franchise restaurants typically charge around 20,000 won per adult during lunch hours and 25,000 won during dinner.

The surge in popularity of all-you-can-eat restaurants is reflected in their sales figures. "Ashley Queens," a buffet restaurant franchise operated by the food service wing of Korea's retail giant Eland Group, saw its sales spike by 88 percent during the first week of May, compared to the same period of last year. The average number of its customers also increased by 26 percent.

Similarly, "VIPS," operated by food service giant CJ Foodville, saw both sales and the number of customers skyrocket by about 60 percent between April 27 and May 8, compared to the same period of last year. VIPS charges 37,900 won for lunch and 47,900 won for dinner and weekends, which include alcoholic beverage charges, making it an attractive option for many budget-conscious consumers.
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