Interview with a man behind Wisdom International Buffet Extravaganza
by Veen T.
12 ส.ค. 2566, 17:33

Explore the vision of Krit Towongsricharoen, reshaping the buffet scene with an unparalleled gourmet experience

Thai people love indulging in buffets, relishing the feeling of getting their money’s worth for a good meal. The buffet market continues to expand, and the experience of having a quality buffet lunch or dinner is no longer limited to leading hotels.  Now, the market has taken a step further with Mr. Krit Towongsricharoen, 
Chairman of Wisdom International Buffet Co, introducing the “Crown Buffet” – a super luxury buffet priced at 9,999++ baht per person at his Wisdom International Buffet outlets.

HappeningBKK.com had a conversation with the man behind this buffet "innovation" and explored his vision for the buffet industry, as he aims to dominate the high-end buffet market.

How is Wisdom’s distinctiveness in contrast to other hotel buffets?

First of all, you need not dress up for an occasion like going to a five-star hotel. Secondly, our buffets bring fresh flavors to the table without requiring patrons to serve themselves. Dishes are prepared to order and served directly to the tables, ensuring an enhanced and delightful culinary experience in terms of great taste and freshness.

Evolution is key. If you're going to create a concept, don't settle for matching it. When you execute it, it must be better and continuously developed. This is our strength. From our brand families, including Tenjo Sushi & Yakiniku, we never stop at where we are. As Wisdom enters its third year and prepares for a major menu revamp this August, the restaurant harnesses data analytics, seasonal menus, and grand culinary concepts to stay aligned with dynamic food trends.

We analyzed what customers cherished and retained in their preferences, as well as what didn't resonate. This analytical process is continuous. In my view, our competitors face a significant challenge to delve as deeply into data analytics as we do. Wisdom's marketing team consists of a little over 10 members.

Speaking of specific dishes like Peking Duck, whenever one craves it, he/she has to visit a hotel. If two people dine, you'd end up with more duck than needed. Eventually, everyone would pack it up to take home. I asked myself if everyone wished for that scenario. At Wisdom, if you want two portions of Peking Duck, you order just that - two portions. In most cases, a customer just wants to have one or two bites of each, and we provide that.

Why did Wisdom dare to sell a buffet for 9,999++ baht per person?

Buffets used to be priced at 500-600 baht per head, but now it's 2,000-3,000 per person. Even at 10,000 baht, people come to dine because times have changed. Our generation values using money for happiness. So, selling a 10,000 baht buffet is feasible.

Many customers dine with us repeatedly. If you consider the dish list, you might find it expensive, but our 'Crown' buffet hardly leaves us with a profit.

Amid challenges like prawns dying in tanks, we strive to set Bangkok's top buffet standard – best service, easiest ordering, the ultimate premium experience."

So, hotels are not your competitors?

No, hotels aren't my competitors anymore. Neither is Oishi. Perhaps right now there are Copper and Great Harbor. I’d say we’ll be the market leader in international buffets by mid-next year, operating 10 branches covering nearly all of Bangkok. So, if anyone is going to be our competitor, it'll be challenging because we have the economy of scale.

Why open Wisdom during COVID?

"We opened when COVID was at its peak. While many saw it as an unprecedented crisis, I saw an opportunity. Hotels closed, jobs were lost, but Wisdom welcomed them. I had people on the first day. It was risky, sure, but business always involves risk. It's about perspective... I felt the market was wide open then. Restaurants were shutting down, but I believed the world wouldn't stay locked down forever. There's always an end. We just needed to endure, and when the time came, burst forth.

During COVID, billionaire businessman Khun Dhanin Chearavanont advised, 'Don't lay off staff, don't cut corners. It'll collapse your business. Organizations become strong through systems and good personnel.'

We didn't let anyone go, not even one person. I told my staff COVID might make things tough, but it won't break us. We helped with essentials - room costs, rice, dry food. We went to Makro and distributed. Everyone could still live.

At that time, I imported foreign fish worth millions. Before the closure, I thought, 'What will I do with the fish?' I had to sell it at cost.

As soon as the government allowed, we reopened all branches at once. We were prepared. Business partners and banks released soft loans to support us. When we reopened, everything fell into place. Money flowed in. If we had laid off staff, our business would have crumbled. Recovery would have taken longer. Was I worried? During that time, I called every day, charging my phone's battery three times a day."

How about the role of chefs in the buffet business?

When we first started the brand, there was no data available. Our initial set menu was based on the experiences we had in the market. My partners and I are all food enthusiasts. I focused on Chinese and Japanese cuisine, another excelled in Western dishes, and there's one who's skilled in Thai. We all contributed to developing the menu and flavors.

The menu wasn't created solely by chefs; it was shaped by the management and marketing teams, who truly understand the market. A chef's responsibility is to ensure the food tastes good. However, 99% of chefs don't look at customer needs. I believe that in running a proper business, don't let the chef decide the menu. The people who understand the customers should dictate it. Then comes the cost management, kitchen management, and so on.

Nowadays, if one of my chefs leaves, it doesn't impact us because we've built a strong organization. Our recipes aren't proprietary. If someone leaves and takes a recipe, I say, 'Go ahead.' Because we thrive not because of a single recipe but because of the whole Wisdom concept.

How do you foresee the trend?

Looking at the next six months to the following year, I believe that food this year must offer quality and be priced at a package rate that isn't too high such as popular  sukiyaki Jinda style or the hotpot variety.  Because the group of people who have money, no matter what happens, they use it as they always have. But the group without money won't eat. But will both groups eat? Thai people are the group that must go out to dine at the top places globally. Compared to America and Japan, where they prefer to cook at home, for me, those are out-of-home meals. So, the food trend must capture these two groups (Wisdom is on the higher level).

Wisdom, in the high-end bracket, are impacted too but we can manage it because this market has few players, which is tougher to enter than Tenjo Sushi. Investment is higher, and it requires significant space.  So, I think it's not easy to compete with us.

Of course, no one would dare if the sales aren't good. But we dare. After we reach ten branches, I think Wisdom will be making billions in revenue per year. After that, if the provincial markets are not ready, we'll head to markets in other countries. Right now, I'm trying to build a Chinese clientele. Once Chinese customers get to know us, I'll open in Xiamen immediately. I need to find partners for this. I can tell you, the Chinese really like this food, a lot.


PHOTO BY Dae Warunee

Veen T.

Veen T.

Ex-lifestyle editor who's all about the slow-life vibe and still trying to nail it