Buffet restaurants are a dying breed, but Golden Corral is hoping to revitalize the sector by redesigning its restaurants from the studs up.
CEO Lance Trenary told CNBC that the massive endeavor started two years ago and will come to fruition with the reopening of a completely remodeled Greensboro, North Carolina, location.
"We really felt like our segment was slowly going away," Trenary said. "If you look over the last 25 years, our buffet segment has lost about 40 percent of the total meals that have been consumed directly in that segment. So, we knew that we were going to have to explore ways to get new guests from other parts of the industry."
Buffet chains, which are often grouped into the "family casual" sector of the restaurant industry, are a small and declining segment, according to Technomic. There were about 2,800 restaurants in the category at the end of 2016, a decline of 9.5 percent from the prior year.
The privately held Golden Corral, which has nearly 500 restaurants, saw revenue fall 2.6 percent last year, a narrower dive compared with its competitors, Technomic analyst David Henkes told CNBC.
Henkes said that HomeTown Buffet and Old Country Buffet, part of Ovation Brands, saw revenue fall 31 percent during the same period, while Garden Fresh Restaurant, which owns Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes, was down 8.7 percent year over year.
In a further sign of the stress in the segment, both Ovation Brands and Garden Fresh filed for bankruptcy in 2016. Garden Fresh was later purchased by Cerberus Capital Management in January.
Food Management Partners, which owns Ovation, didn't immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment. Cerberus Capital Management declined to comment.
Buffet restaurants are suffering because their core customer tends to be a lower-income diner who eats out less often, Henkes said.
He added, consumers also have been favoring food that they perceive as healthy and don't always view buffet chains in this light. As a result, rivals like Panera Bread, Five Guys and Shake Shack are gaining ground.
"We knew there had to be some improvements to the buffet dining experience itself," Trenary said.
Golden Corral's new design is centered on making guests feel like they are in a cozy, comfortable environment, Trenary said. Larger windows, new lighting fixtures, stacked stone and wooden panels are being incorporated to give the space a sophisticated, but homey quality.
Some version of Golden Corral's new design will be incorporated in 15 new restaurants in 2018 as well as at least four pre-existing locations, Trenary said. The company is using the Greensboro location as a test to see what elements of the design work best and what can be tweaked in future iterations.