Friday, February 09, 2007

Has Buffet Dining Become Too Informal?

When I was growing up in the 1950's and 60's ("Oh, now we know he is old!"), dining out at a restaurant was something special. It did not matter if it was the corner family restaurant or some place fancy - it was still special. There were certain manners that were to be exhibited. There was a certain behavior that was expected. In the restaurant you spoke quietly. You were to keep your attention to the people at your own table. This was wear the "inside voice" that your Kindergarten teacher taught you was to be used.

For the most part in most restaurants this all seems to still exist - with the exception of buffet restaurants. Now, I need to state right off from the beginning here that what I am observing in buffets may (perhaps) just be observed in New York buffets. I say this because much of what I will describe as "too informal" I do not see in buffet restaurants outside of New York - and I have been to many. What the conclusion may be - before I even start - is that people in New York are too informal in buffet restaurants - and it is New York that is the common factor in the equation of the various types of people dining in the buffet restaurants. But that said, I shall continue.

How come in buffets people look upon dining as a community event? They talk between tables. Entire long, loud, and detailed conversations take place in a section of the dining room among people who are unrelated. This does not happen in other restaurants (even in New York) with the exception of a few comments or pleasantries exchanged. In buffets it is common.

Everyone laughing at a table is the sign of a good time out - wonderful! But, does that laughing need to be so loud and constant that everyone in the restaurant's attention is drawn to it. I am not looking to dine quietly, but it is often impossible to carry on a personal conversation with the people at my own table over the noise coming from a table at the other side of the room.

I wonder if it is the ability to get up and walk around to go to the buffet tables that leads to the informality. If one can leave the table and move about, then perhaps one forgets that this is a restaurant - and therefore, all the manners of being in a restaurant do not apply. I have not seen these things in fast food restaurants - and if there is any place informal, it is McDonald's and Burger King.

Two weeks ago I spoke in the update to the Rules of the Buffet that someone brought a hamster into a buffet and then set the box with the hamster down onto their table, opening the box to play with the hamster -and then moving around the room with the hamster to show it off. Could this have happened in any other type of restaurant - without this person and the animal being tossed out? I am going to hope not. It happened at a buffet.

I will go back again to my beginning speculation - about this all being a New York phenomenon. There are not many buffet restaurants in New York. There is only the Old Country Buffet chain and those are few and far between. There are Chinese buffets scattered about. Perhaps the buffet experience is too unusual for average, every day New Yorkers - and, therefore, they do not know that what applies in all other restaurants applies at the buffet as well. They come in and see it as a large eating playground - and not just the kids. They think that it is like being at home - you get up and serve yourself - so what you might do at home is ok to do in the buffet restaurant - speak and laugh as loud as you want, yell across the room, put your hands into the serving dish. No , you are not at home.

There do seem to be some people who understand that they are dining out - and they present themselves with proper and polite manners and decorum. They have paid good and hard earned money for a night out and expect restaurant behavior from those around them. And it for this minority that I speak out here.

I shall not go on, as anymore would be beating the dead horse to further death. Perhaps the informality is not a New York thing, and those of you in other States have seen this too. Maybe the many buffets that I have been to outside of New York have just been the exceptions. Buffets do get a bad reputation and are often referred to jokingly in television comedies. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why. Use the comments here to speak out and let us know what your experience and observations have been.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello -

I love your site! My name is Rafi Mohammed and I have a web site: The site focuses on pricing.

I went to a nice buffet over the weekend and at the end, wondered how they made money off of me.

I was wondering if you would consider being interviewed by me - I'd love to get your insights on buffet pricing.

Many thanks, Rafi