Saturday, February 24, 2007

The NOT All You Can Eat Buffet

The NOT All You Can Eat Buffet... what would that be? It is the take out buffet and there are many of them - some part of regular All You Can Eat buffets and some that stand on their own.

So how does it work? You are given a Styrofoam tray container as you enter and you go to the serving tables. You fill the container - which is usually about ten inches square and perhaps three or less inches deep with an equally deep lid. Now, if you could fill that container for one price, you would be close to All You Can Carry Out, but not always so. What happens is that in many places the container is weighed by the cashier and you pay by the pound. Usually, the pound price is less than the "all you can eat buffet" price. Sometimes it is significantly less. Sometimes, specific items are either not included, or are more.

"Hmm..." you may be saying, "I know what a pound is - what it feels like, but how much food is that actually?" Obviously, it all depends on what you take. A pound of cooked meat is pretty substantial. So if you would be happy with a pound of chicken for $7.99, that is not bad. A pound of vegetables for $7.99 is not such a deal. A pound of salad - not good at all. Put it all together and you can get a decent meal, but how much of each do you know you are taking? There are never any scales along the way (get it, way - weigh (bad pun, "what pun?)).

There are some things that people take (when they are not extra) that amount to very little by the pound. Crab legs are very popular at Chinese buffets and many of the Chinese buffets offer a Take Out buffet. Some will not include the crab legs or seafood, some do. You are taking the crab legs which are in the shell. The shell weighs a lot. You are not getting not so much to eat in a pound of crab legs. Yet you see people taking the crab legs to go. Sushi is another example, when you need to take the rice with the fish, you are paying for a lot of rice.

Steamed or cold shrimp is a good deal at the by the pound serving. Despite the thin shells, a pound of cooked shrimp is more in substance than a pound of raw shrimp and at the take out buffet price, this is pretty good. Remember this the next time you are having a party and want to serve shrimp cocktail. Go to the Chinese buffet and get a pound of shrimp on the Take Out buffet - IF they let you.

But can you do this? Often, not. Here is an example of a Chinese Take Out buffet in Maryland. The pricing reads - Buffet-To-Go (At least 3 items per pack). Clever. They figured out that a pound of any one thing is greater than the sum of a collective pound of three items. Here the per pound price is $5.95 at dinner ($3.95 for lunch). Seafood and sushi, however, is $7.95 per pound - still not bad at this particular restaurant. (In case you are wondering where this is - it is the Fortune Star Buffet in Rockville, Maryland. I have never been there and do not attest to anything about this restaurant except what is quoted here. I found it on an Internet search for this article.)

It is required that you fit everything that you are taking into the one tray. You could fill two trays, but they usually will not let you take a separate tray for each item, as stated above in our example. The containers are not sectioned. This means that you are piling everything on top of each other, pretty much mixing them together. Not a big deal for those who regularly pile their buffet plates high with everything together until there is no longer any recognition of what anything is or tastes like on its own. However, for the fussy that like to eat things as they were intended - not mixed together, you are either going to take less or give in and mix it up. You are paying by the pound, though I am not sure they are going to let you pay for less than a pound. You will pay if you take more than a pound - and one buffet in Georgia makes a point of saying that there is a three dollar charge for overfilling the container - meaning that the container will not close easily - evidently you are paying by the container there, not by the pound - or what difference would it make how the container closes. Some buffets offer container prices, but will be restrictive on how the food fits into the container, as this one is.

One of the absolutes - by the pound or by the container = is no eating as you are go along. You will be charged for the sit-down buffet price if you start eating as you are going around the buffet tables filling your container.

Not all Take Out buffets are Chinese, and not all Take Out Buffets have All You Can Eat, eat in buffets. One example is the Sbarro chain which is located in 1,000 locations all over the United States, as well as franchises world wide. This is Italian cuisine. Not all Sbarro's have buffet bars, but they do exist. I have seen them in shopping malls, a casino, and food courts at interstate rest areas all along the East Coast and I am certain they are in other parts of the country as well. Here you fill your container at the food bar with Italian specialties - with salad at the beginning, for those so inclined. At the end of the bar is a cashier and scale. You can close up your container and take it home, or you can sit down at one of the tables and eat. BUT there is no going back for more/

There are supermarkets with buffet-style salad bars that have some hot items and you fill a container and pay by the pound at the check out. There usually is a scale at the bar here for you to see how much you are taking - they want no putting back once you get to the checkout aisles to pay.

For the most part, however, - in my findings - most of the take out buffets are Chinese or "International"/Asian. I have found many Indian buffets, pizza buffets, barbecue buffets, etc. that offer take out - but the take out is on a platter/menu basis packaged for you by the restaurant to the restaurant's portions. Some restaurants talk about buffet catering, but this is something altogether very different.

So next time you want buffet, but don't want to eat at the restaurant, see if you can take the buffet out. Let us know your experiences at the Take Out buffets and comment.

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