Friday, December 05, 2008


For as long as I have been going to buffets I have seen customers abusing buffets. What do I mean by "abusing"? I am talking about both taking advantage of the restaurant and also outright stealing by taking food out of the restaurant.

I have thought about this article for some time, but I have been hesitant to write and publish it for fear that some might take it as a "how to" guide and then do some of this themselves. Several have told me that I should write it, and I have heard over time from some buffet managers who shared some of the terrible things that have been done that have, frankly, resulted in the need to increase the prices charged to everyone to make up for the losses perpetrated by a few.

Taking food from a buffet and then taking it out of the restaurant is a crime. It is shoplifting and it is subject to the same penalties as are applied to someone stealing an item from a store. While few buffet restaurants want to prosecute anyone, most have posted in writing that if you take food out of the restaurant you will be subject to pay for an additional meal. If done to an extreme or casually, the manager of the buffet has every right to call the police, have the person arrested, and press criminal charges. Would this happen over a cookie? Unlikely, but it certainly could happen and should happen with some of the things that I have seen and have been reported to me.

Now, why should you care if you don't do it? There is just so much loss that a business can figure into its routine operating expenses before that loss starts to take a toll. In these difficult economic times, restaurants are struggling. Add the loss of food "walking out the door" and there will be a financial reaction and that will first be seen as an increase in price of the meals at the buffet. This is a problem specific to the buffet business where all you can take is the offer that is made. In a restaurant with plated meals the portion goes out of the kitchen to your table and they do not care what happens to it after that. You eat it, toss it, or take it home - you paid for that specific dish and it is yours to do with as you please. But - in a buffet, the food goes out to the buffet tables with the expectation that it will be taken and eaten by all those in the room. If that food starts going into people's pockets to leave the restaurant that buffet has a problem. SO you say, it is already on my plate and if I don't eat it it will just be thrown away, so why should it go to waste when I can take it home and eat it later, give it to the dog, or feed Aunt Suzi who has come to visit? The answer to all that is no because of the potential abuse to the restaurant of taking more than you can eat. Sadly there are people out there who want to get away with anything that they can. The innocent at heart who have left over chicken on their plate, having intended to eat it all but couldn't,, can't take it home because of those who would intentionally fill a plate beyond what they want with the idea that they can make another meal of it at home. The logic makes sense. It is the temptation of the "dark side" that the buffet restaurant must defend itself against.

When I was a kid - many, many years ago - buffet restaurants (yes, they had them way back then too) would post signs that if you left food on your plate you would be charged for an extra meal. I remember this - and my wife, who I did not meet until we were at the same college, remembers this as well. And interestingly our parents - both sets - had the same reaction to that sign and to each of us, "You see that sign - make sure you eat everything that you take!" Of course, this would cause a general paranoia that someone from the restaurant was watching us eat and keeping track of very pea on the plate. We, both separately, recall finding ways to mush what we could not eat together and stealthily covering it on the plate with a crumpled napkin. I still do this when I overindulge and find I cannot finish something that I have taken - or find that I do not care for something - things get mushed together and the napkin is crumpled and strategically placed - as if anyone in the restaurant would care. This certainly was not the buffet restaurants intention by that sign - but in those days it certainly worked!

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