Friday, May 30, 2014


Recently we have been encountering people in buffets who seem to have never been to a buffet before. It is entirely possible that they haven't. They seem so lost and confused. We hear them asking each other what to do and neither seems to have any idea. I started thinking then about this article, an article on how to buffet. If you are new to buffet dining then this is for you. If you have been around buffets for years and years, read anyway for fun.

Let's start at the beginning - walking through the door. There are two basic types of buffets. One type is where you are seated, have your meal, and at the end are given a check, just like in a menu restaurant. You then take the check up to the cash register - or your server will bring your check with a cash "tray" under it or in a cash folder and you put your money on the tray, the server takes it up to the register for you and returns with your change or charge receipt. The other type is where you will walk into a cashier's desk where you are going to pay before going in and eating. You may or may not, depending on the buffet, be asked to select your beverage at this time also.

What is included in the price of a buffet varies by the individual buffet or the buffet chain. At some the price is just for the food and drinks are a separate charge. At most, the soft drinks are unlimited meaning you can have all that you care to drink. At others though, you may be paying per drink. At some buffets the tip is included in the price. At other buffets the tip is not included and it is up to you to leave a tip of an amount that you decide. Yes, you are expected to leave a tip at a buffet even though your are primarily serving yourself. The server that is taking care of your table is often actually working harder than some servers in menu restaurants. He or she will be at your table to take away your finished plates (promptly, hopefully) and at many buffets bring you your drinks and refill your drinks when you desire. Tip accordingly based on the level of service you are receiving, but tip.

Now you have either been seated after having paid or just seated at your table. Your server will usually come up to your table shortly and introduce him/herself. Some will ask if you have ever dined at this buffet before and if not, will explain where everything is. If your drinks will be brought to our by the server - and the buffet did not ask you to name the drink you will be having - the server will ask what you wish to drink (seeing on your receipt which will be placed on your table that you have paid for drinks - if drinks are not included) or if this is a pay when you leave buffet will ask you if you would like to have a drink which will be placed on your bill when you are finished with your meal. Some get to their table and are in such a hurry that they don't sit down but go right to the buffet server. It is better - in my opinion - to sit down, let the server see that you are there, and come over to go through what you just read above. A buffet is no a fast food restaurant unless you make it one. Sit down, get settled, meet your server, and then go up to the buffet.

OK! Now you go up to the buffet to start your meal. No one has to invite you to do this. You are on your own. In fact, during the course of your meal you can go up as many times as you like to take what you like. Remember that this is a meal and not a marathon or a food eating contest. Take your time to enjoy your food and the company that you are with. So, yes, now you go up. I am amazed at how many times I have heard people get to their table and ask each other, "Do we just go up?" Yes, you just go up. No one is going to bring your food to you. You are going to select your entire meal and bring it back to your table yourself (including drinks if this is a self-serve drink buffet such as Old Country Buffets and their affiliates do).

So now you are up at the buffet servers. One suggestion that I have is to walk around the entire buffet serving section and look at everything that there is to eat BEFORE you take anything. Discover what they have. Find out for yourself where things are. In this way you will not miss anything and you will not have any regrets when you have eaten yourself full that you missed your favorite whatever that you did not know was there - until it was too late. Once have have seen it all it is time to start taking what you would like to start with. I say "start with" because you do not have to take everything that you want for the entire meal at one time. This is NOT a cafeteria. Again, you may go back as many times are you wish. Take a plate or a bowl and make a plate of food for yourself. Each person in your party will do the same. If you have children under 12, make their plate for them - asking them what they would like - guiding them is this is what you do.

If you went to a menu restaurant meals are served in courses. A meal at a buffet should be no different. If you start other meals with soup first, take soup. If you start meals with salad first, take salad. If you never eat soup or salad then go right to the entrees and side dishes. If you like it all, take soup, then salad (or the two reversed) and then take your entree and sides, and finally dessert. All with separate plates.

As you go around the buffet, understand again that this is not a cafeteria. There are two styles of buffet. One is called a scatter buffet meaning buffet serving tables are scattered around the area. The other is considered a counter buffet with a long counter to go along and take what you like from the many trays along the counter. Some buffets are a combination of the two. Even at a counter buffet, it is acceptable and not rude to walk up to any point in the counter and take what you would like to take without getting on the end of a line at the start of the counter and walking all around the counter until you get to the one thing that you are up there for. People see a counter and decide it means there is a line - and in some buffets form a ridiculous line. Sometimes you will encounter this and no matter what, you get sucked into this line. There was a commercial several years back for a popular pizza buffet chain in which they made fun of this and made it clear that you can walk up to any point of the counter and take what you want - there is no line! It is not rude. It is not impolite.

Please don't fill the plate piled high with one thing on top of the other. There is no reason for that. Make a normal plate. It will be there for you take on the next plate. I never understand how anyone can taste anything sitting under a pile of four, five, more other foods mounded up like a pet bowl. There is no need to pile layer over layer of different foods one on top of each other and then douse the whole thing with gravy. You are not making a casserole, you are serving yourself a plate of food. Each item should be visible and recognizable when the plate is ready to take back to the table. You might consider buffet eating as I do - take a very small portion of a variety of things that appeal to you. And I mean small portions. This gives you an opportunity to taste a lot and if you desire go back for more of what you liked best or for another sampler plate.

So you have taken your first plate and have gone back to your table. I always recommend waiting for the rest of your dining party to return before you start eating. This is a meal to be eaten together. You can not be so hungry that you must devour your plate before your spouse, kids, or whoever is with you comes back to the table. I have seen this many times. In my opinion it is rude and lacking of manners. When you have finished your first plate, you may go back up for more of what you had or whatever else you want. I know that some of my readers disagree with what I am about to say, but I feel that it is only polite to wait for your spouse and, usually, your kids to be ready before you get up from the table to go back for more. I understand that this is not practical when with a large group, and certainly in those situations, go up, perhaps as a couple, without waiting for the rest. When you go back up to the buffet, LEAVE your soiled, finished plate on your table. The server will come to pick it up. NEVER take a used plate back to the buffet tables to be used again!

You are now back at the buffet tables to take more food. Continue your courses - salad after soup, if that is your preference, soup after salad, if that is your preference, or entrees and side dishes. This can be the first of many return trips - if you desire. Again, don't load your plate. Take normal portions of a selection that just fills the surface of the plate or less. YOU CAN GO BACK! So many don't seem to believe that! Every time that you go back, take a clean plate!

There is a dessert section to keep in mind while you are eating. Again, a buffet is all you CARE to eat, and not all that you CAN eat. The idea is not to feel like you need to puke when you leave the buffet because you stuffed yourself so full that you can barely move. Save room for dessert. I know that it is hard sometimes walking away from somethings that you really wish you had taken sooner but it is not the end of the world if you don't get it - and if you can come back to the buffet another time you can always get it then. Again, a reason to walk around at the beginning and see what there is - you will see that favorite then and know to take it before you have eaten too much. Save room for dessert. If you are a dessert fanatic save a lot of room for dessert. And if you are really a dessert fanatic there is nothing saying that you can't just eat a meal of desserts and nothing else.

So now we have gotten you through the entire meal. You still are able to walk and not feel like you never want to look at another bite of food again. If you have paid in advance, put a tip on the table and you then leave the restaurant. There is nothing more necessary - unless you are making a stop at the restroom on the way out. And if you have a long drive home, that is advisable! If this is a pay when you leave buffet your server should be aware that you had just finished with dessert and will bring the check over to you. It may be necessary to beckon to an inattentive or very busy server to indicate that you are ready for your check. Do not be alarmed if when you start dessert your server brings you the check and puts it on your table. This is USUALLY not a way to tell you that you have had enough and you should leave. It is often just a way to give you an opportunity to have the check without waiting when you are through. (I hesitate to say that there are some buffets where the check shows up mid-meal and this is often taken as a way of saying, you had enough already. Sometimes this is true and sometimes this is not. We have had this happen and the server very politely will say that they are bringing the check because their shift is ending or they are going on a break but please eat as much as you care to and stay as long as you like. We have had it happen the other way too - and I get just as annoyed as you would - and when it happens at a particular buffet that I have been to I will let you know about it in my review!) Pay your check, leave your tip - if you are paying by credit card you can leave a tip on the card when you pay at the end. If you pay at the beginning you are going to need cash in your pocket to leave a tip. Do not hesitate to go up to the cashier to break a bill for smaller bills for a tip. They know that this is why you are asking and would rather that you get the bills to give to the server rather than walk out without leaving a tip.

There you have "How To Buffet"! It does not end there and next week we will post a return of our "Rules of the Buffet". What you have just read are the basics. What you will read in the Rules are the finer points and, sadly to say that they must be stated, the manners of buffet dining.

If you have any questions, leave a comment or send me an email using the contact link at the side of this page. Happy buffeting!

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