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It's a very reasonable way to eat out.
July 6, 2014 8:39 PM   Subscribe

"I enjoy buffets. I wouldn't say love buffets, but it's a very reasonable way to eat out." (SLYT)

If you are completely new to the American buffet experience, see this primer at CooksInfo.com.

The consumer exercises a lot of control in the buffet dining environment:
The essential feature of the various buffet formats is that the diners can directly view the food and immediately select which dishes they wish to consume, and usually also can decide how much food they take.
How to Outwit the "Buffet Master"The Sporkful podcast at Slate

How Can I Make the Most of an All-You-Can-Eat Buffet?

The Midtown Lunch Guide to Beating the All You Can Eat Chinese Food Buffet (2007, still relevant)

All We Could Eat at Sweet Tomatoes / Salad Bar of my Dreams

Top 10 Buffets at Las Vegas (YT, guitar)

Carnival World Buffet at Rio Casino (YT)

The modern American-style buffet has its roots in the Swedish smorgasbord, the name of which refers to a buffet table: "smörgås (open-faced sandwich) and bord (table)". It's different manner of buffet. More on smorgasbords.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (64 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
Incomplete without oldcountrybuffetsucks.com, which at one point featured an incredible screed about buffet management strategies.
posted by redsparkler at 8:51 PM on July 6 [29 favorites]


Oh, man, the second answer on that "How can I make the most ... " one. I knew somebody like that. "You gotta load up on meat, because it's the most expensive thing." Cripes. Eat what you like, not what you think it costs.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:54 PM on July 6 [6 favorites]




It is very, very funny to go to a buffet with someone who treats it like Supermarket Sweep. (HAMS!) I grew up on buffets, and it makes me sad that my taste has gone beyond what most of them can offer now. Sweet Tomatoes was MY JAM in college, when I was a french fry vegetarian. Indian buffet is still a-ok. Thanks for this.
posted by Lardmitten at 9:04 PM on July 6


Interesting, I had not considered the link between buffets and self control and Las Vegas before.

Psychological studies have pretty much concluded that people have a limited amount of self control in a day and that you "use it up" as you go along doing things. If people in casinos are using up their will power not over eating at the buffets, it stands to reason that they'll have less left over to moderate their gambling.

I wonder if this is a feature that the casinos depended on from the beginning, or if it's a happy accident of them trying to feed gamblers as fast as possible and getting them back to the tables.
posted by bswinburn at 9:07 PM on July 6 [5 favorites]


This post is the very definition of NOT being SLYT.
posted by hippybear at 9:26 PM on July 6 [8 favorites]


Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, do these sound like the actions of a man who has had ALL he could eat?
posted by ZaphodB at 9:28 PM on July 6 [25 favorites]


I don't min-max my food. (Generally - the Bonanza salad bar is like $8, and a steak + potato + salad bar is $11 - not a tough choice, and I've been taught that you can take the steak & potato home if you want.)

I'm that guy that starts with a salad at the buffet, has rice or cornbread with my not-exclusively-rare-stuff main plate, and generally stops eating well before I feel like I'm going to explode. "You want them to worry that if you eat at their buffet too often, they might have to close it down." No, I don't. I want them to think that I'm a profitable customer so they'll keep stocking quality food instead of buying bargain meat and not paying someone to clean the bathrooms. Those two are more closely related than people might think.

Basically, I subsidize the Homers of the world and I'm happy to do so. "Come for the freak, stay for the food!"
posted by sysinfo at 9:38 PM on July 6 [4 favorites]


When I was pregnant with my second child, I craved -- CRAVED -- raw meat. I was eating kitfo twice, three times a week. I asked my midwife if that was OK, and she said "To be honest, I'd rather have you eating a dish made with raw meat prepared by a chef who is used to working with raw meat, in a kitchen that is used to dealing with raw meat, with meat that was purchased with the knowledge that it would be eaten raw, than have you eating at the Old Country Buffet where the food has been held at god-knows-what temperature for god-knows-how long."
posted by KathrynT at 9:43 PM on July 6 [3 favorites]


Buffets are not my type of thing, unless there is cheese. I could eat cheese all day long. Just cheese, though.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:44 PM on July 6


There is a buffet in Rhode Island that costs something like $80 and they eject you after two hours, but for those two hours anything goes and they have lobster. Their posted hours start in the mid afternoon, but that's a lie; you can show up earlier and walk in with the bus crowds from the casinos.

I'll probably never go there again, but once I made it to four and a half lobsters. (The server gave me two extra claws.)
posted by cribcage at 9:49 PM on July 6 [6 favorites]




I remember the Chinese salad bar tower craze and never quite got it beyond just the engineering challenge for entertainment value. Who really wants 16 inches of watermelon cubes and onion slices held together with a mayo glue?
posted by sourwookie at 9:51 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


KokuRyu, you might find it worth your while to venture down to Seattle to the Four Seasons' ART Lounge and its cheese buffet. I haven't been, I just hear things.
posted by sysinfo at 9:55 PM on July 6 [2 favorites]


I neither love nor hate buffets, but I will never get over my amazement that several of the buffet restaurants where I went to grad school sold meal plans -- yes, there were people who ate two or three meals a day, every day, at a specific buffet restaurant, through an entire degree program. It worked because they significantly undercut the college meal plan and offered ethnic-specific dishes and advertising. Genius.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:56 PM on July 6 [3 favorites]


Yeah, rule #2. There is a legend at the local Chuck-A-Rama (yes, really) about a couple on the Atkins diet who were banned from the restaurant after an hours-long meat binge.
posted by freejinn at 9:59 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


Best all you can eat buffet in Seattle: Benihana's all you can eat sushi lunch buffet. For under 20 bucks including tip, you get pretty decent quality sushi. There is a charge of 1 dollar for every ball of rice not eaten. So could get pricey for low carbers.
posted by prodigalsun at 10:09 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


I am horrified of food left out in buffets / steam tables beyond all reason. People who eat from NY delis are the bravest and I can barely do Whole Foods. Spiders, bugs, flying, heights, whatever — all good, no phobia. The buffet tho — eesh.
posted by dame at 10:31 PM on July 6


Buffets in Vegas follow a pattern. They're great when they first open, then they proceed on the long slide towards the hollow pit that is unlimited fried chicken, prime rib and watery soft serve suck -- every damn time.
posted by smidgen at 10:34 PM on July 6


I am horrified of food left out in buffets / steam tables beyond all reason. People who eat from NY delis are the bravest and I can barely do Whole Foods.

Especially when it's half-off after 3pm or whatever. Just, no thank you.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:34 PM on July 6


I stopped eating at NY Chinese buffets after finding a half a cockroach in my partially eaten sesame chicken.
posted by smidgen at 10:35 PM on July 6


You found real meat in the sesame chicken?
posted by benzenedream at 10:40 PM on July 6 [15 favorites]


Incomplete without oldcountrybuffetsucks.com, which at one point featured an incredible screed about buffet management strategies.

That screed, wow! It reads like an entry in a Faux Jim Thompson contest. Not for the faint of heart.
posted by Pudhoho at 11:01 PM on July 6 [2 favorites]




so they'll keep stocking quality food instead of buying bargain meat and not paying someone to clean the bathrooms. Those two are more closely related than people might think.

There is an amazing buffet place in Edinburgh but the bathrooms go from spotless to clivebarkerhorror in the first 20 minutes of opening and stay in that state till closing.

Great scran though.
posted by gnuhavenpier at 1:14 AM on July 7


If you're ever in Nottingham, UK, it's worth visiting the Red Hot World Buffet. It's two floors below ground in what is basically a huge concrete bunker, lit up with lots of neon and other signage so that it looks like a sort of weird futuristic marketplace. The place is pure science fiction.

The food is slightly better than average for a UK buffet place. But the food is secondary, really.
posted by pipeski at 3:53 AM on July 7


Incomplete without oldcountrybuffetsucks.com, which at one point featured an incredible screed about buffet management strategies.

That screed, wow! It reads like an entry in a Faux Jim Thompson contest. Not for the faint of heart.


It's. From. This. Year.

Somehow, I missed the date at the top, and got about a third of the way through this pre-GeoCities-format amazingness before I saw "2014."

The mind, she boggles.
posted by Etrigan at 4:19 AM on July 7 [8 favorites]


As a compulsive optimiser I force myself to avoid these places. I'm good at it, I can "win", I can get truly amazing value - but then I regret the massive waste, the unnecessary calories, and the ingestion of material which is, let's face it, normally not amazing.

Given the choice I'd probably shut them all down. That might be a terrible thing to say; who am I to try to control what other people put into their mouths? While I wouldn't dream of criticising any individual obese person for being fat, I think in general everyone is aware that being hugely overweight is not a good thing (and I've yet to hear of a person who decided to become huge and then did it for non Hollywood reasons) and I'm pretty sure there's some connection between AYCE and this big public health issue based on the average size of the customers. If I opened a "all you can smoke" bar where you pay $20 and get given unlimited cigarettes to smoke in the space of an hour, I think public opinion would go against me - but is it really that different?
posted by dickasso at 4:31 AM on July 7


I am fascinated by buffets. I go to an Old Country Buffet once a year just to soak it in. It's interesting to see what items are emptied as soon as they come out of the kitchen (at our location fried shrimp goes as fast as they can fry it), and what sits all day (never seen a cube of green jello move). What are the loss leaders? Can I recognize any of the entree items in the prepared salads? Who eats what? Where do people sit?

And the people-watching? Amazing. Whole church groups and scout troops. Extended families. Old folks. I don't run into any of these types in my daily life, ever, and it makes me uneasy. I like to be reassured they actually exist.

Although I have seen people pile their plates high, I have never seen anyone stuffing themselves or obviously gaming the system. Just folks doing their thing. I have, however, seen a boy stick a bratwurst into a chocolate fountain. So avoid those.
posted by apparently at 5:16 AM on July 7 [3 favorites]


A banquet dinner served "buffet style" at an event is one thing. But never-ending buffets are horrifying incubators of unspeakable things.
posted by slkinsey at 5:28 AM on July 7 [1 favorite]


The food is slightly better than average for a UK buffet place.

Talk about damning with the faintest of praise.

Even though it's unlimited food, I just realized that I don't think of the Brazilian churrascaria places as being the same as the usual buffet restaurants; there's something different about the food coming to you instead of you coming to the food. (And in the US, they are priced significantly higher than normal buffet restaurants.)
posted by Dip Flash at 5:35 AM on July 7


If I opened a "all you can smoke" bar where you pay $20 and get given unlimited cigarettes to smoke in the space of an hour, I think public opinion would go against me - but is it really that different?

People actually need to eat to stay healthy, and feeding large families can be expensive but I don't think "not having to cook" should be something limited to well-off people, so yes, it is that different.
posted by jaguar at 6:12 AM on July 7 [3 favorites]


I'm pretty sure there's some connection between AYCE and this big public health issue based on the average size of the customers.

There's an increasing amount of evidence that shows that how much people (particularly Americans) eat is less a factor in obesity than we thought, and that what people eat is even more of a thing than we suspected. Buffets are no worse in that regard than the majority of places where one can buy prepared food these days.
posted by Etrigan at 6:16 AM on July 7


That screed is amazing. I could imagine an audible deep breath -- and another personal-space-invading half-step forward -- between each paragraph.

Sadly, even though their <blink> tag works in my browser, I couldn't get my laptop screen to emit flecks of spittle in quite the same way as the page's original composer.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:20 AM on July 7 [5 favorites]


Incomplete without oldcountrybuffetsucks.com,

Metafilter: ALL of the preceding is based upon information and belief!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:33 AM on July 7 [1 favorite]


According to an unnamed chain buffet industry insider, all uptake of food trays are entered into a global database so that certain mercurial balancing acts can be accomplished to ensure that profits are maintained. Sometimes you'll notice that certain locations will have removed delicacies like prime ribs and replaced them with more generic fare as part of some sports-related or holiday-related event. You'll think how savvy are you to be such a regular and to have noticed this one time the inner workings of the place you frequent. But no, you don't have a clue, you're an ant on someone's leg who who hears the thrum of a beating heart which you've mistaken for an earthquake. Every steak you worf ends up being entered into some byzantine spreadsheet, every apple crumble inputted by hand, every dollop of banana pudding accounted for. You think you can just eat to bursting and game the system? You're nothing, pal! You and your kind are already accounted for and nothing short of a true revolution will ever change that.
posted by saucy_knave at 6:54 AM on July 7 [2 favorites]


It isn't clear to me why buffet prime rib is supposed to be such a treat -- some really fatty steak left sitting out at medium (or whatever they're cooking to)? Such excitement!
posted by mr. digits at 7:03 AM on July 7


People actually need to eat to stay healthy, and feeding large families can be expensive but I don't think "not having to cook" should be something limited to well-off people, so yes, it is that different.
AYCE is an incentive to consume (much) more than necessary, and the prices are set so it's more expensive to do that than to go to a similar-quality non-AYCE place and eat a "normal" amount of food. It's cheaper per lb of food but not cheaper per meal. Also, payment is per person; if someone's not hungry, you lose out on 'value' too. If the implication is that AYCE is the only way low-income people can eat out, that's quite disingenuous. What it offers beyond an ordinary restaurant is nothing to do with staying healthy or feeding large families, hence the smoking comparison.
There's an increasing amount of evidence that shows that how much people (particularly Americans) eat is less a factor in obesity than we thought, and that what people eat is even more of a thing than we suspected.
While that's true (though still hotly disputed; theories change every few years), there's no avoiding the fundamental energy equation. I've observed a correlation between obesity and AYCE dining, I don't know which way causation goes but at the very least their existence is feeding the problem
posted by dickasso at 8:00 AM on July 7 [1 favorite]


"Portion Control" and AYCE are diametrically opposed. That said, "Mongolian BBQ" -- the convergence of MYO Sundaes and AYCE buffets -- rocks ( neither Mongolian nor BBQ actually, but hey, I cut my teeth doing QA code at the sandpaper factory, which itself is neither sand, nor paper so the cognitive dissonance is familiar at least )
posted by mikelieman at 8:10 AM on July 7


hippybear : This post is the very definition of NOT being SLYT.

I'm going with "it's the very definition of a SLYT, served all-you-can-watch buffet style.

And the non-Youtube link is the guy who will make your custom omelet or Mongolian Barbecue fry-up.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:33 AM on July 7


When I was a kid and my dad took us to the Shoney's buffet--does Shoney's even exist anymore?--I pretty much just ate the strawberry/banana fruit salad thing and the occasional powdered doughnut. I am sure I was forced to eat a protein of some kind or another, but I always made a beeline for that particular fruit dish.
posted by Kitteh at 8:57 AM on July 7 [1 favorite]


I built the Golden Corral website about 8-9 years ago. Sure enough, still the same site.
posted by Mick at 9:07 AM on July 7 [6 favorites]


I keep imagining that Old Country Buffet screed as dramatic readings done by various celebrities, or as comments written by various mefites, and it just gets better and better and better.
posted by elizardbits at 11:03 AM on July 7 [1 favorite]


I love being treated for dinner by Warren Buffet. I wouldn't say I love Warren Buffet, but it's a very reasonable way to eat out.
posted by Drexen at 11:11 AM on July 7 [1 favorite]


Although I have seen people pile their plates high, I have never seen anyone stuffing themselves or obviously gaming the system.

I watched a man get himself ejected from a Royal Fork.
He was seated in a booth adjacent to the carving station, gorging on roast beef, his table a midden of gravy-streaked plates.
Watching him eat was like visiting the hyena pit at feeding time.
Every few minutes, the man rose from his table and grunted at the carver for another helping - demonstratively unhappy he was limited to two slices per visit...
When the carver slipped into the kitchen for a new roast, the man snatched the remainder of the old roast - an inch thick and big around as a platter - with both hands, and began gnawing on it as he made way to his booth.
The carver returned shortly thereafter, instantly connected the dots, and marched smartly back to the kitchen with the new roast still in hand.
Several unpleasant but absolutely magnetic details later, the manager - flanked by two burly guys from the kitchen - appeared:
detached the tattered slab of beef from the man, the man from the table, then escorted him to the sidewalk.
posted by Pudhoho at 12:08 PM on July 7 [3 favorites]


Pudhoho: what are these magnetic details?

Also, AYCE buffet style is not just a guarantee of food wastage (with unpopular items), it is absolutely a guarantee that people will eat far more than they normally would. Every chef knows this; if you're doing a plated dinner for 100 people you can control the portions. If you're doing a buffet for 100 people you have to make food for at least 150. With some foods you can somewhat control portioning by putting them out in discrete servings, but so often people who would eat e.g. one chicken breast and be happy with it will grab five pieces of fried chicken.

That being said, my neighbour and I go out for AYCE sushi every so often. We rarely leave wanting to explode, but for a late-ish lunch it's perfect; usually about $14 here, and everything is freshly made when you order it. The only difference between that format and a regular sushi place is that you can keep ordering without paying more. Sure, you're not getting Jiro Dreams of Sushi levels of quality, but it's decent and cheap and you can provide your own portion control. We usually eat slightly more than we would otherwise, but nothing like Pudhoho's story for example. Someone upthread mentioned it's different when they bring the food to you, and it really is.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:32 PM on July 7


I watched a man get himself ejected from a Royal Fork.
He was seated in a booth adjacent to the carving station, gorging on roast beef, his table a midden of gravy-streaked plates.
Watching him eat was like visiting the hyena pit at feeding time.
Every few minutes, the man rose from his table and grunted at the carver for another helping - demonstratively unhappy he was limited to two slices per visit...
When the carver slipped into the kitchen for a new roast, the man snatched the remainder of the old roast - an inch thick and big around as a platter - with both hands, and began gnawing on it as he made way to his booth.
The carver returned shortly thereafter, instantly connected the dots, and marched smartly back to the kitchen with the new roast still in hand.
Several unpleasant but absolutely magnetic details later, the manager - flanked by two burly guys from the kitchen - appeared:
detached the tattered slab of beef from the man, the man from the table, then escorted him to the sidewalk.


I'm imagining this comment read by William Shatner and it might be my favorite thing ever.
posted by winna at 12:45 PM on July 7 [5 favorites]


Growing up we had a thing called Fresh Choice, which as an 11-year old I thought was the BEST. Like I'd do most anything to go there and I couldn't understand why my mom acted like I was dragging her to a circle of hell. Having gone back once in the last 10 years I can understand it now. I think as a kid I was definitely 'profit' for them and my mom definitely was. I wonder if there is a correlation between children and buffets?
posted by Carillon at 12:47 PM on July 7


Just out of college, we would hit the local AYCE sushi place hard. One friend was even the designated closer who would make sure our plates would be emptied so we weren't charged any overages. But we notice more and more rolls were laden with mayo, filler designed to slow us down. I eventually gave up on the place.

I know that, for the most part, AYCE is designed to get you to spend more than normal, but if I'm hungry and going out for sushi it tends to actually be cheaper to get the AYCE option.

I just moved to an Indian neighborhood and have quickly determined that the best Indian buffet around is the one with the least amount of options. Having 8 really good curries to choose from is much better than 20 mediocre ones.
posted by thecjm at 12:53 PM on July 7


Holy fucking shit this screed is a) astounding, and b) the very definition of entitlement.

I suspect this guy is not a big hit at parties.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:11 PM on July 7


My college friend, a petite blonde with a voracious appetite and a somewhat aggressive demeanor, once got us thrown out of an all you can eat running sushi place. She had refused to eat the rice and just kept on eating more and more slices of fish.
It was an interesting ethical dilemma in theory, but excruciatingly embarassing for me in practice.
Fueled by this injustice, the friend became a lawyer.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:15 PM on July 7


Why didn't she just order sashimi then? Or did they not offer it? (all AYCE sushi places here do, albeit a limited selection)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:17 PM on July 7


I don't think they had sashimi. This was 18 years ago, when sushi was still considered exotic and weird. Sashimi is typically more expensive and this was a cheapish deal.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:25 PM on July 7


previously: buffet strategy guide
posted by porn in the woods at 3:19 PM on July 7


Also please go read that incredible "article" on the perfidy of the Old Country "Buffet".
This website appears everywhere on the web all across the nation and it circumnavigates the globe! A "blog" indeed! I believe that this was his feeble attempt at impressing me about how learned he about cyberspace and what exactly comprises it! Well, in short he failed miserably! Read on to find out what else he failed miserably at!

Seems to me like he knows little or nothing about which he speaks! Not too smart! Perhaps he'll understand much better when the "guest count" at the Old Country Buffet of Bay Shore NY begins dropping steadily!

So, I am banned!
I am willing to lay a considerable sum on the bet that the person who wrote that screed wears black knee-high socks with their sandals and drives a Cadillac.
posted by winna at 3:58 PM on July 7 [1 favorite]


There are precious few buffets in the five boroughs and most are Asian. This is my favorite.
posted by jonmc at 5:16 PM on July 7


I'm imagining this comment read by William Shatner and it might be my favorite thing ever.

It also works in the voices of Peter Falk and Garry Marshall.

Apropos of Old Country Buffet, I giggle every time I see one of their commercials where the new CEO comes as close as Marketing and Legal will allow to saying, "We're trying to make it less disgusting! Honest!"
posted by MrBadExample at 7:24 PM on July 7 [1 favorite]


When I was a teenager growing up on the exurban outskirts of south-western Sydney, occasionally my stepbrothers and I would get taken to the local Pizza Hut. (It should be pointed out that pizza in Australia is generally qualitatively different to US pizza, even at Pizza Hut, but I digress.) Three growing teenage boys could pretty much eat continuously for what seemed like hours, and it was decent enough. We always wondered how they could make money on this, even to this day I still do, given that Australian food service wages are decent, but I guess our gluttonous former selves were the exception?
posted by ephemerae at 10:16 PM on July 7


We always wondered how they could make money on this, even to this day I still do

"The large cheese pie that sells for $16 to $20 probably only cost $2.50 in ingredients."
posted by benzenedream at 10:53 PM on July 7 [3 favorites]


We always wondered how they could make money on this, even to this day I still do

"The large cheese pie that sells for $16 to $20 probably only cost $2.50 in ingredients."


The highest cost line for any restaurant is staff. Replenishing a buffet takes much less staff time than waiting on tables.
posted by Etrigan at 6:59 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]


When I was in high school I worked at an all you can eat salad bar. We used to laugh so much at the amazing precision efforts people would make piling their plates as high as they could with mountains of food - edible architecture at its finest. The thing was, it was all you can eat. Meaning they were welcome to go back to the buffet for more at any time.
posted by hazyjane at 11:02 AM on July 8


> People who eat from NY delis are the bravest

I used to be one of those brave people but then this happened at a deli I ate at regularly. I no longer am brave.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:41 PM on July 8


Oooooh!

I need to really digest this post.

I LOOOOOOOOOVE AYCE. Seriously. I used to positively subsist on these things.

I've always been a big eater, and when I was in college I ran track (badly) but as a result had a terrifyingly large caloric capacity. At the time I lived near a (then) inexpensive wholesale poulter where I could acquire very large (>1lb uncooked) chicken breasts in bulk. I would consume one of these at every meal (three per day), along with a pound of yogurt at breakfast, and a huge bowl of oatmeal, and then ate "normally" and snacked throughout the day. As a skinny runner, I was convinced I could reach 200lbs if I just ate hard enough (nearly impossible in your early 20s if you're doing over 60 miles of roadwork a week). (years later I discovered the key to gaining weight: stop running. 240lbs came much more easily than I would've liked)

When I did eat out, I was on an never-ending quest to maximize my calorie-for-dollar value.

Buffets and all-you-can-eat figured quite highly in that.

Now that I'm slightly older, they are an occasional treat. But I still get my money's worth, believe me. From time to time I re-enter "fatman mode" and I can terrify some restaurant owners to be sure.
posted by faceattack at 9:25 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]


Re: Old Country Buffet Screed; Am I the only one who feels like he is channelling Ignatius J. Reilly?
posted by tvgraphicsguy at 11:38 AM on July 9 [2 favorites]


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