This past weekend, as I was sitting in a restaurant for Mother’s Day buffet, a tradition in my family that nobody has any good explanation for, a powerful realization came into my mind. It was something that had always rattled around in my brain, but I was always afraid to admit it, for once it has been spoken there’s no going back; that’s all I’d be able to think. I said aloud, to no one in particular, “I hate buffets.” My friends, I felt as if a great weight had been lifted!
I can certainly see the appeal of all-you-can-eat buffets. Let’s go in to the restaurant, grab a plate, then go to town! Want five dinner rolls in one trip? That’s your right! Dessert first? Why the hell not! A platter of mashed potatoes AND sweet potatoes? Reach out and TAKE IT! IT’S YOURS! IT’S ALL YOURS!!
A typical first course.
But once you look deeper, you find the glaring flaws. I’ve never left a buffet and thought, “Yeah, I feel good about that.” Let’s break it down into the key points of appeal.
1) UNLIMITED FOOD
If you’re going into a buffet restaurant, chances are you and your party are all very hungry. This seems to be the only time a buffet is sought out, when a group of people are unanimously hungry. This isn’t a “Are you hungry, bro? – Yeah I could eat.” scenario. This is more of a “OH MY GAWD, I’M STARVING, WHERE CAN I EAT ALL THE FOOD” sort of thing. This also affords starving people of different body types and food capacities the same freedom to eat to their stomach’s content. Of course, this always ends the same way, regardless of body type; crippling stomach pains and a sense of shame. Just because you CAN eat fives plates of food doesn’t mean you should. And if you’re going to limit yourself, why not just go to a “real” restaurant?
2) SERVE YOURSELF
When you’re hungry, you don’t want to wait. You don’t want to establish a relationship with another human being to get to food and drink. You need to remove as many things from this equation as possible. In buffet-style restaurants, usually you pay to get in, put in a drink order, and never see these strangers again. Some locations take this a step further, and put the drink fountains out on the floor where patrons are free to serve themselves. This was the biggest appeal of going to a buffet when I was a child; I could head over to the machine and get all the ice cold milk that I wanted. That sounds pretty gross now, milk with dinner-type foods, but I really liked milk.
Then there is the issue of having to deal with crowds of people with the same idea.
Of course, things aren’t always as they seem. Many times the check still comes after the server has concluded that everyone has stuffed themselves enough. A shocking facet of the bill appears: “TIP”. ”What tip?!” you scoff, “I did all the work!” And yet, you are still expected to pay more, and if you are a decent human being, you will, adding a small percentage to an already exorbitant cost, as these buffet restaurants are often quite expensive.
3) VARIETY OF FOOD
Similar to reason number 1, going for a variety is also usually a source of appeal for buffet dining. Family and friends of discerning and picky tastes can often find refuge in at least one of the many different rows of food on display. Adventurous types can try a bit of everything, proclaiming themselves a world traveler of culinary delights. An egg roll with your french fries? A taco next to that gyro? My, such a diverse plate, quite the consumable United Nations you have there!
Unfortunately, as is almost always the case with buffet restaurants, the food sucks. In fact, the greater the variety, the greater the degree of suck. If there isn’t a mathematical formula for this yet, there should be. It should be rather easy to derive.
So my friends, next time you’re out with your loved ones and you’re all hankering for an unlimited food binge, I ask you to remember these simple lessons. Surely the discomfort that will inevitably come is not worth the price of admission. My eyes are now open, where once only my belt buckle was!