#864 Mastering the art of the all-you-can-eat buffet

Keeps your pancakes foamy

[digg=http://digg.com/food_drink/Mastering_the_art_of_the_all_you_can_eat_buffet] Munch lunch at a Chinese restaurant, brunch at a Holiday Inn, or dinner at a wedding reception, and chances are good you will come face to face with the The All-You-Can-Eat Buffet.

If you’re a Buffet Amateur like me, your pupils dilate and your mouth starts watering as soon as you spot the long table full of steam trays and criss-crossed table cloths. Soon it’s game on, and you grab a plate and pile it high with some bread, a few salads, and a couple rolled-up salamis or a bowl of Won Ton soup. For plate number two you tackle the entrees, scooping up sticky heaps of Kung Pao chicken, soggy French Toast, or paper-thin slices of roast beef soaking in dark mushroom gravy. Then you go back for a third plate, this one featuring a tipsy mountain of desserts — maybe some assorted squares, a thick, gummy slice of cheesecake, or some fluorescent pink, freezer-burned ice cream sliding around your plate.

It begins

Then as you lay bloated on your chair, your buttons bursting, your eyelids drooping, you face a final decision: Do you go back for The Fourth Plate?

The Fourth Plate is almost always a good idea before you do it and a bad idea afterwards. It’s the helping after the helping after. It’s the Greatest Hits Plate, a star-studded collection featuring the most popular items from Plate 1, 2, and 3, coming together for the reunion tour, the last hurrah, the final dance at the dinner table.

The Fourth Plate is also a famous mark of a Buffet Amateur, because it can be the sign of someone who realizes that Plate 2 was the best plate and they really just want more of Plate 2. For years, I scarfed down The Fourth Plate at the Indian buffet near my college. Buttery, pillowy-soft naans piled high, thick and creamy Butter Chicken, and spicy, simmering lamb in a hearty broth. It was just too much. I caved in every time and walked away with a curry-busting gut and a samosa hangover.

Since then I’ve been tutored on the art of mastering the all-you-can-eat buffet. Everybody’s got their own techniques, but here’s what I’ve learned over the years:

Be a Sherlock and do a walk through

1. The Walk-Through. Don’t do what I used to do and blindly take a spoonful of everything. No, you’ve got to do your Walk-Through First. You’re a detective, popping open steam tray after steam tray, looking for recent fill-ups, traffic around popular items, and sure winners like omelet stations or a guy in a chef’s hat slicing big slabs of meat. Now’s also time for some Belly Space Analysis, where every item’s Tasty Deliciousness is weighed against it’s Projected Stomach Volume. Bread, soup, and salad rarely pass the Belly Space Analysis test. Skipping those means you just gained an extra plate and are on your way.

2. Drink Later. Sugary drinks just fill you up with carbs and cost extra. If you can postpone your Pepsi, then you’ll save belly space for the hot goods.

The Sampler takes willpower and strength

3. The Sampler. My dad is famous for the sampler plate. Within minutes of arriving he’ll dot a big white plate with small portions of every entree and proceed to say “Hmmm,” a lot while scooping up tiny forkfuls of each to see what will make the cut. You have to have willpower to pull off The Sampler, but it can be very rewarding. You know you aced it when your next plate is just piles of your two favorites. Good on ya.

4. Staggered Trips. If you’re with friends, don’t wait until everybody is done their first plate before uniformly filing up for a second trip together. No, go separately and act as each others eyes and ears out there — whats new, what’s hot, what’s fresh, what’s not. Your friends are doing their job when you see them running back to table to scream “They just brought out more coconut shrimp!” Also, be sure to designate someone at your table to be The Lookout. They should be seated with a clear view of the buffet and raise alarm whenever they see someone coming from the back with a new steam tray.

the-lookout-doing-his-job5. Big Plates Always. Be watchful of the small salad and dessert plates lurking about. Find your secret stash of full-size dinner plates and use them, know them, love them lots. The big plates will let you spread your meal around, and avoid piling things high, which generally results in meat gravy getting all over your salad.

One more egg roll

6. One More Egg Roll. When the check arrives, take your time. Slow it right down now and see who still has room. Since you’ve been so busy scarfing your food and staggering trips, now really is the best chance to catch up with your friends. Then after ten or fifteen minutes, someone will likely cave in and say “Okay, one more egg roll.” This is buffet victory.

With these tips plus your personal experiences, you too can master the art of the all-you-can-eat buffet. After that, there’s really no stopping you. So eat all you can, my friend.

Eat all you can.



Photos from: here, here, here, here, here, and here

187 thoughts on “#864 Mastering the art of the all-you-can-eat buffet

  1. JEeeeeeeeez. Why did you have to remind me of buffets??? I sooooo miss them. We don’t get them here where I live…

    I love the chinese buffets and hotel buffets… I’m cuckoo bout them.

    Great article! Jus’ made my mouth water. LOL

    Good advice on the beverage, but, let’s be honest, who can leave the coke for later? Seriously. =))))))

    As for the sampling, that’s great. I always try and do it, but unfortunately it’s either that my hands are clumsy, the pieces are big, or simply that my eyes just can’t take that much pleasure, that I never seem to make it right. :P I only get to the plate filled half/half on my next visit to the restaurant.

    And I get pretty much filled up after the first plate so 2nd is the best I had so far. :-/ 4th? Tha’s just a dream. :)

  2. First of all, where on this planet (that isn’t some third world country full of failures and scum… or West Virginia) DOESN’T have All You Can Eat Buffets? I live in the dumpiest and most meth-covered city in Tennessee, saved only by a Cow College, and we have no less than 13 buffets. Indian, Thai, 4 Chinese, Japanese, Fat-Ass American, even Fatter-Ass American, 2 Pizza Buffets, Seafood (Tennessee’s version of seafood, anyway. Bottom feeding Cumberland dweller) and Chicken.
    City Population – less than 20,000.

    B. I am the master of the buffet. Bottomless Dave, they call me. I am a remorseless eating machine that has been known to close the buffet by devouring everything faster than they can cook more.

    C, And more seriously. Around here, the illegals can always be found at the buffets. Why? Because they pay $8 apiece, and just sit there all day. Eating lunch, snacks and then waiting around 6 more hours for supper. And they all have two things in common. They’re all criminals and ne’er-do-wells, and they all scream “La Migra!” and scatter like waterbugs whenever an INS guy comes in. In all directions. Out of every possible exit. It’s a thing of beauty.

    1. You must have been raised in a third-world country to think that West Virginia is comparable to one. This is one of those most close-minded and imbecilic comments it has ever been my displeasure to read on any website – ever.

      1. I disagree with the whole race thing, there is good in all of us. WV is a good proof of that, think of all the white trash in WV. I wouldn’t say its a third world ish, but it\s not to far off.

  3. Have you ever been on a cruise? Because that is the place of the ultimate buffet.

    Especially the midnight buffets.

    When, by all rights, you should not even be eating anyway.

    But somehow. You do.

  4. I love all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets but I always make the mistake of taking too much steamed white rice. What a waste! But I cannot help it.

    1. One of my really good friends is Chinese. When he was a kid his parents taught him not to bother taking rice at Chinese buffets…JUST GO FOR THE MEAT AND SEAFOOD is the important life lesson they instilled in him…he was kind enough to pass that on to me. Rice is indeed a waste of precious stomach space at a buffet!

    1. On the rock n roll road when we were broke we did better than an eight buck buffet. 7-11 here in canada used to have hot burger wrapped in foil under like a heat lamp. they’d have an expiry time, like two hours or so then they would toss em, we’d ask the clerk if we could have them when they did and sure enough we’d score nine times out of ten, fuck we ate a lot of burgers back then, scammed a lot of fast food stores and even got free beer. The beer was the best, i think one day we got like seven 24’s(24 bottles) How? well we would take our empty’s and fill like half of a case of them with water and recap them(twist of caps!), put caps on some empty ones and smash them, put them back in a case which we opened from the bottom, place in garbage bag pour some beer left over from the night before to get that freshly broken case smell, we’d call the beer store say the bottom fell out of our case and voila, “bring it on in and we’ll give you another case” so sweet to be sly! now that was fucking awesome…!

      1. Where I come from (Chicago) The beer thing wouldn’t work very well…Oh well…Sorry about your luck…Next time, hold it from the bottom…Now get the F&^K out of here…

  5. Once again, another entry that I’ve been waiting for you to post.

    Like the others here, I have mastered the art of the buffet. I always leave after at least four plates. I don’t eat bread or salad, but I just can’t resist the soda.

    Has anyone ever listened to John Pinette’s standup? It mostly consists of his love for the buffet.

    I’ve heard about Dave’s feats. One time he ate all their shrimp and two plastic lobsters.

  6. Chinese buffets are awesome because you can just pile chicken on your plate. No rice, no veggies, just chicken.
    Also, in hillbilly parts of Ohio (Bowling Green), there are KFC buffets. What a concept!

    1. “Also, in hillbilly parts of Ohio (Bowling Green), there are KFC buffets. What a concept!”

      OMG – KFC Buffets – That’s an all time classic AWESOME :o)
      King Of England

  7. I agree that it’s silly to waste perfectly good stomach space on something like salad and soda. That’s an everyday food! Why waste good space on stuff you can have anytime.

  8. For shame, promoting such an obesity inducing endorsement for the shocking, revolting concept of “all you can eat” buffets.

    NAHHHHH, I’m just jerkin’ your chain…AYCE Chinese ROCKS…sometimes, you just GOTS to fill yer innards with General chicken. I don’t know that I’ve got the willpower for the sampler, but I can def. pull off at LEAST a 3 plater each and every visit. MMMMM….Sesame Chicken!!!

  9. My fav is breakfast buffets, there are not nearly enough of those where i live, i’m pretty sure i would be the happiest man around if they opened up more of those in our city. For some reason they don’t seem to be big on buffets up here, it kind of breaks my heart and makes me think of moving :P

  10. Yes, stuffing your face is fun, but one thing you don’t mention that I’ve always worried about is tipping at buffets. Usually the waitstaff only brings you your drinks, and the check with a couple of fortune cookies at the end. I’m doing most of the work, getting my own food. So what do you tip? 10%? Nothing?

  11. #2 is great. A friend of mine used to be a chef at a japanese buffet restaurant, and they were explicitly told to use extra salt/sodium in their foods. Reason being, that the patrons would drink more water, which would bloat the food in their stomachs, and prevent them from eating to their fullest capacity.

    bravo for the tips!

  12. You should also note that after plate #2 at a chinese buffet, you stop eating for taste. All the MSG, soy, sesame oil goodness starts tasting the same. At that point you go for texture.

  13. School-boy type errors all around.

    A true Master of the Buffet realises that the path to nirvana is paved only with starters.

    Never move on to the main course, unless you have just a small amount of it as a starter, but avoid the accompanying “filler” carbs (e.g. a spoonful of sweet and sour pork is acceptable, without the rice).

    Avoid the obviously deep-fried items: these make your stomach think it is full. Case in point: massive wontons with a tiny portion of filling in one corner. It’s totally acceptable in this case to just eat the corner and leave the hard greasy pastry.

    The truest test of a Chinese Buffet is the quality of their Seasame Prawn Toast: it should be succulent and juicy, with thick minced prawn flesh. If it’s just toast that smells fishy, the place ain’t no good.

    You can never have too many crispy duck pancakes, but go easy on the salad inside.

  14. Just a Side Note… Add an ‘ed’ on the end and this is what you get: Buffeted. (i.e. strike or beat) That’s generally how I feel after a trip to a buffet, like I’ve been beat about the head, neck and upper torso. Why, why Why?

  15. Having successfully eaten enough to actually get kicked out of an all you can eat once I think I can say with some authority that these tips are pretty good.

    Eat slowly. Enjoy the company, and the pace.

    Oh, and to avoid getting kicked out don’t take the entire steam tray back to your table. That really seemed to piss off the owner :)

  16. That’s positively frightening, your description of buffet eating is accurate in an uncanny and frightening manner, all the way from how most people eat at a buffet, right to the dreaded fourth plate (being the after dessert plate of a few samples of your favorite things, that’s just painfully difficult to stuff down and which always seems larger once you get it to the table).

    Bravo good sir.

    Just watch it on the all you can eat shrimp, a pair of friends and I thought we were going to make an owner cry one time, they had a -giant- bowl of steamed shrimp (chilled) with cocktail sauce… It ‘just’ about filled four plates.

    (The fourth being the reinforcements, a gent sitting beside our table who jumped to his feat when our advanced scout returned with the first plate of shrimp).

  17. Forgot to add, a KFC buffet is my personal holy grail, wish I had one within a 2 hour drive. If so…ROADTRIP!!!! =D

  18. always, always practice what i have taught my grandkids–life is too short, eat dessert first.

    or at least at the buffet, take some dessert with whatever you take–starting at the first plate. by the time you get done and are full, you have eaten what you wanted along with the dessert. if you wait until last, chances are you will walk out without dessert

  19. I’m planning on going to an all-you-can-eat buffet for New Years Eve. Cannot wait.

    I agree that it is always easy to spot those who are new to the buffet. I almost want to run over and save them from themselves.

  20. lmao. this was hilarious.

    Somehow this post has reinvigorated my love for buffets. I’m calling all my friends and we’re going to a buffet. I’m definitely going to use the advice given. Especially regarding the sampler, why did I never think of that?

  21. While I understand the temptation to “beat the system” and eat as much as you can just get maximum value for your money, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense. Around here buffets typically can range from $8 to $24 depending on the time of day or quality of restaurant(I know there is more expensive, but this is places I have visited in the last year). To me if my wife and I pay $24 a head it still manages to work out when you consider the cost if you were to buy a soup/salad, entree and a dessert would run you that much at least at a regular chain restaurant. And most people do end up with 2 entree plates anyways, so right there you’re already ahead of the game. And besides, I think Chinese food is genetically engineered to disappear from your stomach after an hour and half and leave you hungry again no matter how much of it you ate.

  22. No mention of the pre-buffet fast?

    Am I the only one fasts before the buffet to maximise “value”? Not to mention the post-buffet “I feel sick and can’t stand the sight of food” fast.

    I take “all you can eat” as a personal challenge.

  23. Another tip is that you should try to give birth to a huge dump before you eat at the buffet. This will give your body more room for food and you won’t be holding a large pile of waste that your body just wants to discard anyway. I also find that if you come into the buffet absolutely cocked, then you will eat and eat and eat. Once you leave, you might get a little sick, but at least you got your moneys worth!

  24. The REAL challenge lies within the depths of my local SUSHI buffet…The sushi is made for you but they have laws:
    1. You are only allowed to order 3 rolls at a time, and may only order the next round after you’ve finished the previous
    2. Any extra/left over sushi will result in a 5% service fee toward your bill
    3. No sharing
    It sounds like a peice of cake, at first I thought I could eat my own weight in sushi, until I realized the amount of rice, the constant refills of my water and the latency between orders…Also, alot of their irresistable and amazing designer rolls have fried shimp inside a fried roll covered in something else fried….

    Ohhh…the thought…(and to top it off, lunch is only $15.95!!)

  25. Tongan are masters at the buffet. You know the saying ” I’m sooo hungry I could eat a horse” Well we do frequently.
    ps Love the post. :-)

  26. Nice article, neat and prepared from the heart of a heartily filled one. I was reminded of my own experiences at various buffets. At receptions, parties, college celebrations. Once the fellas added something I thing bicarbonate, and my first plate, which usually is the sample plate filled me up. And they had charged 85 bucks for that! Since then I avoid paid buffets. Of course they need to use their tricks so that there aren’t elephants storming their buffets!
    Good Article, I loved it.!

  27. I have been to a number of Hotel and Chinese buffets in my time and whilst the food is not always the best at least you can be sure of not leaving the dinner table hungry :-)

  28. Once common buffet practice in the Philippines is that if you don’t finish all the food on your plate, you’re charged double.

  29. Wow, that was amazingly accurate…I’ll be sure to keep these tips in mind next time I go to a buffet :)

  30. I love visiting Chinese, Indian, and especially BBQ buffets (we have some amazing barbecue buffets down here in Charleston, SC).

    I usually go for dinner on a day where I’ve been too busy to eat lunch. This helps me maximize my plate potential. :)

    I’ve also found that warm drinks (coffee, tea, etc.) don’t tend to make you feel as full as you do when drinking cold drinks with the meal.

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