Buffets: Love ’em or Hate ’em?

February 8, 2012

Photo by istolethetv

Buffets are an interesting concept, whether all-you-can eat or otherwise. They’re great in theory – prepare all sorts of dishes at once, everyone can serve themselves based on their taste and quantity preferences, and the serving dishes get replenished on an as-needed basis. You get to see your food before you eat it, try as many different items as you’d like, in a portion size to suit your liking. And who doesn’t get excited by a vast array of food options lined up before them? I’m sure there are some fantastic buffets out there, but more often than not, I’ve been disillusioned with the experience – either because of bad food, high price, overeating, or both. 

Regular (not all you can eat) Buffets

Full disclosure: I’m slightly bitter, and much more cautious ever since I got charged $18 at an Urban Fare (upscale grocery store) buffet. In my defense, it’s a themed buffet, and that night was Indian. The only food I’m more powerless over than Indian is French. Sadly, it was lousy. Which made the $18 price tag for what I actually considered to be a humble portion all the more painful. For $18, I could have had some great Indian food. But with these buffets, it’s always the same trap – some price that seems like a steal, e.g. $1.99/100 g, an assortment of food that looks too good to pass up, and no scales to be seen. You only do something like that once though. I now tend to under-buy at these buffets, once bitten twice shy. I saw a girl at Whole Foods the other day with a box packed full of their buffet food. You only do that once, I thought to myself. She was about to pay dearly for her mistake. I had to show some self-restraint to not tell her so. There really should be scales around if they’re going to charge you by weight. But that would make too much sense. And they wouldn’t make nearly as much money.

All You Can Eat Buffets

At an all you can eat buffet, on the other hand, there are no hidden costs. You know upfront what the damage will be. The more important question is, will it be worth it? Since they know you’re going to stuff yourself silly, they price accordingly, and usually add a premium above and beyond just in case. How often do you come across an all you can eat buffet that’s truly a good value? So what do we do, having overpaid and committed? Fill our bellies, repeatedly, to get our money’s worth. It typically ends up being a lose-lose. Not only did you overpay, but you feel like crap after, waddling out of the restaurant. And in most instances, the food isn’t even that great – it’s been sitting in those heated trays for way too long, and is generally meant to appeal to the masses, lacking quality and creativity. Sometimes you go to one of these for the sheer gluttony, or the experience of it. For example, I have no regrets about trying out the Le Village Buffet at Paris in Las Vegas. Once in a blue moon, you’re pleasantly surprised – for example, I had a great New Year’s brunch buffet.

“Special” Diets

For people on “special” diets, buffets are great with one caveat. You can pick and choose based on your dietary preferences. But only if you can tell what the dish actually is. Most times they’ll be labels, but they’re rarely very descriptive. You’re left guessing what ingredients have actually been used. From past inquiries, it’s actually quite impressive how they’re able to put flour in just about anything.

My ideal buffet would be one that’s reasonably priced and offers good quality food, obviously. But those kind of buffets seem hard to come by. I think they’re definitely great though for large groups of people, like at company Christmas parties or weddings. Otherwise, I tend to opt out most of the time.

What has your experience been with buffets?

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