Who Wins at the All-You-Can-Eat Buffet? (Hint: It’s Not You)

An endless plate loaded with all your favorite foods may seem like a great deal. But there are things you should know before digging in at the all-you-can-eat buffet.

Catering food weddingPhoto: Shutterstock / LElik83

Although it might seem all-you-can-eat buffets are a great deal, you may be getting much more than you bargained for. Not only do buffets create an opportunity to eat more than normal, but they can also tempt you to stray from a restaurant’s healthier menu options. Plus, buffets—often a mix of cheesy, heavy, sugary options that sit around for hours—can be a stomachache waiting to happen. So heed these warnings before you dig in.

1. Everything in Moderation

It takes willpower to maintain control when you face rows of food as far as the eye can see. Resist the urge to pile up and eat quickly just because the food is there. Choose normal serving sizes. And only go up for seconds if you truly feel hungry after your first serving.

2. Cheap Generally Isn’t Tasty

You’ve heard the old adage: You get what you pay for. Studies show that this is definitely the case when it comes to the $5 all-you-can-eat buffet. While a Forbes report suggests that many vacationers even choose their hotel based on the availability of a breakfast buffet, the food often does not live up to the promise. “People set their expectation of taste partially based on the price—and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If I didn’t pay much it can’t be that good. People really ended up regretting choosing the buffet when it was cheap,” says David Just, a professor at Cornell University’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management.

So if you have the option of ordering off a menu, consider it a potentially yummier alternative.

3. Beware of Plate Size

Buffets are typically in spots where you’re already indulging, like a casino, hotel, or vacation resort, but don’t let the fun of the environment cloud your judgment.

Bigger plates and glasses are typically used, making you subconsciously more likely to fill and clear your plate. To better manage portion sizes, consider using a smaller salad or bread plate. This is a tactic people often to use to manage their weight and it helps reduce food waste. (A recent study found a 3-centimeter decrease in plate size reduced food waste by 20 percent.)

4. Arrive Early

Because most food is prepared in advance, it usually sits out for hours at a time. If possible, hit the buffet as early as possible, so you’re eating items that have just recently been put out. And keep in mind, cooks often add preservatives to keep the various dishes looking and tasting fresher longer.

If you have allergy or dietary restrictions, it can be hard to enjoy eating out. Buffets limit options further. Because you cannot personalize or substitute a side, you’ll want to steer toward the omelet station or sandwich bar. And watch out for cross-contamination. While this typically doesn’t happen when you order off the menu, your fellow buffet diners may not be aware of the harm they could inflict by switching serving utensils.

5. Food Waste

Health concerns aside, much of the food on buffets actually goes uneaten. According to this 2016 report, consumer-friendly businesses like hotels and restaurants are responsible for nearly 40 percent of all food waste.

So if you want to prevent waste—and preserve your waist—keep all these facts in mind next time you get in line at a buffet.

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Jacqueline Weiss
Jacqueline is a blogger and writer, passionate about sharing the latest in helpful tips and trends in food and cooking. In her spare time, you’ll find her trying new restaurants and experimenting in the kitchen.