Don’t get it twisted: buffets are more than just a meal, they are a complete gastronomic workout. Depending on the kind of buffet you’re going for, it’s always best to have some semblance of a strategy going in, just so you get the most burp for your buck (get it, ‘burp’ instead of ‘bang’ because it’s about food? Anyway).
Of course, if you’re going for an $8 buffet, this might not apply. But, if you’re willing to loosen the purse strings and go somewhere a little fancier than your local pizza chain, you’re going to have to pre-plan your buffet approach, especially if it’s a fancy joint. And if it is fancy, don’t forget to review your good buffet etiquette and manners (you don’t want to look like a caveman, after all).
Now, you don’t need to be some kind of tactical genius to maximize your buffet experience, but you will need some basic tips:
Choose Your Buffet Carefully
Sure, you could go to one of those $8 pizza buffets or yet-another Teppanyaki place (seriously, what even is Teppanyaki?), but while those kinds of buffets are cheap, you’re going to get exactly what you pay for. Those kinds of buffets are accessible, but they’re not exactly a special occasion kind of restaurant.
If you’re looking for something a little snazzier, you’ll have to shell out around $10 to $100 depending on the place: Asian buffets are usually much cheaper than hotels that have a continental/international buffet line, but they’re usually packed no matter the time of day. Hotel buffets have so many more options and definitely have fewer people, but they’re often very pricey (prepare to shell out upwards $80 to $120 per person + taxes + tips). The upside with a hotel buffet, though, is that they usually have the expensive stuff on their line, so if you’ve ever wanted to feel like a celebrity, this is the way to go.
Do It in the Middle of the Day
It’s tempting to go for a buffet at night like it’s the main event of your special day. But think about it: you’re going to be eating your body weight in crostinis and prime rib, are you really up for digesting all of that right before you sleep? Besides, taking a date to a buffet, no matter how fancy it is, isn’t exactly the most romantic thing on earth.
Nah, the best way to maximize your buffet experience is to go during lunch. Yes, lunch. That way, you’ll have most of the afternoon to take a nap or have a couple of drinks and just generally digest everything until dinner time. It’s just so much more practical and saves you from the indignities of indigestion.
Survey the Landscape
Depending on the buffet, your choices of food are going to range from just-right to outright crazy: in fact, over in Las Vegas, the Bacchanal Buffet at Caesar’s Palace boasts more than 500 different dishes every day. Of course, there’s a very big chance that not every single thing on that menu is going to be mind-blowing, and it also doesn’t mean that you need to try every single thing on the line.
Instead, make the most out of your buffet experience by taking a few minutes before lining up to do some good old-fashioned reconnaissance. Walk down the line and survey all the food that looks interesting. Try to skip the everyday stuff (I mean, a bowl of chili is great but, if you’ve had one, you’ve had them all) and start targeting the fresh, the exotic, and the food that’s meant for special occasions.
Always Go For the Pricey Stuff First
Of course, the best way to maximize your buffet experience is to try out food you normally wouldn’t eat because of how unbelievably expensive they are. Sure, paying $100+ for a buffet is expensive as heck, but a lot of restaurants with buffets that expensive usually pull out all the stops: unlimited Alaskan King Crab, bottomless caviar, all the prime rib you can shove down your gullet, and hey, while you’re at it, put down an extra few $$$ and go for the unlimited wine and beer option, because this is America and you can do things like that! Just always use a clean plate when you go for seconds (there’s no buffet clean plate law just yet, but there should be).
But while you should be hitting up all the expensive stuff, don’t go overboard: remember, you paid $100 for this meal, it wouldn’t be great value-for-money if you just vomited it all out because you shoved plate after plate of food indiscriminately into your mouth.
Don’t Be Uncultured; Try Out New Things
Don’t get to travel much? No problem, just visit a fancy buffet! It might not exactly be the holiday you were looking for, but at least you get to try cuisines from around the world. Try out as many of the international fare as possible; you might surprise yourself by how much you might appreciate food from places you’ve never been to before.
Maximize your buffet experience by bringing out your inner Gordon Ramsay; try out as many weird and new foods as possible, and use words like “buttery mouthfeel” or “splendid aftertaste” to describe things. Sure, it might annoy your dining companions, but you paid a lot of money for the opportunity to do this!
Take Your Time
I know it’s exciting, and being in a buffet can sometimes feel like you’re trying out 5 new things at a time, but for your safety (and for your enhanced enjoyment): take your time. Stop and appreciate each food item’s appearance, flavor, smell, aroma, and just really let out the foodie in you. You paid a lot of money to be there, and the best way to maximize your buffet experience is to actually be present in the experience.
Take your time with your food! Heck, take photos and put it on the ‘gram just for the heck of it. This is the perfect time to stop and smell the roses (or potatoes).