The Burden Of The Buffet

The all-you-can-eat buffet is everywhere.  Pay one flat price, usually it’s pretty reasonable, and you can go back to the trough as many times as you like.  You can get all those new appetizers, tons of different entrees, even hit the soft-serve ice cream machine and sculpt your mountain of vanilla like the pros do.  Chinese buffets are all the rage, but they’re by no means the only type of all-you-can-eat buffet.   Now there are buffets for Indian, Japanese, Italian, and just about every cuisine imaginable.  It’s the fastest-growing sector of the restaurant industry.  Why?  It’s cheaper to operate than a traditional restaurant: less staff is needed and they’re not big on special orders.  You have it their way, but that’s OK because "their way" is to give you so many choices and options that you’re bound to find something you like.  Staff are only there to to get you another napkin or replace the fork you dropped and to clear the used plates from the table before you return from yet another convoy to the horns of plenty. 

In Las Vegas, one hotel recently announced that they’d be offering guests a “day pass” for purchase that would include, for a flat fee, the right to eat at any or all of the buffet meals for the day.  There would be the usual breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus the between-meal snacks, late-night buffet offerings, the works.  A total of SEVEN different eating occasions!  Seven opportunities to overindulge. Get this meal pass and what happens in Vegas most certainly won’t be staying in Vegas.  It’ll be with you for a long, long time!

Buffets are so popular because they push all of our food buttons:

  • The price is right.
  • You get as much as you want of whatever you want.
  • The more you eat, the bigger the bargain.

 That last one isn’t really correct.  It actually can be expensive, both financially and emotionally, and here’s why: 

  • You’ll probably gain a lot of weight and that’s expensive for your health.
  • Dieting all those pounds off can make you spend more money for special food, programs, books or meal plans, or convince you to buy expensive supplements you don’t really need.
  • It’s expensive emotionally. 

Overeating takes a huge toll on the psyche.  It’s easy to run a guilt trip on yourself, feel like you failed on some level, or start to feel like you’ll never gain power over the whole eating thing.  It can even be a recipe for depression. The truth is that some people just don’t do well in buffet-type situations.  Maybe you’re one of them and that’s OK.  The “failure” (I don’t like that word but it’s what a lot of people feel) is in putting yourself in that situation in the first place.  Elderly cousins of mine loved a certain type of specialty chocolates.  They were given a huge, five-pound box and figured this would be their daily treat for some time to come and they wouldn’t need any other treats or desserts in the house because they’d eat these a little at a time.  Wrong.  The box lasted only three days.   

‘Fessing up 

The “failure” was in not recognizing what kind of eaters they really were.  Maybe impulse control around food – or at least some types of food – just isn’t your strong suit.  Admit it and tell yourself it’s OK, because it is.  Then resolve not to put yourself into situations that push those very buttons.   “Perceived” bargain notwithstanding, for many people it’s better to just avoid the buffet thing whenever possible.  No big deal, they’re not a necessary part of life.  Feeling in control of your life IS necessary for good self-esteem, better mental outlook, and eating habits. 

If there’s no alternative or you find yourself trapped in buffet hell for whatever reason, here are some pointers:

  • Treat the buffet not as a culinary extravaganza, but as mere sustenance. 
  • Have a plan.  Not having a plan is a sure-fire trip to calorie hell.
  • Head for the low-calorie stuff first and fill up on it.  For THESE items you can have repeats.
  • Have one “indulgence” item in a reasonable amount, whether it’s an entrée, appetizer-type item, or dessert.
  • Walk out with your head high and as the only one in your party who went to the buffet and did it right. Keep in mind that sometimes it’s cheaper in the long run to just go to a traditional restaurant that will give you food that helps you stay on target.  You’re not just paying for a meal when you eat in a restaurant.  You’re paying for some peace of mind.  You might as well get all that you can.