Whether you are attending a wedding, cruising the open seas, or just going down to the local buffet, heeding these simple tips can greatly improve your all-you-can-eat experience.
Rule #1: Do a Lap Before you Commit
This one is obvious, but there's nothing worse than getting to the end of the buffet line, and having to balance a nice piece of Fillet Mignon on top of a pile of iceberg lettuce and industrial ranch dressing. Don't feel awkward about cruising the entire layout before you pick up a plate.
Rule #2: Focus on the Expensive Stuff
That's one of the beauties of the buffet, right? It's the same price if you eat only bread or only meat. Have another steak. Try some fish. If you don't eat meat, hover around the cheese or the sweets. Don't be shy.
Rule #3: Watch the Carbs
This is not an ad for the Atkins Diet; it is simply a reminder that the rice, bread, pasta or potato on your plate is guaranteed to take up valuable real estate in your stomach; you are probably better off having more lobster and toning down the carbs.
The one possible exception to this rule is when bread or pasta is being used as a vehicle for something else, such as cheese or marinara. Even in these cases, unless you're eating with your mother-in-law, we still recommend a spoon.
Rule #4: Portion Control
You can always go back and get more of something that you liked, so start with a small sample, and don't over-commit to any one dish. This will allow you to try a broader range of foods, and reduce waste of those that you don't like as much as you predicted.
Rule #5: Be Brave
You'll eat over 1,000 meals in a year, but most of them are comprised of a main course and a couple of sides. A buffet is one of the few opportunities to try all kinds of new stuff.
You just never know what will be good. Branch out of your established culinary repertoire and explore what's out there. Go ahead, try the snails.
Rule #6: Eat Slow or Fast
There are two very different schools of thought on this one, so every all-you-can-eater will have to determine what works best for them. Many people agree that scarfing down a meal will lead to over-consumption. So, if you are looking for value, just start shoveling.
The other approach is based on the prevalent (if you're Jane Austen) four-hour, fifteen-course meals. Take your time, and eat little bits of everything. With this approach, your first bites will be well-digested and out of the way when you're going back for your third plate.
Rule #7: Life is Uncertain
Before your second plate, go have a look at the dessert options. If you do it before your first, you might skip dinner altogether, which would be a blatant violation of Rules #2, 3, and 5. After your first plate, you've got a better idea of how committed you are to dinner and are therefore in a better position to determine how committed you are to dessert. This is also important as many of the best deserts may not be available after you've finished your four-hour eating marathon.
Rule #8: Don't Waste
Whenever you are at an all-you-can-eat-buffet, don't take more than you can eat. Most places donate the leftover food, or at least let the employees dive in after hours. If you leave food on your plate, it is destined for the trash and nobody gets to enjoy it.
Rule #9: Sometimes Less is More
Most of the previous rules have been geared toward delivering massive quantities of quality items. One aspect of the buffet experience that is often overlooked, is the feeling you are left with after the meal. Depending on how your digestive system works, this might represent a bloated feeling for an hour, or a groggy feeling for the next 24.
If bloatation is what you are looking for, get on with it. But, you may want to consider the aftermath as you are piling your plate.