Buffet Etiquette 101

Help out your fellow man: Don't be an all-you-can-eat amateur

I can say this while suspending all modesty: I am a buffet expert.

Want my credentials? Read 'em and weep:

· I've written about buffets and buffet etiquette for three publications before; I was even on the cover of one of these publications, the Reno News & Review, wearing a Hawaiian-style shirt and looking like the Biggest Dweeb Ever, under the headline, "Jimmy's Buffets." (This was not my idea; my editor at the time apparently liked mortifying people. And seeing yourself on the cover of 28,000 copies of a newspaper in full-on Dork Mode is definitely mortifying.)

· I lived in both Reno and Las Vegas, the buffet capitals of the world, before moving to Tucson.

So there.

Anyway, my goal today with this piece is to educate you, my fine fellow Tucsonans, on the dos and don'ts of buffet etiquette. There are a number of all-you-can-eat buffets around town--from crappy chain places where the median customer age is 87 (yes, South Park has covered this topic before) to amazing lunch buffet bargains (the quasi-orgasmic spread at Gandhi Cuisine of India comes to mind as a fine example) to occasional upscale buffet events in those foothills resorts that make us regular schlubs feel like po' folk.

And now, it's time for some learnin'.

1. No matter how much the standards of fairness and justice cry out for you to do it, please avoid smacking the person in front of you who has not grasped (pun alert!) the concept of using tongs. We've all been there, standing behind a cretin who grabs each small piece of lettuce individually, dropping about 73 percent of the pieces anyway; as a result, it takes this person 27 minutes to successfully transfer a satisfactory amount of lettuce to his/her/its plate. It may be very tempting to knock them down and give them a swirlie in the raspberry vinaigrette dressing, but you must avoid doing this. You could very well get thrown out of the restaurant, and charged with assault. (Although if you are charged with assault, and the case goes to trial, it's likely you'll get acquitted by a sympathetic jury.)

2. Tip your waiters and waitresses. Even though you are getting your own food, they're still cleaning up your massive piles of plates and bowls and whatnot; at many buffets, they're getting your drinks, too. They also deserve credit and financial compensation for not laughing at you as you waddle to the dessert bar for your fifth helping of pie.

3. Whatever you do, do not die at a buffet. It ruins the mood for your fellow eaters. I swear to God this actually happened at a buffet I was at once: Someone keeled over while dishing up some food, and had to be hauled out, covers over head, on a stretcher. This was both depressing and appetite-ruining.

4. For the sake of all those around you: Do not feel the need to test the sneeze guards to see how effective they are.

5. Avoid staring at the morbidly obese person who is eating at the buffet. It seems there's one at every buffet, all the time, and although it is a challenge to NOT count how many times that person goes back for more gravy, doing so is just rude.

6. In a similar vein, do not hurl dinner rolls at skinny people who are making their seventh trip to the buffet. It's not their fault that God blessed them with a metabolism that you would kill for. It also doesn't necessarily mean that God loves them more than he loves you. Necessarily.

7. Don't eat too much during the meal just before you go to the buffet. Let's pretend you're going to dinner at a buffet. If you're like most people, it does not matter whether you ate merely a small salad with a Diet Mr. Pibb for lunch, or you ate a Six Dollar Burger® along with a large fries and a Coke the size of a tanker truck, and then followed that with a quadruple Mocha Frappuchino®. Either way, you'll pork out when you get to the buffet for dinner. Buffets are not for dieting or moderation. (Would you go to an orgy if you were trying to be abstinent? No, you would not. ) Therefore, take it easy pre-buffet. It'll save you an extra trip to the gym, not to mention an overeating stomachache.

8. Finally, whatever you do, please do not ask for a to-go container. This is also a true story: I was once at a buffet with some colleagues, when one of them asked if he could take some food to-go. (This person generally has the social graces of a drunken water buffalo, so we were mortified, but not surprised, when he asked this.) The look on the server's face was simply amazing, a combination of horror, disgust and discombobulation. Needless to say, the request was declined. We would have kicked the crap out of this idiot colleague in the alley afterward, except we were all so full that the only thing we wanted to do was go and nap.

If you follow these eight easy steps, you will be a better buffet-goer--and you, too, will be on your way to calling yourself, while suspending all modesty, a buffet expert.

Thank you. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go and ask God why He doesn't love me as much as the skinny people.

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