This has been a helluva week for buffets, what with a guy in Wisconsin picketing a restaurant that cut him off from an all-you-can-eat fish fry, and a Chinese buffet in the U.K. where management has instituted a new policy of "clean your effin plates or get charged $20." Do people eat like hogs at buffets and waste too much food?
My answer to those questions would be yes and yes --- but not all people are wasteful hogs, just the ones who will never accept that there is actual social etiquette to eating at buffets. For well-meaning but ignorant diners who can still be trained, here's my list of the eight most egregious sins you can commit at an all-you-can-eat buffet:
8. Thou shalt not steal your meal.
I've seen my fair share of "plate-splitters" and "My kids will eat free because I'll feed them off my plate" people, and here's the deal: Eating things you don't pay for when you are supposed to pay is stealing. While plenty of folks don't see it that way, the food, drinks, staffing, power, maintenance and roof overhead all cost money, and buffet restaurants ain't soup kitchens. Customers who "split" plates at a buffet usually eat and drink more than they think they do, and even one plate and beverage is a meal. Buffets charge nominal prices for children, and so being sneaky and stuffing your kid(s) for free means that you are setting a rotten example for them, while declining to pay the few bucks to help pay the people who have to clean up after your little angel's fishstick and macaroni-hurling sprees.
7. Thou shalt not sully the community food.
Most buffets are set up like giant troughs with cold and hot bins, but that's no excuse for behaving like filthy swine. Use clean plates and bowls, keep your digits out of the shared grub -- I've seen folks "taste-testing" dishes by plunging fingers and/or silverware into things and licking them -- and if you want to try something, put a sample-sized portion on a plate and wait until you get to the table to try it. Don't eat while you are in line getting food -- crumbs from your mouth and fingers may drop into the food, and I'm sure YOU don't want to eat other people's fingernail guck and beard-leavins'. And for the love of our Lord Satan, please keep your spawn from roaming the place, fingering the ice cream toppings and dripping soft-serve onto the carpet for people to step in.
6. Thou shalt not commit single-item hoarding.
When one person dumps an entire bin of crab legs onto multiple plates and hauls the entire load back to the table, everyone else in the restaurant has to then wait for the staff to prepare and bring more. When a single person takes every single grilled steak, every single peel-and-eat shrimp or all of the rice pudding, that diner is negating the concept of the buffet itself: You can go back as many times as you please, so depriving every other diner of a particular dish is not only rude, it's illogical. 5. Thou shalt not hover.
There's an interesting, greed-fueled phenomenon where an inconsiderate grubber hovers over a dish in order to keep other people from helping themselves to it. It's weird, it's wacky, it's controlling, and the strangest part of this behavior? The dish-guardian won't even really want to consume the entire dish.
4. Soup-trawling is forbidden.
Skimming the goodies out of the soups and leaving only broth for everyone else is f*cking annoying, and people who do this should have a steaming tureen of Fight Club cream of mushroom dumped on their torsos.
3. Self-entitled demanding is forbidden.
Buffets usually have a wide variety of foods, so it's ridiculous to peruse the offerings, discover that a dish you want isn't on the buffet, and then demand that the staff prepare it for you -- for free. There's grilled chicken but you want barbecued, there's fried fish but you want poached.....what makes you so bloody special that you can't content yourself with the foods in front of you? Why would you think that people need to bow to your demand to make a special dish? It's a restaurant, not your pleasure palace, your highness.
2. Thou shalt not be a sampler.
A good rule of thumb with buffet dining is take what you will actually eat. Many diners instead choose to pile food on their plates like a scary game of mashed potato and chicken wing Jenga, make tiny nibbles at a few things, then leave the mountain of uneaten food to be spirited away to the garbage. Pulling out the old "starving children in Africa" line is tired, but unfortunately, it's still true. There are hungry children here in the U.S. as well, and even if that doesn't make you feel guilty, how about this: Don't be a sampler because you simply don't have to be. The gratification of staring at plates of cold pasta and broccoli is so short-lived.
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1. Thou shalt not be a camper.
The picketing fish-fry guy in Wisconsin, Bill Wisth, is a prime example of a camper, and a perniciously gluttonous one at that. He dined at a restaurant's all-you-can-eat fish fry, ate a dozen pieces of fish, demanded more, and then the restaurant claimed to have run out of fish -- and tolerance with Wisth, a problematic customer, they said. Instead, they gave him an additional eight pieces of fish to-go, and basically told him to make friends with the door. Instead of taking the proffered fish and behaving like an adult, he called the police, and then began picketing the restaurant for falsely advertising the bottomless fish meal.
Sigh. There is a line between being a wronged customer and an egocentric, food-cramming turkey turd and that line is not thin at all. Camping on an all-you-can-eat opportunity is the opposite of classy, and sympathy for your cause is hard to come by because nobody needs to eat themselves to the point of being an encumbrance and an embarrassment.