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How can I Make the Most of an All-You-Can-Eat Buffet?

By Lindsay D.
Updated May 16, 2024
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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.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon939230 — On Mar 12, 2014

At a Chinese buffet, I avoid dessert except for fruit, sesame balls, or Chinese donuts. For some reason, Chinese pastries and Mexican ones too, can look good but fail to meet their promise.

By anon933387 — On Feb 15, 2014

Food remains in the stomach for about four hours before moving onto the intestines, so slow is good. Someone said about there being no dessert left by the time "slow" gets to dessert. Then eat dessert earlier and go backward if necessary. It doesn't have to go starters - main - dessert, especially here. And dessert is likely simple sugars that are quickly digested and absorbed as opposed to the huge chains in the complex carbs.

It's possible to sit there all day, have seven platefuls consisting of two starter plates, three main plates and two dessert plates, some or all of which have more than one type, of say, dessert on them, in any random order, or on an order based on what seems to be disappearing quickest. Not only do you not miss out on anything this way, if something's going fast, it's probably good so get it next. If it isn't moving, it's probably not.

Eating the expensive and best stuff is obvious. But if economy is what you're really after, do what the competitive eaters do (only slowly). Most of them are slim.

Prepare by doing all the salad/veg/water stuff to extremes for a few days before you go. The less visceral fat you have around your stomach, the more it can extend when you gorge. Having a big belly surrounded by lard eaten in the days before you go will stop you being able to distend your stomach once full by normal standards. Now once you're there, you can get five times average value easy. This is all probably best not done too often. I'm 5' 9", male and 145 pounds, so a perfectly healthy weight.

By using the greens/veg/water/salad stuff above you might think these offer few calories per unit currency, so it defeats the point of maximising the value of the day out. However, you need nutrients as well as calories or you will not be healthy. Part 1 is nutrient overload, not economizing. Part 2 is Machiavellian taking a pee by eating three or four days' worth of calories in one sitting for the cost of one meal and obviously has nothing to do with good nutrition, but fun. Two extremes, where the body gets all it needs, just at wacky and distorted times. I should point out that I've been able to eat way more at these places than men twice my size.

By anon357556 — On Dec 04, 2013

This article is amazing and not for the reason you would think. Do we really need to be told how to eat at a buffet table? Are people really that stupid and lacking in brain power they need this instruction? Good grief!

By anon351149 — On Oct 11, 2013

This article is hilarious and so are the comments!

By anon316545 — On Jan 29, 2013

@jvd9091: Believe it or not but meats are pumped with antibiotics to keep the animal from catching diseases. So that could explain why your Dr has diagnosed you with antibiotic poisoning.

I have actually been reading a lot on that topic lately and I learned that is why some people lean toward becoming a vegetarian. This goes for anyone else. The trick to a buffet is to get a little bite sizes of everything and eat slow. Stop when you're getting full. In the end, you won't be bloated or nauseated from eating too much.

By anon255544 — On Mar 18, 2012

There is no time limit for these buffets. Go in the morning and leave at night, and then you get the most out of the day!

By anon108504 — On Sep 03, 2010

@jvd9091: I think he meant 'resistance'. When you take the same type of antibiotic for a long time, some bacteria get used to it and are not affected by it anymore (hence the term resistance). Not sure though if that's what your doctor meant. Why not consult the same doctor?

By anon55139 — On Dec 04, 2009

I am a very high class person and I find this article a bit amusing. :) When I am there I only eat two shrimps (if they are good, and peeled so I would not have the smell on my hand), and one almond, and that is that. If I am very hungry I might have for dessert foi gras. :)

Be careful, be classy and since most of you have this opportunity on a vacation, if you eat like a huge pig, you might save money, OK, but you will feel sleepy, hence, instead of visiting the city or partying (if it is dinner), you will go to bed, and lose a day from your week holiday ( I assume, and rightly so, that you only have a week holiday.)

this way you pay for the night just to sleep instead of partying and perhaps meeting "Gourmet and interesting people like me"

so in the end it costs you more! happy meal.

By Marknelson — On Apr 26, 2008

The only rule I follow is: "Eat more food for the price you paid for the buffet, than it would to buy it yourself" Also make more time to eat. Im a fast guy, but eating slow IS better.

By anon10669 — On Mar 31, 2008

I am one of the unfortunate people who make themselves sick at an all you can eat buffet.

I do this by eating way too much in a very short period of time, then following it with soft drink which causes the food to bloat in your stomach & is likely to make you sick ! Avoid Breads & drinks to get the most out of your money.....


By feb231997 — On Nov 29, 2007

One of the definitions of a floor jack is a receptacle in the floor of a building wherein some type of wiring is placed - such as an electrical receptacle. Where does one find a catalog of such a thing?

By ellefagan — On Nov 15, 2007

I am like Jane Austen...like to have a little bit of it all, and enjoy it thoughtfully....but there's a "glitch" ...by the time I got to the dessert table, there wasn't much left..the faster eaters beat me to it! :-)

By jvd9091 — On Sep 15, 2007

When I was a kid I remember my mom telling someone that the doctor said I had what he called 'antibiotic poisoning'. Does anyone know what this is? A friend suggested it might have messed up my metabolism.

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