Buffet Etiquette

by admin on August 1, 2012

1.    Wait your turn in line like everyone else.   Butting in ahead of others or sneaking back between people to grab one more roll is rude.   And it is really rude to butt in front of first time buffeters to get seconds of something you’ve already gone through the line and eaten.

2.  Do not touch buffet food with your fingers.  Tongs and serving utensils are there to transfer food from the buffet to your plate.  Use them.  That also means you cannot take food from the buffet and pop it into your mouth.

3.  No licking your fingers. fiddling with your hair, scratching your crotch or butt, or wiping your nose while in the buffet line.  None of us watching you do this will want to touch the tongs after you do.

4.  Exercise some self control.   A buffet is not a free for all, “pile it a mile high on the first pass” occasion.  This is not a competition to see who can take the greatest amount of food at one time.  Take a moderate amount of food for a *normal* serving, go to your table and eat it.  If you want seconds and thirds, you can go get more after all the guests have had a chance to access the buffet the first time but to pile your plate to overloading on the first pass may mean there is none for those guests waiting in line behind you.

One of the most astonishing acts of selfishness I have seen is when a young man took the equivalent of 4 servings of a breakfast egg dish that were left in a steam pan thus leaving the last three men behind him with absolutely no egg dish whatsoever.   Yet another bad example I witnessed was a potluck buffet for a wedding reception where the first 2/3 of the guests transformed themselves into pigs and piled their plates to overflowing and literally left nothing for the last 30 guests.  I know this because I was the second to the last person to go through the buffet line and there was absolutely nothing to eat.   Every pan, dish and bowl was scraped clean.

5.  Keep the line moving.  If you are one of those people who picks up each individual piece of lettuce and examines it before putting it on your plate, please do the rest of us a favor and wait til the end to go through the buffet.   Ditto for picking up pieces of meat on the buffet and wondering what it is as you hold it aloft.

6. Clean plate each time, please.

 

{ 86 comments… read them below or add one }

Lychii August 1, 2012 at 6:03 am

I sort of disagree with your ‘self control’ points and examples.

A guy took a lot from an egg dish? So what? Unless it was the only dish served, there shouldn’t be such a big problem. Not everyone likes the same things, and while Mr X will take a big serving of the eggs, I’m sure there’s a Mr Y who doesn’t want any.

That potluck disaster you talk about just sounds like a case of bad planning by the hosts. When 5 people out of 100 are acting greedy, you can say they’re being pigs; when 60 out of 100 do that, there’s obviously something else going on… like not enough food!

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admin August 1, 2012 at 8:46 am

It was a breakfast buffet and yes, the egg dish was the main dish/protein with fruits, cereals and bakery products supplementing the menu. There were three men at the end of the line and what was left in the chafer would have easily given all four men a normal sized serving. Except that selfish guy piled his plate with the equivalent of 9 eggs leaving nothing for the three men behind him who definitely wanted eggs. Kitchen staff scrambled, literally, to scramble up a few extra eggs for the remaining men.

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Vermin8 August 1, 2012 at 6:27 am

What about leaving food? My husband and I recently took his adult son and son’s girlfriend to a buffet. They got about 3-4 plates and each time ate only 2/3 of the food they had put on the plate. I was a bit taken aback and mentioned it to my husband but he didn’t seem bothered.

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Jenny August 1, 2012 at 6:29 am

This is a personal choice, but I always take a very small serving (about 2 tbs worth) of everything (limited, of course, my how many dishes there are and the size of the dish). It’s better for you, because you get to try everything, but also you don’t hog any one dish.

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QueenofAllThings August 1, 2012 at 6:29 am

A comment on the first point (don’t move around someone or butt in) and the fifth point (keep the line moving). I’m a pescetarian. Most buffets I’ve seen start with the cold foods – salads and such – before proceeding to the hot entrees. I’m often stuck behind someone trying to a) choose which meat dish they want or b) waiting for a server to slice them some roast. I will often move past them to the seafood – I don’t consider this rude, but doing my part to keep the line moving.

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josie August 1, 2012 at 7:12 am

And don’t take a sip of the juice glasses on the buffet, decide its the wrong juice and put it back.

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Shannon August 1, 2012 at 7:47 am

Oh, it is so annoying to be hungry and stuck behind someone who has to art direct every scrap of food on their plate! If you’re shifting things around and being fussy, it probably means you’re taking too much food and having to be strategic about what will fit. A better solution is to take a reasonable amount of food and get seconds later if necessary.

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Phoebe161 August 1, 2012 at 8:00 am

Take only what you will eat. Don’t take a pile of food, then leave half of it on your plate to be thrown out.

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Hemi August 1, 2012 at 8:08 am

A+ on both written rules and video. Especially #2 & 3.

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bigdealfolks August 1, 2012 at 8:16 am

Wowsers, I’ve been to a lot of buffets before and I have never really seen anything like this. :-)

I really don’t mind the “hey can I squeeze in here and get a fork, or can I please get some butter” at all–I have never seen anyone push in front of anyone else in line for their entire meal (except maybe a little kid).

The one thing I might note here though is that I am used to getting in line and taking a salad and sitting back down. Then, going up back up again and getting the main course. ditto for the dessert. I guess some people may think that I’ve been going up numerous times at that point and might consider me a pig, but it beats trying to carry multiple plates back or doing the”pile up” that some are talking about here. I usually have to go back up and help 2 or 3 of my children with a plate of their own, so I hope people are not sitting by watching me go multiple times while their table hasn’t been called to the line yet.

As for the people who get too many servings, leaving nothing for the people behind–I really am in the camp that thinks that is the server/caterer/organizer’s fault, not the people in line. Some people truly don’t know what a serving is. Either have wait staff there helping place individual servings on a plate, or make darn sure you have plenty of extras. There’s no excuse for running out.

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Spotted Pony August 1, 2012 at 8:27 am

As you are waiting in line for your turn, look over the offerings and decide what you want before you get there. Nothing holds up a line more than someone who has to look at each and every item, decide if they want some of it or not, taking some(or not), then doing the same with next item. I try to look over the entire spread and decide what I want before I get there. Then I can take the amounts I want and get out of the way.

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Enna August 1, 2012 at 8:34 am

Overall, I think the points are good however, if someone is taking longer to get a certain type of food that I don’t want I see no point in waiting for them to move down the line slowly and I don’t think it’s fair that they wait to the very end. I see no problem in moving a head of someone who is taking their time if there is a space big enough if it’s food I don’t want. If they are near food that I do want then I’ll wait my turn. As a vegetarian I’ll skip the meat and fish dishes so there is no point in me standing next to them and clogging up the queue. As for someone getting a roll or a fork, if they are just after one thing then I’ll quite happily pass it to them or let them though so they don’t clogg up the line.

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Raven August 1, 2012 at 8:47 am

Like Admin, I too was at a wedding where the food was basically all gone by the time the last few tables were called. I don’t recall how they managed it (it was quite a few years ago, I was a young teen) but it must have been humiliating for the wedding couple. This is yet another reason I loathe buffets at organized events like weddings. Plated dinners avoid this problem easily. However, because plated dinners do cost more than buffets, consider having servers behind the buffet tables to actually do the serving. Despite being fully-grown adults, some people simply aren’t capable of feeding themselves proper amounts. (Thus the obesity epidemic?)

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L.J. August 1, 2012 at 8:50 am

Shortages (even artifical shortages) cause hoarding. Caterers should take that into account when deciding how much food to put out. I also think the hosts should go through the line LAST. If it’s a wedding, the couple and their parents should go through last.

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StephM August 1, 2012 at 9:01 am

While some people may not know how much a single serving is, I think they can figure out that if there are people behind them they should aim low.
Here’s another rule: this all still applies even if you are the very last person in line. You still should not pile 3-4 servings on your plate.

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Stacey Frith-Smith August 1, 2012 at 9:04 am

If you are hosting a buffet, be generous in your provisions and have a back-up plan. If you are a guest, it’s just one meal. Will it kill you to have four shrimp and not two dozen? The rest is just a rehash of these two dynamics, usually.

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AMC August 1, 2012 at 9:05 am

@Lychii- I completely disagree with you about the breakfast buffet. Maybe the three men last in line didn’t like eggs or maybe they loved them, but unless the greedy guy in front of them asked, there’s no way he could know. And thus he should have erred on the side of caution by taking a reasonably sized portion and leaving some eggs for the other guests. That’s the considerate thing to do. It doesn’t matter if there are other items available because the eggs are there for everyone. The guy last in line is just as entitled to try them as the guy at the front.

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CaffeineKatie August 1, 2012 at 9:19 am

I would agree with most of these postings, but re: the portion-size discussion I would think the location would influence this the most. If you’re at a catered affair or someone’s house, where you can assume there is a finite amount of food available, I would hope each diner would exercise some control on their first trip through the buffet line and hope for seconds if they found something particularly yummy. If it’s a commercial restaurant, the staff should keep an eye on things and have refills ready–no excuses. If I am paying the same price for the buffet as the people in line ahead of me, then I deserve to have the same selection of food available.

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Cupcake August 1, 2012 at 9:19 am

I don’t really understand the rule about waiting to have seconds until everyone has had firsts. It would work at something like a wedding where everyone eats their buffet dinner at the same time, but not at a restaurant, or even a big but casual party, where people are starting and finishing their meals at different times.

As for leaving food, I think it’s annoying to deliberately take oversized portions and waste half of it when others miss out, but I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong to leave some food behind, even if you go to get another serving afterwards. What if it turns out you don’t like something? I think buffets are a great opportunity to try lots of different dishes but some of those dishes end up not being to my taste, and I really can’t even finish my tiny serving.

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Jay August 1, 2012 at 9:24 am

@Vermin8: Maybe not at a wedding buffet, but at most buffets I encourage my kids to take things they might not like, to try them. As a result, they sometimes eat about 2/3 of what’s on their plate.. but also find a couple of new things they like.

Now if they’re going back for the same food that they didn’t eat on the previous plate, that’s just pure waste.

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Cat August 1, 2012 at 9:48 am

It’s not just buffets. I used to go out to eat with a friend and his teenaged son at a barbeque restaurant that had “All you can eat” specials. Sonny would order the ribs, take one or two bites out of each rib, and put it on the “bone” plate. He’d order two dozen ribs this way.
No one said anything to him about this, but I was aghast at his concept of eating and at the waste of food. His brother would complain when he did that at home-hog the majority of a dish and then not eat what he had taken.
The other thing that annoyed me was that, when he was a child, and I’d offer him something, he’d order me, “Leave that out. I may want more.” If I offer you something, you are being offered one portion; I am not licensing you to eat the entire dish.

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Morty'sCleaningLady August 1, 2012 at 9:51 am

I avoid buffets as much as possible. When I attend an event that has a buffet, I believe there is always at least one gimme-pig in the bunch. There is nothing worse than not getting enough to eat. And the cross contamination runs rampant. I am always puzzled when people select buffets at venues that charge the same for a buffet and a plated event.

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Vermin8 August 1, 2012 at 9:53 am

Thanks for the input.
this, however, is not just a case of trying different stuff and not finding it tasty. It was 3-4 plates and not tiny amounts (if you are trying something don’t get a regular serving amount – get enough just to taste) including a plate stacked with pastries and small cakes for dessert. The party in the later case ate the top layer of the desserts and announced they were stuffed.

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sv August 1, 2012 at 9:53 am

I was once at a buffet style family party over Christmas that had salads, rolls, and many side dishes, but the main meal was two huge pots of seafood chowder and beef and barley soup. This was a large gathering with more than 30 people present, and there was oodles of food. One of the guests was not a family member but a friend who had come with one of the cousins and was visiting my family for the very first time. At the time my daughter was quite young so I took the time to feed her and make sure she was happy before getting in line to help myself to some much anticipated chowder. At this point most people had been through once already. The friend who was visiting slid in front of me to get a second helping, which of course was fine, except she proceeded to scoop through the chowder, removing all of the fish, scallops and shrimp and piling it into a mountain in her bowl. There was no way I would ever chastise this guest of the family so I watched with complete disbelief as she rooted through the remaining chowder and told me it was ” Sooo good! ” She left nothing but creamy broth and potatoes behind. There was lots of other food for me to eat, so I didn’t go hungry, but that wasn’t the point – she destroyed the main dish for her own selfish gratification and took far more food than was either reasonable or polite. She also was completely aware of what she did, as she only stopped when there was no more seafood to be had and her bowl was overflowing with shellfish. The only thing I could think to excuse her was that she was from the middle part of Canada and I am located on the east coast…perhaps she thought we eat seafood constantly, making her greediness of no consequence? The Seafood Girl, never to be seen again, has since passed into family lore :)

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MsDani313 August 1, 2012 at 10:10 am

Please help children through the line. Children (and adults) can be wasteful and not use utensils properly. If the child cannot see over the buffet or cannot safely hold their plate and serve themselves they need an adult to assist them. And while it is nice to have children try things that are new I have seen parents give a full serving of of a dish knowing the child would not like it under the guise of “If you try it you may like it.” Meanwhile there are people in line who really do like the dish who may not get any.

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The Elf August 1, 2012 at 10:24 am

Number 4 is the key point, I think. The others are sort of obvious. They should go without saying, but…….

There’s nothing rude about hitting up the buffet multiple times. Get your 4 servings of eggs, by all means. But do it over 4 trips. Leaving food for the people behind you, by taking a normal serving size, is just common courtesy. As Steph said, if you aren’t sure what the right serving size is, aim low. My rule of thumb is one “scoop” if it is a spoonable item, 3-4 if it is a small item (shrimp), 1-2 if it is a large item (fried chicken). Salad stuff generally isn’t an issue, so go nuts.

Cupcake, the rule behind letting everyone get firsts before you get seconds would really only apply to occassions when the buffet “opens” at a set time, and more so when you have tables called up to avoid a long line. At a more free-flowing event, all you have to do is avoid taking undue amounts on each pass.

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The Elf August 1, 2012 at 10:29 am

QueenofAllThings, I agree that just “skipping ahead” is fine when the person in front of you is serving out something and there’s a gap in front of him. It’s reasonable. I think the point is more for the “poppers”. You know, they “pop in” for a bit of the mashed potatoes, then “pop in” again down the line for the beef, then “pop in” to grab a pie slice, all while never actually having stood in line.

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Magicdomino August 1, 2012 at 10:35 am

I suspect a lot of people confuse all-you-can-eat buffets with special occasion buffets. In an all-you-can-eat buffet, you can take as much as you think you want. The buffet will be refilled. The greedy ones may look greedy, but at least no one else has to suffer for it. Special occasion buffets and potlucks, however, have a generous but limited amount of food. I bet that many of those first guests who cleaned out the buffet thought that the dishes would be refilled endlessly, like at an all-you-can-eat.

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spartiechic August 1, 2012 at 10:45 am

This is why we’re doing a plated dinner for our wedding. Admin is spot-on with her rules and the video provides additional examples. We all just need to be conscientious of others. That’s what the rules boil down to.

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German Shepherd August 1, 2012 at 11:26 am

Here’s another one : If you drop the serving utensil on the floor, don’t stick it back into the food! Ask for a new, clean one.

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Kendra August 1, 2012 at 11:30 am

I would add an additional rule: #8 Get a clean plate when returning to the buffet. It’s kinda gross seeing someone putting fresh food on a food smeared, previously used plate, and in buffet restaurants, it’s health code to get a clean plate for each trip through.

I would assume that most of these rules are mainly for private buffets and pot-lucks, though I think rule #3 applies everywhere, some of the other rules like waiting for everyone to get firsts before getting seconds and waiting in line don’t apply in buffet restaurants. Though it is rude to jump in front of people waiting to get to a particular dish, there really aren’t lines in a restaurant.

As for the clean your plate rule, that’s a bit of a tough one. I am fairly culinarily adventurous, and like to try as many dishes as I can in a pot-luck. There may be things that just aren’t to my taste, so I don’t finish them. However, I only take tastes of everything, one or at most two tablespoon’s worth, so if I don’t like it, there is only a bite left on my plate. I think it might be interesting to note, that the pot-lucks I’ve been to, unless you have an allergy or dietary restriction, it is considered rude not to try everything. People’s feelings get hurt if you don’t try the dish they brought. It is also considered rude to critique the various dishes. When church elder Martha asks how you liked her scrambled egg and strawberry jello salad, you can’t say “that was the grossest thing I have ever seen” you will hurt her feelings. You shouldn’t overenthuse about the dishes you liked or underenthuse about the things you didn’t like. At the end of a pot-luck there are always several dishes with about a spoonfull in them, because no one wants to be the “piggy” who took the last serving. I’ve seen several times where the person who brought the dish is trying to get someone to take the last bit so they don’t have to take it home. In my experience, no one ever wants to take home leftovers from a pot-luck because leftovers mean your dish wasn’t a success.

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Katie August 1, 2012 at 11:44 am

Here (UK) it’s pretty normal to use the same plate if you go for a second portion. Isn’t it?? (!). As long as you’re careful, I don’t see how it’s rude to use the same plate again- especially if it’s just crisps/sandwiches/normal ‘party food’. I think catering staff would get a bit perturbed if everyone discarded their old plate every time- it would generate loads of washing-up, for a start!

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admin August 1, 2012 at 2:18 pm

It’s a health department requirement in many US states that buffets offer plenty of plates and indicate to their guests that a new plate is required for each new trip to the buffet.

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Amanda August 1, 2012 at 11:50 am

I absolutely agree with not piling on the plate. You can always go back for more.

The first couple holidays my husband’s cousin brought her now-husband he was one of the first people through the buffet line. Grandma always had massive amounts of leftovers she sent home with various relatives. However, those first few times the cousin’s sweetheart took such huge helpings, both as firsts and as seconds, that the last two people through the line, parents who only got their own plates after tending to small children, ate nothing but tiny slivers of ham and roast beef and a few rolls for the main meal, no mashed potatoes, no vegetable, not even gravy or cranberries. After a few times, Grandma caught on and doubled the amount of food she prepared. She still tends to have less leftovers than before he joined the family.

Line cutting is not okay, but by all means pop in if you’ve forgotten to grab a roll or fork. There is no reason to stand in line while your dinner sits on a table getting cold or soggy. Also, I agree that it makes sense to not hold up the line waiting behind someone contemplating salad dressing when there is a big gap in front of them and you aren’t even eating salad. I, waiting to get my salad, would appreciate not having to stand there watching you block the salad as you watch someone else *not* getting dressing. Like The Elf said, the problem is those who don’t wait in line at all, but skip ahead.

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TylerBelle August 1, 2012 at 11:52 am

I so agree, eat what’s on your plate. “All you can eat” does not mean “All you can waste.” A few years ago there was a couple with their children banned from a buffet restaurant in the area because of the food they would accumulate, only to let it go mostly uneaten and go back for more. I’m unsure if they had a time span to their banishment.

Also if you’re at a table where there are condiments to be shared, a dish of herbed butter in my case, don’t let your children have it all/do with what they wish with it (seemingly given to them so they have something to occupy themselves while the parent carried on talking), thus leaving it ruined or none at all for tablemates.

With potlucks, sometimes you are at the mercy of what people have brought. It’s not like there are guaranteed backups as usually with professional caterers. A rule of thumb for potlucks I’ve seen is to bring a dish enough for your family and another one, and if everyone does this, it should be enough. That’s great in theory, but as mentioned here, there are going to be those who feel the need to grab and take as much as they can. To get people to serve the portions at a buffet event would be a good solution.

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Delta August 1, 2012 at 12:09 pm

I belong to a Ladies Auxiliary and we cater to a lot of events (weddings, reunions, parties, etc) and always do a buffet. HOWEVER, we have learned from experiencing the buffet-hogs in the past, that the way around this type of behavior is to have a server at each dish for the *first pass around* – so everybody at the very least gets some of each dish available. After everyones had at least one plate, we leave the buffet so people can come and get 2nds as they wish. It has worked very well for us and also gives us a chance to keep an eye on the food levels and call the kitchen to bring more out if necessary.

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LovleAnjel August 1, 2012 at 12:18 pm

Hosts should not only order plenty of food, but keep in mind the tastes of their guests. My oldest brother had a buffet at his wedding. My family are all big eaters, and especially we are big meat eaters. And there are a lot of us. The brother getting married had won a chili-dog eating contest at work, over a dozen full dogs went down his gullet in an hour. Another brother of mine can clean a full rack of ribs in ten minutes (I timed it). We do not waste either – we eat the cartilage and several of us have been known to crack open bones to get at the marrow inside (and yes, we know not to crack them open outside our home).

My oldest brother’s wife comes from a family of normal eaters – people who don’t see side dishes as impediments. She dealt with the caterers. After my family went through the line (my mother quietly scolding us kids into not taking as much meat as we would usually eat and directing us to get salads instead), the buffet was utterly out of meat. Utterly. Our plates contained perfectly cleaned bones and a slimy coating of 1000 Island. It would have been funny but for the guests that went meatless. My brother, who knew about our collective meat appetite, should have checked to make sure the buffet had more meat than a caterer would normally stock. He knew better than that.

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admin August 1, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Your family had an obligation to eat moderately and not according to their usual quantities which, even when restrained, was more than the average person would eat. Don’t blame the caterer or the bride for this. Your family is a caterer’s worst nightmare because quantities are derived from standard food service tables and calculations for per person serving sizes. And then along comes a group of people who completely blow those calculations clear out of the water because they consume far more than what was considered to be a normal serving size per person.

Imo, people who know they are big eaters should wait to go through the buffet at the end after everyone else has had a chance to get served. At our potlucks and buffets, the women go first because the men have learned that once the gals go through, everything left is fair game.

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Spuck August 1, 2012 at 1:07 pm

I disagree on the clean plate rule. One of the reasons I like buffets (or college style cafeteria’s where you can grab anything) is that I want to try different kind of food. I don’t take a lot of new stuff I try, but I’m not going to force myself to finish something if I don’t like it.

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Sazerac August 1, 2012 at 1:29 pm

Ditto on what MsDani313 said. At our church functions that included pot luck buffet-style dinners, the parents would often let their kids run ahead, with the result that the kids would grab three, four large pieces of fried chicken, etc. leaving little for the rest of the congregants. They would then proceed to take a bite out of each one and then declare they were “full” while many adults didn’t get any. It got to the point our priest would have to make an announcement right before the serving began for parents to accompany their children. It still amazes me that such things would even need to be said, but there it is.

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dolly August 1, 2012 at 1:32 pm

At my friends wedding they made extra sure they would have more than enough at the buffet. Only about 2/3 of it was eaten and everyone was stuffed. They just packed up the excess food and took it on their honeymoon. Any leftover drinks were offered to friends and family who were helping clean up. It was a great plan. It’s better to have too much than too little. That said, at events you do need to do some quick math in your head to decide your portion sizes.

It *is* a resteraunts responsibility to have enough food but again common sense comes into play. At Pizza Hut if there are only 6 pizzas out don’t heap 8 slices on your plate. Let everyone else have a chance. I know it’s a pain to keep getting up but that’s why buffets are usually cheaper than a proper sit down meal. Plus we can pretend we’re working off the calories ;)

Another thing. If you are not a veggie/vegan don’t take a whole serving of their special food ‘to see what it’s like’. If the meat runs out you can eat vegetables. If their food runs out they have nothing.

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Calli Arcale August 1, 2012 at 2:17 pm

Magicdomino — mind you, while the “let others go first” rule doesn’t apply to an all-you-can-eat restaurant buffet, most of the others still do. Including hoarding. There are restaurants which have gone so far as to ban patrons who consistently mound their plates and then don’t eat most of it, because that’s money in the trashcan as far as the restaurant is concerned. Not to mention, if it’s busy, it may be a while before the tray is refilled since other trays are emptying as well. It disgusts me when I see patrons at my favorite all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurant lurking around their favorite seafood item (usually crab legs) and, when it arrives, descending upon it en masse and taking as much as they can possibly fit on their plate — enough for a whole table, sometimes. When there are people like this in attendance, polite people are pretty much never going to taste that item, and it is frustrating.

Tongs, clean plates, no personal hygiene at the buffet line — you’d think these things would be common sense, but sadly they are not.

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Cat Whisperer August 1, 2012 at 2:34 pm

I strongly disagree with OP’s point #1. I don’t see why someone who wants to get just one item– say, a roll– should have to wait behind people who are filling their plates. As long as they can get the single item they want without inconveniencing anyone, I don’t see what the problem is.

I would like to add a couple points: if you are visiting a buffet and you have small children, do not allow the small children to go through the buffet alone! Small kids don’t grasp the essentials of hygiene, and they frequently can’t handle the large tongs or serving utensils by themselves. So for pete’s sake, help them out! Also, very small children usually don’t have the coordination to hold a plate level by themselves. They’re going to spill if the plate is filled up. Yes, it’s nice to let the small kids feel grown-up by carrying their own plates, but use some common sense: if they’re going to dribble food all the way from the buffet to their seat at the table, carry the plate for them and spare everyone the mess.

Also, be considerate of the people in line behind you. If you don’t know what an item is, if you aren’t sure you want to eat it, if you want to find out what ingredients it contains, please don’t hold up the whole line while you dither or gather information. Allow other people to get past you while you decide. Step back and don’t hold things up.

One thing I do agree with: it is wrong, rude, wasteful, and piggish to pile your plate high with food and then only eat a little bit of it. Resist the temptation to pile your plate sky-high. If you want to try a lot of different items, take small portions and only get two or three items at a time. If you’re at an “all you can eat” bufffet, remind yourself that nobody is going to take the food away from you. You can take small portions and clean your plate, then go back for more.

Just one more point: the “special event” buffet vs. “all you can eat” buffet: if it’s a “special event” buffet with limited amounts of food, and portion control is an issue, then for pity’s sake have someone whose job it is to exercise portion control by serving individual portions. It would be nice if people could police themselves and control the portions they take so everyone gets some, but if there is any doubt about that happening, then don’t allow self-service of the items that are limited: have someone stand there and serve them.

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Elizabeth August 1, 2012 at 2:39 pm

I guess I am lucky, as I have never been to a buffet or a potluck when something ran out and it was clear that a couple of gimme-pigs were responsible for many others having none. Someone should have spoken up to the man helping himself to all of the eggs, something like “hey – don’t forget that there are three of us back here, too!” In response to the other example, though, I have to say that it was more likely bad planning on the part of the caterers or organizers. I can imagine a couple or handful of people being piggish, but it’s not likely that every single person, all 60 of them, just gorged themselves and took totally unreasonable portions so that a full 30 people had none. Rather, it sounds like there was only 2/3 the amount of food they should have had. When you go through a buffet at a wedding or some other catered thing, you aren’t necessarily thinking, oh, I really have to take only a small portion because they’ll run out. Most people assume that the caterer has provided enough food for every person to have a proper plate, and then some – because that’s how buffets are. You always need extra food – it’s impossible to get it “just right.”

To SV, who watched someone pick through the chowder, for sure I would have said something in that moment. “Um, I haven’t had any chowder yet, and there are others that haven’t either, so if you’ve already had some would you mind leaving some of the seafood for others and try something else?”

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Powers August 1, 2012 at 2:46 pm

Someone said: “If it’s a wedding, the couple and their parents should go through last.”

The parents, maybe, but only if they’re hosting. The couple, absolutely not. The guests of honor always go first.

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Compelled to Comment August 1, 2012 at 2:55 pm

I am one of those who jumps to the front of the line of the buffet at special events. I have multiple food allergies and can end up in the hospital after being exposed to the allergens. Cross-contamination from serving utensils being used in multiple dishes can trigger a reaction. Most of my friends are aware of my issues and understand – sometimes their families are not aware and I look rude. I only go back for 2nds, if there was absolutely nothing on the buffet that I am allergic to or if all I found to eat was the bread. Then I will get more bread before I go to sit down. I do not participate in the “all you can eat” type buffets because of my food issues.

As far as Rule #6 above – I took this to mean not that you should clean your plate, but that you should get a new plate each time you go thru the buffet line.

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--Lia August 1, 2012 at 3:11 pm

I mis-reading the “clean plate rule” the first time I read it. At home, “clean your plate” is for children, and it means that they must finish everything they’re served or everything they serve themselves. At a buffet, the “clean plate rule” means that you must take a clean plate from the stack when you go for seconds rather than bring your dirty plate with you. I don’t think anyone is trying to tell adults that they must finish everything. Like Snuck says, the joy of a buffet is in being able to try a small portion of everything, decide what you like, then go back for a second trip to get more of what you do like. There’s no reason to swallow more if one bite was enough to convince you that you don’t care for it. And as the admin says, health laws often insist that you don’t put more food on a plate once it’s been eaten off of.

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Wren August 1, 2012 at 3:43 pm

At church, one family’s kids go though the cookie line during coffee time and pile five or six brownies on their napkin, plus other cookies. It takes only four of them to decimate a double batch of brownies. When I asked them to please take one until everyone had gone through the line, I was labeled the cookie police. (Well, I was the coffee host that day, darn it!)

At a restaurant, the woman next to me in the buffet line used the serving spoon to pick out every piece of seafood in two trays of Chinese food.

At a workplace Christmas party, the first people to go through the cold-cut buffet piled their plates so high that the last dozen people in line got bread, mayonnaise and celery sticks. There was no more food forthcoming; the powers that be had carried in the food and that was it.

I just can’t fathom such self-centeredness when there are others who need to be fed. Give them an equal chance at the food.

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admin August 1, 2012 at 10:07 pm

I admit to being a food police during some church functions. I have been known to station someone by the dessert table to instruct the children to take one dessert item. I have even had people stationed at buffet tables to keep guests from sneaking in and eating off of them before the reception starts. I really don’t care if they call me a food cop and my response is, “Yep, darn right I am.”

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Vandalia August 1, 2012 at 3:46 pm

I think I might cry for our society. These are not things you should have to tell people! It’s common sense…or so I thought. I’m adding “that every person will show consideration for others” to my grown-up Christmas list.

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RedDevil August 1, 2012 at 4:39 pm

I’d like to add something to that list:

Don’t stand unreasonably close to the person infront of you, hoping to move the line faster or get close enough to that dish you want that you can grab the tongs. Everyone expects personal space will be invaded somewhat in a buffet line, but if you can feel the warmth from the body next to you, you’re too close.

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Serenity August 1, 2012 at 4:44 pm

yes, it is a health code to get a clean plate when returning to the buffet in most states. We serve a buffet style brunch where I work, and most of the weddings we book end up being a buffet as it’s a better value for the guests. I’ve had to stop people many times from returning with a dirty plate, and a lot of them think they’re being helpful by re-using their dirty dish. It gets a little awkward trying to politely but firmly insist that they give me their used plate and get a new one! A time or 2 I’ve actually had to relay the health code to them to get them to relinquish their plate. maybe because I’ve worked in the business for a while, but to me it’s common sense….you ate off the plate, so your saliva etc. is on it, you bring said plate back to the line, the serving utensils will touch your contaminated plate, and then go back into the shared food. Yuck!

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Puzzled August 1, 2012 at 4:48 pm

My number one pet peeve regarding buffets regardless of where they are is people who allow their small children to serve themselves when their little mouths are on the exact same level as the food. I have seen kids sneeze, cough and use the serving utensils to taste the food, and that is in addition to the wasted food. It is nasty and gross and parents who allow this are oblivious to the health of others. Disgusting.

LovleAnjel: I have to agree with the admin here. I mean really, you cannot reign yourself in and stop and get something later? It’s not funny on any level.

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Libby August 1, 2012 at 6:25 pm

I was taught to take a small portion of each item so that there would be enough for everyone to have a bite. Some people have not been taught this. The point of a celebratory meal is to share that meal with others, which means making sure the others have something to eat too. If that means you have to control your appetite, well, do so. If you’re still hungry afterwards, stop at McDonalds. I agree that in a buffet line you should have a server for each dish so that people who don’t have any manners can be served a reasonable portion.

I remember a time at work where there was a Christmas reception at another office and our unit of about 20 people went over in small groups at different times to have cookies and punch and visit. A couple of women (professionals) went over and came back with bags of cookies that they had taken from the kitchen area where extras were being held to replenish the trays as they emptied. They were laughing and saying, “they were just sitting there so we took them!” I couldn’t believe how rude and stupid they were and how bad it made the rest of us look.

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