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The all-you-can-eat: where does it come from?
April 6, 2007 6:11 AM   Subscribe

I'm really interested in the concept of the buffet-style, "all you can eat" type restaurant experience. Is this a Western invention? Does it even exist in other parts of the world? Also, does anyone have anyone strategies as to how to maximize the buffet experience?

Last time I went an all-you-can-eat lunch was to a Chinese restaurant that also served "regular" food, like pizza and fries. I focused on the dim sum, but a guy behind us sat down with a huge plate full of bacon.

I also have a very clear memory of a relative visiting from the Czech Republic in the 80's. My parents took us out to dinner to an all-you-can eat place. He'd never heard of the all-you-can-eat concept, and was postively flabbergasted when confronted with all that food. And when he finally set in, he avoided starches and focused on meats.
posted by quietfish to Food & Drink (67 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
I do remember this from a while back,
Salad Bar Hack

Not exactly what you're looking for, but I think they get points for creativity.
posted by Constant Reader at 6:16 AM on April 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


I was positively flabbergasted when I learned of them too, also in the 80s. I was older than 10 but younger than 16. Probably around 12. I don't know if I'd been sheltered up to then or if that's when all-you-can-eat was invented (or if that's when they came to my area). It was doubly flabbergasting for me because it was also a pizza place. I remember very clearly spending quite a bit of time coming up with schemes to maximize my take.

You can't live there 24 hours. You can't even stay between meals. So you'd (theoretically) have to come in right as they started serving, say, lunch and not leave until they kicked you out.

Of course, after the first couple slices the schemes are forgotten. You just aren't that hungry.
posted by DU at 6:22 AM on April 6, 2007


I take it you are not American? You are overanalyzing it. Just go in, saddle up to the buffet and load up.

Then sit back and people watch because it gets a bit...odd.
posted by evilelvis at 6:25 AM on April 6, 2007


Also, does anyone have anyone strategies as to how to maximize the buffet experience?

Unless you are so poor that it will be your only meal for the day, try not to overeat. It's not a healthy habit, and if my buffet meal ended with indigestion and bloating, it would be hard to consider it "maximized."
posted by grouse at 6:27 AM on April 6, 2007


"[Herb] McDonald inspired the buffet in 1946 more out of hunger than genius, he recalled. One night while working late at the El Rancho Vegas, the first hotel on what would become the Strip, McDonald brought some cheese and cold cuts from the kitchen and laid them out on the bar to make a sandwich. Gamblers walking by said they were hungry, and the buffet was born. The original midnight 'chuckwagon' buffet cost $1.25."
Gambling Magazine, 10 July, 2006

Apparently.
posted by chrismear at 6:36 AM on April 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


buffet != all-you-can-eat
posted by DU at 6:38 AM on April 6, 2007


Brazilian and Portuguese restaurants sometimes have Rodizios and buffets. Wikipedia doesn't say if the buffet part is a US addition to these and I've never been to Brazil, though.
posted by mkb at 6:39 AM on April 6, 2007


May as well read the wiki on the subject.
posted by mand0 at 6:41 AM on April 6, 2007


Also, does anyone have anyone strategies as to how to maximize the buffet experience?

In any unfamiliar buffet, you want your first pass to be a tiny dab of anything that looks good/interesting. That way your second pass can be to make an actual meal of the best options.

I think buffets are awesome introductions for unfamiliar foods, especially in situations where a name or even a description isn't going to mean much because you don't have enough context for the flavors. Without buffets, I might never have realized that I had spent most of my life suffering from a crippling korma deficiency, or that tabbouleh is actually far greater than the sum of its parts.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:42 AM on April 6, 2007


An anecdote from the tiny Midwestern town experience: when I was growing up (in the late 70s-early 80s), the first time I saw a buffet I was amazed also, but around here, they were called smorgasbords. I thought the idea was Swedish in origination--that was how it was marketed anyway. *shrugs* The word "buffet" didn't come into use until later to describe all-you-can-eat restaurants, afaik.
posted by cass at 6:45 AM on April 6, 2007


The buffet is quite popular in post-Soviet states as well.
posted by k8t at 6:51 AM on April 6, 2007


Lyn Never has the right idea.
posted by mmascolino at 6:52 AM on April 6, 2007


"Buffet" does NOT describe all-you-can-eat restaurants. They are orthogonal concepts.

A buffet is where all the food is out and available. Like a salad bar, but with all the foods. And, like a salad bar, the number of times you can hit it may or may not be limited by the terms of the restaurant. Pizza Hut only lets you hit the salad bar once. I remember going to many buffet style restaurants where you could only go through a single time.

The buffet concept is: Choice and access

All-you-can-eat is where you can eat all you want, but the food may or may not be sitting out for you. My college cafeteria was this way. You could eat as much as you want after you got inside, but you had to stand back in line for the lunch ladies to refill your tray.

The all-you-can-eat concept is: Multiple passes

It is definitely true that many (probably even most) all-you-can-eat places are buffet style, but it is also true that most cats are four-legged. That doesn't mean saying "four-legged" refers to a cat.
posted by DU at 6:53 AM on April 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Wikipedia doesn't say if the buffet part is a US addition to these and I've never been to Brazil, though.

At Rodizios in Brazil, non-meat dishes are either served family style or buffet style. Buffet style was slightly more common, in my experience, but my experience was mainly limited to Brasilia, so that may not be true in other parts of the country.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:54 AM on April 6, 2007


So at a Swedish smorgasbord or a post-Soviet buffet, do you pay once and stuff yourself? Do you pay by the dish like at dim sum? By the pound? By the hour?
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:59 AM on April 6, 2007


In Japan the buffet style setup is called "viking" and is usually all-you-can-eat. Some restaurants only do this at lunch, but there are also "viking" style restaurants where you get to pick out meat and vegetables to cook at the table.
posted by betweenthebars at 7:00 AM on April 6, 2007


A college friend of mine used to go out with a bunch of his fellow engineering students to the all-you-can-eat $5.99 (not actually sure what the price was) Pizza Hut buffet for lunch. He says that one member of the group ate so much pizza that he was told by the manager that he had to leave. He protested, "But it's all you can eat!" and the manager said, "you've eaten all you can eat for $5.99."

Some places I have visited control over-eaters by limiting the duration of your stay. At the Salt Lick barbecue restaurant near Austin, it's an all-you-care-to-eat concept, but there's a sign that says, "Please limit your stay to [x] minutes."
posted by jayder at 7:03 AM on April 6, 2007


The concept of all-you-can-eat is known in Japan, where it's known as tabehoudai. You can also find all-you-can-drink, or nomihoudai. It's rarely, if ever, buffet-style, though.

As for why buffets and all-you-can-eat are usually synonymous here in the West, it just makes sense from a business perspective. All-you-can-eat without a buffet requires a lot of service and manpower, and a single- or limited-pass buffet requires guarding. Put the two together, and you maximize convenience for the customers and minimize inconvenience for the staff.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:04 AM on April 6, 2007


Failing to preview, I forgot about vikings. Thanks, betweenthebars.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:05 AM on April 6, 2007


One of the best places to experience this is an Ethiopian restaurant. While I've been assured that not all operate under this model, the three I've been to all have, so I assume it's relatively common.
I'm also a huge fan of lunch buffets, especially Indian ones.

I take "all you can eat" as a personal challenge. Here are the hints for maximizing your dollar to doughnuts experience—

First off, be hungry. Don't eat earlier in the day, or if you do, eat only small things.
Second off, make sure you've got the capacity. I find that emptying my bowels prior helps the experience.
Third, I like to get a massive high on before hand. I feel that it stimulates the appetite.
Fourth, the bread is your enemy. It is there to fill you up. Ignore it. You don't want to look back on your death bed and think "I could have eaten more, if not for that bread."
Fifth, pace yourself. Gorging quickly can give you a cramp.
Sixth, water is also an empty gesture. Try to avoid drinking too much.
Seventh, try to recruit your skinny, high friends. The fat ones will have stomachs compressed. The skinny ones will challenge you to eat more. You must best their gullets!
Eighth, beware of spices. The Indians whose buffet I frequent viciously increase the level of heat to discourage gluttony. A little bit of milk or cream or fat will cut the heat (a lassi). You'll pay the next day, but that's the future, and the buffet is now.
Ninth, if you're eating so fast as to have to belch, slow down. The goal is to keep eating even after you're full, but not to get extra air down there.
Tenth, you can often snag a take-out container, which is like having an extra stomach without having cud. I.e. awesome.
posted by klangklangston at 7:16 AM on April 6, 2007 [20 favorites]


Eat your money's worth at an all-you-can-eat.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:20 AM on April 6, 2007


All you can eat makes a lot of sense at traditional Southern cat-fish joints (i.e. a barn-like structure out in the country next to the cat-fish pond). Most have a very limited menu (maybe cat-fish, hush-puppies, french-fries, and coleslaw). The good ones are not buffet style but have people serving food fresh from the fryer.

The big plus is that no math is involved.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 7:20 AM on April 6, 2007


To maximize the experience, go during the largest rush time. I went to one busy sushi all-you-can-eat outside Boston and LOVED it. So fresh and tasty! I went to another one at an off peak time (in New Orleans) and it was disgusting.

If you go at a peak serving time, they will more likely be refreshing the plates of food more often as people eat faster, so the food on the buffet is more likely to be fresh.
posted by nursegracer at 7:21 AM on April 6, 2007


Your question about whether "all you can eat" retaurants exist in other parts of the world surprised me, because most of my experience with them has been while I was travelling outside of the US, and with the exception of a couple of trips to Vegas the restaurants I've been to that do this, in the US or elsewhere, have all been Mediterranean, African, Middle-Eastern, or Asian. I always assumed that the practice originated in cultures where hospitality was more important than maximizing profit.

The Indian 'thali' is often an all-you-can-eat meal; I've had to feign illness or near-death to get them to stop refilling my plate. It's a good idea to start refusing food when you are about half done, so the 'just a little more' that they insist you eat doesn't kill you.

In the US I've seen restaurants incorrectly refer to their "all you can eat" offerings as a 'buffet' or 'smorgasbord', French and Swedish words whose meaning is more along the lines of "people serve themselves". (Both words originally referred to the table or sideboard on which such a meal is served.)
posted by foobario at 7:26 AM on April 6, 2007


A Churrascaria (Brazilian/Portugese) is a kind of barbecue steak house which is normally (not always) all you can eat. Often they have a block of wood on each table with one side painted red and the other green. There are waiters walking around with different slabs of meat (6-10 different kinds, generally) on swords(!) and if the green side is up they come over and stop at your table and tell you what the meat they're holding is. If it sounds good, you point at the part you want and they chop some off for you. The one I went to also had a buffet style salad bar, which was, well, lacking...I was there as a treat for my boyfriend at the time, and I'm vegetarian, so...... Anyway, what I learned is that you should skip them unless you really like meat, because you will pay as though you fully intend to eat a boatload of meat.
posted by anaelith at 7:32 AM on April 6, 2007


In Malaysia during Ramadan, buffets are quite popular (they're called Buka Puasa Buffet; the first 2 words mean "break the fast" in Malay and the term signifies the evening meal for Ramadan). I think other Muslim countries have the same sort of buffets during Ramadan, but I don't know how far back the idea goes. I suspect it was borrowed from the West, since the utterly traditional Ramadan meal is cooked at home, but the buffet format makes things a lot easier for hungry Muslims and restaurant staff. Customers flood in all at the same time (sunset), and the easiest way to accomodate so many people all at once is to have the food already prepared and set out for self-service. Customers can eat right away, without waiting for their food to be brought out from the kitchen, and the staff can pretty much stay out of the way.

Strategy for eating at a Buka Puasa buffet (assuming you're not Muslim): get there about 15 minutes before sunset. The food is ready to go and you won't get trampled by the crowd of hungry Muslims.

I'm exaggerating - I never saw a stampede at one of these buffets, but they do get very crowded.
posted by Quietgal at 7:35 AM on April 6, 2007


It is definitely true that many (probably even most) all-you-can-eat places are buffet style, but it is also true that most cats are four-legged. That doesn't mean saying "four-legged" refers to a cat.

That's nice, but the original poster specifically asks: I'm really interested in the concept of the buffet-style, "all you can eat" type restaurant experience.

He's not interested in your fancy-pants all-you-can-eat restaurants where you have to interact with actual humans to get your food.
posted by chrismear at 7:36 AM on April 6, 2007


One of the best places to experience this is an Ethiopian restaurant. While I've been assured that not all operate under this model, the three I've been to all have, so I assume it's relatively common.

I've eaten at a bunch of Ethiopian places, in both NYC and DC (the mecca of Ethiop food in the US), and I've never seen an all-you-can-eat offer. Where do you eat Eth?

you can often snag a take-out container, which is like having an extra stomach without having cud.

Uh, yeah, by the same token you can "maximize your experience" at a regular restaurant by ordering the most expensive stuff on the menu and then sneaking out without paying. That's stickin' it to the Man!
posted by languagehat at 7:40 AM on April 6, 2007


My tips for an all you can eat resturant.
1. You are paying for the caliber of the dining experience not to have a contest to see how expensive you can make it for the resturant to serve you. Use what is available to make the best meal you can. Do not eat more than you would like. Don't worry about eating less valuable food like rice, it usually enhances the experience of dining to have a simple base. Don't eat in a way that will leave you uncomfortable.

2. The advantage of the buffet is that you can have a variety of food, take advantage of this, try small amounts of things that maybe you don't think you would like, use the oppurtunity to try something new with diminished risk.

3. Many buffets are centered around ethnic foods. Certain types of cuisine lend themselve to being left out in a buffet better than others. Foods that are cooked slowly typically are better buffet food than foods that are cooked quickly as such I think Indian is particularly good for a buffet and Chinese is less good.

4. Don't put too much on your plate at once. There is no need to crowd the plate.

5. Don't sit in a booth if you are dining with more than two people it isn't worth the hassle of trying to syncronise your eating.
posted by I Foody at 7:46 AM on April 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Wikipedia doesn't say if the buffet part is a US addition to these and I've never been to Brazil, though.

At Rodizios in Brazil, non-meat dishes are either served family style or buffet style. Buffet style was slightly more common, in my experience, but my experience was mainly limited to Brasilia, so that may not be true in other parts of the country.


I was in Curitba, in the south of Brazil, in '95. Buffet restaurants were common, especially for lunch. I used to have enough time on my lunch break to take a bus downtown to my favorite place, a two-story vegetarian buffet. Sometimes you'd see the oddest people eating there, like a huge group of Brazilian UFO abductees while their convention was in town. But I digress.

As for the rodizio style, I was told that it evolved from rustic areas where it was simpler to walk around and offer food to your patrons instead of creating a menu, taking orders, calculating a bill, etc. It's not limited to churrascarias--I went to a gigantic Italian restaurant where the servers circulated with huge dishes of pasta, lasagna and eggplant parmesan.
posted by hydrophonic at 7:58 AM on April 6, 2007


Buffet + children = yesster doesn't eat.

And it's not just children (though they're the worst). Have you seen what people do to food on buffets? They touch it. They breathe on it. And more.

Some buffets I will do, but not most. They have to be clean, well-maintained, with polite diners, and especially polite children if any are present. You don't find that at most sub-$10 buffet joints.
posted by yesster at 8:07 AM on April 6, 2007


I guess there are two places where I might look for the origin of "all you can eat" - firstly as a marketing concept for getting more people through the door and secondly as a by-product of having more family-like eating. If you go to eat on, say, a farm where people are doing manual work you will often find that what is served up is basically an extended family meal for all those present with the proviso that everybody can have all they want.

You can see this on a national scale in countries like Brazil where the standard configuration and pricing of meals assumes that you and at least one other person will be sharing the same dish. Brazil, as the wikipedia article points out, also has many "comida à kilo" restaurants where you pay for most items by weight. In either case there is an assumption that those who are very hungry will eat more but that they should pay a single price.
posted by rongorongo at 8:13 AM on April 6, 2007


I used to work in a banquet hall/conference center. When setting up our buffets, we placed the most inexpensive items nearest the plates at the top of the table. Customers were to crowd their plates with salad and rolls, so that the salmon and steak weren't hit as hard.

Now, that isn't to say that the inexpensive dishes weren't tasty - I still pine for the pasta salad from time to time - but if your goal is to align what you pay for the buffet with the food cost to the restaurant, ignore the first third of the table or so. Once you clear the first tray or so of steamed vegetables or cheesy potatoes, then you're probably into the good stuff. Dig in. Make all your money back.

If something you like runs out, watch the kitchen doors. If the first staff to pass through them hold them open, then you can bet the next staff coming through as a steaming pan in hand. Hop up and get it in line! They'll just be pulling off the lid when you reach it.

An all-you-can eat restaurant is a battle ground. The restaurant's goal is to charge you for a feast then stuff you with starches. Yours is to gorge yourself until their profit becomes a loss. Yes it hurts, but sometimes victory does.
posted by EatTheWeak at 8:20 AM on April 6, 2007 [3 favorites]


As far as maximizing the buffet experience goes, I would mostly agree with klangklangston's list with one exception - pacing yourself. IMO, you should really try to eat as fast as you can, before your food has time to digest! Don't be afraid to take two or even three plates at a time! Also, Lyn Never has the right idea about just taking little bits of everything first and then going back for more. I learned this lesson the hard way when I was at what is perhaps the king of buffets - the Rio in Vegas. I got a bit greedy and loaded my plate with the delicious looking mashed sweet potatoes the first time round. They were delicious, but because I ate too much I tragically never got to try the burritos.

Don't make the mistakes that I have.
posted by triggerfinger at 8:28 AM on April 6, 2007


It's definitely found elsewhere - I've had all-you-can-eat buffets in Africa and the Middle East. It's a long tradition in the Levantine cultures (such as in Jordan, etc) - food isn't served individually but on big platters, with bread on the bottom, then rice, then the main stew-type-thing, and people serve themselves by scooping what they want on to the bread. This style of eating is replicated in public as all-you-can-eat buffets.
posted by goo at 8:39 AM on April 6, 2007


"I've eaten at a bunch of Ethiopian places, in both NYC and DC (the mecca of Ethiop food in the US), and I've never seen an all-you-can-eat offer. Where do you eat Eth?"

Ann Arbor, Detroit, Cleveland. I'm looking forward to Ethiopian Town in LA.
All three went with a model where you got this huge platter covered in a thin, spongy bread, and then a handful of about five or six different dishes (collards, lentils, that sort of thing) that you'd scoop up with the bread, and they'd refill the platter until you told them not to. Meat eaters got lamb along with their platter. It ran about $15, which meant that, as a vegetarian and a cheapskate, I had to really pack it in to justify it.

"Uh, yeah, by the same token you can "maximize your experience" at a regular restaurant by ordering the most expensive stuff on the menu and then sneaking out without paying. That's stickin' it to the Man!"

No, you just ask for it. If they don't want to let you leave with the food, they'll tell you no. It's not like I'm telling him to steal the silverware.
posted by klangklangston at 9:18 AM on April 6, 2007


On Commercial Road in London there is an interesting all you can eat Chinese, where instead of rows of buffet trays they cook everything to order off the menu.

Actually, its the same as the single dish menu, just portions are sharply reduced, approach Tapas sized mini-meals.

Its not the cheapest (about £11 / person), however it does let us sample lots of different dishes, and by avoiding the buffet places we don't have to worry about stuff lying around all day.

Another plus - the intervals caused by the ordering / cooking / eating cycle lead to a slower paced meal.
posted by Mutant at 9:29 AM on April 6, 2007


When I was about 18 I was a waitress at a restaurant called (no lie) Pasta La Vista. The owner had this brainstorm to do all-you-can-eat Monday nights, and at that time he figured that pasta cost about $1.59 a pound so it would be a biiiig profit night. He had planned to rake it in & told us all about it. He was thrilled with his plan at first. Up until every single obese person within driving distance of San Diego heard about it. I kid you not, I have never seen anything like it. Every week the crowd got bigger & bigger (literally) & they would stay there for HOURS to get as many helpings in as possible. It was actually kind of entertaining to watch the owner cringe as they very literally ate up all of his glorious profit.

That promotion didn't last long.

[Not fatist]
posted by miss lynnster at 9:35 AM on April 6, 2007


Oh, and I definitely agree about taking little bits of everything & then going back for more of what struck your fancy.
posted by miss lynnster at 9:36 AM on April 6, 2007


In Russia a few years ago I encountered all-you-can-eat places in both Moscow and Voronezh. I'm sure they're elsewhere in the country. Always advertised as Шведский Стол (shvedskii stol = swedish table = smorgasbord).
posted by msbrauer at 9:45 AM on April 6, 2007


I asked a question a few years ago that might help you here.
posted by Prospero at 9:50 AM on April 6, 2007


No, you just ask for it. If they don't want to let you leave with the food, they'll tell you no. It's not like I'm telling him to steal the silverware.

Hmm. I've been in AYCE restaurants that threatened (by sign) to charge customers who did not finish their food. So it might be best to ascertain policy beforehand.

There's an All-You-Can-Eat fondue place here, All-You-Can-Drink wine and All-You-Can-Cram cheesecake included. It's not far from UC Berkeley, and I remember being mildly surprised that there were not buckets located strategically throughout the place. I imagine not a few college parties happen there, along with the attendant overindulgence.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:57 AM on April 6, 2007


This isn't just an American thing. I saw AYCE (All You Can Eat) places in Japan.

Shakey's Pizza in Japan did that. A couple local places had similar deals going on.

One thing you'd probably never ever see outside of Japan is bars with "Happy Hour" that means all you can DRINK! Yes, all you can drink. For Y1500 (around $15) you got all the beer you could drink from 4pm to 7pm. Well drinks were Y1000 ($10)

There were a handful of bars in Yokohama that had deals like that. We patronized them religiously and drank like complete pigs.
posted by drstein at 10:00 AM on April 6, 2007


A little bit more on rodizios: They're not just for meat anymore. My favorite rodizio is rodizio de pizza, where the guys come buy with thin pies of all kinds of delicious toppings including dessert. They walk behind going snip-snip with their pizza scissors, saying camarão camarão or whatever the pizza is they're bringing.

There are also rodizio de crepe and rodizio de sushi. Y-u-m-m-y.
posted by whatzit at 10:00 AM on April 6, 2007


and they'd refill the platter until you told them not to.

Wow. I wish I'd run into that kind of place back when I still had the appetite to take advantage of it. I loves me some Ethiopian food! (You should definitely try DC sometime, though; you may not get the all-you-can-eat, but the quality is amazing. And let's face it, AYCE isn't, in general, a sign of fine dining.)

No, you just ask for it. If they don't want to let you leave with the food, they'll tell you no.

Ah, my apologies. You can see where I'd get the wrong idea, though. Most AYCE places have stern rules against taking food out, and frankly I can't see why they wouldn't; if you let people do that, it seems like you're practically making profit impossible.

All I could think of. Sorry.

Then you should have thought better of it. What part of "Wisecracks don't help people find answers" don't you understand?
posted by languagehat at 10:03 AM on April 6, 2007


I've been to a bunch of Ethiopian places in DC, and I haven't seen all you can eat. Although that would be awesome.

(When/if you come here, my favorites are Dukem and Etete, which are both easily accessible by public transportation.
posted by kdar at 10:50 AM on April 6, 2007


Also Mongolian BBQ* is often (not always) all you can eat.

*I'm not sure why they call it this, though. The example I've been to (and others found via google) go something like this: You get a bowl, add rice/noodles, go down a buffet and add other veggie toppings, add sauce. Get a separate (smallish) bowl and fill it with protein (meat or tofu). Add more sauces/condiments. Either tell them how you want it cooked or use plastic colour-coded sticks (options usually: stir-fry, stir-fry with bread, stir-fry and wrapped.. sometimes soup). When they've finished cooking it, they bring it back to your table.

The one here is a reasonably cheap price for one bowl, or 1$ more for all you can eat...deceptive, since I've never managed more then one bowl.
posted by anaelith at 11:06 AM on April 6, 2007


Nashville citizens. Get thee to Ru San's in the 'Gulch'. All you can eat sushi that rules the galaxy.

that is all.
posted by toastchee at 11:09 AM on April 6, 2007


When I was 16 and growing I thought all you can eat places were the most wonderful places in the world. Now that my appetite has receded, I'm not so impressed.

A lot of restaurants in Brazil have a setup where you get only one piece of meat, but all the visits to the salad bar (which might have potato salad, feijoada, that fried polenta stuff, and lots more) you wanted.

I also had amazing all you can eat buffet food at a truckstop in Mexico -- they had a line of guisadas to die for.

The open buffets and open bars are, I'm told, the big appeals of all-inclusive resorts and cruises. You might be paying $300 or more per night, but the bottomless beer makes it worthwhile...
posted by Forktine at 11:47 AM on April 6, 2007


Don't have any lunch or breakfast the day of you trip.
drink plenty of water in the morning and early afternoon to keep you going.

Go at the beginning of the dinner rush. Although it may be crowded, you will get the freshest food.

I would recommend getting a plate and heading for the section of the buffet furthest away from the plates. That is where the most expensive items they have are likely to be.

If you only want to maximize KiloCalories per Dollar, K/$ is maximized by getting Fat. Carbs and Protein only have 4 Kc per gram, Fat has 9 per gram. If you can only eat a limited amount of food you maximize you mileage by getting more energy intensive food full of fats and oils.
posted by Megafly at 12:44 PM on April 6, 2007


"Ah, my apologies. You can see where I'd get the wrong idea, though. Most AYCE places have stern rules against taking food out, and frankly I can't see why they wouldn't; if you let people do that, it seems like you're practically making profit impossible."

Yeah, though Indian places seem to be more willing to give you the boxes than anywhere else. Again, the theory of the best couple places around here is just to jack the spices way up. Which is fantastic if you like spicy Indian food, but can put the kibosh on volume a lot faster than, say, all you can eat mac and cheese (which Bill Knapps used to have, but I think they went under totally. It was all an ex-girlfriend's father would eat, which seemed profoundly sad).

Oh, and for the global question? I went to a Korean BBQ in Chaing Mai (Thailand) that was AYCE, and would just bring around a cart with meat and sides. You'd cook the meat yourself at your table. Their bathrooms had thousands of cheesecake matchbook covers behind plexiglass for you to look at while you were at the urinals.

There are also myriad breakfast AYCE places, usually more upscale ones have crepe bars and shit like that. The caveat there is that there's often a time limit on the breakfast, so you can't be going back for fifths unless you get there early and pace yourself well. The other danger with a breackfast/brunch thing is that so much is so sweet that I always feel close to a diabetic coma.

And I agree with above sentiment that two of the most beautiful words in English are "open bar."
posted by klangklangston at 12:59 PM on April 6, 2007


I also agree.

And I forgot about the enormous karaoke bar in Hong Kong I went to once, with a huge ayce spread - including cook your own (the little bowls of chicken, meat, different veges were there and a few gas burners with woks) and 47 different dessert options. This place was spotless, and had lots of dudes running around to clean up after people and replace the food.
posted by goo at 1:30 PM on April 6, 2007


I've not read all the answers so this may be redundant. Also, I'm an all-you-can-eat (AYCE) connoisseur but I've been around enough to know the best approach.

First, are you at an ethnic place or a typical American (and likely Canadian) style AYCE? I realize typical American and Canadian food might be considered ethnic to some.

The Ethnic AYCE

Your approach here is to try lots of stuff you ordinarily don't have access to. So make a first pass trying small amounts of everything, or at least everything that looks palatable. The goal is to find out what you like and what you don't. Then on subsequent passes you focus on only the stuff you liked. No use eating something you're not fond of in that situation.

The ethinc is my favorite AYCE, especially Indian. For example I'd try most of what's set out but my second pass would me limited to things like Chicken Tikka Masala, and Curries. I'd probably pass on the Vindaloo and whatever the spinachy lamb dish is.

The American AYCE

Skip the salad bar unless you really like salad; the standard American style salad is pretty lame and probably has more calories than you'd expect with a fatty dressing. More so if you add cheese and bacon bits. As your Czech relative discovered the starches are to be passed up as well, especially bread, again unless you really like it. But the bread at the American AYCE is likely going to be pretty average.

There's going to be so much food you'll be in danger of eating an uncomfortable amount. So this means the veggies have to go. All the foods your mom made you eat as a child? This is the time to eat none of them.

So what does that leave you? The meats, maybe a veggie dish you like, and a starch dish you like (mac&cheese for me). But you'll want to avoid the sketchy looking meats. Pretty picky about fish? Don't eat the fish. Love shrimp? Load up on the shrimp. Try a hot wing or two, and a chicken nugget. They've also probably got burgers or meatballs, and maybe steak. Anything that looks tempting give it a shot. But the downside is many of the meat dishes come in large enough servings that you'll run out of room on your plate and in your stomach quickly.

I find I'm only good for about two plates, so the second go is limited to the stuff that was decent. Maybe a third small plate of the one item that really wowed me (orange shrimp at the last AYCE I went to). Dessert only if there's room. If you're a fan of dessert you need to adjust. Probably limit yourself to one and half plates and then dessert. Of course all of this depends on your hunger and how much you can physically eat. Me, I'm not so enamored with stuff myself to the point of feeling ill these days.

Special Topic: Mexican Food at the American AYCE

This is regional advice. In Denver Mexican food will almost certainly be available. In a place like NY, probably not so likely.

Do not get the Mexican food. No matter how tempted you are, and I'd be awfully tempted, it's going to be disappointing. The tacos will be greasy and soggy, the enchiladas luke-warm and pitiful. The rellenos might bring a tear to your eye. Why spend the money on the AYCE and use your limited stomach capacity on Taco Bell quality Mexican food? Save $5 and go to Taco Bell if that's what you're in the mood for, or spend about the same money as you would at the AYCE for at a decent Mexican place.
posted by 6550 at 1:40 PM on April 6, 2007


I meant I'm not an all-you-can-eat connoisseur...
posted by 6550 at 1:41 PM on April 6, 2007


What you describe is highly common in Malaysia, largely in hotels. Hotel breakfasts (and some other meals occasionally) follow this method. Many restaurants - especially in hotels - have an ala carte option and a buffet option which is AYCE. Some posher restaurants use AYCE buffets as a promotional venture (during holidays or openings, for example).

I've never really seen them in the US.
posted by divabat at 2:13 PM on April 6, 2007


There's an All-You-Can-Eat fondue place here, All-You-Can-Drink wine and All-You-Can-Cram cheesecake included. It's not far from UC Berkeley, and I remember being mildly surprised that there were not buckets located strategically throughout the place. I imagine not a few college parties happen there, along with the attendant overindulgence.

Fondue Fred's! An under-grad classic. I've never eaten there, but a friend went there for his birthday -- when he returned he was unable to stand, so drunk was he on their cheapy table wine.
posted by fishfucker at 2:18 PM on April 6, 2007


There's an awesome Ethiopian place in New Haven that does an all you can eat buffet at lunch. My strategy? Try to not leave the place feeling bloated and/or gross.
posted by eunoia at 2:34 PM on April 6, 2007


drstein sez: One thing you'd probably never ever see outside of Japan is bars with "Happy Hour" that means all you can DRINK! Yes, all you can drink. For Y1500 (around $15) you got all the beer you could drink

Not so. In many states in the USA the organization in charge of giving bars liquor licenses is also in charge of what strippers can do in nudie bars. If the strippers go beyond somebody's standards the the liquor license can be pulled.

I've read about some strip clubs that get around this by charging admission and then providing free all-you-can drink beer.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 4:49 PM on April 6, 2007


Uh, yeah, by the same token you can "maximize your experience" at a regular restaurant by ordering the most expensive stuff on the menu and then sneaking out without paying. That's stickin' it to the Man!
posted by languagehat at 1:40 AM on April 7 [+]
[!]


Oh no! Someone's breaking the rules! Society will surely collapse.
posted by oxford blue at 3:27 AM on April 7, 2007


In Western Canada the "Sunday Smorg" is traditionally popular, though that may be waning these days. Lots of fresh fruit, bacon and eggs, pancakes/waffles/crepes, etc. These used to be a particularly big deal on special occasions like Mother's Day (I've been at a couple of these that were absolutely HUGE.)
posted by evilcolonel at 8:19 AM on April 7, 2007


Indian restaurants in the UK tend to have Sunday fixed-price buffets, and that makes for a nice alternative to the traditional roast-and-veg. It's something that's been adopted in the US to include weekday lunches as well.

(It's been a while since I endured a Harvester-style place, but is the 'carvery' an all-you-can-eat thing?)
posted by holgate at 10:55 AM on April 7, 2007


The "all-you-can-eat" places in Japan I've been to have been pretty good. My favorite is the yakiniku chain (can't remember the name) where you can pick from a "choice" cut of meat or the regular one for a different price. It was really good though with the cost of drinks, it ended up costing me almost $50 USD.

Also, they also have "all-you-can-eat" places with time limits. After two hours, you get the boot.

I always think it's funny when I walk in with my brother who is this big guy and the owner looks at him as though concerned that he might single-handedly devour the food bar . Even more funny is that I'm tiny and can eat as much as him!

What seems to have become a common practice is now charging people for left-overs! I understand wasteful habits but honestly, some of the buffet offerings can be hit or miss. I'd hate to pay for a bunch of tasteless fruit or chewy meat that was inedible. I say, if they wanted me to eat it, they would have made it taste good.
posted by loquat at 10:59 PM on April 7, 2007


"I've read about some strip clubs that get around this by charging admission and then providing free all-you-can drink beer."

I must find one of these establishments.
posted by drstein at 10:06 AM on April 12, 2007


drstein: I must find one of these establishments.

Googling for "strip club" "free beer", turns up lots. The second hit mentions
Daydreams
5200 Unruh Ave.
Philadelphia, PA
(215) 338-3838

* Located in an old warehouse with over 12,000 square feet in floor space and a 60 foot stage. Relaxed atmosphere. Rare adult club where you can bring your own liquor or enjoy free beer. Popular for bachelor parties.
* cover charge, all nude strip club, couch dances, special shows, VIP room, free beer and BYOB, bar food on weekends, pool tables, large screen TVs, credit cards accepted
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 11:23 AM on April 12, 2007


correct google for "strip club" "free beer"
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 11:25 AM on April 12, 2007


correct google for "strip club" "free bear"
posted by oxford blue at 8:29 PM on April 12, 2007


Thank you everyone for your feedback. You've provided much food for thought! :)
posted by quietfish at 1:07 PM on April 13, 2007


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