The Buffeteer’s Guide:
Mastering the Art of All-you-can-eat Dining
A training manual composed by David Deal
Copyright 2017 by David Deal
Distributed by Shakespir
Table of Contents
In the summer of 1979, my parents took me to the Duff’s Smorgasbord located in Flint, Michigan. I was only four years old, and no one knew the incredible impact this seminal experience would have on my life. I was blown away by the simple idea of being able to get anything I wanted and as much as I wanted. Later that day, we visited a neighbor down the street. A huge, burly bear of a man with a cheerful disposition, we found him standing shirtless in his garden munching on carrots freshly yanked from the soil, casually displaying his implicit mastery of the world of food creation and consumption. Upon hearing the news of my first culinary foray into the world of buffet dining, he leaned down, placed his mighty paw on my shoulder, and spoke the words of wisdom that would forever shape my perspective on buffets: “You know what the secret to eating at the buffet is? Don’t eat until you’re full, eat until it hurts!”
Over the decades since that day, I have eaten thousands of buffet meals at hundreds of buffets across the United States, continually striving to develop the skills and strategies necessary to achieve an unprecedented level of buffeting professionalism. Now, I am ready to share with you the knowledge you need in order to become a skilled enough buffet diner to call yourself a Buffeteer!
Buffeteer (buhf-it-teer): noun 1. An individual with exceptional skill in dining at all-you-can eat buffet style restaurants. 2. One who does not display the characteristics of an amateur buffet diner while at a buffet.
At the core, there are two main differences between a buffet and a normal restaurant. The first is that you are allowed to eat all you want at a buffet. While it is perfectly acceptable to go to a buffet and eat only a light meal, this is the behavior of an amateur, and a true Buffeteer would never do such a thing. This manual is written from that perspective, and is intended for the value-conscious consumer looking to maximize the value obtained from a buffet visit. However, I will provide insights and helpful hints that will aid you in your forays into this unique dining environment even if you are not a true gut-stuffing Buffeteer.
The second main difference between a buffet and a normal restaurant is that a buffet presents a large variety of foods to you all at once, with very little direction or organization as to what you should consume, or in what order. This manual is organized similarly. There are many topics, presented somewhat according to the normal flow of a meal – preparation, arrival, consumption, and departure. You do not need to read them in the order they are presented, but it is hoped that you will gain many winning strategies regardless of your consumption choice. Enjoy!
Stretching before arrival
Preparing to visit the buffet requires a bit of forethought. An important aspect is the state of your stomach upon arrival at the buffet. While it may seem a prudent plan, eating nothing all day so that you arrive with a completely empty stomach is, in truth, a flawed strategy. While the metaphor of your stomach being like an empty fuel tank that you want to fill up is somewhat accurate, the reality is that your stomach is stretchable. When you have not eaten since the night before, your stomach tightens up, becomes smaller, and cannot hold as much food. In order to fit lots of food in there, you need to stretch it back out, and that is difficult to do in a small time, such as while at the buffet. You should go ahead and eat a light meal earlier in the day in order to stretch your stomach out and get it ready for the digestive marathon ahead.
Plan to pace yourself
In addition to stretching your food storage organ, it is also a good idea to have eaten a few hours prior to arrival at the buffet so that you are better able to pace yourself. When you arrive in a state of self-induced starvation, you will quickly devour a heavy plateful of food, and not be able to eat many more. Your pre-buffet meal should not be anything heavy, nor should it be huge. Something like a bowl of cereal, which contains plenty of liquids that will be rapidly digested (to clear out the belly for what comes next) is typically adequate to satiate the ravenous appetite, stretch the stomach a little, and prime the digestive tract. A breakfast shake or smoothie is also a winning strategy.
Wear loose clothing. This seems intuitive, but the real trick is remembering ahead of time. Once you are at the buffet and the pressure in the stomach starts to build, failure to heed this basic principle becomes obvious, but by then it is too late. You should treat a buffet trip like a camping trip – go prepared. Coveralls, which lack a belt to constrict the midsection, are exemplary Buffeteer attire for men. Pants made of stretchy material, such as sweat pants, are also acceptable and meet the dress code of the typical buffet. For women, a loose dress works well. If you do forget to plan ahead, or accidentally wind up in a buffet when you had not planned the visit (once your Buffeteering skills are honed, you will occasionally happen upon an unfamiliar buffet and be overly tempted to ambush it, a temptation that is sometimes hard to resist) and you find yourself stranded at the buffet between the rock in your belly and the hard place of a restricting belt, deal with it in the bathroom. Unbutton your pants and set your belt to a looser setting. It may feel a bit breezy if you also have to open your fly as well, but an untucked shirt can cover that, and I assure you that no one will notice because the other patrons are there to eat, not to stare at your crotch. While in the bathroom, it is also advisable to empty your bladder to ease the pressure. Under no circumstance should a Buffeteer stop eating due to restrictive clothing; deal with it and plow further into the meal.
Timing is important
On weekdays, you want to avoid arriving at the buffet between 2:00-5:00pm. When you arrive at the tail end of the lunch rush, they stop putting out fresh food, and you wind up with a small selection of leftovers that have been sitting in the steam trays too long, or the trays will become empty and won’t be refilled at all. Sometimes the buffet staff stir the leftover foods to keep them from looking overcooked and dried out, sometimes they don’t. Either way, the food becomes drier, tastes saltier, and you are at a higher risk for intestinal distress on your way home. Some buffets actually close during this time period, which is probably best – if you dine during this time span, you are likely to have a sub-standard experience. If you ever do wind up in this situation, a Buffeteering tactic is to find the manager (they typically hang out near the cash register) and ask if they can make you something fresh. They are almost always willing to do this if you ask for a specific dish that is either empty at the buffet or really dried out looking – sometimes they will want to negotiate and suggest a different dish that has some remaining in a tray, but once you’ve got the conversation going you should be able to get something. Smile and be friendly and you will probably win the negotiation.
As the time creeps into the dinner hours, the buffet will start bringing out fresh food, but this typically happens slowly, one dish at a time over an hour or so. This means that if you arrive around 4:00pm, you’re likely to be facing a buffet filled mostly with dried out leftovers from lunch and a small number of fresh appetizing dishes. The mind naturally sees the fresh food and starts to imagine that all of the buffet trays will be refreshed shortly. You then find yourself nibbling on a little of this and a little of that, eagerly anticipating all the fresh food that is surely about to roll out of the kitchen any minute. This wait can be long and frustrating. The buffet is not as eager to put that food out as you are to receive it. You can always ask about a particular item to try and speed up the delivery, but that strategy only works at some buffets (everywhere I’ve tried this the staff will readily agree to bring it out soon, but only some actually do it).
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All-you-can-eat buffet restaurants differ from normal restaurants in two important ways. The first is that you are allowed to eat all you want for an established price that does not increase with the quantity of food you consume. This offers the opportunity to reap a great value for your dollar, but most people are not able to maximize their value because they do not enter the buffet restaurant with the right mindset, preparation, or skills. This book will correct all of those deficiencies. The second important difference is that a buffet restaurant presents a large variety of foods to you all at once, with very little direction or organization as to what you should consume, when, or in what order. This all-at-once presentation of the meal offers the opportunity for an entirely different dining experience, and yet most people continue to follow the standard script that they have learned from regular restaurants. This book will teach you the perspective and concepts you need to shake things up and craft your own dining experience in the free-for-all of the buffet. After you read and practice the tactics offered in this training manual, you will eventually reach a high enough level of skill in buffet dining to call yourself a Buffeteer! **Buffeteer (buhf-it-teer): noun 1. An individual with exceptional skill in dining at all-you-can eat buffet style restaurants. 2. One who does not display the characteristics of an amateur buffet diner while at a buffet.