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Buffet-type Restaurants

by Jenise » Sat Apr 01, 2017 3:05 pm

On Quora, someone asked if it's possible to spend an entire day in an All You Can Eat restaurant. Here's the most popular and amusing response:

I attempted this on one occasion when I was a kid. Some friends and I decided to go to Old Country Buffet during lunch time and try to stick around for dinner, and we weren’t the only ones. Why would anyone do this? Because the lunch buffet was cheaper than the dinner buffet because the dinner buffet had “premium” items. When you came in and paid for lunch, they would give you a sign that said “lunch” to put on your table. If you didn’t have a sign on your table, they would ask you to leave. So we would come about 30 minutes before dinner and pay for lunches, get our sign, sit down and eat. Our plan was to eat a light lunch, wait for the premium items to be put out and get back in line for dinner.

So as we slowly ate our food, and the time for the cooks to switch over to dinner loomed closely. Our plan was to rush the buffet, fill our plates with food, and then get back to our table before anyone noticed that we were still flying a “lunch” flag. After we’d emptied our plates, we hunched over the table in anticipation. We’d only filled our plates lightly knowing that we’d soon be filling them with chicken wings, pork chops, fried chicken, potato salad and the piece de resistance, roasted prime rib. Our mouths were wet with anticipation.

Then out of nowhere a neck-tied manager came out and started cordoning off the buffet with ropes. Our plan was foiled! We’d only made one trip to the buffet and now we were behind a rope. The manager eyed us with disdain, he knew what we were up to and cut us off at the knees. Our only remaining option was to gorge ourselves on soft serve ice cream, cake and pie since those items were still outside of their barrier. I’ve never eaten so much cheap ice cream and pie in one sitting in my life. The “premium” dinner would have to wait.


As an adult, I pretty much hate buffets. I won't do a salad bar. But as a kid, they were super-exciting. For one, my white/creamy food phobia and huge and well-earned distrust of adult assurances about what was 'safe' made being able to choose my food on sight a huge benefit. And there was so much food! Simultaneous proteins didn't happen at home, but there I could have sliced ham AND rare roast beef AND a piece of fried chicken in the same meal! (However, my youth worked against me here, I preferred white meat but always got thighs because I wouldn't say the worst 'breast' out loud.)

We went to two fairly often with my grandmother, who would pick us up on Friday nights and take us to dinner before going to her house for the weekend. One was called The Ontre (picture an accent over that 'e'), which was in Downey, a town no one outside of California would know unless your uncle worked for Rockwell Aeronautics or you closely followed the career of Karen and Richard Carpenter, who grew up there. And the other was a briefly popular chain of black timber and white paint buildings in So Cal called Sir George's Smorgasbord. The Ontre had the best cherry pie, Sir George's the best fried chicken.

Nowadays the closest I get to any of that is breakfast in certain hotels.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
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Re: Buffet-type Restaurants

by Mike Filigenzi » Sun Apr 02, 2017 1:03 am

That's a pretty good story regarding Old Country Buffet.

I used to enjoy some high end hotel brunch buffets back when I was in my late 20's. There was one in San Francisco we went to a few times that was wonderful. Lots of high quality seafood, good baked items, etc. Those days are long gone, now. I was at one of those Brazilian steak places a couple of weeks ago while on a work-related trip, where they continually bring meat items to your table and you eat all you want. I ended up getting a single plate of halibut because there was no way I was going to be able to eat a ton of sausage, filet, ribs, pork chops, and so on.

There's a place not far from our house that's a Chinese buffet that also advertises steak, sushi, Italian food, burgers, and more on the front of the place. That one strikes fear in my heart every time we pass by it.
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Re: Buffet-type Restaurants

by Hoke » Sun Apr 02, 2017 4:52 pm

Good story.

I'm not averse to either buffets or all-you-can-eat/cafeteria style joints. (In Dallas, those are revered institution and even upper-middle-class families go there frequently) However, my wife will not eat at a buffet place. She maintains that "Any place that has something called a "sneeze shield" over the food is a place I'm not going to eat." She also doesn't like the idea of other people picking through what she might be eating.

Nowadays, on rare occasions, I might drop in at an Indian restaurant for an all-you-can-eat---not so much for the conspicuous consumption part as it satisfies my yen to have several different Indian items available rather than a traditional meal with one main item. I would rather eat a selection than a full dish of one item.

I went to several of those Brazilian/Argentinean churrascarias several years ago, back when I both ate meat and was profligate and ill-advised in my eating habits. Trouble is I found I was much like everyone else there in not having enough intelligence and will power to limit my intake. Everything was so damn good it was hard to resist, so I didn't. Ate staggering amounts of various grilled and roasted meats (especially after the first visit where I learned their schtick was to load you up with relatively cheap all-you-can-eat salads and breads before you get to the meat deliveries. But I don't do that anymore, and haven't for a long while.

I remember a newspaper story, think it was a place outside of Salk Lake City, that offered an all-you-can-eat buffet...and they ended up kicking out and banning two Samoans (and yes, they were of the huuuuuuge Samoan strain) who would spend literally hours constantly stuffing food in their mouths. Big hubbub about it and the resto got some criticism from the Samoans claiming the restaurant was doing illegal advertising. But in straight-laced Mormon country, the furriners were tsked at for being greedy and pushy.
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Re: Buffet-type Restaurants

by Jenise » Sun Apr 02, 2017 7:54 pm

Mike Filigenzi wrote: I used to enjoy some high end hotel brunch buffets back when I was in my late 20's. There was one in San Francisco we went to a few times that was wonderful. Lots of high quality seafood, good baked items, etc.....There's a place not far from our house that's a Chinese buffet that also advertises steak, sushi, Italian food, burgers, and more on the front of the place. That one strikes fear in my heart every time we pass by it.


Those hotel brunches just killed me--went to a few long time ago but could never adjust to eating a dinner sized meal so early; it pretty much finished the day for me regardless of whether I partook of the lousy free champagne.

The Chinese buffet--DO avoid! We went to one here in Bellingham when we first moved in. Huge buffet about 20 feet on a side with two sides--with more slots for food than they had credible food to fill them with so things like jello salads were also on offer. My idea of hell!
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
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Re: Buffet-type Restaurants

by Jenise » Sun Apr 02, 2017 8:00 pm

Hoke wrote:Good story.


I liked it because it was just the kind of thing I'd have plotted at around age 12, too stupid to realize that a zillion others would have tried it first.

But I'm with Roxi and I've put my principal objections in exactly those terms. However that applies to serve-yourself buffets, and not all are. The two from my childhood were either lots of bowls or plates you could take one of without leaning over the food, and several carving stations/hot lines where they served you. Clean enough.

Funny about the Samoans. You'd think AYCE restaurants would simply accept the fact that part of their target market are big eaters who are going to get more than their money's worth, and that's just part of their cost of doing business.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
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Re: Buffet-type Restaurants

by Mike Filigenzi » Mon Apr 03, 2017 12:34 am

Jenise wrote:Those hotel brunches just killed me--went to a few long time ago but could never adjust to eating a dinner sized meal early in the day pretty much finished the day for me regardless of whether I partook of the lousy free champagne.
!


We used to drink quite a bit of the lousy free champagne and I was definitely done for the day after those things. I can't begin to imagine doing something like that now. I'm not a big fan of even non-buffet brunches because the portions tend to be large, I tend to overeat, and that just feels yucky that early in the day.
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Re: Buffet-type Restaurants

by Jenise » Mon Apr 03, 2017 3:53 am

Mike Filigenzi wrote:
Jenise wrote:Those hotel brunches just killed me--went to a few long time ago but could never adjust to eating a dinner sized meal early in the day pretty much finished the day for me regardless of whether I partook of the lousy free champagne.
!


We used to drink quite a bit of the lousy free champagne and I was definitely done for the day after those things. I can't begin to imagine doing something like that now. I'm not a big fan of even non-buffet brunches because the portions tend to be large, I tend to overeat, and that just feels yucky that early in the day.


And the portions weren't always large, it was the layering of portions that became large. In part because I think we all have a tendency to want to get value for money--and those fancy hotel brunches were priced accordingly. Usually around $30 even 30 years ago. A bit of a waste for someone like me who would prefer just some fruit and a few rashers of bacon.
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Re: Buffet-type Restaurants

by Barb Downunder » Mon Apr 03, 2017 4:46 am

I haven't been to a buffet for a looooong time and memories are of vast disappointment and sheer disbelief in what people put on their plates! Indiscriminate choices piled up to overflowing, disgusting.
Mmy personal approach is a little of a couple of item which go together then return for a different set, changing plates so not to get stuff all mixed up. Maybe a side plate with some salad. But really I'd rather not "buffet"
Even the ubiquitous hotel buffet breakfast is generally a somewhat sad affair, but at least people seem more restrained.
And this all reminds me of Tony Bourdain describing the buffet in Kitchen Confidential, which should be a warning to us all :mrgreen: :mrgreen:
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Re: Buffet-type Restaurants

by Jenise » Mon Apr 03, 2017 11:26 am

Barb Downunder wrote:Even the ubiquitous hotel buffet breakfast is generally a somewhat sad affair, but at least people seem more restrained.


Probably because it's usually included in the price of the room, so it's a take-it-or-leave-it thing. And I'm a leave-it type. In America the included-in-the-room price buffet is a pile of undercooked sausage, rubberized scrambled eggs, stale sweets purchased frozen at Costco and possibly not yet fully thawed, and the 'opportunity' to make your own waffle. Spare me.
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Re: Buffet-type Restaurants

by Jeff Grossman » Mon Apr 03, 2017 11:29 am

Buffet lunch places are very common near my office. Food by the pound. It's a convenient way for a lot of people to get food in a very short time-span. Being selective helps, taking a small "clamshell" helps, going to the same place a couple times helps.

I don't generally choose buffets for family dinners, anymore, though they have their uses when you have, say, 3 or 4 kids.

I like the churrascario places though I've only gone twice in my life.

Hotel breakfast buffets are invariable terrible -- they give it away with the room, right? -- so I generally stick to toast and coffee.
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Re: Buffet-type Restaurants

by Jenise » Mon Apr 03, 2017 11:36 am

Jeff Grossman wrote:Buffet lunch places are very common near my office. Food by the pound. It's a convenient way for a lot of people to get food in a very short time-span.


Great point; that's certainly when Cafeteria style eating makes the most sense. Btw, there was a wonderful one in downtown L.A. called Clifton's. I loved that I went there when working downtown in my 20's, and my mother went there when working downtown 30 years before. And it still exists--an article I read recently said someone's bought it and is lovingly restoring the decor and enhancing the food line with a lot of upper-end, foodie touches. That one, I'd go back to.
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Re: Buffet-type Restaurants

by Rahsaan » Mon Apr 03, 2017 9:15 pm

Jenise wrote:
Barb Downunder wrote:Even the ubiquitous hotel buffet breakfast is generally a somewhat sad affair, but at least people seem more restrained.


Probably because it's usually included in the price of the room, so it's a take-it-or-leave-it thing..


Doesn't it depend on the price of the rooms and the level of the hotel. I've had wonderful all-included breakfast buffets at nice hotels (in Europe).
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Re: Buffet-type Restaurants

by Jeff Grossman » Tue Apr 04, 2017 1:11 am

Rahsaan wrote:
Jenise wrote:
Barb Downunder wrote:Even the ubiquitous hotel buffet breakfast is generally a somewhat sad affair, but at least people seem more restrained.


Probably because it's usually included in the price of the room, so it's a take-it-or-leave-it thing..


Doesn't it depend on the price of the rooms and the level of the hotel. I've had wonderful all-included breakfast buffets at nice hotels (in Europe).


Oh, academes and your luxe lifestyle!
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Re: Buffet-type Restaurants

by Jenise » Tue Apr 04, 2017 2:31 am

Rahsaan wrote:
Jenise wrote:
Barb Downunder wrote:Even the ubiquitous hotel buffet breakfast is generally a somewhat sad affair, but at least people seem more restrained.


Probably because it's usually included in the price of the room, so it's a take-it-or-leave-it thing..


Doesn't it depend on the price of the rooms and the level of the hotel. I've had wonderful all-included breakfast buffets at nice hotels (in Europe).


It sure does. I've had great breakfasts in Europe, Asia and lots of places that weren't the U.S. I was really being specific about American hotels where breakfast isn't usually included and if it is, it's poor quality.
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Re: Buffet-type Restaurants

by Peter May » Tue Apr 04, 2017 7:36 am

I love salad bars as an adjunct to a main course, because I like to select my own salad ingredients.

In the US at lunch time we look for a Ruby Tuesday to have their salad bar, and when I was working in Texas we often went out to lunch at a self-serve salad restaurant.

For breakfast I usually don't want much, the free b/fast in Holiday Inn Express is fine, one toasted 'English' muffin and lots of tea.

If I'm in the mood for a cooked b/fast then I want a an egg station so I can get fried eggs how I like them. Hate the buffet rubbery scrambled eggs.

A buffet b/fast is ideal when on business when one is in a hurry to get out, but it must have self serve hot drinks., one cup of tea/coffee is not enough.

There are good and bad buffets, ones where the bain-maries go out before the place opens and aren't refreshed, and others where small trays of food are constantly being refreshed.

Troubly is buffets encourage you to over eat..

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Re: Buffet-type Restaurants

by Jenise » Wed Apr 05, 2017 10:52 pm

Peter May wrote:I love salad bars as an adjunct to a main course, because I like to select my own salad ingredients.
.


And I hate them because, even if I didn't have the spit-shield issue, I dislike factory-made dressings and tired lettuce (or god forbid, the mix that comes out of a big bag with the slivers of carrot and purple cabbage). Too I prefer the kinds of lettuces that they never put in salad bars. I buy several fresh heads of lettuce every week, and always hand-wash and tear for each salad I make (first course, every night).
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Re: Buffet-type Restaurants

by Mike Filigenzi » Wed Apr 05, 2017 11:26 pm

I'm pretty much ambivalent about salad bars as I'm pretty much ambivalent about salads in general. At least, those which involve primarily lettuce. I see them as mostly something I eat in order to fill up a bit, thus preventing myself from completely filling up with more caloric food. I like a really good Caeser Salad, and I love stuff like Salade Nicoise, but in that case it's because of all of the non-lettuce ingredients. I will say that the salad bar at the churrascario place I mentioned earlier was pretty nice. I say that, though, mostly because it involved some good bread, passable prosciutto, some good cheese, etc.

The sneeze guard aspect doesn't really bother me. I think you're more likely to get sick from ingredients that are poorly handled by restaurant staff than from something out of a salad bar that was contaminated by a fellow guest. I get why this would bother others, though.
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Re: Buffet-type Restaurants

by Jenise » Thu Apr 06, 2017 9:16 pm

Mike Filigenzi wrote:I'm pretty much ambivalent about salad bars as I'm pretty much ambivalent about salads in general. At least, those which involve primarily lettuce.


Good thing you didn't marry me, then!

Bob would have said exactly this when we first met. But after 30 years of being fed a salad almost every night--I tend to insist we eat a raw vegetable at least once per day) he actually misses them if we stay with friends who don't share this proclivity. Without the bright flavors (no heavy dressings here, always vinaigrettes but I have a couple dozen varieties in my repertoire) as a way of waking up the taste buds for the rest of the meal, the meal feels incomplete. And sometimes instead of lettuce-based, we eat things like asparagus, cucumbers and/or peppers just tossed with oil and vinegar.

I'm suddenly remembering my father heading off to the bathroom, aka "the Library" with reading material when I was a kid. He'd be gone for a good 30 minutes. I suspect he didn't eat enough salad either. ;)
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Re: Buffet-type Restaurants

by Peter May » Fri Apr 07, 2017 10:33 am

Jenise wrote:
Mike Filigenzi wrote:I'm suddenly remembering my father heading off to the bathroom, aka "the Library" with reading material when I was a kid. He'd be gone for a good 30 minutes. I suspect he didn't eat enough salad either. ;)


More likely reason was to enjoy a little peace and quiet :)
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Re: Buffet-type Restaurants

by Jenise » Fri Apr 07, 2017 12:13 pm

Peter May wrote:
Jenise wrote:
Mike Filigenzi wrote:I'm suddenly remembering my father heading off to the bathroom, aka "the Library" with reading material when I was a kid. He'd be gone for a good 30 minutes. I suspect he didn't eat enough salad either. ;)


More likely reason was to enjoy a little peace and quiet :)


Well, that too!
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Re: Buffet-type Restaurants

by Dale Williams » Fri Apr 07, 2017 12:35 pm

About once a year Betsy and I will go to a theater that does mostly indie stuff, then next door to a better than average Indian buffet.
And she usually does a concert at Mohonk Mountain House, where part of fee is 2 nights stay. We usually do 2 buffet breakfast, 1 buffet lunch (and a trail lunch other day), 1 buffet dinner, 1 dinner in the formal dining room. Food at buffet is consistently refreshed, and good quality if not cutting edge. That's pretty much it for my buffet experiences most years.

I'm not a big breakfast person, but have to say I LOVED the Japanese buffet breakfast at our hotel in Shinjuku (Tokyo). Most people in opera company went to the big American buffet, but every day but one Betsy and I went to the Japanese one. I'd eat breakfast every day if my options were fish (esp saba), oyakodon, miso soup, okonomiyaki , etc. I eaten liked a little natto stirred into some dishes. Liked pretty much everything but mochi.

As to green salad, we have almost every night, but usually after, not as starter.
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Re: Buffet-type Restaurants

by Barb Downunder » Sat Apr 08, 2017 6:33 am

Dale, I have to go with you. The Asian offerings at breakfast, in Asia, are so the way to go.

And then of course there is the buffet on wheels. Dim Sum. Oh yes, I can eat that all day.
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Re: Buffet-type Restaurants

by Robin Garr » Sat Apr 08, 2017 9:40 am

Barb Downunder wrote:And then of course there is the buffet on wheels. Dim Sum. Oh yes, I can eat that all day.

Me too, Barb! I thought it was called Yum Cha in Oz, though?
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Re: Buffet-type Restaurants

by Jenise » Sat Apr 08, 2017 11:26 am

Barb Downunder wrote:Dale, I have to go with you. The Asian offerings at breakfast, in Asia, are so the way to go.


Shanghair and Beijing--best hotel breakfasts ever.
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