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What Is a Buffet?

Buffet service.
Casino owners rely on buffet offerings to help keep gamblers from leaving their premises.
Many cruise ships use buffets as a way to serve many guests at once.
Buffets offer patrons a large variety of meal options.
Omelets may be featured at a buffet.
Some breakfast buffets offer made-to-order waffles.
Some buffets offer healthy choices, including fresh fruit and a large array of salad ingredients.
Las Vegas casinos are known for their buffets.
Desserts on display at a buffet.
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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 20 October 2014
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Traditional restaurant service used to begin with a customer ordering his or her meal from items listed on a menu. The restaurant controlled the selection and portion sizes in order to maximize the profit from each plate served. With the advent of buffet meals, however, many restaurants can serve a larger number of customers with a minimum level of staffing, thus improving their profit margins through volume sales.

A buffet is generally a self-service form of dining in which the customer pays a fixed price and is entitled to select as much food as he or she wishes. The wait staff in a buffet restaurant may still refill beverages and remove plates, but there is no menu as such. Cooks prepare food in bulk, and runners replenish the selection of food as necessary.

A buffet arrangement could consist of one long serving line with both cold and hot items, or a collection of smaller stations dedicated to a particular part of the meal, such as cold salads, meats, vegetables or desserts. A buffet may be completely self-serve, with appropriate serving tools such as slotted spoons or tongs, or there may be workers assigned to carve meats or prepare made-to-order dishes, such as egg omelets.

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The concept of an all-you-can-eat buffet arrangement is often credited to the Swedish tradition of a smorgasbord, but the modern buffet philosophy is a bit different than the Swedish tradition. A smorgasbord, which literally translates to "sandwich table," was designed to allow guests an opportunity to sample small portions of food. A true smorgasbord starts with cold fish-based appetizers and works its way through sandwiches, meat dishes and finally a dessert. A modern buffet may offer cold salads, hot meats and desserts, but the diner can decide the order and amount of food to consume.

The first modern buffet-style restaurant most likely started in the earliest casinos operated in Las Vegas, Nevada. Casino owners wanted to find a way to provide their customers with the maximum amount of food with the least amount of staffing. A buffet appeared to be the ideal solution, since it kept gamblers inside the building and provided another attraction for those who passed by the casinos. Even today, Las Vegas casinos are nearly as well-known for their elaborate buffet arrangements as they are for gambling or musical entertainment. Many cruise ships have also embraced the idea as a way to serve a large number of guests at one time.

A buffet restaurant does indeed lose some money on overindulgent diners and expensive cuts of meat and seafood. This is considered to be an acceptable loss, since other diners may not eat nearly as much food or select the most expensive items. A buffet restaurant obtains much of its food from a wholesaler or middleman who can buy food in bulk at a substantial discount. The price of the meal generally helps the restaurant recoup most of its raw food expenses, but volume helps pay for the staffing and other costs.

Buffet-style dining has become very popular, especially when combined with a menu service in ethnic restaurants or steakhouses. Diners can control their own portion sizes and side dishes, even if they decide not to overindulge. This ability to self-select entrees and side dishes also makes a buffet dining arrangement ideal for occasions such as wedding receptions and holiday parties.

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sunshined
Post 10

I think most cruise ships are known for their awesome buffets. The best part about this is that you can find one most any time of the day. I enjoy eating at a buffet just as much as the next person, but often wonder how much food is being wasted and thrown away. If I really knew the answer to that, I would probably be blown away.

I have also found the quality of food at some buffets to be lacking. When you go to a restaurant and order something off the menu, you know the food is going to be cooked fresh.

Whenever I eat at a place that has a choice of going through the buffet or ordering off the menu, I always look at the buffet first. I am looking to see what type of food they have and how fresh it looks. If the food doesn't look very appetizing I will just order off the menu.

Mykol
Post 9

When my son takes a trip to Las Vegas he has a favorite buffet he likes to eat at. I think they pay around $40 for this but you have 24 hours to use it. Within a 24 hour period most people eat 3 meals and have a few snacks and drinks. At first $40 might seem like a lot of money, but when you figure in how many meals you will get out of it, it seems like a pretty good deal.

One thing I really enjoy about eating at a buffet is the variety of food you have to choose from. It is also a good opportunity to try new foods that you are not familiar with. That way if you don't care for them, you know not to ever order that when eating out.

bagley79
Post 8

I am a pretty light eater so seldom look for a buffet at a restaurant. For most buffet prices I have seen, I would never even come close to getting my money's worth.

Even though it may take a little longer, I usually order something off the menu. I am saving more money this way and also don't walk away feeling so stuffed that I am miserable.

SarahSon
Post 7

@anon297183-- I have been to several events at a hotel where they have a buffet set up. My husband has his annual company meeting at a local hotel and having everyone going through a buffet line seems to work better than each table being individually served.

Everyone gets their food faster and they can choose what they want and how much. They do have wait staff that come around and make sure you have a drink, but other than that, you don't see a lot of staff members.

There is also a breakfast buffet in the morning which is another nice feature. I think one of the best overall features of any buffet is that you don't have to wait for your food to be cooked. When you are really hungry this is a big plus in my book.

Oceana
Post 6

I'm always happy at a buffet! I'm somewhat of a picky eater, and I love having so many things to choose from.

I love Chinese buffets in particular. I get chow mein noodles, broccoli and beef stir fry, and egg rolls, and I can eat as much as I want without having to pay extra.

The only bummer is when the food is cold. I try to go to buffets at peak times, like at noon and at five, because the food moves so fast then that it is always fresh and hot.

StarJo
Post 5

My favorite restaurant has a seafood buffet on the weekends. They are so popular that they have to refill the buffet trays every half hour or so!

They serve fried and baked catfish, chicken, pork, and a variety of vegetables. The dessert buffet is wonderful, too. It is stocked with four kinds of cobbler and twelve kinds of ice cream.

There is enough variety here for one person to eat nothing but fried foods and another to eat healthy if he chooses. I usually eat the grilled catfish, along with corn on the cob and green beans, with only a handful of fried items in the mix. That way, I leave feeling satisfied and not bloated and uncomfortable.

Kristee
Post 4

@healthy4life – It is polite to leave a tip when you are dining at a buffet. However, I must admit that I generally only leave 15% of the cost of the meal instead of the 20% that I usually leave at a regular restaurant.

Those waiters and waitresses stay pretty busy running from table to table, giving drink refills and picking up plates. Since there are very few of them employed at any one buffet restaurant, they have to rush around, and I think they should be compensated with a tip.

healthy4life
Post 3

Are you supposed to leave tips at buffet restaurants? I know the waiter brings a drink and takes away empty plates, but you do have to go get all the food yourself. If you should tip, are you expected to leave as much as you would at a full-service restaurant?

anon297183
Post 2

Well, it kind of helped me out with a little information but I do not see where they explain how the buffet takes place, for example, in a hotel.

I define a buffet as a system of a table that has food and people choose as much as food they want.

anon3296
Post 1

how can i write a proposal on buffet ?and what are the first step to take when writing an article about buffet?

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