8 Nifty Tips for Getting the Most from an All-You-Can Eat Buffet
Food can serve many purposes. For some it is merely for nourishment. For others it is a form of art or a means of entertainment. For still others, it fills an emotional need and could even be considered an addiction or vice. For the purpose of this article, I’d like to point out that my advice is for the most basic of needs: good nutrition, a bit of indulgence, and a chance to fellowship with your family or friends with no dishes to clean up! Here are the 8 ways we make our dining dollars a great investment:
1. Kids eat free (or almost free). Yep, with four of them, it’s important that we at least get a generous discount, if not a total write-off on the little darlings. In my area, Tuesday is usually the “Kids Eat Free Day” and requires that at least one adult purchase is made for every one (or even two) free kids’ meals. Be sure that if you are dining at a chain restaurant, you call ahead to see if they honor national promotions. We once went to a Golden Corral based on a commercial we saw, only to find they no longer participated in the Kid’s Eat Free promotion. We started to walk, but the manager begged us back in – and comped the kids’ meals to boot.
2. Lunch is served. If at all possible, eat the lunch buffet. There is usually at least a $2-3 difference in the pricing of lunch and dinner, and usually the offerings are similar. In rare instance, an evening buffet may offer something special, like nicer steak, crab legs, or a themed dinner. Weigh your options to decide if this is worth it. I won’t justify the extra for a cheap steak, but a couple of jumbo crab legs might seal the deal.
3. Skip the beverage (or plan accordingly.) Drinks can make an otherwise affordable buffet downright expensive. If drinks are included, go for it. If not, you may want to stick to water with lemon, or decide on only one drink. (Some places will let you get a soft drink with your meal and a coffee afterward, but may charge you for two drinks.)
4. Fill up on fresh. I know that those hot wings are tasty, (and I’m also digging the homemade mac and cheese), but the best way to get your money’s worth on a buffet is to eat as fresh as possible. Melons, berries, broccoli, and avocados are yummy ways to eat healthy and increase the value of your buffet. Encourage kids to eat one full plate of fresh stuff before they even head toward the French fries and fried shrimp. (They will get loads of nutrients, and you can feel good knowing the extra cost gave them more than any Happy Meal could really provide.)
5. Take your time. Buffets are not a dine-and-dash type of atmosphere. If you are squeezing in your meal between two other pressing matters, pick another day to buffet. We like to take a weekday with nothing else to do, go early, and stay late. We snack, talk, and enjoy each other while sampling all kinds of new foods. If we do it right, we can have a lunch/dinner combo that knocks out two meals in one. (Leaving by 4:30, so as not to get charged for dinner, too!) We think of it as the same concept as a brunch, but with the two later meals combined. (And if kids get hungry at home later, we snack on yogurt and granola, or another kind of light breakfast food before retiring for the evening.)
6. Know what’s safe. Even the most talked-about buffets can be a health risk. Be aware of your surroundings, and watch for common food safety issues that may make you sick later. Look for foods that are fairly popular, get switched out often, and appear fresh. If anything doesn’t look right, please don’t eat it! (And let a manager know of your findings.) Raw fishes should be approached with caution, and any salad made with mayonnaise should be eyed carefully. (It’s a bad idea to go for that tuna salad with the orangish-looking crust on top.)
7. Explore your options. There are many types of buffets that appeal to our family. We like Chinese, American, and Italian the best. (In areas that offer more diverse options, I’m sure there are many more kinds to choose from.) Encourage your family to try new things while at the buffet (after all, if they don’t like their first choice, they can just try another dish – and you won’t be out any more.)
8. Be courteous. While buffets are great for saving money, they also seem to attract dining dunces that have little to no common sense or courtesy. While most all of you will know these, I feel they are at least worth saying:
- Just because it is a buffet, doesn’t mean you don’t have to tip (even if they only pick up your plates, they deserve the minimum for your region.)
- Don’t take more than you can eat at one time (wasting food is a no-no, no matter where you are at.)
- Don’t let little kids get their own food (most places have a 10 years or older policy for the buffet line.)
- Clean up after yourself. It’s a restaurant, not an abandoned lot. Pick your trash up off the floor, and try to make the server’s job at least tolerable. They work hard, too.
We look forward to our monthly outings to a buffet-style restaurant. When a family of 6 can eat well for under $20 -- that’s a great deal! And with a wide variety of dining options, buffets can fit any style or budget.