My name is Nick, and I’m an all-you-can-eat-buffet-holic.
Thanks to an incredible metabolism, I’m able to eat 73 pounds of food in one sitting and not gain an ounce. This has spelled disaster for many area all-you-can-eat buffets whose owners break down and cry when they see me coming. I am a master of eating, and you can be too.
Okay, so maybe all-you-can-eat buffets (henceforth simply “buffets”) aren’t the best thing for your body; but a limitless food selection of questionable nutrition at a fixed price is a magical thing for people eating on a budget. One major problem has plagued buffet-eaters throughout the ages: a few plates later and you can’t eat any more. Even folks of gargantuan proportions often find themselves unable to down enough food to justify the price tag.
If things like health and being able to see your feet don’t really concern you, here are some tactics for eating your money’s worth at all-you-can-eat buffets that’ll have you striking fear in the heart of buffet restaurateurs everywhere.
General Buffet Tactics
- Do NOT starve yourself ahead of time. One classic dinner buffet strategy is to skip breakfast and lunch so that you’re starving in the evening. If you try this method, you’ll usually find that your stomach can’t handle the shock of going from “help, need food” to “12 pounds of beef” just like that. Eat a normal breakfast and a light lunch earlier in the day and you’ll keep your metabolism in top form well into the night.
- Load up on carbs beforehand. Doughnuts, toaster pastries, and anything else where ingredient #1 is carbs will help ensure that you’re hungry and able to stomach a lot by dinnertime.
- Clear the runway. Make sure you pay a nice long visit to the bathroom not long before your visit to the buffet. You’re going to need every last square inch of those intestines.
- Break out the fat pants. Don’t even think of showing up to the buffet in pants that actually fit you. You want two sizes above normal at a minimum. Sweat pants work great too.
- Don’t plan to drive home. Pretend you’re going out for a night of heavy drinking. Give someone else the keys, or know the number for a cab. You don’t want the thought of any physical activity creeping into your head during your meal-a-thon.
- Get there early. The food will be fresher if you show up ahead of the crowd. Fresher food is tastier, so you’ll enjoy eating it more.
- Bring a book. What, you had other plans for the evening? No way, Jose. Get there ahead of the crowd and plan to stay until closing. You’ll want to take a long break or two, so bring something to keep yourself occupied while your fork is empty.
Attack That Buffet!
- Sit close, but not too close. If you can seat yourself, don’t pick a table too far from the action. Even a little bit of walking will contribute to your fatigue levels. At the same time, don’t sit two feet from the food stations because all those smells will hit you at once and wreak havoc on your olfaction.
- First stop: meat. The ham, beef, and chicken will likely be tucked away in the far corner from where you’re seated, but that should be your first target. Soups, breads, pastas, and rice are simply road blocks intended to fill you up quickly and save the restaurant money.
- Your beverage of choice: nothing. Drink as little as possible. Liquids take up space in your stomach that could be better used for food. If you must, pour yourself a half glass of water and take a sip after every plate–just enough to cleanse your palate for the next round.
- Second stop: meat. Seriously, load up on meat if you want your money’s worth. At full-service carving stations, let the carver keep loading your plate until it’s full of dead animal. Don’t be tempted to shove some mashed potatoes on the side to fill the gap in that plate.
- Third stop: meat. Or maybe seafood. Just don’t fall for those generic-looking white fish fillets you’ll sometimes see. They usually taste terrible and are cheaper than tender slices of beef.
- Fourth stop: something else. If you’re still eating after downing a few pounds of pork and poultry, you’re probably close to breaking even. Feel free to sample some of the other wares. Bread should still be a no-no because it’s dirt cheap and will fill your tummy faster than you can say “I gotta puke.”
- Take a break. Now is probably a good time to break out that book and pause for a bit. Avoid the temptation to down a mug of soda. The only digestive aid you should use right now is time.
- Fifth through ??? stops: victory! Once you’ve gotten your money’s worth, it’s time to celebrate your win. Grab a brownie, smother it with ice cream, toss on every topping in sight, and top it all off with a big slice of roast beef. Mmmmm.
- Resist the urge to sleep. You’ve just eaten 13 pounds of the finest food $10 can buy. Along comes Mr. Sandman ready to knock you out, but you don’t want to give in to Dreamland just yet. Try to stay up for at least three hours after finishing at the buffet to allow your upper digestive system time to process your meal. This will help you get through the night without feeling like you ate a grenade.
- Now is a good time for some water. You know how your body is normally 70% water? After a buffet, it probably drops to about 12% water for a bit. Drink a glass or two of water to refill your body’s liquid levels. It’ll aid digestion too.
- Stop eating. If you need to eat anything before the next morning, you obviously left the buffet without squeezing it for every last dime. Padlock the fridge if you must–your eating is done for today.
- Be prepared for an ungrateful stomach. You just gave it all this wonderful food, but your stomach returns the favor with aches, pains, cramps, and rumbling. Keep your favorite over-the-counter digestive medicines on hand, though you may find that a good night’s rest is all you need to put a wild food night behind you.
- Don’t repeat for a while. You probably just shaved a few days off your normal life span, so hold off on making a return trip to the buffet for at least a month or two. Resume your normal healthy diet, get plenty of exercise, and try not to eat out too much.
Certain people have other strategies that work for them. For example, some may swear that exercise, tons of water, or even sex before the buffet helps them put away more food. You’ll have to experiment with these and other activities to see what, if anything, helps boost your eating power.
All-You-Can-Eat Case Studies
Not all buffets are created equal. Here’s a look at a few different buffets and some tips for getting your money’s worth at each.
Case Study: CiCi’s Pizza
Menu: Pizza, salad, pasta, dessert, soda.
Overview: This is about as cheap as all-you-can-eat buffets get. How can CiCi’s fill your stomach for five bucks or less and still stay in business? It’s simple–most of the food is cheap and easy to make. The pizzas are shipped frozen and heated on a conveyor belt. The salad ingredients come in bulk; same with the deserts.
Strategies for getting your money’s worth:
- Soda no-no. Jenn at Frugal Upstate reminded me of the #1 rule for CiCi’s Pizza: don’t buy sodas. Ask for water and you’ll get a free glass for water. Soda is about $1.50 by itself, and you’d have to drink a lot of it (or eat more pizza) to make back your money.
- Know your pizzas. Come on, how hard can it be to eat five dollars worth of pizza? When the pizzas probably cost about a buck each, very hard. The meat-topped or specialty pizzas are comparable to those frozen pizzas you can get in the grocery store for around $3 each on sale. You’ll need to down the equivalent of one-and-a-half to two pizzas to get your money’s worth here. Avoid the plain cheese pizzas, and watch out for the colorful pizzas with peppers and other ingredients that can do a quick number on your tummy.
- Go for the sauce. You’ll notice one keep ingredient missing from most of CiCi’s pizzas: tomato sauce. That’s because it would be the most expensive ingredient, and they figure you won’t miss something that’s usually hidden under the cheese anyway. Get around this devilish plot by topping your slices with the sauce you find over by the pasta. And don’t touch the pasta.
- Alternate strategy: load up on salad. One day, I plan to show up at CiCi’s, grab the canister of cherry tomatoes, and have at it. Some of the salad fixin’s (including the lettuce) can provide a delicious meal that’ll certainly cover your bill after just a few plates.
Case Study: Old Country Buffet
Menu: Salad, meats, entrees, soups, desserts, various beverages.
Price: About $10 for dinner.
Overview: When America says “buffet,” Old Country Buffet is what comes to mind–dozens of food stations featuring more dishes than you’ll ever know how to make. Unfortunately most of the food is of inferior quality, but there are a few key items you can load up on to make sure you meet your quota.
Strategies for getting your money’s worth:
- Meat for the win! Those carving stations are just begging for your mouth. Don’t hesitate to stand there while the chef cuts slice after slice and loads your plate full. Ignore the groans and grimaces of other patrons. Get. That. Meat.
- Watch out for those tricky entrees. “Ooh, chicken casserole. It’s meat, so it’s a good deal.” Wrong! Meat may be an ingredient, but you’re probably being drawn into a food composed of cheaper ingredients like bread or veggies. You’d do best to avoid the entree table completely and compose your own dishes… made of at least 95% meat, of course.
- If you must drink, go for the white stuff. If you’re one of those people who must follow eat bite with a beverage, only milk comes close to being a good deal. It’s the most expensive drink per volume at Old Country, and it tastes pretty good too.
Case Study: Chinese & Japanese Buffets
Menu: Sushi, General Tso’s Chicken, and a whole lot of other stuff I can’t pronounce.
Price: Under $10 for lunch, $12-15 for dinner.
Overview: There is some yummy food to be had at the various types of Asian buffets. You’ll find some of your favorite items from the classic Chinese carry-out menu along with some other… surprises.
Strategies for getting your money’s worth:
- Eat what you like. It’s not too hard to get your money’s worth at these places. As always, shoot for the meat, but feel free to feast on sushi and other pricey items. Foods to avoid: spring and egg rolls, soups (except miso soup, which is too tasty to pass up), and dishes composed of mostly vegetables.
- Don’t try new things. Buffet time, despite its limitless food supply, is not the time to experiment. You might think that big white puff ball thing is a delicious pastry, but when it takes you two hours to chew it, you might quickly lose your appetite.
- Beware of the desserts. They look weird for a reason–because they taste weird, too! Those sheets of cake and bite-sized cookies might look appetizing, but they’re often very dry. Soft-serve ice cream is hit or miss at Asian buffets, but it’s probably your best bet for dessert.
Oh, one last bonus buffet tip, because I know I’ll hear about it if I don’t come out and say it:
- Buffets are bad for you. Yeah, you probably shouldn’t follow any of the above advice if you’re looking for a healthy dining experience. Instead, listen to what this article says about eating healthy at a buffet. Or just do the exact opposite of everything I said earlier.