Eating at a buffet: 7 practical tips to get the most out of your all-you-can-eat meal

There may not be anything on this earth better than eating at a buffet. Endless amounts of food. A wide selection of choices. A reasonable price. Eating at a buffet is one of the most practical things you can do when trying to find a place to dine.

Whenever Jenny and I do decide we want to eat a meal we didn’t prepare ourselves, the buffet usually wins. The price is usually close to if not less than what we would spend at a restaurant you have to order off a menu. You’ll always get as much food as you want while sampling anything you see. It’s the ideal situation.

Buffets are a must on any vacation we take and our go-to whenever the line somewhere near home  is too long. To get the most out of your buffet trip, we recommend following these 7 steps. Take it from us. We’re kind of buffet experts.

How big of buffet experts are we? I have an actually strong opinion on food with lids. Not a fan. Too much work. Too much risk of making a mess.

1) Eating at a buffet is all about preparation

Knowing you’re going to end up at a buffet well before you do is valuable information. Preparation is key for anything in life. Eating at a buffet is no exception. This means limiting how much you eat prior to your buffet trip but not going into it on a completely empty stomach. You want to tease your tummy a little bit with a light breakfast. Give it some nibbles before the real feast begins. Make sure you’re aware of how long it takes to get to the buffet, too. You want to be hungry and not hangry. Otherwise, you could end up unintentionally elbowing a kid near the coconut shrimp.

2) Eating at a buffet involves timing your trip

Pricing at buffets can vary depending on when you go. Dinnertime or weekends can cost more with a slightly better selection which can include things like crab legs as a highlight. We usually end up going to a buffet around opening on Saturdays but that’s not always the case. You do want to land at a buffet well before closing. Otherwise, you might end up with some cold food that has been sitting out all day. One of the best things to grab at any buffet is the warm food freshly brought out from the kitchen. Does heaven exist? It does when you’re the first one to tear into the cheesy spinach.

3) Take minimal risks when choosing which buffet you’ll eat at

Jenny and I have an idea of which buffets we do and do not like. We’ll scout out reviews or menus whenever possible. We’ll occasionally take a risk on a different buffet. For the most part, we stick with a particular chain we like with a couple of different locations within 40 minutes of our home. The streamlined system of knowing our options ahead of time helps make it a more enjoyable experience and yet we do often find a new item every once in a while. Ending up at a buffet with some of your favorites missing is not fun. You’ve already prepared all day to stuff yourself with some General Tsao’s. When it’s not there, it’s a major bummer.

When you try a new buffet and they don’t have those sesame seed balls with the gooey center.

4) Go for the meats first thing

Stay away from breads at a buffet. In fact, if you can resist, try to make yourself feel good by limiting your carbs in general. Jenny loves her rice but will opt to grab some sushi instead to pair with her meats. It’s the meat at a buffet where you can get your money’s worth; especially the beef, fish, and sushi. Breads will just fill you up unnecessarily. Trick yourself into thinking you’re on a Keto diet and you’ll be able to eat a whole lot more.

5) Know your pace and your limits

There have been times when we’ve gotten a little too excited about our trip to the buffet and midway through the second plate we’re ready to give birth. You may have to attend a couple of buffets to know what pace works best for you. More important is knowing when to tap out. For me, I tend to go with a first plate of meats, second of sushi, and a third that includes a “best of” from the buffet. By this point, it’s usually time for dessert except for those rare instances when I can put everyone else in the restaurant to shame by grabbing a fourth plate.

6) Unless the buffet has great desserts, don’t bother saving too much room for it

Frankly, most buffets have lousy desserts. We have been to some places where they have things like cheesecake or other things fancier than some semi-stale cookies or cheap cakes. When that’s the case, we might save a little more room. Generally, most buffets offer a better selection of meats than they do desserts. Sweets can be pretty cheap other places anyway. Don’t feel like a loser if you skip dessert entirely in favor of a little more “real food” on your plate. Stop off at the dollar store and get a pack of cookies if you really want something sweet.

Another note on buffets: sneeze guards are a top 15 invention of humankind.

7) Be careful with your carbonation

I always feel cheated when ordering water at a buffet. I’m paying for something from the faucet. Logically, I should just bring a cup into the bathroom. This feeling always has me order a diet soda (I am aware of the irony at a buffet) but I’m always careful with how much I drink. Carbonated beverages plus a lot of food usually equals an upset stomach and a walk in the park later on in the day to relieve some pain. Other drinks, like an iced tea, might be a better choice to stuff your face best.

These 7 considerations are always made whenever going to a buffet. Sometimes it’s a little more impromptu like when we recently looked at a local restaurant’s menu and saw the best thing they had to offer was a $15 hamburger. Instead, we went to a buffet stuffed our mouths for $13.99 each. We had no regrets until we had to remove our pants and found it a little more difficult. But isn’t that part of the fun of eating at a buffet?

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The book that convinced us to start investing and being more proactive with our money and lives: The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need by Andrew Tobias

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