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Lessons in Buffetiquette: How to indulge with grace and game

Manners don’t matter but strategy is key when you’re eating all you can

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Photo: Filthy Little Hands

It was an ugly scene. A war zone, almost. Cocktail sauce oozed from stacked plates. Discarded animal bones littered the table. At one point the waitress got so sick of refilling Mountain Dews, she brought four carafes and never returned.

The year was 2010. The place: Paris Las Vegas’ Le Village Buffet. The occasion was a bachelorette weekend dinner, but what most of us remember is the battle.

“No excuses at the buffet,” Carolyn sneered at Ted over dinner at the charming faux-French village. Blind to the bucolic decor, the two locked horns, diving head first into a gluttonous yet glorious competitive-eating spat. What ensued was an hours-long parade of plates, featuring meats, sweets and vegetables of all colors.

Eight rounds later, Carolyn, the bride-to-be, demolished our trash-talking friend, who outweighed her by at least 100 pounds. Ted sputtered in defense. He had eaten a big lunch, he had too much soda, he … Carolyn interrupted, cutting his ego. “No excuses.”

That night, “buffetiquette” was born, an indispensable portmanteau, a name for a set of social norms that tells us how to act in all-you-can-eat situations. And we can all use some help. Manners were a second thought, but strategy was not. So strap on a bib, use a napkin, tip your server and follow these buffet-maximizing tips from Carolyn, a competitive-eating queen in her own right.

1. Seafood first

It’s delicious, it’s basically pure protein and it won’t fill you up, so start with shrimp, crab, lobster or any other seabug you fancy. It’ll whet your appetite. (Get it? Wamp.)

2. Go big on high-ticket items

Pile on the prime rib and ribeye and all the other ribs and steaks in this crucial round, a sweep where diners break even with the price of admission. If there’s sashimi or sushi that’s not overly loaded with rice, get that, too.

3. Limit carbs and salad

We all want the mashed potatoes and the mac and cheese—and we can have it, in moderation. Salad is basically a waste of space on your plate, according to Carolyn, but if you’re really into it, have a few leaves between big-kid rounds or at the end of the meal. Ditto that mac.

4. Small portions are key

It’s the classic potluck syndrome: You’re hungry, so you dish up normal portions. No. This is an active situation, so get a tiny bit of everything that interests you and go back for larger portions of the stuff you love. Also like potlucks: Leave the leftovers for the host.

5. Dessert, part 1

If you’re going to have ice cream, do it now. It’s not very filling, and you can still move on to …

6. Bonus round!

Although you’ve gotten the sweet party started, it’s not too late to revert to savory for those things you wanted but weren’t sure about. Charcuterie, potatoes, salad, that weird pasta? Go!

7. Dessert, part 2

All right, go ape. Get all the mini cakes and puddings, the dipped strawberries and the cake pops. Hell, get some more ice cream. It’s nearly the end of this experience, and you need to make it work.

8. Bonus 2!

This step is only for the shameless and the hopeless sweet tooths, but if you’re so inclined, take cookies home. Yes, cookies, plural. Carolyn recommends two.

That’s it. That’s how it’s possible to conquer multiple rounds at the buffet and live to tell about it. Another thing: If you’re trying to go big, go slow. Buffets have time limits, and they’re meant to be tested. Can’t top eight trips? It’s okay. Just remember: No excuses.

Tags: Dining, Featured, Food
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