Buffet Dining Etiquette: How Should You Behave?
Nothing excites the Filipino
The buffet is not really meant to be taken that way: it is a spread of food laid out for the discriminating guest generously and in a wide variety to accommodate as many reasonable choices as he may have; it is meant, in other words, as a gracious offering. Necessarily for a restaurant, which has to make a profit, the buffet is informed by the chief scientific fact that a human is capable of ingesting only so much in one meal.
The commercialized buffet is but a paid and little-exaggerated version of the feast at family reunions or at a town fiesta or even just at Mom’s or Grandma’s on Sunday. Grandma, in particular, tends to encourage gastronomical excesses among her grandchildren—she likes them chubby.
Aha, right there in the Filipino customer’s eyes is a gauntlet thrown down! And quite possibly this customer is drawn to a subculture dedicated precisely to breaking such limits, as in the case of getting a toll-free phone connection by bypassing the operator or breaking the bank at a gambling house by cracking its code. In fact, most likely he is well-practiced in precisely breaking buffets.
Our own clan itself provided a classic case. When we went to the beach, as our kids were growing up, each family brought food even if Lola, who was hosting, was sure to have more than enough not only for us but also for visitors and drop-ins. Not that we didn’t
Buffets used to be an almost exclusively high-end business; now there are buffets for everyone. But in all cases, the customer seems to attack a buffet with the same predisposition as the man who frantically rides his horse, aiming to cover as much land as he can by sundown and take ownership of it by royal decree.
Was it the memory of war privations that made Filipinos so hung up on
The fact, in any case, is that Philippine life revolves around food—plentiful food—and the restaurant buffet is the ultimate commercialization as well as, in a way, refinement of perhaps the most conspicuous Philippine tradition of overkill, a tradition satisfied by the reciprocal roles of overfeeding, on the part of the restaurant or the host, and overeating, on the part of the customer or the guest.
Buffets used to be an almost exclusively high-end business; now there are buffets for everyone. But in all cases, the customer seems to attack a buffet with the same predisposition as the man who frantically rides his horse, aiming to cover as much land as he can by sundown and take ownership of it by royal decree. The buffet customer suffers a comparative disadvantage: He’s paying and what he can’t finish he can’t take home in a doggie bag—even if he truly has a doggie. But all that serves only to sharpen his proprietary sense and, he can only hope, his appetite, too, consequently.
On my way to the buffet line, I nearly collided with a socialite who had suddenly turned around to get out of the line escaping with the whole platter of smoked salmon.
Alas, no one can have his cake and eat it, too. All the same, as only too evident, it is not easy to moderate one’s greed, not for one who as a child gorged himself as Grandma cheered and sometimes even served. Grandma has her own rough equivalents at restaurant buffets—the waiters themselves.
Elsewhere, particularly in the United States, buffets are strictly self-service, thus saving on waiting-labor. In contrast, our waiters are not made redundant by buffets—they are kept busy, and happy, getting food for customers, who, after surveying or actually sampling, send waiters for their choices. Some waiters even stand in wait holding the plates for the customers as they go around the buffet tables making up their minds, which may be the first and only time they will be on their feet during the meal, for
A dish going out was the precise case I was myself witness to, a definitely more brazen case because it happened at a wedding reception at a five-star hotel many years back when salmon was a choice delicacy, not only because of its rarity and exquisite taste but also because of its prohibitive price.
On my way to the buffet line, I nearly collided with a socialite who had suddenly turned around to get out of the line escaping with the whole platter of smoked salmon. I felt
“This is all I’ll eat,” she vowed and proceeded back to her table in her glittering gossamer gown of, as happened, matching salmon-pink chiffon.
In the end, everybody loses: the quality of the buffet suffers, if the restaurant does not itself go.
Other restaurants, like Dad’s, have imposed additional rules and rewarded decent
There seems always a way, and it also seems easy to swing the waiters to the customer’s side. If a case goes to the manager, a friend of mine has a line ready—a powerful non-sequitur: You call yourself a three-, a four-star establishment? Well, I think your restroom is definitely not up to par!
In the end, everybody loses: the quality of the buffet