How to Buffet

Helpful tips to master the all-you-can-eat game
Share Button

I remember the first time I felt sick after over indulging at a buffet. In retrospect, I made two grave mistakes: 

1. I didn't eat anything all day (rationale: I was trying to "save room"), and
2. I tried to drink a ton of water a few hours before the buffet in a last-ditch efforto to hydrate. 

Oh, the signs of an amateur. 

Since then I've stepped up my buffet game. I've researched strategies and ways to get my money's worth at every brunch, lunch or seafood night buffet. I've developed a plan of attack. And lucky for you, I'm going to share some of these tips and tricks.

See also: Best brunch buffets on Oahu

The holidays might be over, but these tips apply to any buffet any time of the year. You might to take notes so you'll be ready:

  • Hydrate the day before. Drink plenty of water to expand your stomach the day before you feast at a buffet. Don't do this a few hours before the buffet because you'll fill up on liquids and be too full to eat. Having enough water in your stomach will also help you digest later. 
  • Get some exercise. If you have a buffet planned, you have to do the legwork first (pun intended). I ramp up my appetite by doing a longer cardio workout earlier in the day. I also feel better mentally knowing I've burned off some calories before gaining them all back. 
  • Don't starve yourself. It sounds counterintuitive, but if you starve before tackling a buffet, your stomach size will actually shrink. Read that again: Starving yourself will not give you more room to "fill up" once you're at the buffet. If you're headed to a dinner buffet, eat a light lunch earlier on in the day (like around 11 a.m.) to have something in your stomach while saving room for your extravagant meal later. 
  • Eat with your eyes first. It can be tempting to start loading your plate immediately, but stroll through the buffet stations first to see what's available. Some buffets rotate their selections daily. Check out all the stations to see what stands out first.
  • Have a game plan. Prioritize: What are you really there for? Is it the fresh sashimi and poke? The King Crab legs and oysters? Or is the prime rib carving station with all the fixings? Go for the more expensive dishes (aka the ones you rarely order as an entree at a restaurant) and start with those. 
  • Keep your portions small. This is key if you're at a huge buffet and want to try a variety of dishes. Small portions ensure that you get to try everything and go back for more of your faves. Pro tip: I use the smaller salad plates when going through a buffet to prevent myself from getting full too quickly before I get to try everything I want. I also don't feel as guilty once I'm reaching for my fifth plate!
  • Be selective. Go for the dishes you can't (easily) cook for yourself and feast on the novelty dishes. That means skipping the plain croissants, scrambled eggs, bacon, tater tots and fried rice at a brunch buffet, and passing by the iceberg lettuce, dinner rolls and rice at dinner buffets. If you really like something, like you just need that mini eggs benny or fried rice during brunch, it's not the end of the world. Just take a little and don't fill up on it. 
  • Don't save dessert for the end. I often hear people lament, "I'm too full, I didn't save room for dessert." Solution: Eat dessert in the middle of your buffet experience, especially if there's something like a specialty cake that you have your heart set on. If the dessert is filling, like soft serve, bread pudding or cheesecake, take a smaller portion.
  • Limit sodas and alcohol. Drinking these during a buffet only increases the gas in your stomach and will impede your buffet progress. 
  • Eat slowly. This can be hard when you're starving (see point number two), but take the time to savor the flavors and textures. Thoughtful chewing goes a long way because you're taking the time to appreciate what you eat, but this also helps you to pace yourself. 
  • Take a breather. Take a break in between plates and just sit still. If you're prone to indigestion, now is the time to drink some green tea or take antiacid relief for preventative measures. You'll also have some time to think about what your buffet faves were and what you want more of. 
  • Ditch the "clean your plate" mentality. We may have been trained to clean our plates before going back for seconds, but this doesn't count at buffets. If something doesn't taste as good as it looks, you aren't obligated to eat it all. Note: Some restaurants do charge if you have an insane amount of food leftover on your plates, so be mindful. But if you keep your portions small or use smaller plates like I mentioned before, you won't have a problem with this. 
  • Eat starch last. It's so tempting to add a scoop of rice, pasta, tater tots, mashed potatoes or bread onto your plate, especially if you're like me and love carbs. But save these for your last plate, when you've gotten your fill of seafood, meat or dessert and have a little extra room. 

See also: Oahu's best brunch buffet is at Ko Olina