Getting the Most for Your Money at a Buffet-Style Restaurant

All-You-Can-Eat Buffet Philosophy and Economics

When you go to the buffet, you need to know how to get the best value for your money. In general, buffets do not cost too much, but they can make hefty profits for three reasons.

  • Volume. Buffet restaurants can pack in a lot of people and serve them quickly.
  • A fixed menu. Sure, the restaurant may have 20 entrees, 30 side dishes, and 10 desserts on the steam tables, but everyone selects from what is available that day. Ordering by menu would mean the kitchen has to prepare each individual order. Cooking in large batches is a much easier process.
  • Most of the entrees are relatively low-cost foods. The pasta/noodles and many other dishes are relatively inexpensive products. The restaurant buys the ingredients wholesale, which reduces their costs even more.

How to Buffet: Eat Lunch, Eat Fresh, Eat Well, Eat Right

Typically, buffet prices are scaled to the time of day. Breakfast is the least expensive, then lunch, then dinner. The prices may be scaled to weekday/daily and weekend prices, where weekend prices are a little more than the weekday prices.

The lunch buffet is probably the most economical meal. The dinner selection may have just a few more "expensive" entrees, but it also costs a few dollars more. So, it may cost you an extra $20 to feed your family and you are not really getting anything extra.

Eat a lot of the fresh foods from the buffet. Fruits and veggies may actually be among the most expensive foods by weight for the restaurant to serve. Except, of course for the roast beef and crab legs.

Take small samples of everything you like; samples of about 4-6 different items per trip to the buffet is reasonable. You can always go back for more. Do not fill up on starchy foods, such as bread, pasta, rice, and potatoes. These items expand in your stomach. They are also inexpensive "filler" foods that the restaurant serves to reduce the amount of entree portions you will consume.

Buffets are great for families because some kids are really picky eaters. When kids go to buffets they become empowered and get to select exactly what they want to eat. They can try small samples of unfamiliar foods to see if they like it.

If the kids don't like it, no big deal. They won't take any more. But, if they got a meal from a menu and don't like it, that's a problem. Mom and Dad won't be too pleased about having to order another meal for their child, or worse, having to put up with a kid throwing a tantrum in the restaurant.

Pay-By-Weight Buffets

Some buffet restaurants offer take-out, pay-by-weight service. Sometimes, it might be better to dine in rather than getting it "to go".

There are a few ways to beat the cost at the pay-by-weight buffets.

Since you are paying by weight, select only food items that do not have bones, shells, or other non-edible parts. These parts add weight to your order, but have no value. Also, do not load up on sauces, these too add to the weight of your order.

Do not get the pasta / noodle-only dishes. You will pay $10 for 25 cents worth of spaghetti.

Check out all the entrees and decide which ones you like the most and select servings from 2-4 entrees for your take-out box. Side dishes are OK. But, be careful, you do not want to pay $2 extra for a few scoops of corn or peas.

Visit the Buffets with a Dining Plan

Buffets can be a great and economical way to treat your family to a good meal in a casual and relaxed setting. But, beware of the pitfalls of overindulging in giant mounds of unhealthy deep fried or excessively fatty stuff. You can eat right and well at buffets, just be choosy about your selections. Set some good eating examples for your kids. Enjoy casual dining and a good meal with your family.