buffetsThis past Thanksgiving, my family tried out what may become a new tradition:

We didn’t cook a damn thing.

Weird, I know.

My grandfather, the patriarch of the clan, proposed that we go to a restaurant, instead of each family member having to prepare a bunch of things. This proposal was swiftly seconded, because my family is about two things: enjoying one another’s company no matter what, and running train on food prepared by other people. Because we’re new-fashioned American, y’all.

Research led to reservations at a hotel restaurant. They opened one of their banquet rooms (probably chiefly used for pharmaceutical sales rep meetings and wedding receptions), filled it with tables, and put out a huge spread right in part of the lobby.

I’m not much for pageantry, so this janky setup didn’t really turn me off in any way. In fact, it did the opposite: I was excited. There was a buffet in a place where I didn’t have to behave like one of the higher-class people who perished when the Titanic sank.

But my excitement quickly turned to anger and frustration as I attempted to navigate the various buffet spreads offered for our joyous gluttony. People were totally derailing the buffet gnoshing process, and that’s a shame because people are paying to get filled, and people who would otherwise get to hang out on their holiday have to spend their time serving up a delicious smorgasboard for people who aren’t even going to face it appropriately.

Here are a few ways you can navigate a buffet like a real man, and in doing so make a better meal-gathering experience for yourself and those surrounding you. Which is important, especially around the holidays.

  • Do not come to a buffet lightly. Come prepared. (Which, by the way, would be a great tagline for a condom brand.) When you arrive at the venue where the buffet will be hosted, it will behoove you to take a quick look around before you grab a plate and dive into the nearest counter of culinary offerings. Do a perimeter sweep. Figure out where to start, and, obviously, start there. Map out a plan and proceed accordingly. You don’t want to be the guy who fills his first plate (or plates, if you’re a real wild gangster) with a bunch of nonsense that could’ve been bested if you’d just taken just a few moments to research your surroundings.
  • After composing a mental outline of the offerings, fill your first plate with salad. Why? because lettuce helps make room in the stomach for more food. Buffets and the holidays are all about eating, and maybe overdoing it. You may not want to crush some greens, but if you’re in it for the long haul this will definitely be of benefit for you.
  • After consuming your greens and some other light fare, make your second plate a tapas-esque concoction. Pick the items you find most appealing, and tong out a little bit of each. Back at the table, you’ll rapidly discover what you want more of, and what looked promising but was ultimately a disappointment.
  • Do not, and I repeat, DO NOT dawdle while in line for food. (And it’s “in line” not “on line.” I will argue this until the day I die.) Buffets are about getting your fill of delicious goods, for sure, but a buffet is also an inclusive affair. It’s not all about you. You don’t just get to sit there and ponder the menu. Be decisive about what you want, and ladle that food right onto your plate, lickety split. Then move on. Nothing is more frustrating for people at a buffet than a person contemplating a tray of Brussels’ sprouts for three minutes while they have to wait to get their food. Part of the enduring majesty of buffets is that you don’t have to wait very long to get your food, unless some joker in front of you is ruining EVERYTHING.
  • Don’t overload your plate with food you’re not going to eat. That’s wasteful and stupid. If you don’t dig the vegetable medley you just filled half your plate with, you’re going to just let it sit and be gathered by the waiters when you go up for your next round. And doing this can echo in buffet eternity. Another person may love that vegetable medley, and be wrecked with despondence when he or she discovers they have to wait until more of it is brought out, while a sizeable portion of it wastes away on a stranger’s discarded plate.
  • Stay hydrated. Straight water is always a good go-to beverage if you’re posting up at a buffet meal. Buffets tend to offer foods high in sodium (especially if it’s a Chinese buffet, which are, hands down, the best types of buffets in existence). This can bloat you and make you tap out before you’re good and ready. If you’re in a venue that also offers booze, and you are partaking, stay away from heavy drinks. Go light beer, or a shot of Rumplemintz here and there to cleanse your pallet before you go back for the next round.
  • Pace yourself. You or somebody in your family (probably not that cheapskate Uncle Frank) paid good money for you to have full and unlimited access to the buffet until either you see fit or the restaurant closes down for the night. There’s no need to be in a hurry. Time is, for once, on your side.
  • Always save room for dessert. Getting way too filled up on all the appetizers and mains is a common mistake among buffet-goers. Then they sit there, reclined in their chairs with a button unbuttoned while their comrades dominate some gorgeous dessert food.
  • If it’s feasible to do so, you should take some of the buffet with you for the road. Line your pockets and/or purses with sealable bags (OR TUPPERWARE!) you can store food in for later. You’ll never regret doing this unless caught by the staff, at which point you can argue that they’ll be throwing their leftovers out at the end of the night anyway, and that it will not end well for them if they encounter you out by the disposal dumpster.
  • Have fun. Buffets are glorious, and are an enabler for gluttony. Embrace it, if even for just one night.