Eating your money’s worth at an Asian all-you-can-eat buffet is an art that can only be mastered with practice.
Some of us were fortunate enough to get good at it very early on. Our parents, who didn’t always have the time to cook us meals every day, saw these “$24.99 per person” neon signs as convenient ways to fill the empty stomachs of an entire family. We’ll probably never forget the first time Mom shot us dirty looks when we corrected her about our age in front of the staff or the last time we ate with Dad before leaving for college. If you’re someone whose family owns a buffet restaurant, I feel sorry for you because your childhood, like mine, was probably filled with waiting and dish-cleaning duties right after school.
For anyone who finds all-you-can-eat buffets as intimidating as they are messy, we at NextShark have got you covered. Here are 10 tips to make sure that you leave the restaurant with pockets as full as you are.
- Bring your hype team.
Eating is a lot more fun when you do it with other people. You also eat more, something that researchers and psychologists attribute to the importance of social food sharing in our ancestral history. So the next time you want to get down to business, bring like-minded people who are just as serious about the art of buffeting as you are – now’s not the time to be a solo diner and mope over that idiotic ex who suggested that you shave off a few calories. And leave those health tips behind at the doctor’s office while you’re at it. You came to eat and you came to win, so channel your inner mukbang artist and leave any form of shame at home. Although with that being said, you might also want to save the white T-shirts for another day – things are about to get saucy.
- Do your research.
Not every restaurant has the same policies, so you have to check ahead to know what you’re getting into. Don’t be that person who orders 15 sashimi dishes at an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant thinking that you ate down. You didn’t, babe. The only thing that’s going down is your money. The name “all-you-can-eat” is a little deceptive, and many restaurants have restrictive dishes that fall outside of that package deal. Unfortunately, these are often the type of dishes that you want to order a lot of. The best way to avoid these mistakes is to 1. not bring a friend who’s only looking to eat sashimi and 2. do your research about all of the restaurant’s terms and conditions before your bill arrives. Doing your research can also help you learn about all the good things that restaurants offer, from happy hours and magazine coupons to birthday specials and group deals.
- Cut back on the carbs.
I’m not trying to be your gym trainer, but please, please, please pace yourselves when it comes to carbs. That includes noodles, rice, pastries, desserts and almost anything with the word “fun” in it. Listen, it’s not all “chow fun” when you feel full only 10 minutes in, and before you know it, you’ll be playing “Candy Crush” on your couch for the rest of the evening. Don’t fall for the trap of pretty names either: house special chow mein with chef’s secret sauce is just fried noodles with some color in it. If takeout-style food is what you’re going for then you’re in the wrong place.
- Work your way “down” the menu.
All’s fair in love and buffets. You don’t need to start with the appetizers, which are likely going to be loaded with filling carbs and all types of watery soups. Save the bread for after you’ve gotten the real “bread.” Start with the most “valuable” items like seafood and proteins, and once you or your partner gets sick of fish breath, switch to the lighter vegetables and dumplings.
- Alternate your proteins.
I’m sure you like steak, but if you’re like me, eating a lot of meat might make you feel nauseous. That may or may not be a biological signal that your LDL cholesterol levels are soaring, although I’m not saying that you should be worrying about your health at a buffet. Try diversifying your meat palette a bit by sampling new seafood, even if everyone tells you that oysters taste like sea boogers and that octopus is like squishy chicken. If now’s not the time to try all the exciting sides and options, then when is? On your wedding day?
- Add some acidity to your palette.
Break up the meatiness by adding some high-citrus fruits and vegetables. Eating a few tomatoes, oranges and spoonfuls of sauerkraut can also make you feel less guilty about being a Tyrannosaurus Rex, and guilt is the last thing you need at a buffet. Here’s a sample agenda for your next visit: protein, citrus, protein, citrus, protein, citrus… repeat this until you no longer can.
- Don’t sweat the time constraint.
Most all-you-can-eat restaurants give you anywhere between one to two hours for your visit. That’s a long time. If you spend the first 15 minutes shoving everything down your gullet, you’ll burn out and feel sick for the rest of the day. Your congested stomach will thank you for not trying to be a squirrel, I promise. The opposite is also true: eating too slowly can make you feel full faster, according to nutritionists. The takeaway lesson here is to keep the marathon moving but spread out the gorging sessions, and take short breaks if needed.
- Slow down with the drinks.
Many liquids are natural appetite suppressants because they take up space in your stomach. That’s not what we want to happen to us; we want to fill ourselves with all the good stuff. (If you’re that thirsty, then you should be using Tinder or Grindr — or Hinge, if you’re really quirky.) In all seriousness, though, if your food takes a while to come, stop looking at that glass of water or soda on your table. Just stop. Instead, respond to that text your Mom sent you last week, or take the chance to confess to your friends that you find one of the waiters really cute.
- Eat a light snack or breakfast before heading over.
If you thought that going into a buffet starved is a good idea, think again. I hate to be the broken record player reminding you that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but it kind of is when you’re planning to inhale your body weight in food like Kirby later that day. Skipping a meal can actually shrink the size of your stomach, reducing your appetite — and not to mention, unloading a crazy amount of food on a flat tummy can make it more prone to awful cramps. Nutritionists suggest eating a light snack that’s high in fiber, such as a bowl of cereal, a veggie salad or some fruit slices. In other words, any kind of food that will “exit” without much problem and that won’t make your body an extended hotel stay.
- Don’t forget the business owners.
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t outsmart the game on your first try! Mastering the buffet takes time and practice — which makes sense, because if it didn’t, then restaurants would have gone out of business a long time ago. There would be nothing open to satisfy your killer cravings or give you something to do for your next family reunion.
What? I dare you to lie to my face and tell me that you would rather spend your Saturday playing board games with your 4-year-old cousin. Exactly.
More importantly, however, always be mindful that many of the owners of these buffet restaurants are hardworking immigrants trying their best to make a living and serve you a small piece of their culture. They’re just like every other business owner out there, and amid the frenzy of an all-you-can-eat buffet, we sometimes forget that part of dining out is about the experience. The laughter. The love. The look of absolute disgust we give that one friend who always says, “The Gram needs to eat first!” or “Let’s do a group photo before the table gets messy!” The good times and the times we wish that we still had. So with that being said, while you should eat your money’s worth, try to show your hosts a little appreciation by leaving a few extra dollars.
You’ll probably just waste it on a bubble tea two hours later anyway.