Why I hate buffet restaurants

Eating on holiday is one of life’s pleasures – discovering new food to try, having someone else to cook it for you and put the dishes in the dishwasher, taking an hour to eat breakfast at a civilised hour instead of wolfing down a bowl of Rice Krispies before running to the train station and feeling like it would be somehow offensive not to drink something alcoholic with every meal, even breakfast.  However, when you add little children into the equation eating on holiday can sometimes be one of life’s survival of the fittest challenges – finding somewhere ‘family friendly’, getting the little darlings to stay sat still, clearing up their mess as they eat, thinking of 101 things to do with a napkin in a vain attempt to entertain them as the service is so slow and someone forgot to pack their books, iPad, small toys in their bag that you now carry around in place of a handbag.

I’m pretty sure families eating on holiday was one of the reasons that buffet restaurants were invented, well that and the middle aged male British tourist who wanted to eat their body weight in paella and pasta every mealtime,  and why so many hotels now offer a buffet restaurant as standard and assume if you’re a family you will want to eat in there and not one of the nicer, quieter restaurants with menus and hot food and people to bring it to you.

But, before I start ranting I am going to hold my hand up as to why buffet style restaurants are a good option with kids:

  • no waiting around as soon as you are seated one of you can run to the food counters and find instant food gratification for your children instead of having to wait for the person assigned to your table to bring you a menu and take your orders and then bring the food.
  • eat what you like there is no need to stand outside for ten minutes weighing up the menu options and hoping there is something your children will eat.  Buffet options tend to be varied and if not, pretty bland, so child staples like bread, pasta, chicken etc are generally in there.  You can also serve up a weird combination on one plate which would never make it onto a menu
  • usually the cheaper option if you’re half board lots of hotels include their buffet restaurant in their half board offering so if you have paid up front for half board you feel like you’re eating for ‘free’ or not at any extra expense.  Beware going in the buffet restaurant though if you’re not on half board as you are likely to be charged a premium per person.
Master ATWWAH walking away

We should have gone to the buffet….the service here is terrible…I’m off

Ok, that is genuinely all I can think of in their favour.  The reasons why I hate them begin here…..

  • nobody eats at the same time as you have to go up and get your own food it is very rare that everybody you are with will be sat down at the same time eating, or even be on the same course.  You can sometimes even find yourself just sat on your own eating with only half eaten plates of food for company as your family are all off looking for their next course.  If you’ve used the buffet advantage of getting the kids food first they have generally finished theirs by the time you get back to the table with your own food and you have to go back to get them something else, or even worse, keep them entertained while you get to eat something
  • do you leave the table unattended? There is always that worry if you’re all out of your seats getting food that somebody might think the table is free and sit there when you get back, this is always seems a problem at breakfast time when space is at a premium and there is nothing on the table to denote it is ‘yours’.
  • bewildering choice in no particular order maybe it’s just me but often there is no logic to how the food is displayed in buffet restaurants and you spend the first 10 minutes stood with an empty plate trying to work out where things are and where to begin.  There is also usually a huge choice and again you have to try to work out what you don’t want before you get on to putting food on your plate.  And, I always do this, start to put a course together and head back to the table to then find an alternative which I’d definitely have preferred.  What do you do????  Abandon the food and plate and start again?  Eat the food and then go for something else?
  • unidentified food there is always a section in a buffet restaurant where the food is pretty unrecognisable and it’s helpful to have a little label telling you what it is meant to be.  It still doesn’t mean you will eat it though
  • food has different temperatures often you will get back to the table ready to tuck in and something you would assume is hot is pretty lukewarm and something else has been sat under the counter lights for so long that it is red hot rather than room temperature
  • never feel like you’ve had a proper meal for most of us evening meals on holiday can comprise of three courses, it’s allowed, we’re on holiday.  But the buffet restaurant puts paid to that as there may be more than one thing you want to try so each course ends up having sub-courses where you’re just ‘trying’ something else although it’s technically your third starter.  And, the half-eaten plates of food on the table are stacking up to look like a homage to the Eiffel Tower
  • you can never have just one dessert for anyone with a sweet tooth buffets are a delight when it comes to desserts as there is so much choice and a lot of it is in miniature which means you can have more than one of something right?
  • bad hygiene I’m sorry but you just don’t know who else has prodded, poked and peered at the food you are about to eat.  It’s a bit like when you are at a bakery counter of a supermarket and you see someone touching loads of croissants before finally picking one up without the tongs.  On a recent holiday I witnessed somebody sneezing so hard who didn’t put their hand over their nose/mouth, let alone have a tissue, snot flew everywhere over the food on display and they just walked off.  It made me feel physically sick.  And, I wanted to stand and tell anyone else who had just walked into that area to avoid any of the food that now was coated with someone’s germs
  • queues you do still often have to wait for either some of the food to be re-filled or if, like me, you have nightmares about the sneezing man so you tend to stick to the ‘prepare the food in front of you’ section you have to wait for someone else’s steak to sizzle or eggs to cook before you can get your own.  It’s a bit like a school dinner queue but everyone is wearing flip flops
  • clumsy people waiters and waitresses generally have some sense of co-ordination.  People on holiday often don’t.  As you’re getting your own food you have to negotiate obstacles including the overweight, middle aged men who have piled their plates so high (note plural for plate, not just one) they can barely see over the top of them, ladies who are teetering on huge high heels whilst walking over the shiny floor, children who are no longer of highchair age ‘helping’ their parents to carry something (I’m including Master ATWWAH in this one), ditherers who can’t decide what they want to eat and are stood with a plate and a gormless expression on their face (I’m including myself on that one)  It’s a minefield
  • hidden costs even when buffets are included in half board you often have to pay extra for any drinks.  If you happen to be at the table at the same time as any other adults you may decide to get a bottle of wine, although it doesn’t matter whether it’s white or red as who knows what you’ll all be eating it with.  They are usually charged at a premium and again as you’re not at the table at the same time one of you drinks most of it whilst the other who enjoys their sub-courses misses out.  I’m also convinced that at a buffet I don’t eat enough food that would really constitute a meal so I end up losing out as the cost of the buffet is far greater than the value of the food consumed
  • you leave feeling guilty this can be for a number of reasons – you ate too much, you created loads of washing up with your different plates for each sub course, you left loads of food, you really should have picked up all the food that was left under your child’s seat, you put food back after it had been on your plate as you changed your mind, you’re pretty sure the lady who tripped up did so over something that had fallen off your plate…….

So, as you can see, the cons definitely outnumber the pros for me.  I think the only people who really like a buffet are those who like a challenge, the Man Vs Food wannabes amongst us who like to see how many of the main meal options they can eat in one sitting after having three starters and making room for the same number of desserts.

If you don’t agree definitely let me know and if you’ve been to a brilliant buffet restaurant please share with the rest of us.


  1. I tend to agree but I have been to a fantastic buffet restaurant at the Shanghai-la in Singapore. Most stuff was cooked to order but they had a sushi bar, seafood bar, and all different types of cuisines you could think of! I did eat far too much but the food was really delicious. And the desserts, wow! But that is the best buffet I have even been to, most don’t even come close.

    • That sounds amazing. I don’t mind the ones where you can see your food being cooked for yourself. It saves worrying about the sneezing man 🙂

    • Heather, that sounds like an astonishing buffet we visited at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel while in Dubai. Even at breakfast they had a sushi counter with freshly made sushi — something my daughter loves and I much prefer as I’m not really a breakfast foods person.

  2. Thanks for your comment Jennifer. I must agree that the Jumeirah Beach breakfast buffet is incredible. Although Mr ATWWAH had curry one morning, bleurgh.

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