There is a particular tale that shows up on Reddit quite a bit. It's about people getting kicked out of all-you-can-eat buffets because... they ate too much. Or they seemed like they were going to eat too much.
Here's an example from the wildly popular r/LegalAdvice subreddit:
I feel like I've heard this story before. Wait! I have!
This kind of story is really popular on Reddit, enough to be a trope. But Ben and Amory did some digging and found an actual kicked-out-of-a-buffet story. A unicorn, if you will.
'Tis No Man. 'Tis A Remorseless Eating Machine
They talked to Chris Dubuc, aka u/Morphang. He says he got booted from an all-you-can-eat buffet. He's six feet tall and weighs about 150 pounds. And he loves all-you-can-eat buffets. He grew up food insecure.
"I think as an adult I have a bad habit of overeating to overcompensate for having to go through that, I guess," he says.
A few years ago, he went to a Golden Corral, a buffet chain. It's mostly hearty stuff — steak, ribs, pot roast, chicken pot pie.
Chris has a strategy:
The first thing you do — you get a ridiculously heavy plate of food. Whether it be meat and vegetables and mashed potatoes or whatever, that plate better weigh five pounds. And then you go in there and you just you speed eat that first plate. You know, your stomach doesn't have enough time to process, "Holy crap, I just ate five pounds of food!" So you shovel that first plate down as fast as you possibly can, and then you go for a plate of salad or something like that. And then for like plates 3 and 4, I generally try to go for somewhat lighter things, but things that are still filling. So something like a soup or a chicken pot pie.
That day, he went through about six plates before an employee came over and asked if everything was OK. But someone kept checking up on him continually, every couple of minutes. And he knew what they were doing — they wanted to hustle him along.
"I get nine plates in and then I had a manager walk up to me and she was like, 'Hey, so we see you've been enjoying our food and we appreciate your business, but we need this table for other patrons. You've been here for two hours or so.' "
Chris wondered — were they asking him to leave because he ate too much? The manager said no, that they just needed the table, but Chris says there were plenty of empty tables available. Still, nine plates of food is a lot.
"I don't always make the smartest decisions," says Chris. "My stomach gets very mad at me very frequently."
So Where Do Buffets Come From, Anyway?
The American buffet is a descendant of the Swedish "smorgasbord." But in Sweden, there's an order that's supposed to prevent you from grabbing all the food at once.
Amory and Ben checked in with Redditor Jordan, who works for a food supply company. He advises restaurants on how to run their businesses better.
All-you-can-eat buffets are extremely popular, he says.
"It doesn't take a lot of specific training," he says. "You're basically cooking the food in the back of the house, setting it on a line and charging customers as they come in or as they leave."
Buffets, he says, started as a trend in the U.S. in the '70s and '80s. It offers a family dining experience that's full of variety, but for a reasonable price. The restaurant saves on labor because you don't really need servers going around to the tables.
Of course, a system like this is rife with abuse, says Jordan. It's not just dudes eating nine plates of food — it's people sneaking food out in Tupperware and grocery bags.
Restaurants try to combat this, says Jordan. They have a "chicken patrol" (really) to make sure people aren't just shoving chicken wings into their pockets. They make the plates smaller. They put the food in a specific order so that you end up loading your plate with cheap stuff like potatoes or coleslaw, rather than steak and snow crab.
But buffets still struggle. Jordan says that between 1998 and 2017, the number of buffets dropped by 26 percent, while the number of actual restaurants overall rose by 22 percent. He says it's mostly due to the rise of restaurants like TGI Friday's or Olive Garden — the latter of which, you might recall, offers unlimited breadsticks.
But the biggest threat to buffets? It's mobile ordering, says Jordan.
"The National Restaurant Association is currently projecting that up to 70 percent of restaurant items will actually be eaten in people's homes by the year 2020," he says.
Thanks to u/UniqueUsername935 for this week's artwork, "Dinner By The Wayside."