Even though buffet restaurants may not provide gourmet food and cloth napkins, diners shouldn’t leave their table manners at the door. Consideration for others makes any meal a pleasant affair for everyone. Whether it’s a smorgasbord, fine-dining, or a self-serve establishment, there are several rules to restaurant buffet etiquette; by observing these rules, diners can make their trips to the soup kettle, salad bar, main meal, and dessert stations an enjoyable way to share a meal. The following Food Safety Tips are adapted from an article written by Sandra Brown of Washington State University.
1. Wash your hands before getting in line. Your hands have come in contact with various part of your body, hair, door handles, and other surfaces where you have picked up bacteria and germs. Coming to the serving line with clean hands is a basic courtesy.
2. On the line. At a serving station, wait your turn to make your selections. While it is permissible to pass others who are holding up the service, and to fast forward to make your selections which are further down the queue, unless you are prepared to engage in a fist fight, don’t cut in line and don’t allow friends and family to cut in line.
Don’t help yourself to the same dish at the same time as another diner, even if multiple serving utensils are available. You have to wait your turn. If separate serving tables are set for appetizers, main meals and desserts, don’t start eating the first course while waiting in line at the next table.
3. Don’t be a glutton. It’s bad form, wasteful, and costly to everyone when diners pile their plate with huge portions of food and then leave most of it. Instead, take small amounts and then make another trip for a second helping if you are still hungry.
4. Eat in courses. It’s unappetizing to others to look at a plate filled with fish, salad, roast beef, pizza, cheese, casserole, mousse, mashed potatoes, cake, deviled eggs, chicken, beets and muffins all on the same plate. Rather, it’s correct to help yourself to the first course that you’re going to eat, perhaps the soup, and then return for each successive course. Or take just a sampling of the selections you want, than return for a second helping.
5. Use a clean plate for seconds and thirds. When leaving the table for seconds, leave your plate and eating utensils at your table and ask for or take clean replacements. Diners should never reuse the same plate or eating utensils when they return to the buffet line; waitstaff may clear away used plates on your table between servings. Don’t deposit dirty plates on the serving table along with clean plates to be used for the current offering. Mixing clean plates with dirty plates is against sanitation codes. Used utensils are never left on the buffet table or close to the food arrangements for the same reason.
6. Beverages. It’s improper to carry a drink while in the buffet line; used drink glasses and utensils are never left on the buffet table or close to the food arrangements. Glasses can be refilled as long as beverage dispensing equipment doesn’t come in contact with the rim or interior of the glass.
7. Use the serving utensil provided for each food item. Use the designated utensils to prevent mixing foods. Don’t use one utensil to serve several dishes. Return the serving utensil on the holder provided to avoid the transmission of bacteria. If there isn’t a separate holder, put it back into the container, but be sure the handle doesn’t touch the food. Don’t reach under the sneeze guard that comes down over the food. If you have a coughing or sneezing attack, leave the line; return when you are done and have washed your hands to prevent contamination of the serving utensils.
8. Don’t use your hands to help yourself to food. Use the tongs or utensils to pick up rolls and bread. If there aren’t any tongs, ask the service person for one. If you touch anything and then change your mind, place it on your plate, not back in the container.
9. Don’t eat in the buffet line. It will never do to appear lacking in self control. Those who sample food with the fingers, or eat from plates or serving utensils while waiting in line can contaminate the food with diseases. If you’re unsure about liking a food, take a small portion on the plate to sample at your table.
10. When to start eating. Once back at your seat, it isn’t necessary to wait for all table mates to be seated before you begin your meal. It’s courteous to start eating after two or three members of your group have returned.
11. Remember the magic words. Many buffet restaurant goers believe that because they are serving themselves, they needn’t be polite to those who serve us. People of good breeding say “Please” and “Thank you” to the wait staff and buffet line servers who contribute to make their dining experience.
12. Tipping. Even though a buffet restaurant’s staff are less involved in serving food than in a traditional restaurant, that doesn’t mean they should be forgotten. A tip of at least ten percent of the tab is considered appropriate for buffet restaurants.
13. Rudeness. It’s rude to turn and stare at or make cutting sub voce comments to the morbidly obese diner who is making his or her way to the buffet line for the third time.
14. Children. Buffet restaurants are not playgrounds. If you receive a dining invitation for a business, wedding, or other special occasion, either leave your child at home with a baby sitter, or decline the invitation unless children are specifically included in the invitation. Be sure children use serving utensils, not their hands to serve themselves; even better, serve them yourself. Children shouldn’t be allowed to pick food up, change their minds and put the item back, run loose in the building, bang their utensils on the table, take more food than they can eat, have free rein to help themselves to the smoothie, custard, or pudding machines, or to leave a mess.
Emphasize these rules before they go through the line so that they will learn “buffet etiquette.” Remove a child from the table and speak to him or her outside the restaurant if he or she misbehaves. Take the child home promptly if the unacceptable behavior continues. These are lessons which establish your authority and which will not be forgotten.
15. Avoid the herd mentality. When the host invites your table to dine, it’s poor form to stampede to the line to be first to reach the lobster. For the more popular dishes, take only an appropriate portion and leave enough for those at the end of the queue. Restaurateurs are experts at judging guest participation and rarely run out of selections. Don’t overload your plate. Take smaller portions and then return several times.
Employee behavior is constantly under evaluation by management. How you behave is a direct reflection of who you are. Be a cut above the ordinary and send a thank-you note to your host after the event.