We at Tatler are not entirely against the idea of indulging in a buffet on occasion, but we are of the belief that as with any restaurant meal, there is a certain level of decorum to be observed and a strategy to be deployed when navigating your options.
There are several things to consider, not only for the general well-being of all persons involved but for the sake of your own selfish enjoyment. Lest we forget: hell is not a place, but other people. So mind your manners and take a few tips from our buffet playbook.
1. Dress to ingest
Only rookies make the mistake of wearing their Sunday best. It seems quite obvious, but anything that restricts movement and inevitable stomach distension is strictly off the table—but please do not regress into slobbish tracksuits. Gentlemen: avoid having to loosen your belt (and traumatising your fellow diners) by donning comfortable trousers with subtle notched waistbands.
These straight-legged, flexible stretch cotton trousers from Ermenegildo Zegna are a stylish compromise; a younger gentleman may opt for McQueen’s slimming jersey sweatpants paired with a tummy skimming t-shirt. Women have it easier (a loose shift dress or blouse works wonders) but we do have one unique piece of advice: avoid flowy bohemian or kimono-esque shirt sleeves that may drag themselves into the hummus as you reach for the prawn salad.
2. Timing is everything
The joy of a buffet often means latecomers need not be accommodated, as diners need not wait for them to start. However, it’s important to take note of the designated time slot and inform all party members ahead of time so that there are no disappointments. (This is particularly pertinent for buffets that offer free-flow beverage packages.)
3. Don’t pile it on
Before the uncivilised scrum of the American all-you-can-eat, the Swedes were responsible for giving order and elegance to the traditional buffet spread by way of the smörgasbord. Food was set out in a very specific way, and guests were expected to politely collect items according to this order by using several clean plates. The key is in the word several; do not attempt to pile as much food as you possibly can onto one single plate. This is not the Pizza Hut salad bar.
4. Strategise—and eliminate food waste—with small portions
We always do a thorough walk-around at the beginning of the meal to take mental notes of everything on offer as it is an unfortunate fact of life that something that looks good may not always deliver. Be smart and use your first round to take tasting portions of everything you might want to double up on later. Only fools overstuff themselves on the cream of indistinct vegetable soup.
5. Know what you want—and be kind
Knowledge and charm go a long way in ensuring you don't end up with the greying, overcooked part of the roast beef or the useless, overly fatty slices of suckling pig. Be clear and concise in voicing your preferences at food stations and don't forget your please and thank yous. Do not dawdle over your ice cream flavour selections; decisions made at such a glacial pace will not please staff nor diners behind you.
6. Be selfish, for the sake of everyone else
You may feel chivalrous by sweeping up the entire tray of seared foie gras or extra special daily dumplings for the table, but not only are you depriving others in the queue, you are also assuming that everybody needed a portion for themselves in the first place. Take only what you and you alone would like to eat, and finish it to avoid wasting too much food.
7. Observe the direction of the buffet
Respect those who have arrived before you and be patient. Do not approach from the wrong direction, or slot yourself into a moving line, unless you want those curry-slicked tongs to “accidentally” brush against your silk shirt. (A side note: do not wear dry clean-only garments to a buffet.)
8. Respect the implements
There is nothing worse than coming across soiled spoons that have clearly been used to pick up the wrong items. Again, be patient and wait your turn in order to avoid contaminating the delicate steamed grouper with the sweet-and-sour pork tongs. Don't forget to follow through either when it comes to replacing lids or covers, as dishes need to stay hot or avoid drying out. Unless there is someone waiting their turn, it is only polite to return them to their rightful place.
(Text by: Charmaine Mok)