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December 22, 2020 57 mins

Buffets are every kid’s dream – until they grow up enough to realize how gross communal spreads of food shared with strangers actually are. Then the dream is dashed, for most of us at least. Learn about the golden age of buffets and more right here!

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
Welcome to Stuff you should Know, a production of I
Heart Radio. Hey, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh Clark.
There's Charles w Chuck, Brian out there. Jerry just left
to go get some food. We're guessing at a buffet,

although probably not. I don't think she actually is going
to a buffet, Chuck. I can actually hear Jerry laughing
for the first I can't do. I don't know if
that's going to make it in the final lightit but
it was creepy and otherworldly, disembodied Jerry laugh kind of sinister,
and it's almost like we're in the same room again. Almost, man,
almost someday less than a year. I'm thinking less than

a year. Yeah, let's just call it that. And we're
talking about hitting the road again, huh eventually. Yeah, I mean,
if things go great, maybe next fall. But if they don't,
then uh, the next year we talk about stuff way
or yeah, I mean those theaters are going to be jamming.
That's that's the big thought is that when things truly

get better, everyone and their people have never even performed live.
We're going to book theaters to get up on stage.
It's gonna be a lot of fun. There's gonna be
a lot of pent up energy to be released right
in our direction. Why talk about an easy crowd, man,
I can't wait for that. So, speaking of talking about things, chuck,
great segue, because it turns out we're talking about something today,

and specifically we're talking about Buffet's. That's right, Jimmy, buffet
Do you have good I hadn't even thought about that,
good joke? Uh, do you have good memories of buffets
from when you were a kid or an adult? We
certainly went to Buffet's more than a little bit growing up,

and it kind of jibed with everything, um that our
household believed in, which was value for the dollar. Sure. Um,
I learned from my dad that you should eat until
you were physically uncomfortable and then eat a little bit more.
Oh that's good. I didn't have good food. Uh, examples
from my dad. And uh, you know, my mom has

been known to stuff a roll or two in her purse. No, sure, dude,
she's she falls under the section titled problematic customers. Yeah,
and I think, boy, I hope she didn't hear that.
She's gonna be so mad. But it was usually under
the guys of like, well, I don't feel like I
came in that hungry, so I didn't eat as much
as I actually do. Awesome, Well, I'll make you feel

a little bit better. My mom, I don't think ever
once in her entire life bought candy at a movie theater.
She would always bring in those bag of Bolt candies
and her oversized giant nineteen eighties purse. Yeah, and it
was always great, like she always had the good candy.
But you know, if you wanted like snow caps or something,
so well, I will say this, I haven't been to

a book a I was really trying to figure out
the last time and I don't know, man, it like
it literally may have been twenty years ago in Las
Vegas or something, a town that I do not enjoy
going to. But I think maybe I can't think of
any time I used to go to a this sort
of super Asian buffet where when my sister and her

husband lived in North Carolina with them, and it was
one of those weird ones that had like this great
Chinese food but then like pasta and seafood and it
was but not like in the in the Asian style
of seafood, right right, Yeah, that's stuff. That's a typical
Chinese buffet. They have lots of Chinese food, but they

have everything, and they'll have like eight different buffets all
in one. Is it like that? Uh? Yeah? But actually
now I do remember the last time I went to
a buffet. I did go to one of those KFC buffets,
but it had to have been more than fifteen years ago.
Was that the one in Valdosta? That's the only one
I know about now? And I remember I literally went

because I saw it on the sign said the buffet,
and I was like, I've heard of these, I gotta
do it. Yeah. Well it's still around. There's one on
exit eighteen on I seventy five and Valdosta, Georgia. There's
a bona fide KFC buffet. I can personally attest to
its existence. When was the last time you went to
a buffet? I hadn't thought about it, and I was

thinking about it while you were talking. Um, I was
listening to you as well. But UM, do you remember
when we did that that UM live catastrophe in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Oh sure, yeah, yeah yeah. So the next formed at
a school in front of like nineteen people, Yes, yeah,
and like ten of them had to be there for
like course credit. I think, um the the the next day.

So there's airplanes fly in and out of Erie a
couple of times a week, and um the the the
flight that I happened to have didn't leave to late
the next afternoon. So I went and saw um Oh
Cure for Wellness I think was the movie I saw
in the theater, and then I went and ate it
one of their local buffets, and Erie stayed on an

extra day. Huh, an extra two thirds of a day,
very very long two thirds. I think I drove and
flew out of another town. You did, you did, and
I hadn't. I didn't have that foresight. But um but
before that, I have to say, one of my favorite
buffets that I went to sometimes was pana Har. You
remember Panahar over on Beuford Highway. Sure late pana Har.

It just shut down, I believe in the last few months.
I don't think I ever went there. Was it Indian buffet.
It was Bangladeshi, you know, like the average American would
just be like, oh, good Indian food, but it was
just magical. There was something that they put in the
food that made everything really good. But they would do
a lunch buffet and it was fantastic. I bet you

would pay for that, though, I would pay a lot,
especially now that it's gone under. Oh, I see what
you mean. You know what I mean. No, they had
very good food. It was well made too. It didn't
just taste good, it was like well well made, like
they had some hundred and fifty year old grandmother back
in the kitchen overseeing things. Yeah. I don't mean that
it would be made bad. But Indian food is the

love and vain of my existence. I love it so much,
but it Yeah, it doesn't get to me that bad.
But that's uh, that's part and parcel with buffet's though, Chuck,
it might not just be Indian food. It could just
be the fact that it's a buffet, because buffets make
you super duper sick. All right. So should we talk
about the smorgas board, Yeah, because that's where the whole
thing originated. Yeah, I was. I did not know the

origin of that word, So it's kind of cool. In
Scandinavia in the thirteenth century, they had Smorgese boards, but
it was the Smortgage boards and brand Vince boards, And
it sounds a little more like if you were to
put out like a nice meat and cheese tray with
some butter and spreads, uh, maybe little smoked fish. But

the key here is vodka on that brandvet's board, right,
So that's what everybody was there for. But they would
lay out these spreads for like travelers who came to visit,
guests who came over long distances, and they'd be like, here,
restore yourself with these, you know, the spread of light food.
And over time the Swede said, you know, this is
a really great idea, let's just make this the meal.

So from what I can tell, it began as the
bron Vins board and then later became the Smorgas Board.
And in addition to the fact that it was like
this awesome spread of great food that everybody loved, um,
the aristocracy like the fact that um, the the staff
would just be attending to the Smorgas board. They wouldn't

be waiting on the guests. So if you kind of
wanted more privacy or whatever at your dinner party, a
Smorgas board was the way to go. Yeah, that makes sense.
Keep him out of our hair food. I think it
was a little more of a refined experience and just
go like stuff your face with everything. Yeah, that's that's
still a big difference between a Swedish Smorgas board in

an American buffet. Yeah, like very well laid out on
like a round table in a specific order that's not
necessarily just an order to make you fill up on
cheap food first, which we'll get to later, but yeah,
it sounds kind of cool. And then in the nineteen
twelve Stockholm Olympic Games, I think the rest of the
world saw the Smorgas board and it was like, we

need to bring a little piece of that back home
to the good old USA. Yeah, they're like you served
yourself from a table in the same room where you
sit down and eat. This is amazing, And there is
something amazing about it that I still, despite researching and
writing this whole thing, I cannot put my finger on
what it is. But there's just something about buffets or

smorgas sports, right, So something did capture the world's attention
at that nineteen twelve Olympics, and then in America in particular,
the Smorgas board really got a boost at the ninety
nine World It's fair, Um, that's the one where that
big Globe is over in Flushing, Queens, right, Oh sure, yeah.
Um so at that one there was a Swedish pavilion
and they had a restaurant there called the Three Crowns Restaurant,

and they put out a real deal Schmorges board and
the Americans just went bonkers for it. And it, as
a matter of fact, they said, just give us a
couple of years, we're going to figure out how to
turn this into basically the most American thing anyone's ever
invented in the history of food service. Right. So from
there we moved to Las Vegas, which is you know,

you can't talk about buffets without talking about Vegas, of course.
And um, early, early on what would become the Las
Vegas Strip, before Benny Siegel even was dreaming of the Flamingo,
was Bugsy Bugsy Seagull, right, yeah, Benny's his real name,
Buggsy was. I was wondering that the way you said it,
I've been correcting you lately and just putting my foot

in my mouth every time. So I came at it
a little more trepidacious. Leave them before. He's definitely more
trepidaciously than the second Jeweyah correction oh, did you get
the super cut of that from the basically exact same
conversation we already had years before. No, I did see
people mention it les. You gotta hear that. Please? Were

you forward that to me? I gotta yeah, I'll have
to dig it off. It was good stuff. I want
to give him his due to uh so her McDonald
was this guy's name. He was a publicist and he
was kind of one of the very first people to
start working on would become the Vegas Strip. And he's
given credit as the guy that came up with the

his L Rancho Vegas or I guess where he worked
at the l Rancho, which is the first hotel there
on the strip what would become the Las Vegas Buffet. Yeah,
but the legend has that that one night in the
late forties, he was um hungry and he went to
the kitchen and came back with a bunch of cold
cuts and cheese. Is kind of laid him out to
make himself a sandwich, and some of the gamblers who

were there late at night, we're like, hey, I'm kind
of hungry, can I get some of that? And he thought, huh,
this is not a bad idea. If I lay out
some food that isn't a sit down meal that the
gamblers can serve themselves, they're going to spend more time
here gambling. So maybe I will create what's now known
as the American Buffet. In Las Vegas. The cheap all

you can eat twenty four hour Buffet had its origins
from that little Eureka moment. Yeah, the Midnight chuck Wagon
was the name of the the first deal I guess
at a dollar, and they became known for the twenty
four hour version, which was the Bucaru Buffet, which was
a buck It was a dollar the Buckaroo, of course,

and uh yeah, it's it's I mean it's everyone kind
of knows the history of Vegas and like cheap food,
cheap or free food, and cheaper free drinks and fairly
cheaper free rooms. That was sort of the old days.
It's not a cheap, cheap town to visit these days.
I think they still run a lot of deals and
stuff like that because gambling is where they make, you know,

where they want to make most of their money. But
they did wise up at some point and they were like, hey, listen,
we're not just gonna keep giving away steak dinners and stuff. Well,
people started coming for the shows and stuff like that
and weren't necessarily gambling time was if you went to Vegas,
you went and emptied your pockets there so they could
afford to lose money on like the buffet or whatever.
But the Vegas all all you can eat, all night

buffet that started in the late forties and became synonymous
with the town actually kind of lent a bit of
um cash to buffets in general and in the United States.
We'll see like they kind of spread from there. Started
in in Scandinavia, moved to the World's Fair nine, then

to Vegas, and then from Vegas, it just kind of
spread like um just spider web of I don't like,
I love like apple turnover all a mode. Okay, Yeah,
I thought you were gonna say something like a five
gallon pan of hollandaise sauce. Oh that that is so
much better than what I said. Man, that was that

was amazing. Chuck. All right, let's take a break and
we're gonna dive into the Golden age. We love golden ages,
the golden age of the buffet right after this, Chuck. Okay,

So there's long been in America restaurants that have been
like all you can eat blank for blank amount of money. Yeah,
we used to do that something, sure. I mean like,
did you ever read a Buffalo's Cafe for wings? Oh? No,
did they have an all you can eat Yeah, but
it was it was like all you can eat ings
for like say eight or nine or ten dollars or whatever. Right. Yeah,

we went to a place called Rio Vista on Memorial Drive,
which was it was like all you can eat catfish
on Tuesday night. So that kind of thing, right, yeah, yeah,
and that's still very much around. And that apparently is
where the whole the whole idea behind buffets finds its
other footing, it's other origin in the United States. Was
this these kind of deals that were meant to kind

of generate new business, Like you would go try out
a restaurant. Um, there's this really great site called Restauranting
through History, terrible name, but a great site. And um,
the person who runs the site found this ad for
the City Restaurant in Elyra, Ohio, Yeah, from and it
was all you can eat oyster stew for cents. So

it had been around for a little while, but when
the depression rolled around all of a sudden, people were like, oh,
all you can eat sounds kind of good because I
haven't eaten in a week and a half and I've
got this whole family who's starving too, so let's go
try this. And they did. Yeah, that surprised me. I
was surprised to see them turn up in the depression, Uh,

just because of value and stuff. But you know, food
prices were low, so I guess they could afford to
charge people fifties or sixty cents or something for all
they well, not all they care to eat. That wasn't
really a thing yet, but people did love it. And
apparently um desserts during the depression era, buffets was really

where they because I guess that was just a rare,
rare treat, so they would really load up on the sweets. Yeah,
they definitely, they definitely would. But it it taught people
who ran restaurants like, wait a minute, wait a minute,
if you order people or if you offer people, you
know what, all they can eat of something like some
people do like over indulge, but a lot of people

just eat like a normal amount, which is weird. And
that kind of gave this like, um confidence, I guess
to restaurant tours to kind of start to move into
the like changing their restaurant entirely over to and all
you can eat set up. Yeah. So, you know, we
go down to the fifties and sixties where legit Chain

started opening that were you know, very cheap or you know,
let's just say inexpensive buffets. And this is where you
start to see um, you know, mac and cheese and
carb heavy meals and fried chicken and salads like jello,
you know, the little kind of festive looking jello mold

salads that you're not quite sure what's inside. And then
Chain said, you know what, this morgue board word is
kind of weird, Like, I don't think they were using
the word buffet at all at that point where they
id started around the same time in like the fifties
or sixties, okay, but they were using Smorguese boards sometimes

or smorgy or other variations like smore get or smorga.
And this is when and uh, they kind of started
leaning away from um, these nice round tables of food
to the long sort of cattle style. Yeah. Yeah, I think,

you know, like I said that Vegas buffets kind of
gave buffets everywhere else in the United States is kind
of cash and part of that was presentation, and that
as more and more chains kind of grew and took
over the whole buffet style food. Um. Yeah, they did
away with the presentation part really quick and just to
like eat your slop. You know. It was more about

that they'd shove you into lying that kind of thing.
But the idea, the idea, um, like you said, uh,
Smorgese board was kind of taking off. It seems to
have been like out west and in the Midwest, morege
and all that, but then elsewhere buffet started to come
to be used. So by about the fifties or the sixties,
you had Smorges and buffet's proliferating across the United States

like a pan of apple turnover all the mode yeah uh.
And that word buffet, you know, comes from the furniture piece,
the French furniture piece. For like we call them sideboards
sometimes it's what we have a couple in our house
from Emily's grandparents. Um, but people call those buffets as well.
We call them bedspreads. I called them comforters or afghan

remember those growing up? Did you have afghans in the house.
Yeah yeah, they were always too small. It was like,
why did you make this the itchiest way to keep
warm of all time? Probably besides like a wool blanket.
Yeah yeah. I'm not big on afghans. I like things
to be bigger than that, so softer. I don't know
about small afghans. What's going on there? They were always

just slightly too small. Wouldn't cover from chin to foot? No, no, no,
he never has there been an afghan that has covered
from chinda foot successfully, even if you do the little
diagonal trick. Yes, I've even tried that, and then it's
like too short on the sides, so like my love
handles will be cold. Oh no, get at. The thing

that I remember growing up with is what comes Next,
which was um actually a lot of these, but the
Western steakhouse sort of buffet, which was actually one of them,
was started by Dan Blocker Of who played Hoss Cartwright
on Bonanza. He started the Ponderosa Steakhouse, which I must
have known that back then because we went to ponder

Rosa's and Bonanza was the big one. The big one
that we went to Ponderosa was the buffet. I grew
up with two up in Toledo. Yeah, I love those bonanzas.
It's sort of I mean the same company, right, Yeah,
as far as I know, I'm not sure what the
difference was. We didn't have a Bonanza, Like I said,
it was just Toledo. But um, we did have that Ponderosa.
It was wonderful. What about Sizzler. Sissler we didn't have,

But I was aware. You know, when you think of
like the steakhouse theme buffets, aware comes to mind. Yeah,
I was since aware we ever went to Sissler. That
seems like a cut above if I remember correctly. Yeah,
I think it always at the very least positioned itself
if not, was actually a cut above. There's also one
called Chuck a Rama, but I've never heard of. And

then Golden Corral everybody knows about. Um it's been around
since the seventies, and Golden Corral is like the last
man standing. From what I can tell, it's actually doing
rather well. I think there was still one over by
the North and cab Moth. I'm not mistaken. They're everywhere.
They're still building them now. Yeah, well, but they're not
everywhere around where I live. I got you, what about

did you ever go to Western Sizzland because it was
really it was established in AUGUSTUS, so I would guess
you you had been there before. Yeah, I went to
Western Sizzling and then the other big ones uh and
they are in fact next on the list or when
they went sort of uh farmy homespun. Um. There was
an old country buffet near where I lived, and there

were also Hometown Buffet's Ryan's Grill and then Bakery and Buffet,
all owned by Ovation Brands, which was just pumping out
garbage food to buffets all over the country. Right, Yeah,
you've me said that the worst case of food poisoning
she ever had was the first time she ever tried
a buffet and it was O Ryan's and she just

she can't even say that word, Like she can't even
be friends with somebody named Ryan now because she'll just
get sick at the thought of that. Oh man, she
can't even watch Ryan Gosling or Ryan dal No. I
have to call her, I have to call him Gosling
if I call him anything else. I like and was
a big fan and we as a family as well
of the um of I guess ethnic buffets with we

didn't do many Mexican ones, but there were definitely Mexican.
There was definitely one we went to sometimes on Sunday
morning that had I think it was kind of even
before they started calling brunch. But I can't remember the
name of it. But it had a really nice taco
station and they would make you like a fahita station
and that stuff was so good where you don't remember
the name of it. No, man, I can't remember the name.

I don't think it was Poncho's. I don't think it
was a chain I got you. Weah. We went to
Chee Cheese when I was a kid. I don't remember
being a buffet. Strangely, I don't. I don't know why
I didn't know it was either. Yeah, that's where I
was introduced to the Chimmy Chonga. I'd love to eat
and I'd love to say, but Chee Cheese was like

the Olive Garden of Mexican restaurant, you know what I mean? Yeah,
I think so. I didn't really go to those that much, um,
but we did go to Mongolian Barbecue in the eighties.
There was one another memorial drive near where I live
that you know, that's where you pick out all your
and I can't imagine the health codes because they literally

had like raw meat that you would pick out and
then hand to a person to cook. Yeah with your
just your your your bare hands cupped filled with withdraw meat.
Was There's a chain called who Hut. It's a Mongolian grill.
It's like make your own stir fry buffet. And they
just their newcomers. They've been around for about twenty years
and they're actually doing rather well as far as buffets

are going. Look good for them. Um. There's also there's
a little bit of history that I found on that
restauranting through History site, um Jan Whittaker's site. Um, she
turned up a couple of gems that I just thought
her you have to mention, um, like that whole Smorgese
board thing when people were trying to figure out how
to Americanize it. Um, there was a hilarious collision between

ethnicities when like uh an Asian proprietor took over like
a smorgas Border opened a Smorga sport where you would
have like gong Le's Smorgy or Johnny Homs Chuck Wagon
Hoffbrow and Smorgy. I just love that. I think that's
the cutest thing. Ever, I'll bet Johnny hom and Gongli
were very happy, welcoming gentleman, and uh, pizza buffet's was

something we did a lot as well. There was one
called Village in Pizza near Us and I guess it
was could be a kin to like a Shaky's, who
I think is kind of the king of the of
the pizza buffet. But boy, those pizza buffets I remember
it was like like you always had a plan at
any buffet, like a game plan. You didn't just like
casually eat you. He had a game plan. But those

pizza buffets, I remember people sitting around the restaurant with
like one eye on when they're bringing those pies out,
and it was people would attack it. They would swarm, swarm. Yeah. Yeah,
pizza huts ted buffets for a very long time and
they still do from what I understand. But those it's
the dessert pizzas that are like the bomb. Yeah, I

think keep pizza buffets going. And there was always the
sad pizza too that no one wanted it just sat
and sat. Right. If you're looking for a pizza buffet,
they have CC's now they're kind of all over the place.
I don't there's this. I think we all need a
pizza buffet once in a while, chuck. But there was
this site called mashed, which I hadn't heard of, but

they had a lot of good stuff that I ran
across for this article. Um, but they were rating buffets
and they got to see seeds and they said, do
you like eating cardboard? No, then stay away from cecis.
And it was like, that's me. The funny thing is
now as an adult, like I go to New York
and like I'll grab a slice and that is the meal,

all right, and not like I would like nine more
of these and then a dessert one. Yeah. Yeah, it's crazy. Yeah,
but every once in a while it's I don't know,
just going berserk on food. It's kind of there's something
about it. Maybe that's the thing that I couldn't put
my finger on going berserk on food is the allure

of of buffets. I liked this in high school. My
hack for school launch was the salad buffet. Well actually
wasn't a buffet, but it was to build your own
salad that you might as well have. You know, you
didn't need to go back because I would I would
build these huge salads just stacked with like ham and
turkey and cheese and bacon bits and very little lettuce

was going on in their croutons and then drench it
with ranch dressing. And that was a really good value
at my high school cafeteria. That's awesome. Yeah, once you
drenched drench it with ranch, it's it's like goodbye nutritional value. Hello.
But salad buffet's were really big in the eighties and nineties. Yeah,
they were, you know, people were trying to eat a

little better, and so I think in night the two
big salad buffet competitors, Super Salad and soup Plantation, and
soup Plantation also was known as Sweet Tomatoes for a while.
They were both founded in seventy eight, and they had
a pretty good run up until the nineties, and then
people were like, I don't think this is actually very healthy,
and they said it's never been, and uh, they started

to kind of go away a little bit. Little my
favorite name of all time of those style of restaurants.
I don't know if you remember let Us Surprise You. Yes, yes,
they were good. I I loved let us Surprise You.
Actually to all of those Super Salad, super Plantation, I
mean like there, I like the idea behind them, but
they're you know, not not actually healthy. No, of course not.

It's it's like I said, my salad was probably worse
for you or worse for me than whatever was in
the regular lunch and Big Mac. And speaking of Big Max,
it turns out, Chuck, I read this really great article
on Oh I can't remember, maybe Eater, but it was
like this, the history of fast food buffets, and there's

like this whole subculture where all they want to do
is talk about fast food buffets. That's it. And there's
like legendary ones that may or may not have existed,
like McDonald's supposedly had a buffet for a little while,
or Um Taco Bell. But the impression that I have
is that that might have been like a low um
franchise e trying something outsily. Yeah, just completely lost their

s and they're like serving serving McDonald's or Tago Bell
buffet style. Well, I was a Wendy's Superbar adherent. Yeah.
I think I've told the story before. For newspaper staff,
you're allowed to check out and go quote unquote sell
ads or take pictures or whatever. So all the newspaper
staff would always hit the superbar near the high school

and eat pasta and a little Mexican taco salad. And
my favorite thing was they used I don't remember, they
use their hamburger buns. Is the bread, and they would
griddle those hamburger buns, yes, garlic bread. Yeah. It was
so good, It really was. Yeah, because like their their
stuff was legit, Like even their little salad bar was good.

But they had like a big potato bar and the
whole thing was and it was like three bucks or
something like that. Although the key here is it is
not all you can eat. And from what I gathered,
that was one of the downfalls of the windows. I
don't believe it was. I believe one big, fat trip
much as you could fit. That's what that was. That's

my memory, though I'm not sure, but I'm pretty sure
that's what it was. And I also saw somewhere that
that was one of the reasons why it went away,
is because they just had so much trouble keeping people
from going back for seconds or thirds or whatever. That
also explains now what, looking back, why I always had
uh pasta and chelato sauce and a baked potato right

exactly because you're like, where can I put this? So
there never you want to take a one more break
and then come back and talk about how buffets make
any money at all, let's do it. Okay, we'll be
right back, Okay, Chuck. So there's this thing like the

fact that if if you're a Las Vegas buffet and
you're offering things for cheap, you're actually losing money. It
kind of shows you. It points out that buffets have
a really narrow profit margin. Apparently restaurants have, you know,
one of the narrowest profit margins of any industry. But
then the buffets are the narrowest of the narrow, like
they really have trouble making money, and so um. There's

actually a an entire economic theory called adverse selection that
predicts that buffets just shouldn't exist, and yet they do
in the face of economic theory. Yeah, so this is interesting.
Adverse selection basically is, uh, if you have a case
where a buyer has more information than the seller does,

you're going to be in a distinct advantage is the buyer.
So the seller is going to set their price at
a price point it's uh low enough to attract the
worst customer they can get high enough to not uh
to high enough to chase away the really good customer,
which I guess in this case would be a really
heavy eater. So the the good customer to the buffet

low capacity and the low capacity eater. And it basically
means you're you're not going to be in business very long, Yeah,
because you're gonna set your price high enough that, um,
the low capacity eater is gonna be like, this isn't
worth it. I don't eat enough to justify paying this.
But you're it's going to be low enough so that
a high capacity eater with a huge empty belly is

going to say, oh, that's a great value. So you're
going to attract nothing but high capacity eaters and your
your Yeah, your business is just gonna go away. And
yet buffets still managed to persist despite that very logical
economic theory predicting that they shouldn't. And it turns out
there when you start digging around in the business of
buffets that there's a lot of like tricks that they

use the you don't find elsewhere in the restaurant industry
to kind of protect that very razor thin profit margin
anyway they possibly can. Yeah, and you know, Obviously, if
you're looking at a buffet and how they made or
make money, Um, the family unit is a really big
deal because and I know it's it's very sort of

lazy and reductive to paint it in such a kind
of a King of queensyan way, but that's how buffet
runners and managers and restaurateurs looked at it. Was You've
got this big hoss of a father that's like, I
need to eat at a buffet tonight, and this like
diminutive little wife is just like, well I don't eat
very much, and the kids are like, well I love

the dessert. So the only one in that family is
that's really putting a hurting on the buffet is is
the dad. Kevin James. Kevin James. And again, this is
not how we look at things. It is super lazy,
but if you're talking about the buffet industry, that's exactly
how they looked at it. Yeah, I mean, like all
of those cliches about like oh gosh, here comes a

football team or something like that, that's that's actually like
part of the buffet industry. They worry about stuff like yeah,
so um some ways that they try to balance out
that there find that balance between low capacity and high
capacity eaters UM or to to kind of protect their
their profit margin in the face of you know, more

high capacity eaters than low capacity eaters. In one way,
they'll just straight up kind of fly in the face
of established all you can eat ethos, which is all
you can eat, no strings attached. Um. And some restaurants say,
you know what, now, we're not going to do that. UM,
We're going to basically use nudge uh nudge psychology to

kind of get you to to um, not be wasteful,
to be a little more mindful, because it's kind of
part and parcel with going to a buffet is being like,
I don't have to use my brain at all for
the next hour that I'm going to this buffet. And
so they'll they'll try to do things like, um, they'll
say like take all you want, eat all you take.

Is a very common sign you'll see. And in fact,
Chuck um I mentioned this, uh, this restaurant called Grandpa's
down in Cocoa, Florida. It's a it's in a train,
which is just that in and of itself, is worth
going to write. But they have a salad bar and
on their salad bar has signed that says if if
you waste food, or if the waiter or server determines

you have wasted food from your trip to the salad
bar you haven't eaten enough, um, you'll be charged two dollars.
Is a two dollar charge for wasting food from the
salad bar. And I can't tell you how many um
arguments you mean. And I have seen between like old
couples about whether or not that they're going to get
charged that two dollars because the husband or the wife

didn't eat enough of the salad from the salad bar.
We know how that ends. It's it's like, is it
buffet's weren't gluttonous enough? That end with some old man saying,
oh yeah, watch this, shoving whatever food is on that
plate down his throat right in front of the manager.
YEA many other places to do that too. I've heard

plenty of places when I was a kid that supposedly,
like the rumor is, I don't think I ever saw
it happen, but they would charge you for wasted food. Yeah,
I don't know if they actually do. I think it's
just a threat. Yeah, you know, it's kind of like
a mandatory mask policy. They're not going to put you
in jail for not wearing a mask, but the fact
that it exists is going to make more people go

ahead and do it than otherwise would. Yeah. Another trick
they um will lay on you is to not clear
your plates away, because I guess they there is real
research that says that people are um not prone to
go up for more food if there's like three sort
of half eaten, dirty plates sitting and sitting in front

of them. I guess that the shame accumulation keeps them
from coming back. Yeah, that happened to me. I realized
I've been a target of that kind of harassment now
that I've done this research, Okay, I had no idea,
and now I'm a little bitter about it. I mentioned
earlier about the front loading it with carbs, and that
is true. They have done studies that show that. Um,

I think Cornell University. I don't know why they did this,
but they have a huge like food like food industry program,
the national leader in it. All Right, I'm glad you
said that, because I thought it was a strange thing
to study. But people in a in a buffet line
they found got the first thing in the line no
matter what it was. And so the idea is that

you put like if it's a Chinese buffet, that's where
you would put the fried rice or old country buffet
is that's where you put the mashed potatoes and gravy maybe,
and you know, you want them to fill up on
that stuff and by the time they get to the
the real high dollar amount, which is like the bagged
beef that's we're gonna talk about in a minute, that

you're not as hungry. Yeah, that that same study, I
believe found that two thirds of the stuff that that
is on the plate after you've made you know, year
rounds on the buffet where the first things that you encountered,
like you just go up and you start behaving in
this really predictable way. So you know, buffets protect their
their bottom line by catering to that. Um. They also

like if you ever noticed, um, when you go to
a buffet, it's like five nine, but then when you
go to check out, it's like, because your coke, your
fountain coke, was five dollars um, that fountain coke costs
them next and nothing. So to make five dollars on
it is a really good way to boost their profits
where they are otherwise losing it, you know, hemorrhaging money

that we drink water. Yeah, so I've read some stuff
about people getting kicked out of buffets, which we'll talk
about in a second. But um, some buffets are like,
we don't serve tap water, Like sorry, you have to
pay for your for a drink, no matter what it is.
They also have to their price point with pricing it

too low so that people don't think they're eating garbage food.
So they've done studies on that. And a pizza buffet
for four dollars, I think people who paid the four
dollars considered the food eleven percent less good or desirable
than people that paid literally twice as much, paid eight dollars,
even though the food was the same. Yeah, double digit difference. Yeah,

and you know, I guess I might as well say
it here. I worked on a job as a food stylist,
not as the food stylist, but when you're a p
a sometimes they would just say, hey, food styling needs
you for this whole job. Just go be one of them.
And I did that for a job on a an
unnamed major chain. Um, you know, it's sort of one

of those bar restaurants, is all I'll say. And literally
every single thing on the menu comes bagged and most
of it comes pre cooked. Yeah, that's why like a
lot of restaurants will say we're a scrap at kitchen
because they're saying, like, we don't use Cisco, Like we
actually use ingredients that you would use at home. But yeah,

there's so many restaurants just use Cisco or some other
food service where all that stuff is pre cooked by
Cisco and it just shows up in bags and your
job as the cook is to put it together and
heat it up, and then that's what you do. That's
actually one way that buffets save money is by not
having to employ actual chefs or cooks. And they also

have to employ far fewer weight staff because you know,
they're just coming over to make sure your drink is
refilled or something like that. They need way fewer people
because you're serving yourself, which saves them money. And then
there's one other trick that kind of falls in a
little bit with them that you know, take all you want,
eat all you take kind of sign. And apparently Sizzler

led the charge on this that whole all you can
eat idea if you stop and think about it. It
sounds a lot like a challenge some like, you know,
the reptilian part of your brain takes it that way. Um.
And so yeah, yeah, and so Sizzler said, well, we're
going to change that to All you Care to Eat,
which is much more genteel and is much less of

a it's much less hostile or aggressive sounding. Um. And
it never took off, obviously, but you can still see that.
Every once in a while you'll see from like a
buffet sign or something like then you're like, oh, that's
a fancy buffet. Yeah. There's another place here. I can't
remember the name of it. I think Jason's Deli that
I think they've got like a salad bar and a

dessert bar, but you also order, uh, sort of the
main portion of your meal and like soup and salad
and dessert can come with it though, right Yeah, And
it's so good. I love Jason's Delly. It's a good stuff.
It is. I mean, it's a it's a big honkin
salad bar and soft service cream chocolate vanilla and swirl um.

They have they have this really great look kind of
like um molasses bread like it's it's really chucky is
you could check it out and their sandwiches and soups
are pretty good to you. All right. Um, so problem customers,
you know, we've talked about people that would stuff food
in there, Like they would come in with like the
zip blocks ready to go inside the purse, or they

have like special plastic pouches in their coats. Uh. In Britain, Um,
there were people at this one place buffet called Gobie
in Brighton in Britain. Uh. They were banned for life
in and they made the news. They're like, you can't
come back here anymore. They did. Um, and I read this, uh,
this Business Insider article where this person was like, oh man,

you know, I wonder how easy it is to get
kicked out of a buffet. So they went to a
different buffet called Mr Woos and um, they said they
tried so hard to get kicked out and um, just
eating and eating and eating that they were basically crawling
out when they finally left, and they finally asked the
manager like what do you have to do to get
kicked out? And the Mr Bob managers like, we would

never kick anybody out. It says all you can eat,
you know, you eat as much as you like, and uh,
they're like, Okay, I wish I would have wish I
would have gone to a different place to try to
get kicked out, because it sounded like they really paid
the price for it. I also like the story in
from the Chuck a Rama when in two thousand four
a couple that was on Atkins were kicked out because
they went to the carving station twelve times and they

were just loading up on meat and they were like,
you can't do it. That's the most expensive thing here, right, Yeah.
So the restaurant was like they had to issue a
statement because apparently the position was we're a buffet, but
we're not all you can eat, and there it's like
basically a contradiction in terms, you have no business owning
a buffet if it's not all you can eat, you know,

look it up. So um, and that's actually a pretty
fairly routine thing, Like you can get kicked out of
a buffet pretty easily, and if it's particularly agreed, just
your your band for life. Um. I'm realizing now that
you by has a lot of buffet stories for somebody
who doesn't like buffets. But um, she lived in Japan,
for a while and she and our friend Ramy who

she met there. Um, he is a big, strapping dude
and he actually got I believe, banned from a Japanese
sushi buffet because he would show up. It's like this,
This poor couple who own this restaurant would just be like,
please please, sir, no, please stop going back to get
more food. But I could do some damage at a
sushi buffet for sure. Yes, yes, yeah I could too.

Uh So, now the dark side of buffet's I mean
a lot of this has been dark. Yet we're I'm
salivating somehow. Still our buffet's gross. Is how you titled
this next section, And the one sentence you have is
that answer is resounding. Yes, it's true. It's it's gross.
You know, when you're sharing utensils, your your food or

your body, grums are gonna be all over that when
that that those tongs fall in the in the in
the meat and gravy, and the guy behind you just
picks him right on up and they may be wipe
them off of the paper napkin like who who who
calls someone over and says, sir, the tongs fell in here.
That's what you're advised to do. If you're of a buffet,

that's what you're supposed to do. If there's tongs in
the in the food, that food is toast. It should
not be served anymore because Mr poop hands, who just
touched the tongs lasting is threw it into the surfried beef,
has now corrupted the entire pan of stir fried beef.
But you don't want to wait on the stir fried beef,
so you just get it and wipe it off and
use it. I mean, that's why. That's why buffet patrons

tend to be more rugged than the average restaurant cover. Uh,
it's also gross because that food is just sitting out
there for a long time. Sometimes it's just dangerous. It's dangerous.
They try to do what they can with ice and
and schafing dishes and steamer tables, but you know, let's
get real. Some of that stuff is well out of
the required temperature range. Yeah, and so that ranges forty

degrees fair height to a hundred and forty degrees heighten.
Anything in that hundred degree window um is is fair
game for things like e coli and shigella and sam
and ella to grow and apparently the most prolific bacteria
can double in population size in twenty minutes within that
temperature range. So it's I mean, it's actually it's not

just gross, it's kind of dangerous. Like if you read
I mean, these don't get published very frequently beyond like
local areas, so you would have to do some research.
But if you just look up, um, you know, food
poisoning and buffets on Google, you're going to find that
it happens a lot because you're gonna be able to
search a bunch of small towns and cities papers all

at once, and it seems like it happens quite a bit.
And that's why, Yeah, we all need to pay. We
all owe a debt to Johnny garn Now. He is
the restaurateur and germophobe who in nineteen fifty nine patented
the sneeze guard. It was known as the food service
table at the time. But those sneeze guards, they went

from not there at all too. They're everywhere and required
by law now over the course of you know, forty years.
I remember by the time we were kids, they were
pretty much in play unless he went to maybe went out,
you know, if you went to a buffet that was
a little more rural area. It might be kind of
wide open, but I remember they're usually always being sneeze guards. Yeah, yeah,

I mean, it's definitely like law. And now I'm speaking
of law. By the way, I forgot to mention with
those um utensils, that shared utensils that buffet patrons serve
themselves with, there's no law regarding how long those can
stay out and how long they have to be or
how often they have to be replaced. By the way, Yeah,
it does not surprise me. So um yeah, God bless

Johnny Garnol, who was like, this is just gross, but
this is the business I'm in, so let me try
to improve it however I can, and he came up
with a sneeze guard. Food waste is obviously a big problem,
uh if you are in Ovation Brands, a big, big
company with lots of uh buffets. They I think they
UM filed for bankruptcy in sixteen, but they had three

thirty buffets nationwide. They had real computer modeling and data
data driven insight into exactly what to bring out and
when to bring it out, and how to really cut
down on that food waste, because that's that's a big
cost for them. Not only is it just wasteful and
terrible to throw big pans of food away, but that's,

like you said, the margins are so thin. They have
to do everything they can, including computer modeling, to really
see if they can get that down to the very
uh I guess minimum amount. Yeah, and like they had
it down to a science man like they knew to
the store, like based on that locations data, what food

they should put out, at what time and in what
amounts to try to cut down on food waste as
much as possible, which is pretty impressive. But despite that,
they still found that between five and of every pan
of food, including apple pie, all the mode was going
to waste um and there's just nothing they could do
about it. And from what I could tell, that doesn't

take into account the waste that was being sloughed off
of like the customers plates who took all they wanted
but did not eat all they took it. I'm trying
to think of those phone calls about this computer modeling,
you know, and like restaurant managers arguing with corporate. I'm
telling you, Frank, Buffalo doesn't move salisbury steak after two.

They just don't stop putting it out. Just face it.
I love who when people say face it, face it,
face it. They can't move salisbury steak, frank uh. So
some places are allowed and some communities are allowed to
pick up this food for people who need food. But

you know, I think that's probably kind of rare. We
we talked about that, and that was that dude in
that dumpster episode about gleaning. Um. But there are communities
that definitely allowed gleaning, but there's some that expressly prohibited,
which is sad because that is a lot of wasted
food that's supposedly to Hotel buffets are the champs of

food waste for not just buffets but the entire restaurant industry.
They throw out about fifty of all the food they
put out on any given day, which is just shameful.
But the thing silver lying of the whole thing is
is you don't have to worry about this food waste
for much longer because buffets probably won't be around that long,
or if they do, it's going to be in very

limited small amounts because, like you said, Um, that Ovation
Brands that was the leader of the industry for a while,
they went bankrupt. Right now, it's Golden Corral, but Golden
corrals up against the wall because not just restaurants are
in trouble, but phats were typically singled out by the
CDC guidelines. Is saying these should probably shut down until

the pandemic is over because they are COVID nightmares. As
far as restaurants are concerned, I think Golden cry would
be up against the fence now, I guess so maybe
up against the barbed wire. Yeah, I mean, people are
eating healthier these days. Millennials are certainly not unless there's
I'm sure there's an ironic millennial that loves a good buffet,
but generally that's not their bag. Even baby boomers, which

was a big part of the buffet generation, are eating
healthier as they age. Uh you know, they don't they
don't want to die. So everyone's trying to do a
little better. And and it's been narrowed down to, you know,
sort of the local mom and pops, you know what.
I have gone My dad lives up in the mountains,
and I've gone to the mom and pop buffet there

within the last like twelve years now there, but there's
goose and then sure it's great, and that that stuff
is cooked like that's like Grandma was fried chicken and
like the real deal. Yeah it's no. Um, but yeah
they are. I mean they're gonna they're not. The salad
bar will be around. They'll always be buffet's, probably on

cruise ships and there'll be some of casinos. The best
buffet I ever had was in Vegas with you me.
It was a breakfast buffet and they had no joke
um of doughnut making station where they made donuts in
front of you. It was like I can I can
still like imagine myself there right now, happiest day of
my life, like a little little friar. It was so good, dude,

it was so good. But they also had frosting too.
It wasn't just like here's some cunaman sugar on it.
It was they were amazing donuts. But um, so there's
there's always going to be like buffet's here or there,
but the idea of just buffet's being everywhere. Their heyday
is over and they're definitely going the way of the
dinas or face it, face it. But I mean, I
think it's said because I think the kids are gonna

miss out on a an experience because it's kids who
enjoy buffet, Do you know what I mean? Kids love
him man, that that swirled ice cream that that tastes
like acid rain will never get old. Yeah, And I
mean the the one of the things you can say
about buffets that will lose is this ability to try
new things. You know, like you don't you don't risk
it all on ordering something that's your entree and then

it's terrible and you just wasted it on trade. Like
you can go try stuff at a buffet, like I
tried frog legs when I was a kid at a
buffet at a dinner um, a dinner theater that we
used to go to. I probably never would have tried
frog legs in my entire life had it not been
for that buffet. So there's something to be lost with buffet's.
It's true. I think I might have tried frog legs.

And I don't know if you ever went to this place.
But my final plug it's not open anymore, so it's
a worthless plug. But Athens, Georgia had a place called
Charlie Williams Pine Crest Lodge. Oh yes, I remember the
Pine Crest Lodge that was out I guess somewhere on
the east side. It wasn't like close to campus or anything.
That's that was a really kind of quote unquote nice

buffet where like that's where the parents would always take
the kids when they were in down Right, you wore
your jeans without the holes and number that. Yeah, so
that's it on frog legs, Right, you got anything else? No,
I'm gonna I feel like I owe it to myself
to check out a buffet at some point soon all
not soon, but like next year. Yeah, after the pandemic

passes for sure. If there's any laft. Well, since we
talked about the pandemic passing everybody, that means, of course
it's time for listener mayo. Uh let me see, I've
got a few good ones here. I'm gonna call this
changed Life. Uh Kia Aura, guys, I'm writing because it's

an episode of your podcast Help me discover my Lafe's
passion in Dream Career ten years ago, I was a
science obsess twelve year all listened to listening to stuff
you should know frequently. In the episode that changed everything
was how molecular gastronomy works. Remember that one? Yeah, that's
the strange life changing one. The concept of breaking down
a food to its molecular basis and reconstructing it into

something unrecognizable from a sensory level. Blew my mind. You
planted a concept to my head that inspired me ever since.
That year. I did a presentation on h E R
V E. What is that harvey V? I don't know
what that is? I don't either. Oh no, HERV this

h T V r E this, I don't know what
that is. It sounds like it's a play on curb
this starry shape. Okay. I had this presentation for my class.
I saved up until like I could afford a kit
of food activities the following year, as fortune had at
a school teacher informed me that the more practical version
of molecular gastronomy's food technology. Through a science fair, I

was linked with a group of mentors with the New
Zealand Institute of Food Science and Technology through the ages
of fourteen to sixteen h My early networking from six
years prior helped me secure an amazing first internship at
one of New Zealand's largest food manufacturers this summer. I
still get giddy with excitement I felt from that episode
every day, from studying non Newtonian fluid mechanics to experimenting

with new stabilizers. A single episode has led me down
a STEM path that I wouldn't have discovered otherwise. Yet
it suits me completely. Man. That's the gift of knowing
what I am meant to do early on has pulled
me through severe mental and physical illness. I'm not sure
I would have continued to pursue a field and stem

had I uh not known what was waiting for me.
I think about how you guys change my life often.
I'm sorry for not letting you know sooner. That's okay.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for pointing
me in a direction of food technology. It is an
invisible yet highly important undercoat of modern life that I
would have never known without you. And that is from
Kizzy Man. Kissy, thank you was an amazing email. That's that, Chuck,

is exactly why we take every topic as seriously as
the last, isn't it. Yeah? I think so, because I mean,
you never know who what it's going to mean to somebody,
and like, even if we're like, oh, that was kind
of interesting, there's somebody like Kissy out there is like, well,
that episode just changed my life. So congratulations Kizzy, I'm
figuring out what you want to do in life so early.

Best of luck and best wishes, and thank you very
much for letting us know that that was great. You
never know the next great buffeteer might be listening to
this very episode, right, very nice. Well, if you want
to get in touch of this like Kissy did, or
you think you're America's next great buffeteer, we want to
hear from you, you can send us an email to
Stuff Podcast at iHeart radio dot com. Stuff you Should

Know is a production of iHeart Radio for more podcasts
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