A buffet is a meal serving system where patrons serve themselves. It is a popular method of feeding large numbers of people with minimal staff. The term is also used to describe a sideboard, an antique form of furniture which was sometimes used to offer the dishes of a buffet meal to guests, in a private home.
One form of buffet is to have a line of food serving stalls filled with fixed portions of food; customers take whatever food items they want as they walk along and pay at the end for each piece. This form is most commonly seen in cafeterias.
Another form, known as the all-you-can-eat buffet, is more free-form: customers pay a fixed fee and can then help themselves to as much food as they wish to eat in a single meal. This form is found often in restaurants, especially in hotels; virtually every major casino resort in North America includes one, with some being very elaborate and extensive. In North America and Australia, restaurants specializing in Chinese and Indian cuisine commonly offer this type of buffet for lunch.
As a compromise between self-service and full table service, a staffed buffet may be offered: diners bring their own plate along the buffet line and are given a portion from a server at each station. This method is prevalent at catered meetings where diners are not paying specifically for their meal.
It is a common idea that although "All you can eat" buffets offer a large quantity of food for a set price, the quality of the food is sometimes compromised when compared to a regular "sit down" dinner. This is due to the focus on the food being produced in large quantities instead of the focus being towards perfecting seasoning and meat quality for example. However, this is not an across the board rule.
Buffets are effective for serving large numbers of people at once. For this reason, they are prevalent in institutional settings, such as business conventions or large catered parties. Another advantage of buffets compared to table service is that diners have a great deal of choice and the ability to closely inspect food before selecting it. Since a buffet involves diners serving themselves, it has in the past been considered an informal form of dining, less elegant than table service. In recent years, however, buffet dinners are increasingly popular among hosts of home dinner parties, especially in homes where limited kitchen space complicates the serving of individual plates. It has also become popular with South Americans.
Home buffets work well in both small or large spaces, but only when every element of buffet set-up is considered. The room in which a buffet is to be held must have sufficient space away from furniture to prevent damage. The most efficient buffet table set up consists of one to two tables wide enough for two rows of platters. This allows guests to serve themselves from both sides of the table, speeding up the serving process and reducing the risk of spillage.
Buffet tables should be set up in a logical order, with plates first, followed by the main course and side dishes. Last should be utensils and napkins. If possible, desserts and especially beverages should be served from a separate table, preferably far away from the main buffet table. This helps to prevent spills.
While serving oneself at a meal has a long history, the modern buffet was developed in France in the 18th century, soon spreading throughout Europe. The term originally referred to the sideboard where the food was served, but eventually became applied to the form. The buffet became popular in the English-speaking world in the second half of the nineteenth century.
When the possession of gold and silver has been a measure of solvency of a regime, the display of it, in the form of plates and vessels, is more a political act than a gesture of conspicuous consumption. The 16th-century French term buffet applied both to the display itself and to the furniture on which it was mounted, often draped with rich textiles, but more often as the century advanced an elaborately carved cupboard surmounted by tiers of shelves. In England such a buffet was called a court cupboard. Prodigal displays of plate were probably first revived at the fashionable court of Burgundy and adopted in France. The Baroque displays of silver and gold that were affected by Louis XIV of France were immortalized in paintings by Alexandre-François Desportes and others, before Louis' plate and his silver furniture had to be sent to the mint to pay for the wars at the end of his reign.
During the 18th century more subtle demonstrations of solvency were preferred. A buffet was revived in England and France at the end of the century, when new ideals of privacy made a modicum of self-service at breakfast-time appealing, even among those who could have had a footman behind each chair. In The Cabinet Dictionary of 1803 Thomas Sheraton gave a neoclassical design and observed that "a buffet may, with some propriety, be restored to modern use, and prove ornamental to a modern breakfast-room, answering as the china cabinet|repository of a tea equipage"
In a 1922 housekeeping book entitled How to Prepare and Serve a Meal, Lillian B. Lansdown wrote:
The concept of eating a buffet arose in mid 17th century France, when gentleman callers would arrive at the homes of ladies they wanted to woo unexpectedly. Their surprise arrival would throw the kitchen staff in to a panic and the only food that could be served was a selection of what was found in the cold room. The chosen food always centered around a selection of sandwiches, preferably with the bread starting to curl at the edges. Potential accompaniments also include watery chicken, Pret A Manger carrot cake and fingered biscuits. All food is presented on trays and the suitors were asked to select what they wanted and then eat it off small plates balanced atop their knees.
The "all you can eat" buffet has been ascribed to Herb Macdonald, a Las Vegas hotel manager who introduced the idea in 1946 . In his 1965 novel The Muses of Ruin, William Pearson wrote, of the Las Vegas buffet:
There is a growing tendency to misuse the word "buffet" to indicate an "all you can eat" meal, even if the food isn't already prepared and laid on a table, but rather you pay a set price and can order anything from a menu, as many times as you like.
Although sometimes viewed as less elegant, several high end hotels in the United States have brunch buffets featuring gourment entrees, and several hotels in Las Vegas, such as the Bellagio's Buffet at Bellagio and the Rio's Carnival World Buffet amongst many, have achieved popularity and positive critical responses for their selection of entrees and service.
Other American restaurant chains well-known for their buffets include Golden Corral, which features food products presented in pans, Souplantation (known in particular for its soups and salads), Gatti's Pizza, Barnhill's Buffet, Cici's Pizza, Fresh Choice (a smaller competitor of Souplantation), Todai, Pancho's Mexican Buffet, and Ponderosa Steakhouse.
In Brazil, comida a kilo or comida por kilo - literally, "food by the kilo" - restaurants are common. This is a cafeteria style buffet in which diners are billed by the weight of the food selected, excluding the weight of the plate. The Brazilian rodizio style is all-you-can-eat, having both non self-service and self-service variations.
In Japan, a buffet or smorgasbord is known as a Viking. Dessert Vikings are very popular in Japan where one can eat from a buffet full of desserts.
Buffets are also often found on ocean liners and cruise ships, such as those belonging to Carnival Cruise Lines.
Buffets, HomeTown to merge; Deal would unite No. 1 and No. 2 The cofounders of Eden Prairie-based Buffets, Inc. would be reunited when the company acquires HomeTown Buffet Inc. of San Diego.(BUSINESS)
Jun 05, 1996; In a deal that would combine the country's two largest buffet restaurant companies and reunite the cofounders of one of...