Get value for money from all-you-can-eat buffets without getting kicked out
After two men were kicked out for eating too much at an all-you-can-eat buffet, we look at how you can get value for money without being shown the door.
The all-you-can-eat buffet. You walk in, pay a fixed price and take your pick from the starters, mains and deserts on offer. And you can even queue up for seconds, thirds or more.
But go back too often and you could get banned. That’s apparently what happened to two friends from Brighton when they filled up rather too many times at an all-you-can-eat Mongolian barbecue restaurant.
With some buffet restaurants offering a smorgasbord of cultures and cuisine from Chinese and Indian to Italian and Mexican, how can you get value for money without being chucked out?
Best time to go
There’s heaps of places doing buffet style deals, from one-off outlets to chains like Red Hot World Buffet, Jimmy’s Spices and Taybarns. Pizza Hut runs an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet too.
Most places run two ‘sittings’; a ‘lunch’ and ‘evening’ so decide which one you’re going to and get in as the place opens. This way the food’s fresh and you’ve less chance of your favourite dishes running out or having to wait for them to be replaced. And with some buffet restaurants you can book in advance too.
Turn up towards the end of the ‘sitting’ and you run the risk of the popular dishes being gone and if it’s near closing time they may not be replaced.
A ‘lunch’ option is usually cheaper than the ‘evening’ deal, but the flip side is you may not get the full range of dishes. So call ahead to check if there’s a restricted menu at lunchtimes. The Red Hot World Buffet has seven outlets around the country and a lunch deal at its Milton Keynes outlet costs £7.99 from Monday to Thursday. But it’s weekend evening deal is £14.99; nearly twice the price.
However the website warns that dishes vary according to ‘availability and time of day’.
Do your research
If you’re vegetarian or going along for specific dishes, ask to take a look at the selection on offer before being seated. And if you’ve got food allergies I’d be careful with these buffets as accidents can happen. I’ve seen the occasional food ‘label’ get muddled up and once found I was munching into a banana fritter rather than the apple one I thought I’d picked up.
While that didn’t bother me too much, it’s not ideal if you can’t eat bananas!
Pay the kids’ rate
Some places do ‘kids’ rates according to age while others go by height. At one Chinese buffet I’ve been to in Watford there was a height gauge, so it may be worth checking if you fit within any height limit to save yourself some cash. It may mean a few more trips back to the buffet table if you’re working with a smaller plate but can be worth it.
You might ‘share’ a starter or split food to feed smaller children in a standard restaurant, but this won’t go down well in an all-you-can-eat environment so be prepared to pay per diner regardless of how much they eat.
Check the queue
If you’re going for a big buffet (Za Za Bazaar in Bristol boasts it can seat one thousand diners at any one sitting!) check the number of individual ‘stations’ as standing in a long queue that snakes round the room is boring and means some dishes have run out before you get there.
Drink tap water
No reason why you can’t ask for tap water, but watch out as it won’t necessarily be ‘on the house’. While restaurants can’t charge for the actual water that comes out of the tap, they can add on a charge to cover the cost of pouring it into a jug and carrying it to your table. But even with any charge added in, tap water is still likely to be much cheaper than buying bottled water which I’ve seen charged at £3.50 a time in some places.
Avoid cheap fillers
Heavy filling food, like fried stuff or doughy pizza crusts, will fill you up quickly, as will any rich salad dressings. Eat the expensive stuff first, so go for meat or fish dishes, and if it’s a place with a ‘live’ cooking station where the chef cooks up your bowl of raw ingredients it can be worth opting for that first to avoid a queue.
Stay all day
If you’re savvy you can even get three meals for the price of one. While most places have separate ‘lunch’ and ‘dinner’ sittings, at Taybarns, its £5.99 deal runs from 11.30am to 6pm on weekdays and from 11.30am until ‘late’ at weekends (£8.99), so you could get away with a brunch, late lunch and dinner.