Etiquette Tips for Eating at a Buffet

Buffet Etiquette

Buffet etiquette finds its place toward the casual end of the dining etiquette spectrum.  When you're mindful of the situation and show consideration to others, it's difficult to do it wrong.

During the pandemic buffets were suspended and they may never make a full return.  Time will tell. However, as with any social situation, knowing what to do makes it easier to feel comfortable and to extend that feeling of comfort to other people, too.

Smorgasbord?  Serve yourself affair?  Salad bar?  All you can eat?  Each of these fall into the category for which buffet etiquette applies.

What You Should Do

  • Servers will be serving you. 
  • There are usually many item choices, but it's better to maintain decorum and not stack your plate high with food just because it is offered.  You can always make a second round through.
  • If it’s a one-time-through buffet, accommodate accordingly.
  • If you return to the line, leave your plate behind and get a clean plate. The same goes for beverages if you need a refill.
  • Carry food and drinks separately to the table to avoid a potentially hazardous balancing act.  (Sometimes drinks are served and you won’t have to worry about this.)
  • When you sit down you can begin eating.  However, if you are at a gala affair and your table has been invited to the buffet line, you will arrive back at your table along with others.  As a courtesy, wait until two or three table companions arrive before eating.
  • Service staff always appreciate hearing “Thank you!”  Wear a smile.

Buffet Etiquette Faux Pas

  • Please do not cough or sneeze near the food.  Step out of the line or turn away and sneeze into your elbow to cover mouth and nose.
  • Don’t be a space invader, reaching around or in front of someone who is serving himself, or standing too close.  Respect personal space.
  • Eating begins when you sit down at the table — not in the buffet line.
  • Try not to hold up the line by asking lengthy questions about how the food was prepared.  Better to skip it and not keep other hungry people waiting.
  • And lastly:  no doggie bags!

Attending buffet events can be fun and adventurous when there are many new foods to try.  
Bon appetit!

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