Welcome back to Restaurant Confessionals, where we talk to the unheard voices of the restaurant industry from both the front-of-house (FOH) and back-of-house (BOH) about what really goes on behind the scenes at your favorite establishments. In this edition, we spoke to a former server at a buffet located off a busy highway.
The buffet I worked at for nine years was more of a high-end one. We had all the standard sections for cold food, hot food, salads, and even a hibachi station. But what we were really known for was our seafood selection. We specialized in giant shrimp, oysters, Alaskan king crab, sushi, and sashimi. We had great chefs and served quality food, but after two years of working there, I couldn't even look at any of it sometimes.
From truck drivers looking for a casual meal to business executives holding meetings, we had them all. We regularly had people coming in for celebrations like weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, and graduations. But then there were also gatherings, like the wake after a funeral.
While there's no way to define the average buffet eater, every single one of them does have the same motive: to eat a lot. That doesn't necessarily mean they were overweight, but it just means that their mission was to stuff their faces as much as possible. They all turn into savages who act like they haven't eaten in a week.
Each time she was busted, she would empty out the crab legs from her bag and then speed away in her Mercedes.
We had a number of customers who came in to eat alone—marathon runners who just finished a big race, and athletes who might've completed some sort of training. It was fun to watch them eat because you know they really deserved it.
But we also had a lot of girls who clearly suffered from eating disorders, specifically bulimia. These girls came in solo and often wore sweatpants. I always could tell they were bulimic because they were rail-thin in a really unhealthy way, yet they ate so much. They would out-eat the amount of food normal customers would eat, even though they looked skinny in a sickly way. While they're eating, they would also constantly disappear to the bathroom. They'd literally run back and forth to the toilet, like, seven times. There wasn't a separate bathroom for the employees, so sometimes when staff members went into the restroom, we knew these girls would be throwing up because their feet under the stall would be facing the other way. And we could hear them retching and all that, too.
We also had a regular customer who was notorious for stealing food. This woman drove a Mercedes and wore designer clothing and Louis Vuitton handbags. Her item of choice for stealing was always Alaskan king crab legs. She had been caught stealing Alaskan king crab legs at our place multiple times. Each time she was busted, she would empty out the crab legs from her bag and then speed away in her Mercedes.
People are extraordinarily dirty-ass eaters, especially at a buffet. They just don't give a fuck.
She's not the only person who would steal food from the buffet, though. There are lots of people who have no shame about it. They'll ask for an exorbitant amount of napkins, or go to the bathroom and steal C-folds. Then they'll line their bags with all the tissues to create a pocket to store all the food in. Whenever I see people stealing oysters and seafood, it's so gross! Like, what the fuck are you going to do with those oysters after they've been in your bag?
A lot of people also don't consider a buffet a regular restaurant. In their heads, it's a completely different category of dining. They think that because they have the freedom to walk around the restaurant and linger, they have the freedom to do as they please—or because the food is self-service, that they don't have to tip. But it still should be 18 to 20 percent, because people are extraordinarily dirty-ass eaters, especially at a buffet. They just don't give a fuck, and that's where buffet servers come in to provide an unappreciated kind of service. We're constantly refilling their drinks, taking away the constant stream of dirty plates, and cleaning all of the leftover shells and bones that people love to just throw on the table.
The time people take to eat at a buffet was something some customers freaked out about, too. Our buffet had a time limit of two hours, which is pretty generous. The thing is, you're not waiting for anything to be cooked at a buffet. All the food that's available is already just there. Two hours should be more than enough time to eat. We would have customers who have stayed more than two hours, and when we would approach them about our time limit, they'd scream, "I'm still eating!" They liked the idea of getting their money's worth by eating non-stop, but they're not going to be able to eat another full meal like they did when they first sat down.
It's not enough that customers have the option of eating good food until they feel like they're going to explode—they also want to do it for the least amount of money possible. Some people will try this by claiming they're not a big eater. They'll pull the server aside and say they don't really eat that much and want to pay half the regular price. Or some people will say they got their stomach stapled or they have a medical procedure coming up, so they shouldn't have to pay full price. We also had a kid's price available that was determined mostly by height, as long as the customers were under 18. Some adults who were shorter than the limit would always claim they were a kid and should be charged the cheaper price. And they would do this with absolute seriousness. It's like, you're clearly 30 years old—are you really trying to pass as an adolescent?
Something about the all-you-can-eat mentality definitely triggers people's brains to get creative on the craziness. It's the innate caveman in us.
As told to Tae Yoon.
This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in April 2016.