Although buffet restaurants are generally a big hit, there are some deficiencies that most need to address to make them safer, more efficient and more appealing. While the “appealing” aspect is always important, the “safety” issue is of even more importance, especially when you consider the special features buffet restaurants offer. In most restaurants, the only people who have immediate access to the food are staff members-this is not so in buffets. Because so many people have direct access, safety and health concerns should over-ride all other concerns. Knowing this, many precautions are generally taken at most buffet restaurants, but there is still much that needs to be done in order to make them better. Here are some improvements that should definitely be considered:
1. Cutting portions into smaller pieces. One of the things many people love about buffets is the opportunity to try a huge number of items at the same time. Unfortunately, though, most people can only eat so much-this is especially true of kids, whose tastes can be very fickle and who may not be as sensitive to wastefulness. When buffet offer large pieces, this invites unnecessary waste. If pieces are cut to manageable, snack-tasting sizes, though, there is generally less waste.
2. Requiring everyone using the buffet to wash their hands. Although large spoons, tongs and serving forks are generally made available, some people still touch food or they let the handle of the serving utensils touch the food after they are done. Also, you do not know where people have had their hands before coming to the buffet. By requiring everyone to wash their hands (either at a sink at the entrance or with hand sanitizer, which does not require water) at the beginning, a higher level of cleanliness can be brought to these buffets.
3. Providing better cover for the food. Yes, buffet restaurants provide sneeze guards, but these are usually not very big, are too high or too low, or are not properly designed. A properly-designed “sneeze guard” should cover the food completely, i.e., the top and all-around, and it should provide a small opening (say, about six inches from the top of the counter or table) under the guard, where only one’s hands and a plate should fit. What you will often find, though, is that many guards are open at the top or only cover 3 sides or provide a huge gap underneath, allowing short people and kids to have a direct line to the food-something the guards (usually made of glass) are supposed to prevent.
4. Making sure that all the food is kept at an appropriate hot or cold temperature. Meats, for example, need to be kept very hot; tuna salad, cheese, butter and tartar sauce need to be kept at cool temps. What many buffets do, though, is provide a little bit of heat (usually provided by hot water under the pans) but this is often not enough to prevent food spoilage. Some buffet operators will tell you that they don’t want the food to get overheated and dried out but they miss the point. It is, simply put, unsafe for food to be kept at room temperature and, sometimes, providing slight heat or minor coolness is of minimal value.
5. Having one person always supervising the buffet. In general, buffets are left unsupervised. What is to stop, say, a mean person from putting laxative or some other more harmful substance in the food? What about some psycho or homicidal maniacs putting something in the food that may either make hundreds of people sick or, what would be much worse, cause some deaths? Right now, most buffet restaurants get away with this lack of supervision because they are not required to provide it by law (something that should be changed through local or federal legislation). They may not want to pay a staff person to just supervise the buffet but if Walmart can pay someone to just greet people, buffet restaurants can certainly pay someone to keep the food safe for everyone.
6. Requiring all kids going to the buffet to be supervised and served by an adult. Children, in general, do not have a good sense of what is proper cleanliness and hygiene. They, for example, may not see anything wrong with sneezing or coughing directly at the food-not that many adults are any better behaved! Beyond that, children tend to take too much food and, for other reasons, have no business serving themselves. If adults cannot abide by this simple requirement, then they need to leave the kids at home when going to a buffet.
7. Requiring everyone to finish what they already took before going for more-in other words, using one plate at a time. While giving people complete freedom to take all they want is a wonderful thing, it does invite extreme unnecessary waste. Many people fill up 3 or 4 plates and take them to their table. Not surprisingly, much of the food they originally took is still on the table when they leave. What people do not realize is that food wasted ultimately raises the cost of the buffet, thus affecting everyone, including people who were not as wasteful. Doling out the dishes one at a time can help cut back on all this unnecessary waste.
8. Providing changing menus. Some buffets (especially those involving Oriental cuisine) offer the same dishes every day of the year. Needless to say, people can get sick of eating precisely the same thing, even when the food is well-prepared. In an ever-more-competitive economy, variety is very important. Buffets are even more inviting when they provide an ever-changing variety of choices.
9. Including drinks as part of the buffet price. Some buffets, especially some well-known chains, in an attempt to nickel-and-dime their customers, charge a separate price for drinks. This might be okay if they did not already charge a hefty fee for the food and the price they charged for drinks was reasonable. Charging $2.00 or more for iced tea or soda (which restaurants pay only pennies to have available), though, is hardly “reasonable.” The best buffets include drinks in their “all you can eat” fare.
10. Not including expensive items with the general buffet then raising the price everyone pays for the general fare. In some buffets, they justify raising their usually (comparatively speaking) low prices by including things like crab legs, sirloin steaks, or jumbo shrimp, maybe on the weekends. This is simply unfair to those people who may not have wanted these “fancy” add-ons. A better, fairer idea is for these buffets to include these items (on a separate table set off from the rest) for an additional fee to those who may want them. People who pay the additional fee can then wear a special sticker or a ticket they have available to show their server.