The all-you-can-eat buffet is a tribute to Americans’ love of excess, variety, and value. But these establishments have plenty of tricks up their sleeves to keep the …
The all-you-can-eat buffet is a tribute to
Americans' love of excess, variety, and value.
But these establishments have plenty of tricks
up their sleeves to keep the costs of customers'
consumption low and their profits high.
Here's how to beat them at their own game
and get your money's worth.
You may think that fasting all day before
you hit the buffet will leave you with plenty
of room to fill up, but starving yourself
all day before you head out to eat can have
some unintended consequences.
According to competitive eater Matt "Megatoad"
Stonie, trying to stuff a massive amount of
food onto a completely empty stomach can lead
to major cramps before you've even gotten
to your second plate.
Rather than fasting completely, make sure
your meals leading up to the buffet are light
in nature.
Yogurt, cereals, and soups are good meal options
that won't fill you up for hours on end.
And here's something else "Megatoad" recommends
for the serious buffet-goers: Drink plenty
of water to keep your stomach pliable throughout
the day and ready for the task ahead of you.
Carry a big bottle around with you and set
a timer to go off periodically to remind you
to take a swig.
Physical activity can sometimes have an impressive
impact on your appetite, but if you're specifically
looking to stimulate your hunger, you have
to be mindful about the intensity and timing
of your workout.
According to Lara Douglas, an exercise physiologist
and researcher at Loyola University Chicago,
"The harder you exercise, the more blood you're
pulling away from the gut and the less hungry
you're going to feel."
It makes sense, right?
Once you've recovered from your workout, your
hunger will return.
The amount of time it takes to recover is
proportional to how long you were active,
and it's an easy thing to figure out.
Basically, the amount of time you exercise
is about the same amount it will take for
your body's systems to return to baseline
and cue your appetite.
This is backed up by a study published in
The Journal of Endocrinology that told us
something else we can apply to sessions at
the all-you-can-eat buffet.
Hormone levels remained suppressed for at
least one hour post workout, so if you want
to feel hungry and ready to chow down by the
time you get to the buffet, make sure you've
rested and recovered for at least an hour
before you head there.
You'd think that if your goal was stuffing
as much food down your throat as possible,
washing it down with water would be your best
beverage bet, right?
Turns out, no.
Researchers at the BBC teamed up with Dr.
James Brown from Aston University in Birmingham
to see if fizzy drinks had an effect on human
hunger.
To determine the amount of hunger, the team
measured levels of an appetite-influencing
hormone called ghrelin in the participants'
blood 10 minutes after they were given various
types of fizzy drinks, including carbonated
water.
They also tallied the total amount of calories
participants ate throughout the rest of the
day.
The results found that carbonated drinks lead
to approximately 50 percent higher ghrelin
levels than the total results for non-carbonated
drinks, and participants ate around 120 calories
more after drinking carbonated beverages.
It's not just scientific research that backs
up the appetite-stimulating properties of
fizzy drinks.
According to competitive eater Randy Santel,
drinking carbonated soda toward the end of
the meal is a common trick used to make it
easier to finish those last few bites.
The burps help expel excess air, freeing up
perceived space in your stomach, and it can
help break down foods quicker so you have
more room to binge.
Ever notice how starved you feel after a night
out drinking?
"Mm-hm.
That's what I'm talkin' about."
It's no coincidence.
According to a study conducted by the Francis
Crick Institute, alcohol directly affects
the parts of the brain, including the hypothalamus,
that are responsible for eating behaviors.
It essentially tricks your brain into flipping
into starvation mode, and that means having
a drink or two boosts your appetite and makes
it much easier to get the most for your money
at the all-you-can-eat buffet.
Drinking before a meal to stimulate the appetite
isn't anything new.
For hundreds of years, people have taken aperitifs
before an opulent meal to prepare their bodies,
and it's the same principle at work.
Also at work is alcohol's tendency to increase
levels of certain neurotransmitters in the
brain that are responsible for arousal, which
leads to increased excitement and impulsivity.
This leads to lower inhibitions, shutting
up that voice in your head that says it's
about time to put the fork down.
Of course, buying drinks at the buffet isn't
going to be the most cost-effective thing.
According to Bloomberg Businessweek, alcohol
sales account for around 30 percent of a restaurant's
revenue.
They keep it that way by marking up drink
prices and counting on the customer's buzz
to keep them ordering.
To get the inhibition-lowering effect of alcohol
without spending too much or getting too tipsy,
limit yourself to ordering one drink.
"Whiskey… and one for Ahab there."
How you dress impacts the way you think, feel,
and perform, so if you're walking into an
all-you-can-eat buffet with the goal of getting
the most for your money, you need to dress
the part.
Firstly, take a note from three-time Nathan's
Hot Dog Eating Contest women's champion Miki
Sudo and dress in "loose fitting pants…
with high elasticity."
"I just, I just gotta change my pants.
What was I thinking?
Jeans have no give."
Finish off the look with a big, baggy shirt
that has enough room to cover your midsection
to get your head in the right frame of mind
to conquer that buffet.
Comfort isn't the only key here, either.
If you really want to stimulate your appetite,
try using color psychology.
Ever notice how restaurant chains largely
use the color red in their logos and marketing
materials?
When you look at this color, it increases
the heart rate and raises your blood pressure
which, in turn, increases your metabolism,
makes you feel hungrier, and gets you ready
to really chow down.
Wear something red if really you want to increase
your chances of a second or third helping…
it couldn't hurt, right?
If you want to make the most of your all-you-can-eat
experience, you have to study the terrain
and figure out what your options are.
If you go in blindly, you'll fill your plate
up with whatever looks good at first sight
and waste valuable real estate.
Staking out the offerings and figuring out
what you can't go without before you start
loading your plate makes it less likely that
you'll accidentally over-serve yourself cheap,
bulk items like pastas and breads.
Remember: all-you-can-eat buffets use certain
psychological tactics to influence what diners
serve themselves.
Among their strategies is surrounding the
more expensive items with four or five cheaper
dishes like rice and vegetables.
Instead of scooping these boring sides onto
your plate, keep on moving to the next dish
you scoped out when you were analyzing what
was on display, and really go for it with
those high-ticket items like the prime rib,
sushi, and the seafood.
Knowledge is power, even when it comes to
something as silly as stuffing your face at
an all-you-can-eat buffet.
If you don't know how much things cost normally,
there's really no way you can know which items
are most worthy of your time and appetite.
Of course, there are tons of different types
of this meal service, and a brunch buffet
served at a swanky hotel isn't going to have
the same dishes as your favorite hometown
Chinese buffet.
But overall, keeping a few things in mind
will help you cherry-pick the good stuff.
Generally, the most expensive items on a buffet
are going to include whatever meat is available
at the carving station, fresh seafood option,
sushi, cheese, and other meat-centric dishes.
Load up on those, and skip the low-cost stuff.
Those are dishes like rice, potatoes, pasta,
and other starches that cost only pennies
per pound.
Also, avoid processed foods you can find in
the freezer section of the supermarket, like
chicken fingers and french fries.
They're great for feeding the kiddos, but
not for getting your money's worth.
Dietary fibers are carbohydrates that the
body cannot digest, and instead of quickly
breaking down into sugars like simpler carbohydrates,
fiber passes through the body undigested.
There are many benefits to eating plenty of
fiber, but when you're trying to stuff your
gut with as many buffet items as possible,
this nutrient is not your friend.
Because fiber stays in your stomach for so
long, it slows the digestive system down altogether,
making you feel less hungry.
It also absorbs water and expands, resulting
in a full, gassy feeling.
If you're trying to eat as much as you can,
that feeling is one you definitely want to
avoid.
High-fiber foods you should limit at the buffet
include green-leafed veggies, root vegetables,
legumes, nuts and seeds, fresh fruits, cereals,
and grains.
Of course, an easy way to ensure you're getting
the most bang for your buck is by making sure
you're spending the least amount possible,
and one way to do that is to go during lunch
hours.
Since lunch tends to be slower than dinner,
many buffets will lower their fee to encourage
people to come in and eat.
However, it should be noted that the buffet
may not have all the same offerings it puts
out during dinner hours, so whether or not
this works for you depends on your personal
preference when it comes to value versus variety.
Another great way to save money on buffets
is by looking out for discounts.
If you can't find a coupon or deal on sites
like Groupon or LivingSocial, you can at least
compare different options in your area to
find the best price.
However, it's really worth it to check the
offers on coupon sites.
Many times, you can even get a great price
on a meal for two.
Speaking of which…
If you want to eat more, bring a friend along.
Several studies have found evidence that when
we eat with other people, we consume more
food.
In 2000, an American psychologist named John
de Castro performed a study to see how eating
in various-sized groups affects overall food
intake.
He found that,
"Meals eaten with one other person present
were 33 percent larger than meals eaten alone."
Increase group numbers to include up to seven
people, and individual meal sizes increased
anywhere from 47 to 96 percent.
Those results were backed up by a similar
2006 study which found that eating with friends
can increase a person's food intake by up
to 18 percent.
Even animals eat more when there's company.
Feed a critter until they're full, then present
them with another of their species eating,
and they will start eating again.
There are a few ideas as to why we eat more
when there are others around us.
For one, humans are easily influenced by what
we perceive others are doing around us and
we often copy those behaviors.
We are so influenced by those in our space,
even the size of a person can change how we
eat.
A psychological study done at Southern Illinois
University found that people ate 31.6 percent
more pasta and 43.5 percent less salad when
in the company of an overweight person, notwithstanding
the type of foods on their overweight companion's
plate.
If you can't rope a friend or two to come
down to the all-you-can-eat buffet with you,
bring along your tablet or smartphone to catch
up on your shows instead.
Eating while zoned out in front of the television
makes you eat more, because watching TV draws
attention away from the food on your plate.
A 2006 study found that eating while watching
TV can increase appetite by 14 percent, and
food-related shows seem to have an even greater
effect on overall caloric intake.
Is it healthy to sit in front of the tube
and eat copious amounts of prime rib, seafood,
and sweets?
Of course not.
But there's really nothing healthy about an
all-you-can-eat buffet in the first place,
so if that's your concern you likely won't
be there in the first place.
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