The all-you-can-eat kind. The kind with an iceberg lettuce salad bar, country-fried steak, mashed potatoes, and a ham carving station. The kind where you agree to pay a flat fee, in order to help yourself to as much food as you can eat at one sitting.
I remember going to the restaurant-chain Bonanza with my family in the early 1980s. Upon entering the restaurant and finding a table with close proximity to the buffet, my father would gather us to his side, and give us this warning: “Get my money’s worth”.
He meant for us to eat as much as he was paying, which was a difficult task considering I only liked baby corn and Thousand Island dressing.
My father took it on as a personal challenge. He would return from his first trip, the plate heaving with meat: roast beef, sausage, fried chicken. Not a vegetable to be found. My mother was more sensible: a small green salad tucked under a biscuit with gravy.
We would sit, and eat. We wouldn’t talk about our day, or if we were even enjoying our all-you-can-eat meal. We would just eat. Then we would go for a second trip to the buffet. Then, dessert: Nanaimo bars, soft-serve ice cream, and banana cream pie. It wasn’t because we were hungry: it was because we were under direct orders from Stan.
Sadly, we would never be able to get our money’s worth. I’d never eat enough baby corn and Thousand Island dressing to offset the $5.95 charge for each child under the age of 12. My Father came close I’m sure, to the $9.95 charge for each adult. But he likely never succeeded in actually getting his money’s worth.
Restaurant management knows something about the digestive system that most people don’t: the human stomach is roughly the size of your fist. Your stomach has the ability to stretch (I know this first fist, er, hand), but is meant to hold only small amounts of food.
It takes approximately 15-20 minutes for your brain to recognize that your stomach is full, and by that time most people are well into their second trip to the buffet, filling their plates with everything they couldn’t fit on it the first trip. Their eyes, as they say, are bigger than their stomach.
Most people can no longer recognize the sensation of feeling sufficiently satiated. People ignore the burps, gurgles, acid reflux and indigestion that often accompanies large meals, and are signals from the stomach to slow down, or better yet, stop.
As people ignored their stomach’s pleas, and visited the buffet two or three more times anyway… As the average weight, dress size and consumption of North Americans increased, buffet restaurant chains like Bonanza went out of business.
People everywhere are “getting their money’s worth”.