The great all-you-can-eat style of buffet dining has captured hearts the world over for decades. Especially popular with those on a budget, these eateries are available in nearly every location. From unlimited Chinese food to breakfast buffets, there is a style of restaurant to suit every taste.
Most of us have visited these places at least once, if not numerous times in our lives. Some people visit them regularly, taking their family out for a Friday night treat that won’t break the bank but will keep the kids happy.
Have you ever wondered what lurks behind the shiny exterior of the metal serving dishes – or even worse, behind the kitchen doors? After all, with a plethora of visitors flooding through the doors of these places from morning until night, did you really think it was all above board and sanitary?
Many of us trust in food regulations to protect us when we dine out, believing that any restaurant wouldn’t be operating if they weren’t monitored. The sad fact is, our trust is misplaced. Food services is a multi-billion-dollar industry – if a place can get away with cutting some corners to maximize profit, then they will.
It might shock you, but buffet restaurants hold dirtier secrets than their salad tongs. Brace yourself – Here are 16 Nasty Things About Buffet Restaurants You Didn’t Know.
16. THE SAME PAIR OF TONGS CAN BE USED ALL DAY
If you thought that hygiene regulations extended to the utensils you use to pick up your food, you’re sorely mistaken While regulations are in place for a variety of things like the temperature of your food, there are absolutely none in place for the tongs you use to pick up your food. That means that potentially hundreds of people have touched the same pair of tools before you. So, if you plan on taking a visit to the all you can eat, make sure that you get there early to avoid all the little germies – because let’s face it, people are gross creatures.
15. FOOD ISN’T ALWAYS KEPT AT THE RIGHT TEMPERATURE
As I briefly touched upon, there are strict guidelines that restaurants are supposed to adhere to when it comes to the temperature of the food that is served. Bearing in mind how busy these places are, how food is often shifted around and outside influences like doors opening and breezes coming through, it might not surprise you to know that more often than not, the food is kept at a lower temperature than advised. This is particularly important when it comes to foods like chicken – which is incidentally, a buffet favorite. Think about it – how often have you seen staff check the food temperature? Even the most dedicated team can’t monitor the temperature of the food 24/7.
14. THE FOOD ISN’T ALWAYS FRESH
When you approach a buffet, littered with glorious and vibrant food, it’s easy to forget that not everything is always as fresh as it might look. Things like rainbow pasta and brightly colored salads can be very deceiving to the eye. In reality, some of these dishes can be sat out in the open air for a very long time – sometimes hours on end. While these are supposed to be changed out regularly, this doesn’t mean that they always are. Some places simply wait for the trays to empty before swapping them for a fresh one, which can take a very long time for the less popular dishes.
13. THEY LEAVE DIRTY PLATES SO YOU WON’T EAT MORE
Yep, really. Have you ever wondered why servers are so slow to take away your dirty plates at your go-to family restaurant? If you thought it was just down to bad service or the time you didn’t tip them, think again. A research study conducted a few years ago gave an explanation for this. The study revealed that diners were less likely to go up for more food if their table was left with dirty dishes. Since the food services biz is all about making money, owners have been known to instruct busboys to go easy on tidying around. Awful, isn’t it?
12. IT’S NOT UNCOMMON TO GET FOOD POISONING FROM BUFFET FOOD
This goes without saying really, given the points I’ve made so far. However, billions of people eat at buffet restaurants regularly without a care in the world. If you’re comforted by the thought that you’re protected by all sorts of food hygiene regulations, bear in mind that only works if they are followed. Millions of people succumb to food poisoning each year, in break out incidents that include multiple people, or standalone cases. With billions of dollars spent in buffet chains like Golden Corral, it’s not difficult to see the correlation. If you’ve got some important events coming up that you can’t afford to miss, it’s probably a good idea to swerve the buffet in the lead up to it, just to be on the safe side.
11. IT’S NOT JUST FOR DISPLAY PURPOSES – IT’S A SNEEZE GUARD
You may have thought that the clear plastic or glass casing that often surrounds cakes and pastries was just to make it look ultra-enticing. Prepare to be grossed out – it’s actually called a sneeze guard. If the name itself isn’t enough to make you feel physically ill, let me elaborate a little bit for you. By law, buffet eateries are required to have this in place to stop the spreading of germs. What it doesn’t stop, is people sneezing into their own hands and putting their contaminated fingers all over your delicious buns. What’s more, in some cases the guards have an open top, which isn’t going to guard many sneezes at all. Think twice next time you want to tuck in to a slice of carrot cake.
10. EMPLOYEES HAVE TO BE REMINDED TO WASH THEIR HANDS
In almost every restaurant you go to, the bathrooms have a little sign asking employees to remember to wash their hands, but that’s pretty much as far as they can go with it, without having the manager follow them wherever they go. Having worked in the food industry myself, I know that there are often pieces of paper that you have to sign to document hygiene measures like this – I also know that a lot of people just sign the paper without doing it. When it comes to handling food, that’s a very grim state of affairs that is enough to turn your stomach.
9. LEMON AND LIME WEDGES ARE COVERED IN POOP
A couple of years ago in 2012, the good folks at ABC took a look at the germiest places in a restaurant. One of the top culprits? Lemon and lime wedges. According to the study, these fruits are particularly prone to picking up all sorts of nasties and one of the most common contaminates found on them was FECAL MATTER. This is along the same lines as nuts at a bar. People go to the bathroom, don’t wash their hands and then eat from the bowl of nuts. It’s a viscous cycle. If you do wash your hands then come back and touch something someone who hasn’t washed their hands has just touched (potentially anything at all) you can pick up the harmful bacteria and spread it yourself. Next time you order a soda, you may want to skip the lime in case you end up with an unwanted flavor.
8. YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT THE KITCHEN LOOKS LIKE
There are some things that you just don’t ever want to see in life. Just a few short years ago, this picture was shared on Reddit by an employee of the Golden Corral chain. These are the things that you just don’t see when you’re busy chowing down on unlimited food. While this is a particularly horrendous case, that’s not to say that things can’t get just as bad elsewhere. Of course, places are inspected, but not every hour of every day. I challenge you to find a buffet restaurant that doesn’t let things slide when they have hundreds of customers pouring through their doors at peak times. Would you want to eat food that’s been served out of a kitchen like this? I hate to tell you, but you probably have.
7. EVERYTHING CONTAINS CRAZY AMOUNTS OF SALT
Most of us realize that eating at a buffet isn’t going to do great things for our health. The foods are often fatty and contain very high levels of salt – which in turn, makes you thirstier than normal. That’s where the unlimited refills come in, and before you know it, you’ve ingested a ton of sugar on top of all of the salt. Drinking more fluid also fills you up a lot quicker than if you were eating at home, meaning that you will then eat less food at the buffet. Of course, if you eat less food, then the restaurant will make more money. Coincidence?
6. THE CHICKEN IS USUALLY BELOW FAST FOOD GRADE
Buffets are all about quantity over quality, and the restaurant making as much money as they can. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the ingredients aren’t always exactly of a high standard. In many restaurants, chicken is one of the most popular dishes. In order to fully maximize profit, the chicken used is often the bottom of the line. That’s lower than any fast food chain quality, and just about what can lawfully be passed off as chicken. What is your favorite poultry dish? Chicken nuggets, sweet and sour chicken, southern fried? Next time you’re about to tuck in, take a moment to think about how much chicken is actually in your chicken.
5. SALAD ISN’T THE HEALTHY OPTION
Choosing to stick to salad and vegetables might be a savvy way to keep inches off your waistline, but it can be at the expense of your overall health. Green veggies, especially leaf vegetables like sprouts, are notoriously hard to clean. The crevices make them prime breeding grounds for all sorts of harmful bacteria and contaminates – plus, if they’re placed anywhere near hot or warm foods for extended periods of time, this will just get worse (and remember, you don’t know what goes on in the kitchen). It might look like the best option, but it can be the worst.
4. SCRAMBLED EGGS AREN’T ALWAYS ACTUAL EGGS
If you chose to eat at a larger chain buffet restaurant, you can put money on the fact that the scrambled egg you’ve just devoured for breakfast isn’t made from actual eggs. It’s well known that for the sake of ease and cost (there’s a surprise) scrambled egg is made from a type of egg substitute that comes from a mix or carton. Have you ever wondered why your scrambled egg leaves a watery little puddle on your plate? That’s why. The mix is even used for omelettes in some cases, so if you want actual eggs, it’s best to ask them to crack them in front of you. If they can get away with it, they will – and legally, they aren’t doing anything wrong.
3. FOOD IS NOT ALWAYS AS IT SEEMS
If you have a food allergy, it’s really important to know what you’re eating – and you never really know for sure if something is what it says it is. Not only do labels get pushed around throughout the day, but tongs get mixed up too and are often used for different foods. If you have a severe allergy like nuts, then beware. It’s best to avoid buffet restaurants all together. The fact is that food is produced at vast quantities at such a high rate, you can’t know for sure if something that says it’s vegetarian wasn’t cooked in animal fat, or something that’s supposed to be gluten free actually is. It’s sort of like playing Russian roulette with your food – definitely not worth the risk.
2. HALF OF FOOD WORKERS WORK WHILE THEY’RE ILL
This is applicable for any restaurant, be it buffet or not. What’s more, a further 20% said that they have vomited or had diarrhea during at least one shift in a study that was conducted in 2012. Twelve percent said they were ill for a longer stretch of time. With food safety laws, if an employee that works with food has some sort of illness like diarrhea, they have to be clear of symptoms for 48 hours before they can return to the workplace. With a lot of employers offering little to no sick pay, some staff members can’t afford the time off and suffer through their shifts. Pretty gross, right?
1. THERE IS NO WAY ANY BUFFET IS COMPLETELY GERM FREE
Okay, let’s pretend we live in a world where all of my previous points are discounted. The restaurant keeps everything above standard, sticks religiously to all regulations and is as clean as clean can be. Do you think that will eliminate the threat? Wrong. As soon as the restaurant opens the door to the public, they’re letting in the biggest threat of all – people. It takes one person with poor manners and bad hygiene to work their way from one end of the buffet to the other, for the food to become contaminated. I hate to tell you, but there is really no sure-fire way to avoid other people’s horrible germs at a buffet.
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