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By Paunch Panda
Cheap, delicious, all-you-can-eat food is becoming more of a rarity as the best gourmet eateries now come at premium prices, so when you go to a restaurant that offers an extensive array of all-you-can-stuff-into-your-face options, strategy is important. But before we get into the details, there are a few things you should know about the buffet business.
Being based in Vegas, we know a thing or two about buffet strategies.
Cheap, delicious, all-you-can-eat food is becoming more of a rarity as the best gourmet eateries now come at premium prices, so when you go to a restaurant that offers an extensive array of all-you-can-stuff-into-your-face options, strategy is important.
But before we get into the details, there are a few things you should know about the buffet business.
The people who own buffet restaurants know exactly how to entice you to go for the more filling, much cheaper goods, and they use subtle tricks to encourage you to get fuller, faster.
They're trying to make a larger profit so that they can keep the buffet open, so the priciest foods are going to be displayed in the least convenient places.
Buffet plates are often a little smaller than a standard dinner plate, too. When you pile on extra helpings of shrimp and prime rib, it looks like more food because of the relative size of the plate, and that can trick your mind into thinking you've eaten more.
The wait staff will be sure to keep your drink full - in order to keep you full - so be mindful of your beverage consumption. And with that in mind:
We already mentioned that you should be mindful of your liquid intake, but avoid carbonated beverages altogether.
They fill you up in a hurry, but that's not all. Carbonated drinks are one of the culprits behind after-buffet bloat, so stick to water or tea if you want to be able to walk comfortably to your car after a buffet binge, and keep it to one glass at most.
Too much liquid with your meal can make it difficult to digest, which is another uncomfortable dilemma.
Which costs more: bread, or steak?
If you're a hardcore buffet strategist, you might have a no-carb rule to maximize plate and stomach space, but sometimes those mashed potatoes just look so good.
A more practical rule is to eat only 1 carb per trip, and avoid bread, pasta, and rice entirely until dessert.
Then, you can pile on the bread pudding and cake to your heart's content. Some carbs, like beans, are less filling...but still cheap.
Instead of strolling down the buffet line filling up your precious plate real estate with side items, head directly for the middle.
That's where you'll find the freshly carved turkey, prime rib, cooked-to-order steak, crab legs, and other gourmet goodies.
Start with the main course on every trip, and then fill in with side items, and your dollar will cover a lot more deliciousness.
Standard buffet behavior is this: Start where the plates are stacked, amble slowly along the serving line, and scoop up a little bit of whatever looks good along the way. STOP.
Before you start filling your plate, do a walkthrough. Have you ever done the standard buffet shuffle, only to reach one of your absolute favorite foods with a scant square inch of space left on your plate?
No more compromising!
Check out the options ahead of time, then head to only the key points. Sure, you might skip over that macaroni and cheese that looks pretty good, but you're going to have that much more space to devote to crabcakes and Kahlua pork.
Anything deep-fried is generally 1) soggy by the time you get to it, 2) ridiculously filling, and 3) generally a lesser-quality food item.
Instead of fried shrimp, go for the peel-and-eat variety.
Instead of french fries, still, go for the peel-and-eat shrimp.
No cheap carbs!
Of course, if you have a special weakness for onion rings or fried catfish, it's okay to indulge a little, but be smart about it by following rule #5:
Sorry if this is a little bit of a buzzkill, but...
The longer an item sits under the heat lamps, the more likely it is that someone sneezed in it or some kid stuck his sticky fingers in it.
Fried foods fare especially poorly under heat lamps, but most buffet items tend to wilt a bit after sitting for a few hours in those chafing dishes. Keep an eye on the staff, and when you see them refill the crispy okra, that's when to make your move.
There are two schools of thought on this: You can either keep a general watch to see what's being refilled right now... Or you can identify foods you want to eat fresh, fix a small plate of a few essentials, and wait patiently for a fresh serving of your favorite food item.
Of course, there's no reason you can't do a bit of both. The point is that fresh food is better food, and definitely more worth your money than the penne alfredo that's been there since lunchtime.
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