We Finally Know Why Buffets Leave Dirty Dishes On Tables

At a glance, buffets are a great deal — you pay a flat fee so you can eat as much as you want. Steak, pizza, pasta, dessert, you name it. What's not to love? Well, actually, we can think of a few things. Sorry about that. 

One of the nastier practices has to do with leaving dirty dishes on your table so you'll stop going back for more. Think back to the last time you ate at a buffet: Did your used plates keep piling up? The reason for this is just one of the gross things about eating at a buffet you've probably never stopped to think about — and that's probably for the best. Some claim this move is intentional. Supposedly, if dirty plates are left to pile up, the growing pile dissuades customers from continuing to go back up to the buffet for additional plates of food.

We can't say for sure whether this is because people start to visualize how much they're eating or if they simply run out of room for new plates, but this practice certainly could work. How does this benefit the buffet? Well, as you can imagine, the less food people eat, the more money a buffet can make. After all, buffets charge a set fee per person, but they have to buy food in bulk. Buffets want you to come in, pay, have a plate or two, and get out. 

Buffets have other tricks to limit diners

The stack of dirty plates on your table may not be particularly appetizing, but at least they're small. There's a reason for this, too. Buffets tend to provide customers with smaller plates than average, which means customers can't grab as much food in a single trip. According to consumer psychologist Bruce Sanders, people also feel full sooner when they eat using small plates (via Forbes).

Perhaps the trickiest thing about buffets, due to their very nature, is the issue of leaving food out. According to the CDC, many foods become unsafe for consumption after only an hour or two of sitting out. While a buffet's warming trays or ice baths can extend a dish's holding time, you can't know for sure how long it's been sitting out. And don't even get us started on how many people are touching the tongs, spoons, and ladles with their grubby hands. Buffets also engage in shady practices to keep you from truly getting your money's worth. After all, if customers were to really go ham (pun intended), the buffet would lose a ridiculous amount of money. The plates may be stacked against you, but it's still possible to have a satisfying trip to the buffet. Trust your gut and choose items that look hot, fresh, and tasty.