Workers reveal what it's really like to work at a buffet

Working at buffet restaurant is a completely different animal than a fast food joint or traditional table service restaurant. To the uninitiated, it might seem like an easier gig. After all, the customer fills up their own plate — all the employee has to do is bring out new trays of food and refill a drink or two, right?

Not even close! Sure, the buffet employee may not have to remember customer particulars when it comes to a dinner order, but they deal with a whole other set of headaches. And maybe they get a discount when lunch time rolls around... but there's also a good chance they no longer have an appetite. Buffet workers see the darker side of people's appetites and it can take a mental toll. From gluttonous patrons, to unsanitary behavior, and never-ending-stacks of dishes, you'll probably reconsider ever working — and possibly eating — at a buffet after you find out what it's really like to work at a buffet.  

People want to pay as little as possible

You'd think the unlimited plate refills would be enough of a deal, but people are always looking for a better price, and buffets are no different. In fact, the motto for the buffet seems to be: pay as little as possible, eat as much as possible. Employees at buffets often find themselves faced with customers looking to pay less than the advertised price.

One alleged buffet employee posted to Reddit with a shining example. "Lady came in with two small kids. Said she wouldn't pay for two kids because they wouldn't be eating. We were curious where the kids went at one point and found she was feeding them under the table like dogs."

If feeding the kids scraps off your plate under the table wasn't bad enough, there are the customer who will try to reason why they shouldn't pay full price for the buffet. Another employee said they had a customer who said he was told by the hospital that his gastric bypass surgery garnered him a meal discount. "I had to tell him several times we weren't affiliated with any hospitals and don't honor their pricing discounts," the employee said. 

People will try to steal food

It's unfortunate, but a lot of people seem to be under the impression that because they pay a flat rate for an all-you-can-eat buffet, it gives them a free pass to steal. News flash, paying $7.99 for a buffet plate doesn't mean everyone in your family gets to eat off your plate and you can load up your purse with chicken wings for the ride home. Of course, you want to get your money's worth at the buffet, but a line has to be drawn somewhere in the sand — and it's the employees who have to draw that line.

According to one buffet manager at a casino, stealing is a regular thing and at least at this manager's buffet, older customers are some of the worst culprits. "Old people try to steal a sh** ton of food, all the time," they said. "Show me an old person and I'll show you someone who has seven cookies in a napkin in her purse 'for the ride home'."

Another buffet employee said that even seemingly well-to-do customers weren't above trying to steal from the buffet. One particular woman was notorious for trying to steal crab legs in her Louis Vuitton purse, and regularly got caught red handed. "Each time she was busted, she would empty out the crab legs from her bag and then speed away in her Mercedes."

The dirty dishes never end

Being a dishwasher in a busy restaurant is never a glamorous job — no matter what kind of food is being served. It has to be especially grueling though if you work at a buffet and each customer is dirtying up multiple dishes over the course of their meal. Customers might see stacks of clean dishes by the ends of the food bar, but back in the kitchen, it's a different story.

One customer at a Golden Corral restaurant captured video footage of piles of unsightly dirty dishes after he couldn't find a clean dish in the dining area. A Golden Corral representative said "it was just a snapshot" and not the "true story, noting that a pile of clean dishes was on the other side of the room.

Max Sparber worked an an Old Country Buffet in Minnesota during his teenage years and wrote a piece for the Star Tribune about his dish-washing experience. "It was humid, very hot work, and absolutely exhausting. We wore rubber gloves, but these inevitably flooded with scalding water. By the end of my shift, my hands were swollen and red."

They see kids do very gross things

Any parent will tell you that kids do gross things daily. Buffet employees can verify this and have witnessed all sorts of unsanitary behavior by kids at the buffet that would make just about anybody lose their appetite. From putting "corn in the chocolate fountain" to licking the serving spoons, there's no limit to what sort of gross behavior an unsupervised kid can get into at a buffet.

In a Reddit thread with buffet employees sharing their most disturbing stories, one person described witnessing a child who the sneeze guard failed to guard against. "I once saw a little kid sneeze directly into one of the chicken dishes. He was the perfect height for his head to be under the protective glass and directly over the container."

It might also be wise to stay away from those chocolate fountains, or at the very least, make sure you're one of the first customers to hit it up when they bring it out. Apparently, the chocolate fountains pretty popular things for children to play in and and all it takes is a kid dumping some food into it to ruin the whole thing for everyone.

They see gluttony in action every day

People like to load up their plate when at the buffet, nothing surprising about that, right? What is sort of surprising, according to one buffet employee who spent nine years in the all-you-can-eat trenches, was just how gluttonous people became at the buffet. It didn't matter if it was a truck driver, a business meeting, or a birthday party, "They all turn into savages who act like they haven't eaten in a week," the employee told Munchies. Industry experts say that buffets generally assume a customer will eat around a pound of food, however, it's those exceptionally hungry customers that really stand out in the buffet employee's mind.

"I watched a customer finish his drink, get a plate full of oysters, place all shucked oysters into the empty cup, mix in cocktail sauce and slurp it all up," one buffet worker said on Reddit. "It must of been 16oz of gluttony."

Another former employee at a Las Vegas buffet went on to describe how they once saw a customer remove the soup ladle and pick up the entire pot to carry back to their table.

They learn that eating disorders are real

As strange as it might be seeing a customer who eats a spoonful of butter with each bite of pancake, buffet employees see even darker sides of customer eating habits. It's a depressing thought, but several buffet employees claimed that it wasn't uncommon to have regular customers who suffered from eating disorders like bulimia.

"I always could tell they were bulimic because they were rail-thin in a really unhealthy way, yet they ate so much," one employee told Muchies. "While they're eating, they would also constantly disappear to the bathroom. They'd literally run back and forth to the toilet, like, seven times. There wasn't a separate bathroom for the employees, so sometimes when staff members went into the restroom, we knew these girls would be throwing up because their feet under the stall would be facing the other way. And we could hear them retching and all that, too."

When you take a job at an all-you-can-eat buffet, you probably never expect to get a glimpse that deep into the human psyche.

People will eat until they become sick

It's one thing to go to the bathroom at a buffet and forcibly make yourself sick because of an eating disorder. It's a whole other thing to let the allure of the all-you-can-eat buffet get the best of you and become unexpectedly sick because you just had to have one more plate of food. Unfortunately, if you work at a restaurant that has a buffet, you'll witness this sort of thing happening regularly.

One Golden Corral alleged employee on Reddit described the aftermath that followed when they loaded up the dessert bar with candy. As you can probably guess, it wasn't pretty and "kids would eat so much they'd barf on the bathroom floor." Other employees have said that it's fairly common for people to get sick in the bathroom, and sometimes they don't even make it to the bathroom before that happens.

They witness a lot of food waste

Buffet owners do their best to try to estimate jut how much food each patron will eat, but there's often still a lot of food that goes into the garbage — often after first being on a customer's plate. 

One buffet employee described a woman at the buffet who loaded up her plate with pie, only to get more once a fresh pie was brought out and discard the rest. "There were like two and three-quarters slices of pie on her table when she left."

Another employee vented that one of the most frustrating parts of the job is watching customers take more than they can eat and then having to explain to later customers why there isn't any more of that item.

"...half of it is still sitting there on abandoned tables without so much as a bite taken out of it. I really wish we could do what some countries do and charge a penalty fee for people who take way more than they ate."

Unfortunately, the food waste problem seems to only be getting worse in the United States and food spreads like breakfast buffets at hotels are part of the problem. If this is a clause that's important to you, working at a buffet might be too much to take.

They may witness fights

So much for busing tables — some buffet employees spend their time breaking up fights. Fights can break out in any restaurant of course, but scuffles seem to be a thing at some buffets... especially when there are crab legs involved.

One person described seeing two men get into a fistfight at a Chinese buffet because one man stacked his plate with too many crab legs and another man wanted some. In a separate crab leg-related incident, a husband and wife in Connecticut were arrested after assaulting another customer at a buffet in a dispute over crab legs. 

It's not just selfishness that can drive a person to lash out at the buffet either. In 2014, a man and woman both in their 60s got into a physical altercation at a buffet because one person reportedly cut in line. The woman was eventually arrested after hurling a plate at another patron.

C'mon, people, buffets are supposed to be peaceful places. 

You may never want to eat at one again

If you've made it this far and still aren't turned off on the idea of eating at a buffet, well, kudos to you. Get a job in the belly of the beast though and your appetite for that all-you-can-eat smorgasbord might forever be ruined.

Working in the restaurant industry can change anybody's opinion on dining out, but one restaurant veteran said eating at a buffet is where they draw the line. "You cannot trust the general public to follow food safety rules at all," they said before adding, "I've seen so many people dip their grubby little paws in pans of food meant for everyone."

It makes sense that after seeing just a few things these buffet workers have described, you'll not only see all-you-can-eat buffets in a whole different light, but the human population in general. And also you might take up cooking at home.