How Long Can You Take Advantage Of An All-You-Can-Eat Buffet?

Fans of the long-running animated series "The Simpsons" will recall the classic 4th season episode "New Kid on the Block," in which Homer Simpson hires incompetent lawyer Lionel Hutz to sue an all-you-can-eat seafood restaurant. Despite the claims of "all-you-can-eat," Homer was forcibly dragged from the restaurant after devouring everything from the restaurant's entire supply of shrimp to "two plastic lobsters." While Homer's gross misinterpretation of what constitutes all-you-can-eat is played for comedy, this raises the question: How long can you patronize a buffet restaurant? If places like Golden Corral promise an endless smorgasbord of food for a relatively low cost, how long can you take advantage of that?

The answer to that question is not exactly straightforward. The Hustle explains that buffets usually earn a profit by "minimizing the labor" needed, opting to cut out waiters and large specially-made portions and focusing on minimizing food waste. This allows the restaurant to keep a balance between serving an "all-you-can-eat" buffet while still keeping a modest profit. Even with some who may eat far more than others while there, the buffet makes its money back through those customers who do not eat too much or eat cheaper foods. After all, most people who go in attempting to "beat the buffet" usually wind up getting full after their first and second plates. 

But has anyone ever really attempted to show that they can stand up to the challenge of "all-you-can-eat?" If so, what exactly were the consequences? 

Buffets have certain measures against extreme eaters

For the sake of argument, what if someone walked into an all-you-can-eat buffet, paid their fee, and started piling food onto their plate. A few hours later, they are still returning to the line to refill their plate. They have already eaten most of the fried chicken, the mac and cheese, and the brownies. Their check is covered, and it is "all-you-can-eat." They're not breaking any rules. What can buffets do about this type of customer?

For starters, some buffets have "fine print" detailing what exactly you can and cannot do while dining. This can include being billed more for eating a large amount of food, as was the case of one woman in the United Kingdom who was charged double for "eating too much" at a buffet (via Newsweek). It could also be a focus on customer behavior, as one man in Wisconsin was removed from an establishment for "disorderly conduct" after protesting a limit on his fried fish consumption (via Eater). Other rules can include time limits for how long a customer can be at the location and even restrictions on certain foods per customer.

Yet some have still tried to conquer the all-you-can-eat buffet. Oobah Butler of VICE attempted to push the limits of how much he could eat at one, noting that perhaps it was not the unlimited prospects that drew people in, but the freedom to know that you could try.