Navigating the Buffet: How to Get the Most for Your Money

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Posted on 07/24/2013

The average buffet in America earns a million bucks a year according to Census.gov. The number of these eateries is growing. In 2002 there were just under 6,000 and by 2007 that number swelled to 7,351. Buffets can be a cash cow and that's because most customers fail to get their money's worth. Navigate the buffet line with know-how by following these tips for getting the most for your money.


Avoid Starch
Fluffy mashed potatoes, creamy macaroni and cheese, and fresh bread rolls may look tasty, but it's cheap real estate in the buffet line. Operators are hoping you'll be enticed to fill up on these low-cost plate-fillers. Avoid these starches if you really want more bang for your buck.

Go to the End of the Line
A secret tactic buffet managers use is to put the cheaper menu items at the front of the food line. They're hoping you'll fill your plate with these low-cost dishes so that by the time you get to the more expensive stuff you'll have no room left. Although you can tell yourself you'll go back for the salmon on your next round by then you may too full to enjoy it. Instead, start at the end of the line.

Scale Back the Salad
Unless you're at a salad-only buffet now is not the best time to stick to your diet. While it's important to get veggies in at every meal, iceberg lettuce and tomatoes are cheap. Don't fill up on salad before you have a chance to get to the expensive stuff.

Sample the Meat
Most buffets offer a selection of main course choices, from prime rib to crab legs. Choose your favorite high-dollar protein and fill your plate.

Fruit and Veggies
Think about what you pay at the grocery store when you're shopping for food to put on your plate. Some fruit is cheap: think melon and apples. Other fruit, like berries and pineapple, are pricier. Hunt for avocados, asparagus and other higher end fruits and veggies.

Free Kids Meals
Some buffets even offer free meals to kids. Choose one of these restaurants and you'll get even more food for your dollar.

Choose Lunch
Despite the fact that the buffet menu doesn't change much throughout the day, the price definitely does. You can save $5 or more per person just by altering the time of day you visit the buffet. And eating your biggest meal earlier in the day is better for your metabolism anyway.

By Alison Storm

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