16 tactics to maximise all you can eat buffets
Never have the money to eat out as a student? Try all you can eat buffets instead – maximum food for minimum cash.
Thanks to their maximum cheapness/minimum fuss factor, 'all you can eat' buffets have won the hearts and stomachs of many a student across the UK.
But only a fool would walk through the door without knowing all the tricks to guarantee you're actually getting a good deal.
We've got a fair bit of experience of all-you-can-eats across the STS team (we like to think of it as a result of our commitment to 'research'), and now we're ready to impart that wisdom onto you, lucky readers. Call it your Buffet Bible, if you like!
16 tips for mastering 'all you can eat'
Find the buffets with the best deals
If you live in a big city, chances are you'll have a few decent buffet restaurants to choose from, and they'll vary in terms of food, price and value.
Decide what's most important to you and do some research into where you can get the best deal. No one wants to walk out of a restaurant and see the same meal five quid cheaper on the waddle home.
It's also worth reading the small print about what's included in the all-you-can-eat deal, and what's not. You don't want any nasty surprises on the bill!
Stay true to your tastes
The Indian buffet place down the road might do an amazing offer on their top-notch food, but remember it's not an amazing offer if you don't actually like curry.
Don't be swayed by the amazing price-to-food volume ratio if you're not too keen on the cuisine – otherwise, you're just signing up to eat a whole load of food you don't like.
Aim for restaurants with a varied cuisine
Variety is the spice of life, or so they say, and having lots of different options to eat at your buffet will help you get through the tough times when you just don't think you can face another morsel.
Some fusion restaurants will offer a few different angles on a type of cuisine. For example, Asian fusion places are likely to offer a selection of Thai/Chinese/Japanese dishes. Or you can opt for a 'round the world' buffet which should have a bit of everything!
Make it lunch rather than dinner
Pretty much every buffet restaurant you come across will have a different price for lunch and dinner – and in our experience, the price tends to bump up a few quid in the evenings.
Sometimes lunch prices last right up to 5pm, and normally the food on offer is exactly the same (but be careful as some may limit the lunch menus – do your research).
Another great thing about eating like a pig at lunchtime is that you have more time to work it off before you go out later... or, if we're being totally honest, before you pass out in bed.
Breakfast before buffet
It might seem counter-intuitive to go pigging out before you go pigging out, but the last thing you want to do before tackling the all-you-can-eat challenge is starving yourself.
When you don't eat for a while, the size of your stomach shrinks and as a result, you won't be able to eat as much as you want to.
Have a decent sized (normal) breakfast in the morning and it will set you right up for the banquet later.
Buffet experts recommend something light and high in fibre like a bowl of cereal, as your body processes these meals quickly. Which brings us on to our next tip...
So, it's a bit of an *ahem* delicate subject, but in order to put more food in your mouth, you need to clear out the old stuff!
Moving swiftly on...
There's no point in turning up in a pair of jeans you can barely breathe in, never mind consume your week's worth of calories in one-sitting.
Joey Tribbiani was on to something with those thanksgiving pants – get your elastic-waisted trousers on and prepare to fill them!
A quick gym sesh will most certainly be the last thing you want to think about once you've slipped into your self-induced food coma, so make sure to get your daily dose of exercise in early.
A good bit of exercise in preparation for the big event will get your blood pumping and give your metabolism a kick-start, meaning you'll be more ready than you've ever been by the time you chow down.
Drink lots before you go
No, we're not suggesting you get the pre-buffet Jagers in.
Your body needs to be well-hydrated to help you process what goes down your gullet, so make sure you sip water throughout the day before you go in.
Having a slice of lemon in your water will help you up your buffet game, as the magical yellow fruit aids digestion, reduces bloating and is a natural heartburn preventative.
Go for small portions...of everything
Rather than going all in on one dish that looks particularly tasty, fill your plate up with a little bit of everything on offer. Variety helps to break up the monotony of tastes and allows you to eat more.
It will also give you the opportunity to suss out what tastes best, then you can go back up for seconds (and thirds, and fourths) – as comes with the joy of buffet dining!
Don't forget that they'll often display the most expensive food in smaller portions to encourage you to take less – don't worry, they'll have more in the kitchens!
Start with soup or salad
Using precious stomach space on something like soup or salad might seem like a bit of a waste, but these will actually prepare your body for the chow down to follow.
There's some science behind it too. The high water content makes them really easy for your stomach to process. Think of it as a warm-up!
Take a chocolate break
This might sound a bit weird, but if you're eating lots of savoury food and feeling bit nauseous, then eating a small square of dark chocolate can get you back on track.
Having something sweet, even if it's small, will help rebalance your blood sugar level and perk you up a bit for the next round (which can also be handy during times of intense revision!) – and that's the aim of the game!
Start with expensive options
To really get your money's worth, take a look around to see if there are any dishes that have more expensive ingredients in them and, provided you like what's on offer, get stuck in!
Focus on protein rather than carbs, which will just fill you up and cost next to nothing.
A good example would be king prawns or salmon, which are normally the most expensive things on the menu. If you're not a fan of seafood, meat joints are also a pricey treat!
If there's a set order to the buffet they often put the expensive stuff near the end (when your plate is nearly full) – don't fall into this trap! Make a beeline for them first.
Use multiple plates
Think tactically and use a few different plates for optimum meal curation. Think about it. Do you really want hot meat juices mixing with your coleslaw?
Try using one plate for hot food and one for cold, or splitting everything up into separate courses.
Also, don't be afraid to pile those plates as high as you want! Some restaurants make the plates super heavy (and smaller) to deter you from putting too much on your plate. Channel all your arm strength and resist!
Avoid fizzy drinks
Okay, so we know we said earlier that you have to be hydrated, but that's before the meal. While you're in the process of gorging, you won't want to be guzzling down too much liquid as these will fill you up.
Fizzy drinks especially should be avoided at all costs, as they'll make you feel like you're about to pop!
Post-buffet damage control
Once you've finished the big eat, the only thing left is damage control.
Peppermint tea is great for aiding digestion, as well as soothing your stomach, reducing bloating and curing any nausea you may be battling.
When you think you can just about pull yourself up from your chair, take yourself for a steady walk, as the fresh air and gentle exercise will help you perk back up.
Finally, make sure you bring supplies with you to deal with a heartburn-shaped ending to your all-you-can-eat experience.
Then sit back, relax, and reflect on your great work. We're proud of you.
For more solid advice on how to save money when you're eating out check out our eating out on a budget guide.