Hotel Buffet 101: Everything You Need to Know


The buffet is a time-honored tradition. Though known historically for its pomp and circumstance at lavish dinner parties in sixteenth-century France, today they're more often associated with long lines and spotty service. Though every buffet offers something different — from cheap, gluttonous fare to extravagant fine dining — they can all run into the same problems. At Oyster, we’ve seen some of the best of the best (and the best of the worst) when it comes to the all-you-can-eat fest at hotels. Having learned quite a bit about when to steer clear and when to chow down, we thought we’d offer you some pointers — and let you in on some of our favorite buffets around the globe. Next time you hit the food line, make sure to ask yourself these five questions — and if all's good, hunker down with your first (of many) dinner plates.

Rule #1: Are your servers in sight?

Humans are messy creatures. We require regular maintenance to keep things clean — and at a buffet, that should be sooner rather than later. With so many cooks in the kitchen (in a sense), there should be regular attendance to all food stations to make sure cleanliness is at its max.

Buffet to Beat: The Place at the Langham Place, Hong Kong  (pictured above)

The open kitchens here at The Place provide excellent opportunities to observe your servers hard at work. Coupled with the Langham's all-around excellent service and we have ourselves a winner. The food is also stellar—with delicious samplings from around the world and playful displays (ie. ice cream cone trees) — The Place is a scrumptious,clean buffet worth the visit.

Rule #2: Are your meats pre-carved?

“Freshly” carved ham, turkey, and prime rib are typical offerings at a buffet. But just be sure you actually see the carving. An easy way for buffets to save time and money by pushing product faster is to have meats carved in advance. It speeds up service and frees up counter space, but it also dries up your meats.

This is what you want to see. Not only are the meats at the Iberostar Punta Cana carved right in front of you, they are also prepared and grilled. The food is a cut above other hotels in Bavaro, offering up a smorgasbord of meats, salads, pastas, pizza, and 16 different kinds of bread.

Rule #3: Are ingredients refreshed often?

Salad bars are the main ones to watch here. No one enjoys wilted lettuce or brown avocados — especially when it takes all of five minutes to exchange for something new. If your buffet is too lazy to spritz their avocados with lemon juice (the acidity keeps them looking and tasting fresh) or change out a bag of spring greens, you have to ask yourself how lazy they are behind-the-scenes, too.

By far one of the best buffets in Las Vegas, the food at the Bellagio is sumptuous  and fresh. Each food station is manned continuously, meaning cleanliness is above board and ingredients are changed out regularly.

Rule #4: Is it hot in here, or is it just me?

We all know what happens to dairy in the heat. Or what happens when meats don’t get enough of it. Be conscience of temperatures at different serving stations. You don’t want your milk to curdle or your chicken to be undercooked!

Can you imagine eating a warm shrimp cocktail? Neither could the folks at the Rio. Known for its all-you-can-eat jumbo crab legs, shrimp, mussels, oyster, and other seafood fare from around the world, the Village Seafood Buffet pulls in diners from all corners of The Strip.

Rule #5: Are these eats farm fresh?

Usually, the better buffets play to their hometown strengths (or have the capabilities to bring in quality ingredients—and chefs—from other areas). The fresher the ingredients and the homegrown knowledge of how to cook them are essential.

The buffet breakfast at Seagrape Terrace serves up Jamaica's national dish of ackee and salt fish every day, as well as fried bread dumplings, grilled bananas, yams, and mixed vegetables. Insanely delicious with the semblance of being healthy (fish and vegetables, for breakfast? That totally means I can take a second helping of dumplings...), the Half Moon shows off Jamaica's own delicious ingredients to the fullest of their yummy potential.

You can’t return a bad vacation. That’s why, “The Hotel Tell-All,” and partner of The Travel Channel, comprehensively visits, photographs, reviews and rates each hotel we feature. Basically, we uncover the truth, before it’s “uh-oh” time.

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