Buffet Etiquette

5 June 2024

If you have a hearty appetite, dining at a buffet is a good deal.  For a single price, you can consume as much as you like.  You can go back for multiple servings.  You also get to try some foods you would not otherwise choose, just to see if you like them.

The restaurant has its own challenges to maintain the food at the proper temperatures, changing out bowls or trays rather than simply adding food to a the same container.

Customers have responsibilities as well.  If you follow some of these guidelines, you can keep the establishment in business for a long time and everyone will be safe.

If this is a private event, rather than a restaurant, it is likely that you will be invited to visit the serving area table by table.  It is poor form to hop to the food line before it is officially “open”.  It is very likely there will be servers.  If so, allow those folks to put the food on your plate.  You do have the option to request a special cut of meat or the particular part of the chicken you would like.  You can also direct the server where to place it on your plate.  Remember to smile and say thank you.

Use the serving utensils provided for each food item.  Don’t use the same utensil for other or several items.  This can avoid cross-contamination.  Place or replace the serving spoon, tongs, etc. on the holder or plate for that purpose.  If there is no separate place for the utensil, place it back into the food but be sure the handle does not slip into the food.  Not only will it create a mess for the next person in line, it is unsanitary.  Don’t use your hands or fingers.  If there is no utensil, ask an employee.

Don’t eat at the buffet line.  Saliva can spray a great distance.  That includes eating from your own plate while in the line.

Most buffets have a plastic “roof” over the serving table.  It is called a sneeze guard.  The intent is that you extend your arm to get the food, but not put your head or other body parts under its cover.

If you do feel a sneeze coming on, try to step back away from the buffet and sneeze into your shoulder.  If possible, set your plate down first and sneeze or cough into your elbow.  Blow or wipe your nose facing away from the food.


If you have cuffs or sleeves that may inadvertently dangle into the food, roll them up first, if at all possible.

If you touch it, you take it.  Don’t change your mind and put it back.

Children should always be accompanied by a responsible adult.  In fact for small children, you should help fill their plate.  At the same time you can reinforce the propriety of using the serving utensils and not eating until re-seated at the table.

Respect others’ personal space.  Don’t stand too close to the person ahead of you.  Although it is tempting to go around slow pokes, you should be as patient as possible and not cut the line.  In that same vein, try to avoid holding up the line by asking too many questions about the food or its preparation.

If you are allowed multiple trips, try to avoid stacking your plate.  You can always make second, third, or more trips.  Take only a single plate or drink back to the table.  Juggling multiple plates and glasses is a recipe for disaster.

When returning for a refill, leave the plate on your table and a restaurant employee will clear it for you.  Taking a new plate at the serving station will help with sanitation.  Place a clean napkin on the table for you to leave your dining utensils.  Some buffets offer a selection of forks, spoons, etc.  If so, you should get fresh tableware.

When you return to your table, you can begin to eat.  However, it is polite to wait until the entire table has returned, or at least two or three of your companions.

Etiquette is basically common sense and courtesy.

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