The all you can eat concept is alive and well in the United States; diners pay a fixed price, and eat all they want. Some restaurants—Chinese buffets for example—offer all you can eat service as part of their regular theme, while many others feature special all you can eat buffets for weekend lunches or other limited periods. Most restaurant salad bars are offered on an all you can eat basis. Very commonly, so are buffet breakfasts and brunches ranging from low budget chain restaurants to ultra-chic resorts and hotels.
Typically in an all you can eat setting, a host will usher diners to their table, a server will take orders for drinks, and the diners will then serve themselves from a buffet. Most local regulations require diners to use a fresh plate for each serving of food. The thoughtful diner will give the server a gratuity. Some inexpensive all you can eat venues are completely self-service; diners serve themselves their own drinks from beverage machines. Depending on format, diners may be able to choose to serve themselves from a buffet, or order normal dishes from a regular menu.
The Brazilian churrascaria concept has caught on all over the United States using the advertising line “ten different meats.” For one price, the restaurant offers what they call rodizio service: waiters come to your table with a skewer of various kinds of meats in one hand and a large knife, used to serve the meats, in the other. Diners eat all they like (and can often serves themselves from a salad and side-dish bar as well) until they turn over a distinctive marker indicating they’ve had enough.
In the popular Mongolian barbecue “create your own stir fry” format, diners choose the meats, vegetables, noodles and sauces they prefer, then a chef prepares the food on a special tabletop grill. The “bottomless pasta bowl” concept allows diners to choose their own pasta, sauce, bread, and garnishing combinations. Soup and salad restaurants have become popular all over the country. Some restaurants even offer “bottomless wine glasses” for a fixed price.
It would be natural to think that the trend toward all you can eat dining would go hand in hand with the increasing tendency of Americans to be overweight. Indeed, it is not uncommon to see magazine or Internet feature articles that give advice on how to “survive” such an experience without putting on too many pounds, and others that criticize the concept itself on health grounds. Some diners rave about all you can eat restaurants, while others complain about long lines, poor selection, or poor quality food. Nevertheless, all you can eat dining allows picky eaters to choose exactly what they like, and leave the foods they prefer to avoid. The careful diner can eat all the healthy offerings or, for that matter, concentrate on the expensive ingredients.
From the restaurant’s viewpoint, the all you can eat concept reduces wasted food, and all the energy it takes to produce it. While some diners take advantage of the concept, others end up eating less than if they had ordered conventional dishes. Many restaurants using all you can eat concepts make their real money by selling extras like profitable beverages and desserts.