No one likes a good buffet more than I do. Actually, no one likes a bad buffet more than I do.
I love going to and eating at buffets. When I was a kid, my parents used to take my brother and me to a buffet, except back then, it was known by the exotic and exciting sounding smörgåsbord, a name that my label-giving, xenophobic father bastardized into "schmorgazboard." This place was a picky-eating child's dream. From the long, winding buffet, I could select only the items I liked — fried chicken, corn, french fries — and avoid the yucky stuff I was forced to eat at home, like green beans and broccoli. I was reminded of a time when my nephew (now 24, but just a child at the time) returned from the salad bar at Ruby Tuesday's with a giant plate sporting a compartmentalized portion of crispy rice noodles and dollop of chocolate pudding. See? Kids know what they want.
Breakfast buffets are always great, no matter how big or small. We used to make an annual event of Mothers' Day brunch at a lovely and bountiful buffet offered at a Sheraton hotel in downtown Philadelphia. An aunt, who obviously didn't get the concept of a buffet, asked a waitress — whose only function was to deliver and refill cups of coffee and removed spent plates — if she could get an omelet for her, as she didn't wish to wait in line. Waiting in line is part of the fun of a buffet! Who doesn't love to grab the last waffle from the serving tray, in full view of the hungry dude behind you, leaving him grumbling until they fill the tray up again — which is usually in about three seconds.
Of course, I've been to my share of weird buffets, like the one at the Hibachi Grill and that al fresco set-up at a roadside motel in St. Augustine, Florida that Mrs. P stumbled upon on our honeymoon. It's one we still talk about over thirty years later.
More recently, Mrs. P and I have frequented the buffet at Harrah's Resort in Atlantic City more times that we probably should have. When my wife was riding high on the "comp train" at the seaside casino, we could drop by Harrah's buffet any time we liked. We would eat there several times a month. Despite the 90-plus minute drive, Mrs. Pincus would pick me up after work during the week and we shoot down the AC Expressway for a sumptuous — and more importantly free — dinner. But, all good things come to an end and Harrah's cut her off for no good reason and I'll be damned if I was gonna pay for a meal that I had for free over a million times. So we steered clear of Harrah's until the good folks in their promotions department invited Mrs. P back into their fold. The free buffet offers weren't nearly as plentiful, but we took full advantage of the four per month that we got.
But that didn't seem to stop a group we saw at Caesar's buffet..
Last weekend, during a free weekend stay at Bally's Resort (a sister property of Harrah's), Mrs. P and I ate dinner at the newly-renovated Palace Court Buffet in Caesar's Resort on the famous Atlantic City Boardwalk. (Caesar's is also part of the Harrah's family). We hadn't been to the buffet at Caesar's for years, unimpressed by its small size and limited selection. In our almost decade-long absence, they expanded the seating area and nearly tripled the buffet size with stations featuring pizza, Asian and Mexican cuisine, seafood, fresh sushi and a large array of salads. Due to our self-imposed dietary limitations (I'm a vegetarian and my spouse observes the laws of kashrut, avoiding shellfish and non-kosher meat. You have the internet. You can read all about it, if you're interested.) Earlier in the day, we visited the buffet and asked the cashier at the front if we could take a quick look around to see if there was enough for us to eat. Of course, there would be. We perused the many offerings and, satisfied, decided to return for dinner. We left and thanked the cashier for her consideration, making sure she saw us leave. After all, we could have very easily grabbed a plate and helped ourselves and no one would be the wiser.
After a day on the beach, we showered, changed and headed to the Palace Court Buffet. We waited in the long line with all of the other anxious diners. Finally, we presented our vouchers and were guided to a table. We filled our plates and ate. As we sat at the table at the end of our meal, Mrs. P toying with the bottom part of a cupcake and me, downing my second cup of after dinner coffee, noticed a small commotion at the table just behind us. A waiter was having a heated conversation with a table full of twenty-something hipsters who were working diligently on plates full of crab legs. It seems the waiter noticed their table was lacking the receipt from the cashier that every other table displayed conspicuously in the napkin holder.
"Um, did you folks pay?," the waiter questioned.
The diners stopped their eating and looked at him, silently. One fellow spoke up, while his companions remained speechless. "Pay? There was no one up front to pay.," he replied, hoping that his answer would be satisfactory enough to end this exchange.
The angered waiter pressed. "You have to pay first. Before you eat." He asked the spokesman to accompany him to the cashier. As they walked away, his friends remaining at the table began to snicker.
Mrs. P and I decided we were through. We left a tip for our waiter who was attentive and brought us iced tea refills without our asking. We made our way out of the dining area and approached the "down" escalator. We were surprised to find the non-paying diners just ahead of us on the escalator, laughing and wiping their seafood-tainted hands on their pants.
I guess free buffet vouchers are still too much to pay for some people.