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Buffet etiquette

Buffets make for a relaxed and enjoyable meal. However, as is the case with any social gathering, there are certain rules of etiquette that allow everyone to have a more pleasant experience. Read on to ensure you don’t unintentionally offend someone at the buffet table.

Party buffet

Line up

Buffets require lining up and then working your way along the table when your turn comes. This is arguably the most important rule when it comes to buffet etiquette — join the line. It may be tempting to pop in and grab a scoop of a dish that isn’t in use or to butt in with your friend who is already in line, but these actions are to be avoided. Cutting the line can leave guests who have been waiting their turn offended and frustrated. So be patient — your turn for food will come!

Be selective at first

Buffets have a whole lot of options to choose from, so it is wise to take a look at the the table and scout out the dishes you know you will want before you grab a plate. It doesn’t look good if you constantly leave large portions on your plate because something isn’t quite to your taste. So to start off, take very small samples of items that catch your eye. If you really like a certain dish, you can go back for more, and you won’t have wasted too much of those you discover you don’t really like.

Don’t use your hands

Buffets are well stocked with all the necessary serving tools, so make sure you use them appropriately. Even if you are struggling with getting a dish onto your plate, be patient rather than use your fingers. Remember: Buffet foods are for everyone, so don’t come into contact with dishes in a way you wouldn’t want others to.

Don’t force others to eat alone

Although some people don’t mind eating alone, many would prefer not to sit at a long table and consume a large plate of buffet food on their own. If people are getting up for seconds and someone has just returned from the buffet table, consider putting off your next round of food for a moment and wait with that person. You’ll get your chance to get your food, so exercise patience until the table is full again.

Say your thank-yous

Often buffets have workers serving certain dishes, or you’ll catch kitchen staff switching out an empty plate for a fresh one. Even though you may be doing most of the serving yourself, it’s important to remember the work that goes into preparing and maintaining a buffet, so be sure to thank staff when you see them.


You may be serving yourself, but never forget who’s getting rid of your used plates and topping up your water. The serving staff at buffet restaurants work hard, so a tip is often expected. If you are at a corporate event or a wedding, tips are not necessarily expected, but if a server has gone out of his or her way for you, a tip is a welcome gesture of thanks.

more on manners

Is there such a thing as “fashionably late”?
10 Dos and don’ts of being a guest
Proper etiquette when hosting a dinner party

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