“Buffets Are Back – With New Policies and Gloves,” blared the headline recent on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.
That was welcome news for my pandemic-weary family. I was afraid such wide-open dining would go the way of the dinosaur. (“Look out! The asteroid is headed for the chocolate fountain!” “Mmm...chocolate-covered asteroid...”)
I’m exhausted by all the paranoid workarounds of the past year: mile-long drive-through lines, “grab the takeout bag and get out of our lobby, Typhoid Mary,” St. Bernards bearing kegs of sweet tea, sandwiches fired from t-shirt cannons, etc.
Some buffets are shunning walk-in customers and requiring reservations, in order to cope with labor shortages and the pent-up demand from food enthusiasts enjoying a return to normalcy. This, of course, assumes that overhearing people demand, “I want soft-serve ice cream and gravy on my tuna salad, just like Grandma used to make” is normal.
I have my own fond memories of buffets. My wife and I met at a Bonanza Family Restaurant, which later became a Ponderosa, before reverting to a Bonanza and ultimately closing. (Methinks those Cartwright boys inhaled a little too much cattle methane.)
As newlyweds, we consumed countless crab legs with my parents at Richard’s Cafeteria in Shelbyville, Tenn. I experimented with swordfish and other delicacies at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, while musing that the real “one-armed bandits” were the diners who broke line and got caught grabbing for the last pork chop.
I realize that individuals either love or hate buffets. Some people adore the value (“more bang for the buck,” as my wife describes it). Some people revel in the commitment-free dalliances not permitted by “no substitution” combos or traditional “meat and threes.”
Others, however, think of buffets as an insensitive display of decadence in a time of Third World deprivation. (“Okay, I’ll take some celery stalks and spaghetti, but only so I can engage in self-flagellation.”)
Certainly, supermodels have horror stories about smorgasbords. (“It was terrifying. After five minutes, I could no longer pass between the molecules of the restroom door!”)
And, of course, some elitists have always been grossed out by the thought of the Great Unwashed poking about in self-service victuals.
I can grudgingly understand their point. Statistics show that the only end-of-life activity outranking deathbed confessions and deathbed religious conversions is... deathbed excursions to the endless soup-and-salad bar! (“Hack! Cough! Dang! I wonder what’s the world record for dentures flying?”)
So, yes, I can appreciate a few plexiglass shields and more frequent replacement of tongs, but I don’t think we should live in abject terror of a few bacteria. As the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously opined, “Whatever doesn’t kill me only makes me strong enough to shove my way to the nanner puddin’.”
Whatever your view of buffets, carry out your convictions proudly.
But if you’re pro-buffet, just make all-you-can eat feasts a special treat instead of a constant quest for calories. It’s one thing to give up and resign yourself to elastic-waistband pants. It’s another thing when society is on the verge of needing elastic vehicles.
As one of Nietzsche’s contemporaries observed, “Don’t come knockin’ if the van is...slowly sinking into the pavement.”
Me? I will responsibly celebrate buffets rising phoenix-like from the ashes.
That reminds me...honey, line your purse with plastic so we can take home some of those chocolate-dipped phoenix eggs!
Danny Tyree welcomes email responses at firstname.lastname@example.org and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.”