Buffet Buffoons
By Sherri Ferris, President and CEO
Protocol Professionals, Inc.

Have you met any of these personalities in line at the holiday party buffet table?

    You should always use the serving utensils that are provided. Before proceeding, replace the utensil and re-cover the food if warming covers are used. Using your fingers or sticking your fingers in the salad dressings to taste which one to toss your salad in is disgusting and unsanitary. A savvy host will label the foods so guests don't have to guess what they are eating.

    Crowding in line is thoughtless and inconsiderate as is reaching in front of others to grab food. If you bump into someone, say "Excuse me." Be aware that often guests are invited by the host/hostess to begin the buffet service by table number or in some specific order to enable the service to go more smoothly.

    The proper way to approach a buffet line is to place food on your plate, not in your mouth as you proceed through the line. This is true, whether it is an hors d'oeuvre station or a dinner buffet line. Eating is done once you step away from the table or at your seat. Serve yourself and then move away from the food offerings so that others may have access. Don't feed at the buffet table and chitchat while you are munching. First it’s impolite to talk with food in your mouth and it keeps others waiting, who want access to the food.

    Don't stack food on your plate as though you are saving up for the Great Depression. It is often proper to serve yourself in courses: In the US, first enjoy the salad and soup course, then the entree course followed by the dessert course. This will become evident because a different plate will be offered next to each course. It is best not to enter the buffet line with a drinking glass because it is difficult to carry. Wait until you have obtained your food. Thoughtful hosts will provide plates at the beginning of the table and silverware with napkins at the end, unless they are provided at your seat.

    This person is very creative and believes in economy of motion, engaging in such behaviors as making a one-sided buffet table into a two sided. Some have been known to even impersonate waiters in order to enter a nearby event in the same hotel to obtain food. Their behavior is driven by either greed, famine or both. Their creativity even extends to the faux pas of using a satay stick upon which the satay has already been consumed and reusing it to stab a dozen shrimp to eat later. Some have even set off fire alarms to clear the room of competitors.

    Smart hosts use staff to serve delicate items like caviar because some guests show total disregard to costs and place heaping spoonfuls of these tiny special eggs onto whatever receptacle provided (blinis, potato chips, toast points, crackers). Since Sturgeon in the Caspian Sea are quickly becoming extinct, prices of imported beluga, sevruga and ocetra have sky rocketed Fortunately, there are some amazing American caviar that are now affordable.

    While waiting in line there are those who seek to establish instant familiarity. Having a pleasant conversation is fine but telling your entire life story or asking intrusive questions is very impolite. Verbal intrusion is as offensive as physical intrusion such as putting your arm around someone you just met.

    "Waste not want not" is the general rule. Don't take multiple plates with huge portions and only eat half of it. Don't stack multiple filled plates and try to carry them to the table unless you have the balancing skills of a waiter. Stacking lemon pie on mountainous portions of shrimp in hot sauce is gauche.

    Never ask for a doggie bag from a buffet line or bring bags to the table and scoop hordes of food into the bags to take home later. If a host/hostess wants to offer you some food to take home, they will provide containers and will take care of it for you. Doggie bags are a pet peeve of many Europeans who visit the US.

    It is terribly unappetizing to see a chocolate brownie teetering on top of a filet mignon that is swimming in French salad dressing. Food portions are not meant to be heaped on top of one another. Choose moderate portions so that you will not crowd your plate and return to the buffet line when you have finished each course. Others will marvel at the neatness of your plate and your self-control. Also you'll eat less calories if you eat more slowly.

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