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Why are certain cuisines more prone to all-you-can-eat style restaurants?

I'm thinking in particular of Chinese, Japanese/sushi, Brazilian steakhouses, and Korean BBQ.

Why aren't other cuisines more prone to AYCE syndrome? Like Mexican, or pizzas, or hamburgers? Not that those aren't extant, but that they are much more rare compared to, say, Chinese AYCE buffets.

Any thoughts?

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  1. I haven't thought about it much but my first thought with Chinese AYCE buffets in mind is that the prep for most of the dishes is the same in terms of same ingredients with different sauces and it sits "well." I think it's interesting that while the components are similar, it's efficient in that with just simple changes they can create dishes which taste different and thus fit the concept well as you satiate one taste group and then move on to the next - e.g. Orange chicken vs. spicy General Tso's chicken, basically the same thing with a play on a brown sauce where one is sweet and the other more spicy than sweet. There are pizza AYCE restaurants, but I think there's too much variety in preparation in most dishes on a Mexican menu for a good AYCE buffet. I think others just don't lend themself well to the concept - I can eat my weight x 5 at a Brazilian steakhouse but probably wouldn't be much into an AYCE hamburger restaurant.

    8 Replies
    1. re: fldhkybnva

      Whoa ? !

      You can eat 500 pounds of Brazilian steak? :-)

      1. re: ipsedixit

        I'm up for the challenge :) I have been known to steal others' red/green cards when they are done to surround myself with the go signal.

        1. re: fldhkybnva

          love that card... I use to play with it at my toy table instead "tea"

      2. re: fldhkybnva

        I disagree that Chinese food "sits well'. I have found steam table Chinese buffets to be invariably a disaster.

        1. re: fldhkybnva

          There is that CiCis pizza that is all you can east pizza and pasta. They even have a macaroni and cheese pizza...I use to have to go there after flag football games as a reward if we won....I still shudder and vomit a little in my mouth...

          And I have this friend and whenever I spent the night at her house her parents would take us to Golden Corral, Troth dining at its finest tiny meat balls, "steak", mexican, potato bar, pizza,and assorted red pastish things... kids screaming spills on the carpet... food being stuffed into fake coach purses.....It was aggressive sport eating

          1. re: girloftheworld

            food being stuffed into fake coach purses

            But of course.

            Wouldn't want to sully the *real* Coach leather goods.

            1. re: girloftheworld

              I think I dated your friend's cousin.

              I dated a very nice young man in high school. His family (aunts, uncles, cousins, grandma, etc.) all gathered together on Sundays to hit the local buffets (Golden Corral being a favorite)

              These were decent, church-going, generous (BF and GFs were always included) nice people that thought there was nothing wrong with taking as much as they could carry away from the buffet. I'm not talking about a cookie for the ride home but a dozen rolls, slices of ham, meatloaf for the dog, etc. I remember feeling very embarrassed.

              1. re: cleobeach

                If you're not already a misanthrope, observing homo sapiens at a buffet will make you one.

          2. I've been taken to a few dessert buffets in East Asia, though judging from my experiences around the world, I've seen just as many Indian AYCE as Chinese, if not more. Some foods work well for long times in chafing trays, it seems (goop, ie sauces which cover whatever animal/vegetable is placed in said sauce), yet there are even sushi restaurants of this genre. Which might make you wonder how low can one go (ceviche buffet, anyone?)


            1. It has always struck me as odd that Chinese is so common as a buffet - what with the cuisine not generally being focussed on dishes that can sit around for ages being kept warm.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Harters

                Perhaps that's why it's common in the US, where it's not "actually" Chinese, and more of a saccharine goopfest.

                Also, blue collar 三菜一汤 (three "dish" one soup) places have food that sits out for quite a while, and they are found all over China (not to mention, Manhattan's Chinatown). They aren't necessarily AYCE or buffets, but for me (and a few other patrons), they have tended to the former...


              2. This is odd. Other than the Brazilian steakhouse, I have never been to an AYCE place of the type you list. Actually don't think any of those cuisines are great for AYCE buffet. Sushi? Sitting out in some counter waiting for someone to pick it out? No thanks. On the other hand, Indian buffet is a favorite.

                4 Replies
                1. re: Bkeats

                  All the AYCE sushi places I've seen make it to order.

                  1. re: JMF

                    That's been my experience also. And for a set price no one should expect the moons and the stars in quality. And, in my experience, they generally exclude sashimi.

                    1. re: c oliver

                      Have been to a couple AYCE sushi and they all included a limited number of sashimi choices, along with sushi and lots of hot items like teriyaki, etc.

                      And all have had the rule listed that they would charge extra for uneaten rolls (though I have never seen that rule come into play).

                      Not the greatest sushi ever, but a fun dinner for a group.

                    2. re: JMF

                      The first time I went to a Todai, I was amazed at all the little old ladies fighting over sushi & crab legs.

                  2. I don't know, there seems to be a lot of those Golden Corral and Old Country Buffets type places popping up all over. Bad american food in unlimited quantities.

                    Not quite AYCE but Red lobster doe "endless shrimp/lobster" specials often and Olive Garden does endless salad and bread sticks. Lot of american chains also seem to do some version of this too. In theses cases it seems to be a loss leader to get in you in the door.

                    1. I have always thought it's an adaptation to the language barrier. Many or most of the staff in ethnic restaurants have limited proficiency in the local tongue, which is a problem for waiter service. Also, there are many nuances involving dining customs that could be potential problems, and these are sidestepped by minimizing the staff/patron interactions. Likewise, the restaurant's patrons are unlikely to be able to correctly pronounce the non-translated names of the menu items. Giving letter/number combinations to the items is one method of addressing the problem but does not allow for questions, substitutions, etc.
                      The buffet items are take it or leave it but the variety makes it easy to avoid ingredients one does not like.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: greygarious

                        You may be onto something there. Good points, all around.

                      2. Maybe it's just a popular, simple business model. You get a set price for every diner (plus a bit extra for drinks). You can probably get by with a smaller staff because you are cooking in batches and not individual dishes to order. Also, less service staff and less experience is required of them.

                        Some (most?) buffets have you pay up front, so that simplifies cashier duties too.

                        1. When I think of AYCE buffets, there is one Chinese in town butthe rest are pizza or breakfast. Or steak. Pizza buffets are more common here but usually just at lunch where it is somewhat limited. I have never encountered a sushi buffet.

                          1. Maybe I'm wrong but I tend to differentiate between AYCE and buffets. The former concentrates on main dishes while the latter puts out an array of cheap salads expecting the consumer to fill up on those and not have room for the more costly main dishes

                            1. Interestingly, I'm quite familiar with all you can eat pizza - the Pizza Hut nearby has an all you can eat buffet. You need a good turnover, such that new pizzas are constantly being brought out, though.

                              For Chinese, I would say that it might come from how it's served in its home country. Meals in a restaurant are often served family style - you order a variety of dishes (meat, veggies, seafood, starch, soup) and share, rather than an individual order per person. A buffet gives you this option on a person by person basis.

                              FWIW, in Taiwan, buffets at hotels are usually listed as a "Western Style restaurant".

                              All you can eat sushi baffles me from a culinary perspective, but not from a price perspective. Good sushi is expensive, even in its home country. An all you can eat sushi restaurant gives you the illusion of a fantastic bargain, but tends to serve a mediocre product, and very little on the fresh raw fish end.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                Shakey's in Japan has AYCE pizza (among other things). Tuna and corn does it for me, w/out exaggeration.

                                1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                  With Chinese buffet, I agree it could be an adaptation of
                                  cultural tradition. The first cooking class I ever took was
                                  Chinese and the instructor explained that when preparing
                                  a banquet, one should make one dish per diner, to be
                                  served family style.

                                  1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                    I'm not sure it has anything to do with cultural tradition, but the "family style" idea is what I actually really like about Indian buffets. When I have Indian food I like to have small portions of various different flavors and textures, and the only way to do that (unless you order a thali, which I generally find unsatisfying for other reasons) is to go to a buffet. I don't know how popular they are elsewhere, but they're the norm at lunchtime in NYC (most places do a la carte only at dinner, but there are a few buffets out there as well).

                                    1. re: biondanonima

                                      Hmmm....when we go out for Indian we always order family style & avoid the buffet because it is too bland & the food has been sitting around too long. Indian restaurants are hard to go to alone.

                                  2. When the Brazilian churrascaria first opened at the Mandalay Bay in LV, it included unlimited skewered enormous shrimp, delicious. Servers would return with every roasted item as fast as one could eat them. That ended within a year. Ah, the good old days.

                                    1. Around here, the buffets tend to be Indian: lots of sauce-based dishes that can be made up in bulk and sit on a steam table. There used to be some AYCE sushi placse nearby (run by Chinese families): the sushi was, um, passable, but the Chinese dishes, which tended to be steamed vegetables, were decent. And for some reason they always had large bowls of Jell-o.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: tardigrade

                                        I think food cost on large bowls of Jell-o is about as low as it gets.

                                      2. Israel has a very good tradition of the AYCE hotel breakfast, as well as various AYCE buffets during Jewish holidays. I personally would not really comment on the holiday buffets - but the breakfast buffet options at these hotels really can be amazing.

                                        I think it helps that a lot of the options are cold - be they different salads, pickled/cured fish, cheeses, breads/spreads, etc. In addition to that there's often an egg station and a few warm dishes.

                                        Going from this I think that the natural expansion of the Brazilian steakhouse would be the Levantine grill. Already in the Middle East you have a number of places where you get all you can eat mezze/small salads - but then there are individual orders of meat. It really doesn't seem like such a stretch to create an all you can eat version of this model as most places are already half way there.

                                        6 Replies
                                        1. re: cresyd

                                          Going from this I think that the natural expansion of the Brazilian steakhouse would be the Levantine grill. Already in the Middle East you have a number of places where you get all you can eat mezze/small salads - but then there are individual orders of meat. It really doesn't seem like such a stretch to create an all you can eat version of this model as most places are already half way there.

                                          I would be interested in something like this.

                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                            Business wise, I'd think it make a lot of sense. What always seems to happen anyways is that people eat loads of hummus, tahina, eggplant, salads and pita - and then by the time the meat comes (usually with a side of fries), very often people don't finish their meals.

                                            Sigh - writing about this is making me crave a kebab.

                                          2. re: cresyd

                                            Glad to know about Israel where we're headed for a holiday the first of the year.

                                            1. re: cresyd

                                              Two things.
                                              First , the quality of the buffet varies inversely with its size. This is true in Israel as well.
                                              Second , vegetables and pulses are cheap in Israel, excellent and there is a tradition of skill in preparation. Meat is expensive, very expensive. and not good. Generally no point to it.
                                              The 15 "salads" that show up after you sit down come from the Arabic custom. Sure as hell not from the Polish. An dit is becoming increasingly hard to find them made well. But when they are , they sing.
                                              I am not a veg but I love a meal of salads in Israel. With a laffa.

                                              1. re: Vinnie Vidimangi

                                                My experience in Israel is that the quality of the buffet varies more based on the price of the hotel rather than the size. The more expensive hotels, the better the buffet. Regardless of size - but overall I've found them to be of a pretty reliable standard.

                                                Meat is not served because the vast majority of hotels in Israel observe kashrut and breakfast is served as a dairy meal. Meat in general is expensive here as well due to kashrut reasons. If you want good meat, you can find it - you just need to know where you're looking. And it's not always expensive. Some of the best meat to be found is at Ethiopian restaurants in stews.

                                                The tradition of mezze yes is Arabic - but like most food traditions in Israel, are influenced by all of the different immigrants over the years. Including those from Poland/Russia, etc. So in the set of small Israeli salads you're going to see hummus, tahina, tabouleh sitting next to pickled cabbage, Russian style pickles, mayo based potato salads, etc.

                                                At breakfast when I referred to salads - there are a mix of "European" style mixed veggie salads, slaws, etc. as well as Levantine/North African style salads. And smoked/pickled fish. Perhaps in smaller Israeli hotel breakfast buffets they don't include smoked/pickled fish - but in the majority of the ones I've been to (range of prices) there has been.

                                            2. Has anyone been on a cruise ship?

                                              AYCE, buffet style for your time on board. On the better ($$$) ships the food does get better, and the variety at lunch can be endless.

                                              I for one limit my intake of calories , after the 2nd day, because I have to.. but they do serve pizza, icecream, mexican, italian, chinese, sushi, middle Eastern, etc.....For that segment of the hospitality industry, they have made it a science on serving, sanitation and preparation.

                                              1. Hmm. Interesting. I've seen only one Mexican AYCE and one Italian AYCE in my experience. I'm guessing that's because the "Americanized" versions of these cuisines are pretty filling/heavy. I can eat a lot of the peel and eat shrimp or sauteed baby octopi at my local Chinese American AYCE, but I can't eat a ton of lasagna or tamales.

                                                The other thing might be that the Indian/Chinese cuisines have more veggie options in the AYCE. The only veggies I saw on the Mex AYCE table were chile rellenos...and I don't think there were any on the Italian. I think the pasta/rice/beans content of the Mex and Ital would fill people up too quickly.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: pinehurst

                                                  I think that where these models are the most effective is that mix of enticing "luxury" items combined with the fact that people eat way more with their eyes and assuming they're gonna get an awesome deal.

                                                  At both of the AYCE sushi place I've been to (not a buffet, but you can order "as many" rolls as you want. Each roll has to be ordered one at a time per person, and a new order can only be put in after the last order was finished), I've never really eaten so much more sushi than at a normal sushi restaurant. Not to mention that I'm irritated by how slow the meal often takes.

                                                  But sushi being a "luxury" item, and with the mentality of more = better, they clearly continue to get people coming in thinking they're "scam" the system.

                                                2. I am going to make some sweeping generalizations that are applicable to my little piece of paradise, Melbourne/Palm Bay, Florida. About 250,000 residents. We are not a tourist destination.

                                                  Yes, we have Chinese AYCE. But at least 1/3 of the offerings are American. Mac n cheese, fried chicken, meatloaf, etc. We also have Indian, Japanese, Japanese sushi, Tex Mex, Pizza, Golden Corral, BBQ, and Blue Crabs. And let us not forget Keg Night at some bars where it is all you can drink until the keg is dry.

                                                  But if you really want the lowdown on separating money from wallets, check out the scene in Orlando. Possibly the lowest common denominator on the planet when it comes to chains and AYCE.

                                                  1. Does anyone have an AYCE burger place in their area? Or hot dogs?

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                                      Coyote Canyon an AYCE steak buffet has hamburgers, as does Western Sizzlin.

                                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                                        Family bleachers at Dodger's stadium.

                                                        1. re: E Eto

                                                          You mean left field bleachers. Nosebleed.

                                                      2. In "The Fortune Cookie Chronicles", Jennifer 8 Lee suggests that the AYCE format became popular for Chinese restaurants because an AYCE restaurant requires fewer English-language skills than a standard restaurant because waiters only need to take drink orders. She says that AYCE food costs are higher but that staffing is easier and less expensive.

                                                        1. Pizza buffets are extremely common.

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                            Doesn't Shakeys have an AYCE buffet for lunch including pizza? I know CeCe's (sp) has been advertising AYCE pizza in my area lately.

                                                            1. re: Kalivs

                                                              Not sure. Shakey's left my burg a good 25 years ago, much to my chagrin.

                                                              But I think most of the other chain pizza joints do offer a buffet.

                                                          2. When I lived in CA, Round Table lunch buffet and a local Mexican buffet were quite common. Not as common as Chinese, but not unheard of.

                                                            In WA state, Round Table and Mexican buffets are more difficult to find.

                                                            1. Meanwhile, an age related question: Do you *want* AYCE? Yeah, back in my teens/twenties. Now that I am more (ahem) mature, not so much. Normal portions are fine, or even more than I want to eat. And there almost always seems to be a quality/quantity trade-off. My Mom used to say 'I don't like buffets, because I can't eat that much.' Hmmmm.

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: mwhitmore

                                                                Maybe it IS age-related. "AYCE" is actually a turnoff to me. There's the whole quantity vs. quality thing.

                                                                1. re: mwhitmore

                                                                  It depends, I'll sign up for a Brazilian steakhouse anyday but I've lost my interest in Chinese buffets.

                                                                2. I wonder if one reason these restaurants originated might be that, for the customer who had never tried a cuisine such as Chinese or Indian, an AYCE buffet is less threatening. You don't have to know anything to order, you can try small amounts of new things and if you don't like something you can get something else. Over time, it just became traditional and expected that certain cuisines would be buffet. In my town there are three Chinese buffets, but no full-service Chinese restaurants - who would go to one when the AYCE are so inexpensive?

                                                                  It's a good business model too - takes less waitstaff, they can be less trained, it saves on menus, is easier for the cook, allows faster turning of tables, the bookkeeping should be pretty easy...

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: littlemissmuffin

                                                                    Actually, if I'm unfamiliar with a cuisine, the last approach I'd want to take would be AYCE. I would much rather be able to closely parse a menu, read descriptions, and query the waitress about what's in a particular dish. That way, I'd be more likely to find something I might like.