The Pitfalls of the Cheap All-You-Can-Eat Buffet

The all-you-can-eat buffet tends to bring out the gourmand in all of us. But recently scientists have shed new light on the psychology of the all-you-can-eat buffet.
Various tasty and fresh food for banquet at hotel

Various tasty and fresh food for banquet at hotel

©Yuri Arcurs

Yuri Arcurs

The all-you-can-eat buffet tends to bring out the gourmand in all of us. It’s hard to rein yourself in when the only limit on what you can consume is the capacity of your own stomach and you have plunked down your money and are determined to get a good ROI. Even the most-virtuous eaters among us may find themselves making their way gingerly back to their tables clutching plates heaped precariously high – only to return to the buffet line for more, and maybe more than once.

We know this glinty-eyed gluttony from experience . (Oh, the shame! The shame!) But recently scientists have shed a revealing new light on the psychology of the all-you-can-eat buffet.

A study published in the Journal of Sensory Studies found that the amount diners paid for an all-you-can-eat (AYCE) buffet determined how good they thought the food tasted. Those who paid $4 for an Italian lunch buffet thought the pizza was “less tasty, less satisfactory and less enjoyable” than did those who paid $8 for the same buffet. What’s more, those who paid only $4 reported that the more they ate, the worse the food tasted, whereas those who paid $8 had no such sense of diminishing enjoyment.

“People set their expectation of taste partially based on the price – and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” the study’s lead author, David R. Just, of Cornell University’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, explained in The Atlantic. “If I didn’t pay much it can’t be that good. Moreover, each slice is worse than the last. People really ended up regretting choosing the buffet when it was cheap.”

In other words, while low prices may bring people in for an AYCE buffet, they may not entice them to come back and “may not be as profitable” for restaurants “in the long term,” Just’s team warned.

And there you have it – all you care to know about all you can eat.

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