All-you-can-eat buffets are typically fun... that is, when you're the customer. It's a whole different story when you actually work at one. From unruly dinner guests to inconceivable messes, these workers have seen the worst of the worst:
#1 The Marvelous Salad
I worked at Wendy's when they had salad bars. You could get a single-serving bowl (They used to serve eat-in chili in styrofoam bowls, and the large doubled as a chili bowl), or "all-you-can-eat" platters. (The Taco Salad bottom plate.) On a slow afternoon, this guy came in and got a single serving bowl. After a few minutes, our manager motioned to me and the sandwich guy to discreetly take a look at the salad he was making.
The guy had filled the bowl with salad, then made a ring of overlapping cucumber slices to extend the lip of the bowl upwards. He filled that with salad, then added another ring. It took several minutes to build this thing, but by the time he'd finished, he had a tower of salad well over a foot tall, with multiple rings of cucumber slices containing it.
That salad was an engineering marvel. He carefully carried it back to his table, sat down, then looked up guiltily as our manager walked out to him. The manager handed him a "free item" coupon, and said, "That is the most impressive salad I have ever seen. Your next one is on me."
#2 A New Rotation
I picked up some fish and chips recently. I saw they had “all-you-can-eat” on Wednesdays. So I asked, “What is the most that someone...”
“18 pieces of fish and three plates (she held up this huge platter) of fries... every... single... Wednesday.”
“So he eats that exact order every week?”
“Yes, and he goes to a different ‘all-you-can-eat’ every day of the week. He got banned from the Chinese place down the road.”
#3 A Unique Combo
A college friend worked at a Chinese buffet. He said they caught a regular dipping his pizza in the wonton soup bowl (like, in the queue and not at his table) and eating it. Bite, sip, bite, sip, bite, dip. After the fourth time in a month, he did it management finally kicked him out. Every Chinese buffet has one terrible pepperoni pizza for the picky eater kids.
#4 Pizza Hogs
At one point, I worked for a pizza place that used to have a daily buffet that I would make pizzas for. One time, two huge dudes came at the moment we opened for the buffet. The manager on duty dropped the first two pizzas down on the buffet, turned to grab the next two, turned back and both pizzas were gone. A few minutes later, both dudes walked back up and they took an entire pizza again. They proceeded to do this over and over, grabbing an entire pizza each for themselves for the entire three hours we were offering the buffet. It was one hell of a day.
#5 Leave It To Ryan
I had a co-worker that briefly managed Ryan's Buffet. He said that it was fairly common for people to gorge themselves, then purge in the restroom and start eating again so that they could "get their money's worth." Leave it to Ryan’s Buffet, where the quantity is the goal and 8-year-old kids are 6’0" with mustaches. When you talk about something gross at a buffet, Ryan’s is always there to say hold my drink. They legit just have ham sitting in boiled water.
#6 Odd Habits
I worked at a Ruby Tuesday in center city Philly (on the first floor of the Liberty Place building). I had a couple that would come in about twice a week that requested me. They would gorge themselves at the salad bar for about an hour, ask for large glasses of water with no ice, then both would take the water into the bathroom. They would come out a few minutes later with empty glasses, ask for the check and leave. I finally put it together that they were bulimic after I walked in the women's bathroom and it smelled horrid. Very polite folks and they tipped well, though.
#7 Stuffed Purses
There was a fairly expensive restaurant in Dallas in the '80s called Southern Kitchen. About $25 per person back then with food served to the table. Really good stuff. They were famous for cinnamon rolls. The owner said he’d seen many, many women ruin expensive purses hiding those rolls. That's about 60 bucks in today's dollars, for anybody who cares.
#8 Self-Serve Indeed
We were waiting in line for the soft serve machine at Golden Corral. The woman in front of us gets up to the machine and awkwardly jerks the handle around in an attempt to get at the sweet, sweet ice cream within. She's pushing, pulling, twisting, doing literally everything but turning it to the right (which would have dispensed the ice cream).
She's really perplexed by this. So she takes the next logical step, of course, which is to wrap her lips around the spout, form a seal on it with her mouth and start trying to suck it right out of the tap. One of the workers sees this and looks on in disgust before he unplugs the machine. On the way out, we see that he put an out of order sign on it, so thankfully they didn't keep serving it after that whole incident.
#9 Syrup Licker
My daughter licked the syrup dispenser when having pancakes and I was not quick enough to stop her. I immediately told her why she shouldn't do that and made sure the waitress understood what my daughter had done. I told the staff that it shouldn't be put back into circulation until cleaned. Things like this happen sometimes... as long as you do the right thing afterward, things should be okay.
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#10 Pickle Boy
There was this man who used to come into our restaurant who clearly wasn’t all there in the head. He was functional but very weird. As the months progressed, he got WAY weirder. He started wearing women’s underwear over his clothes, even going so far as to stuff his bra. Picture a 6’2” 250lb dude with a baby face wearing silky underpants and a lace bra over ratty jeans and a stained Hawaiian shirt; that’s our guy.
He went from being able to hold a sort of normal conversation to just spouting conspiracy theory word salad. But the weirdest thing was his change in eating habits. He used to eat a variety of our soup/salad/baked potato options from our buffet, but as his mental health deteriorated, so did his desire for variety I guess. By the time his weirdness devolved to aggression and we had to 86 him, he was coming in for two things: pickles and ranch dressing.
He’d pile as many pickle slices as he could onto his plate, then put so much ranch on them the dressing and pickle juice would be running all over the tray. He’d eat it all, and his face would be covered in ranch and pickle bits. Then he’d drink water straight from the pitcher he inevitably stole from the wait station, sliming it with pickle ranch slobber. Never a dull moment with that dude around!
#11 A Horrible Child
I was once at an Old Country Buffet, waiting patiently to get some mac & cheese. The kid in front of me piled his plate high and then started tapping the serving spoon to get all of the cheesy goodness free from the confines of the spoon. Once he was satisfied with his handiwork, he licked the spoon clean. I didn't have any mac & cheese and haven't been back since. I know, what a horrible child.
#12 Fountain Fun
I went as a customer to a Golden Corral. I'm walking to the chocolate fountain and three little girls step in front of me. All three of them just go hands deep in the fountain. The family was the first table by the fountain and all they did was laugh about how cute it was... The employees turned it off immediately. That could've been way worse if the employees had just laughed along with the parents.
#13 I Hate People
I managed a buffet in a casino in Reno for a few months. I had this family... a mom, dad, and two little kids. I got called over to the table because the mom had thrown up on her table and she wanted us to take it away and clean it up. I asked if she was okay, and she said she always throws up when she eats cheese. She had gotten herself an enchilada (it was Mexican theme night). Lady, enchiladas pretty much always have cheese.
I told her I would have to call janitorial because none of my staff was trained to handle biohazards. She didn't understand why I couldn't just take it. Janitorial came in and couldn't clean up because she refused to move from the table. So janitorial left. She called me back over and started yelling at me, then the dad started yelling too. Apparently, she wanted to keep eating after throwing up, which I thought was really gross. I had them sit at another table so they could all keep eating. Janitorial came back and cleaned the other table.
Finally, they left and decided to make a huge scene in front of the whole restaurant. They demanded their money back. I refused. The dad got in my face and started shouting aggressively, so I called security and they stormed out, pulling pictures off the wall and shattering them on the floor. The dad also picked up a vase and broke it. The two kids were running around and banging on the walls. Security finally showed up after they ran off. I had to do a report, and they were put on the 86 list.
#14 Never Going Back
Not an employee, but I was standing behind a woman at Hometown Buffet. She was getting some lasagna or something... basically, a really cheesy pasta that when you lift the serving utensil, a lot of cheese hangs on. I witnessed her lift her pasta, twirl all the excess cheese that was connected around her index finger (and there was a lot), clip it off with her thumbnail, and then fling it back into the pasta. I knew I shouldn't have been at Hometown Buffet in the first place, but this solidified my stance to never go back.
#15 The Sights And Smells
At one point, I worked at a Golden Corral because small towns don't have a lot of job options for high school or college kids. I worked in the bakery which was surprisingly low in horror stories other than the chaos the remained after a large group of children came through. My brother worked at the steak station. He got these regulars that would tip him pretty well if he would prepare blue steaks for them. The very idea of ordering blue steaks from a buffet makes me gag.
My cousin worked at the salad bar. Management would require her to keep seafood items on the bar for long after the point where they'd be safe to consume. I think the record was chilled shrimp from Mother's day that stayed for over a week and a half. They finally caved and let her toss them when a customer complained about the smell.
#16 Not My Problem
Not a buffet, but I worked at a pizza parlor that offered a lunch buffet of endless pizza. The lunch ran from 11 am - 3 pm. This gentleman came in (I think he was homeless) and he served up a sky-high plate of pizza. He just went to town. He stayed from the beginning to the very end to make sure he got his money's worth. Well, his body didn't appreciate being stuffed like a pinata of pizza. He got up waddled fast to the bathroom and next thing I knew, I was being told he was making a mess on the way to the bathroom. I was informed by my boss about the incident right before I was heading out for a break. I was not about to clean that up.
#17 Poking Around
I worked in a buffet restaurant for a few weeks a while back. It was fairly common to see people do disgusting things like sneeze in the food or just poke their fingers in things like sauces to taste them. I even saw one guy literally drop a slice of pizza on the floor and after awkwardly looking around, he put it right back. I brought it up a couple of times, but the restaurant wasn't doing well, and we were told that we couldn't accept the losses to start throwing "good" food out.
#18 Just Beat It
Not mine, but I had a buddy who was 400+ lbs. The dude could put away some food. He went to a casino buffet that was one of the higher-end ones that had crab legs and steak. On about his fourth or fifth plate stacked full of crab legs, the manager came out and gave him $250 in free slot play to leave the buffet. He then went on to win just over a hundred dollars with that free slot play as well. If you can’t beat the casinos at the games, beat 'em at the bar or buffet.
#19 An Awkward Situation
Not a worker but I was at a Chinese buffet with a Hot Pot option that you had to pay extra for. There was a separate section with the stuff for that which was raw. This guy loaded up his plate with all this raw stuff and was eating it, including dangerous raw stuff like shrimp. I think he may have been slightly intellectually disabled. The Chinese staff had to come over and inform him that he was eating the wrong things. He got really embarrassed and said that he did not understand how it worked. Between the Chinese staff with their limited English and this poor guy who was not capable of really understanding what he had done wrong, it was one of those awkward moments in life that you cannot forget no matter how much you try.
#20 Traumatized By Jello
I went to Hometown Buffet. The kid in front of me was slightly shorter than the buffet bar but had his hands in the yellow jello... just massaging it. Then his mom came by and snatched him away but didn't say anything. Soon after, a guy came and made himself a bowl of jello. 10-year-old me was too appalled to say anything. I haven't eaten jello since then...
#21 People Are Animals
My first job was as a dishwasher in an all you can eat fried catfish buffet. People are animals. Especially the ones that get far more food off the buffet than they can eat. Then they take the leftovers and pile them on a plate or tray, cover in ketchup and tartar sauce, then pour their iced tea over the top of all that. A lot of people did that got at least two plates like that a night.
#22 All For A Discount
A woman came in with two of her kids and had a pretty regular meal. You pay when you leave at our place, and she decided to sneak out with her younger daughter before paying, leaving her underage son alone at the table. We caught on pretty quick and sent someone after her, who found her in her car in the parking garage, waiting for her son to come as well. She refused to come back in and pay, so we had to keep her son "hostage" until the police came to handle the situation. What some people will do to their kids, I swear.
#23 Scraping Scraps
Years ago, I worked at an all-you-can-eat country buffet in South Carolina. I was a busboy. One day, I went to a table. It was a mess, as per usual. It looked to be a large family or group of families of around 12 people or so. The thing that stuck it in my memory is that whenever they had finished with what they were going to eat, they would scrape their plate and use it again. Scrape their plates... onto the floor next to their chairs. So next to each chair, there was a 6-inch to 18-inch pile of chicken bones, crab legs, mashed potatoes, remnants of backed potatoes, etc.
#24 All You Can Eat
Not an employee, but I witnessed a marvelous thing. Sitting in a small-town Chinese buffet, three big dudes (not obese, but farm built) come in. These guys proceed to just... clean house. Plate after plate after plate. They weren't wasteful; they ate everything they took. They were very polite to the staff and other customers.
But I bet each man ate a dozen plates, each stacked high. The cooks were working to keep up. My family and I found ourselves watching this marvelous feat of eating unfold in awe. When they approached the counter to pay, all this eating unfolding in only 45 minutes or so, the manager greeted them at the counter. In his broken English, he simply said "You. You no pay, but you no come back." The guys gave each other and the manager a "yeah fair enough" look and left.
#25 Karma: Served
I didn't work at an all-you-can-eat buffet, but my sister did. The buffet itself was on the first floor, so you had to take either the stairs or the elevator to your seat. Once, there was a lady who was carrying a tray with a whole lot of stuff on it down. Glasses, plates and a whole lot more junk. My sister asked the lady if she needed any assistance, to which the lady replied: "You assume because I'm fat, I need help?" My sister didn't react. A few seconds later, the lady fell down the stairs.
#26 In Disbelief
One old lady kept implying that I wasn't old enough to work there. I said my real age (17 at the time) and she kept saying, "I bet they're just making you say that, you know it's illegal that they're making you do this!" I was just at a loss. I didn't know what else to tell this lady who was 100% confident that I must be underage or working for free or something. I don't know what her goal was.
#27 No Soup For Me
I was a customer, not a worker. My wife and I went to a Sweet Tomatoes for a lunch date, unlimited salad and soup was always good. One time, I saw a man over by the soups take the serving ladle for one of the weekly specials and take a big slurp from it. Then apparently he didn't like it and spat it back out into the ladle, and put the ladle back in the soup. What the heck, dude?
I got up immediately and told the nearest staff what I'd seen, and they got right on getting that nearly full pot of soup out of there. I didn't have any more soup... the what-ifs were too dang strong. Which is a shame, because I love their chunky chicken noodle.
#28 Overly Possessive
I was just a witness but I saw a woman come in with about five kids. She made them all sit at a table while she got food, even if they seemed old enough to get it themselves. She just grabbed two trays, placed three plates on both of them and literally poured all the chicken nuggets on one plate so it was a huge mountain. She did the same to five other dishes and left five pans that were full empty. Needless to say, people were upset, especially when she did it multiple times again with other dishes. She would often glare at people if she saw them taking food from dishes she probably wanted.
#29 A Shuddering Thought
I've always wanted to make a documentary and just tour the country, stopping at every Golden Corral and Ryan's. There, I would interview the employees to learn what is the worst thing they have found in the chocolate fountain. I mean what could be the worst? A shoe? A finger? Maybe a diaper? Combine 514 US locations. I don't think I'll have the stomach to deal with all of the atrocities I'll come across.
#30 Greed Has No Limit
I work in an "all-you-can-eat" using tablets. This is (according to my boss) based on a Japanese kind of restaurant. We serve Asian food, from Chinese to Japanese and even some Korean. The premise is that people order their food in rounds and we then bring the food to their table when it is ready. We always warn customers beforehand that, if they leave food behind because they ordered too much, they will have to pay extra; depending on what they left behind.
We have seen people try the weirdest stuff if it comes to not paying extra; people dumping food in their handbags, to people shoving it in their mouths, then go to the toilet and flush it, to putting hair on it and blaming us for it (we see them pull this stuff), etc. And when we actually catch them doing it, they blame us for it and refuse to pay. Some people let it come down to the police to sort it out sometimes, there have been multiple occasions on which they were involved to solve the problem for just €5. I guess some people’s greed has no limit.
#31 75 Chicken Wings
I used to work at Buffalo Wild Wings and they would do a Monday night special of endless wings and fries for $15. Once, I served a dude who came in by himself and ate 75 wings over the course of about an hour. It helped that he asked for no fries with the order, but still... 75 freaking wings, man. Also, every week, without fail, I'd get at least one table who would try to "split" the all-you-can-eat. Like, just order one order to feed several people with. That's not how any of this works...
#32 That's Too Gross
Not an employee or a customer, but we had a Chinese buffet shut down for a health code violation. It was due to an employee cutting vegetables while on the toilet. To this day, I still wonder if that means dude brought a bucket into the kitchen or veggies into the toilet and I honestly don't know which is worse. I don't even know how they managed to get away with that for all those years.
#33 "She's Here"
While I was wasting years and thousands of dollars in an attempt to get a college education, I worked at a Chinese restaurant. The owners were awesome people and they would feed us at the end of the shift. Anyway, they had a buffet on the weekends and they had this one land whale who was a regular. This lady could pack away the groceries.
When she showed, the Chinese servers would rush into the kitchen and yell, "She here! She here!" and the owners, who were also the cooks, would yell, "Oh no! Cook faster! Cook faster!" They'd make a big show of cooking extra quickly. Then, the entire restaurant staff would watch her eat with great amusement. Even by our American buffet standards, that lady could eat!
#34 Eating Their Lives Away
Probably the big couple I had. The dude was 600 lbs, the wife was 450 lbs, and she was only able to get around via wheelchair. He held the plates while she scooped and then pushed him. Back at the table, she was almost having breathing problems while eating. Both were spilling food on themselves while eating. The table next to them asked to be moved as they are disgusted by watching them commit a slow death.
#35 Fishy Behavior
I worked at a Shoney's in high school and we had a breakfast buffet every day and a seafood buffet on Friday nights. You'd see stuff dropped in the wrong containers, cheese sauce splattered everywhere, people tasting things off the bar instead of at their seats. The leftover Friday fish fillets became fish chowder the next morning. The leftover chowder from Friday also became chowder the next day.
My understanding is that you are not allowed to save cream-based soups and foods from one day to the next. We would serve that stuff all weekend. We also often had nasty slippery shrimp we would bread and serve. I handled so much shrimp on a daily basis there that I smelled like dead fish nearly all the time, even after showering.
#36 Sneezy Chocolate
Back when Golden Corral had just introduced their chocolate fountain, I was eating there. When I was done eating, I went for dessert... While I was approaching the chocolate fountain I was interested in trying, I watched a kid sneeze directly into it. He made no attempt to cover his mouth, and his parents didn’t seem to care either. I was no longer interested in trying the chocolate fountain.
#37 Gizzards Galore
I used to manage a KFC with a buffet. On Tuesdays, we had senior citizen discounts so we would have livers and gizzards on the buffet. Typically, they went pretty well but not insanely fast. One day, we just couldn't keep the gizzard pan full which made no sense. There were only maybe six people in the dining room so unless they were big-time gizzard eaters, one full pan should have lasted a while.
I had the buffet worker put a fresh pan out and then watched as a woman walked up and filled a plate with an overflowing pile of gizzards. No big deal if she's actually eating that. It's her bum that will feel the pain later. As I kept watching, though, I saw her take the plate and dump all the gizzards in her purse.
I went to her table to confront her and said that the all you can eat buffet does not allow for takeout. She screamed at me and said I was accusing her of lying and stealing. I pointed out that her purse was wide open and I could see the quart-size Ziploc bag filled with gizzards. I grabbed the bag and threw them out while she screamed about never coming back.
#38 Hidden Camera
The Golden corral in the city where I went to college got shut down thanks to an employee. He found it odd that they made a busboy sign a non-disclosure form to work there. He found out it was because they were breaking just about every health and safety rule. They were serving meat that had gone green, they would leave food out overnight, the freezer once broke down for three days and they kept serving from it despite it being in the danger zone. He wore a hidden camera and gave the news the footage. It made me SO glad I never ate there.
#39 Shakey, Shakey
I have removed a human from a booth at a pizza buffet once. I have been in the kitchens of pretty much every major restaurant and the buffets are always bad. The only exception is a locally-run Chinese one. The owner is my hero; he runs a clean kitchen too. He 86s people constantly. We got called there with the PD when a customer faked a seizure after being kicked out. The owner was standing there saying: "Shakey, shakey, fat boy, you still pay."
#40 Digging Through Trash
The family was gone and I saw their dirty plates with napkins crumpled on top, so of course, I cleaned it up and bussed the plates. 15 minutes later, they come back and the mom started yelling at me in Spanish, so I got my co-worker to translate. Basically, her daughter's retainers were in the napkins and I already threw them away. She kept complaining about how they were $250+ so I literally had to dig through a huge trash can full of sludge for 15 minutes. Fortunately, I found them and the daughter thanked me. She seemed embarrassed that her mom made me dig through the trash.
#41 Fists And Lobsters
Not a worker, but I was in China for a vacation at a new buffet. I made the mistake going the first week, but my relatives were dying to go. There was a lobster station that served fresh steamed lobster. Any time a new tray came out, people would swarm it. Before they made a rule about how many you can have, people just grabbed as many as they could. This one table had about two dozen lobsters on their table for about six people. Some guy at the table would constantly bring back more and more and eventually, people got upset because it was just sitting there not being eaten. At least not yet. So a few people got in the group's face and started taking their lobsters. Within three minutes, a full-on fight breaks out. People were SWINGING hard and lobsters were flying over the place.
#42 A Wild Encounter
A family friend was once at a Golden Corral and took his young son to the men’s room. While he was in there, he heard two people getting frisky in one of the stalls. He took his son back to the table and then went back to the bathroom to confront the two people for being so inappropriate at a family restaurant. Well, out walks two men, the restaurant manager and one of his employees. He filed a complaint with corporate but I don’t know what the outcome was.
#43 David And Goliath
We were at a buffet place in the UK and my significant other, who is quite skinny and small, was looking at the salads section when an impatient larger guy just came, grabbed him by the shoulders and physically moved him out of the way. Not horrifying but just rude. My significant other was put off the rest of the meal and we ended up leaving.
#44 Health Hazard
One day, I went back to the fridge to get more grape tomatoes to put on the salad bar and I saw that three cartons in the box were COVERED in mold. I pulled the manager in the back and showed them because we were almost out, so obviously someone needed to run and buy some. He picked one up, looked at it and then told me to go to the mop sink and run each of them under hot water until the mold came off. He wanted to put them on the bar.
#45 She Really Tried It
My friend and I walked into a, fried chicken and other Southern staples. This one huge lady was sitting at one of those large round tables by herself. The table was covered in empty plates, at least five or six plates. He and I finished eating and started walking past the lady who was at the buffet again when she yelled across the room to the manager standing by the door: "Where's the freaking chicken?!" We were all kind of in shock that she would say that with families around, but he yelled back: "You ate it all!" People started to bust out laughing as we exited.
#46 Crabby Elvis
I used to work all-you-can-eat crab night at a place where a 600-pound Elvis impersonator used to come in with an entourage that would crack the crab legs for him so he could grab fist fulls of crab meat, dip his hands in bowls of butter, and stuff his face as fast as possible. He was very polite and tipped me very well, but it was horrifying to watch.
#47 My Skin Is Melting
Honestly, I worked in a decent buffet in Michigan and I never had a bad incident. Looking back, it’s honestly surprising. However, my horror story would be that my naive young self dipped my hand in our washing machine’s water tank. I didn’t realize how hot it would be. In less than a second, my skin burned and peeled off. I was wearing heat resistant gloves so I got out of it with a second-degree burn. But watching your skin disintegrate is pretty terrifying.
#48 Big Eater
I had a rather glutinous roommate during my freshman year in college. Mongolian BBQ offered all-you-can-eat. I never got it because it was way too much food. You get these bowls and fill it with whatever the heck you want and they cook it for you. My roommate was asked to leave because he was eating and drinking too much. My other friend and I were just in awe. I’d never seen someone eat so much so quickly. But as soon as we got to the parking lot he puked everywhere.
#49 Secret Ingredient: Soy Sauce
I was at a Chinese buffet with my family a few months back. This big dude was across from us at a booth with his mom (and he was probably middle-aged or older). Green hair, tank top. You can imagine his smell. I looked over and saw him with his half-full glass of fountain pop (something orange, I think FANTA) and he proceeded to take the soy sauce bottle and start pouring it into the pop.
And not just a drizzle, which would have been odd enough, but he filled up the rest of that cup and stirred it up with his chopstick. What I thought may have just been a weird way to waste the restaurant's resources before leaving turned out to be his next meal. He sat there and drank that whole dang thing.
#50 The Worst Kind
Not an employee, but at a Golden Coral once the was this family sitting near us and we were all sitting by the dessert bar. The kid, about 6 or 7, wanted some gummi bears. so he went to the dessert bar, grabbed the serving spoon of gummi bears and started eating off it like the bears were cereal, double-dipping several times. The parents were laughing and told him to stop, so he spit a mouthful of gummi bears out on the spoon and put it back.
The parents thought it was hilarious, but I was so grossed out. I told a food attendant what happened so she could replace the gummi bears with fresh ones because the parents definitely weren't going to. They got mad at me for "trying to get them kicked out." Whatever. It's common courtesy.