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Buffet Dining Will Destroy Your Marriage

Another night at the buffet. (Image source: M. Bielanko)
Another night at the buffet. (Image source: M. Bielanko)

My ex-husband/current boyfriend (yes, he’s the same person, and it’s a long story) and I have a long history of buffet dining. We’re admitted buffet people.

Our attraction probably stems from growing up poor. Buffets are unbelievably alluring to someone who, as a child, squirreled away cans of SpaghettiOs in her underwear drawer for those desolate few days at the end of each month when we ran out of food and had to live on Grandma’s canned peaches and powdered milk to make it to the next food stamp delivery.

During our marriage, Serge and I spent several years living in Utah, the world capitol of buffet dining, home of the Golden Corral, Chuck-a-Rama and several other buffet knock-offs featuring all manner of meat and cheese and carbs and the dessert mothership wherein you control your own ice cream intake! There’s something about paying $5.99 for an endless plate that gets your adrenaline pumping and, by God, you are determined to not only get your money’s worth, but eat enough for ten people to get their money’s worth. Mountains of mashed potatoes, a knife-wielding man at the roast beef ready! It’s the American dream, dammit! The land of milk and honey. And chocolate milk and Jell-O. For $5.99 before 5PM!

We were both immediately all in. I can’t be sure if our buffet fever was an early red flag indicating the end of romance and the beginning of our weighty waltz with depression-eating and separate sleeping or if the fact that our united desire to eat until we’re sick for far less than the cost of a single movie ticket was a sure sign of soul-mate status. Either way, we started our buffet journey as a childless couple on the prowl for ‘tatoes and gravy, then ate our way through my first pregnancy and never looked back.

Three kids later and the siren song of the buffet still rings loudly in our ears. You can imagine our excitement when we discovered a reasonably-priced buffet featuring “Asian cuisine” when we moved to central Pennsylvania. The food is OK, not terrible, not amazing. But it’s a buffet! Better still, on Monday evenings, kids eat free. Sold!

Buffets are really the only restaurants that make sense, you’d think, once you’ve joined the ranks of parenthood and have several loud, picky mouths to feed. You can slap plates of mac & cheese or chicken strips in front of them very nearly the second you walk in the door. This, as opposed to waiting forever to order and get your food which, every parent knows, requires you to knock yourself out entertaining the little ones to the point of exhaustion (yours not theirs) and by the time your food finally arrives you’re sweaty and tired and oh my God why do we try to do anything with this crew can we just go home already? Also? No sex tonight, I HAVE A HEADACHE.

Avoiding the wait is the big plus with buffets. But, therein also lies their inherent problem for parents: YOU have to serve your kids. Which mean if you have three kids like we do, including a wriggly little guy in a highchair that you can’t leave unattended or all hell will certainly break loose, the two of you are tag-teaming and never the twain shall meet.

It’s a frazzled food flamenco featuring me and him whirling back and forth, from table to buffet, serving children and eating bites that ends up being anything but enjoyable. Serge sits down with kids and gets them situated while I rocket away to get the older two plates of the stuff they like. By the time I return, poor Serge is verging on starvation, so I tell him to go get food and I’ll sit with the kids. I try to feed the baby and meanwhile Serge returns with his plate of food. Finally. Now it’s my turn to grab a plate. But first — Violet wants that thing she sees on Dad’s plate! And Henry dropped his shrimp on the floor and is threatening mass tear invasion.  So I go get them what they’re asking for, fill up my plate as quick as I can. And by the time I’m sitting down to eat, Serge has finished most of what’s on his plate and Henry has to go to the bathroom. So Serge kindly takes Henry to the bathroom.

You get where this is heading.

By the time Serge gets back I’ve finished my first plate and now Violet wants more so I get Violet seconds and by the time I return Henry wants seconds and then I go for my second plate and my the time I return Serge is done with his plate and is standing up to grab something else and we kind of wave hello and then the kids start demanding dessert so I wait for Serge to return so I can grab some ice cream and after what feels like a sweaty hour of waitressing, it’s time to leave.

The kids? They love it. Why wouldn’t they? They get whatever they want, including dessert, and nobody’s using starving children in third-world countries as motivation to clean their plates because not even we want to think about the metric tons of waste that go down at a buffet. Frankly, we’ve speculated on more than one occasion; does it really go to waste or does it end up back on the buffet? Maybe the word casserole is Italian for reincarnation?

So the whole buffet scene is exhausting and soul-sucking and we don’t even see each other let alone eat our food at the same time. And yet we keep on keeping on. At this point it’s a buffet addiction. Or maybe we’re just cheap? Probably that.

We really try to get out and about though, you know? We’ve been on the toddler scene for a long time now and have learned that even though going out often feels like a huge hassle and usually ends up being more trouble than it’s worth, it’s important to get out for ourselves and to teach our kids how they’re supposed to behave in public. But, man, it ain’t easy.

Oh. By the way… No sex tonight because I ate too much and I have a stomachache!

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