Buffet strategy

In the breakfast buffet queue you can always spot those on their first day of holiday.

They’re the ones whose nose doesn’t look like craft paste that’s dried funny on a wrinkled piece of red paper. They’re the ones with suitcase creases still ghosting their brand new nautical striped shorts.

They’re the ones who stand like Bambi at the edge of the forrest, bewildered by the cornucopia before them and unable to stride ahead and make that first, decisive strike.

They’re the ones who are about to be moved sideways by a swift yet subtle elbow, so the experts can come to the fore.

I’ve learned from the best.

Making the most of a breakfast buffet is both an art and a science- and there’s no room for amateurs.

It’s taken six holidays and five years for me to sit through an entire breakfast buffet across from the Hungry One. I say sit across in a lighthearted way. Because for a true expert like him- there’s not a lot of sitting involved.

In the beginning I used to leave and claim the chairs by the pool after about half an hour and three trips up and down. But then I started to watch. And learn. And now I’m happy to pass on some of his wisdom. Sun Tzu has nothing on my husband.

First you have to know your terrain. The sensible take a lap or two to scope out the environment, just in case it changes day to day. Where are the pastries? Where is the yogurt? Where is the juice? What’s the special? Where have they tucked the delightful fellow flipping omelettes? And most importantly- how far away is that station from the toaster?

Then it’s time to grab a juice and start formulating a plan. Sit down. Know your enemy. Smile at the waitstaff. Take the time to investigate your beverage options. Don’t just assume you’re limited to tepid tea and boilerplate coffee. There could be espressos and banana smoothies. There could be freshly squeezed spirulina. There could be hot chocolate with marshmallows and more than that- you could be missing it.
The experts know- you have to be in it, to win it.

Then it’s time for the most fundamental part of the planning.

Create complete plates out of the produce available.

Treat the buffet like your very own ready steady cook…

But have some strategy. Have some sense.

Would you normally put baked beans as a side to a praline pastry? Would you normally have a side of watermelon snuggling with your sausages? Probably not. So don’t start here.

So here we go. Your first plate is probably going to be savoury. Pick your eggs. You can usually judge the standard of a place by their poached eggs and whether they’ll do them to order. If they do- then go for it. Get two going and use the three minutes up your sleeve to source some carbohydrates. Put them in the crazy toaster conveyor belt. Go sniff out the smoked salmon in the strangely Scandinavian cold meat section. Start to source out a cheese board. Find the cream cheese hiding in the back . Find the grilled tomato. Grab your toast. Grab your eggs. Make a plate. Bam. You’re on fire.

A similar principle will apply to omelettes and baked beans, mushrooms and hash browns.

Done. But be sensible- choose either omelette’s or eggs. Not both. It’s about strategy, not complete gluttony.

Then you’ve moved on. It’s the sweet carbohydrates time to come to the front of the class.

Now here’s a secret. There’s a question you want to have running through your head; if this was on a menu, would I order it?

If your plate starts to read like a listing of ‘pancakes, french toast, hash browns and kiwi fruit and a tub of yogurt, with an afterthought of maple syrup’ you know you’ve lost the plot and the point of the exercise.

In some of the best cases of the sweet carbohydrate zone it could be bircher muesli, yogurt and fruit. Put them together and you’ve got another plate. But stop- are there some flaked almonds over with the cheese you can add? Some berry coulis that was meant for the pancakes that you could swirl on top and take it to the next level?

Or could you be toasting some coconut bread, or picking out some pancakes or french toast and topping it with a banana you’ve sliced and a little bit of vanilla yogurt and raisins?

Then it’s the fruit plate. Put a little bit of yogurt and honey on the side and dip it.

Now, don’t get too pleased with yourself and go crazy at this point. If you haven’t committed at the start to an asian themed breakfast, don’t suddenly think dim sum and congee are a good addition to the journey. Trust me. You’ll regret it and end up with a sad little salty plate sitting to the side, mocking you and your cutlery too.

Instead it’s a pastry or two to nibble from a fresh plate while you finish your coffee. The fresh plate is important. The last thing you want is your croissant glugging about in a sticky river of pink watermelon sludge.

Then it’s the final hurdle; the art of smuggling a banana , an apple and a couple of rolls or muffins into your handbag, so you can have a little bit later at lunch.

And that’s the sign of a true buffet expert. Take it from one who’s learned from the very best.

At the end of the day the winner will be determined by not how much you can eat for breakfast. But by how little you’ll need to eat for lunch.

Game on.

  1. At our last breakfast buffet, Oakwood, Tokyo, we got stuck at boiled eggs.

    The eggs came with a long stainless steel pole on an upside down stainless steel egg cup and a ss ball that slides up and down the pole.

    Nathan discovered it was for cracking the egg shell and if done properly it would break the egg in half to start eating.

    We all had to eat boiled eggs for the whole week. And the only way he would get out of the room was thinking of the egg breaker downstairs.

  2. so true tors! you can make those breakfast buffets fund two meals if you time it well. but controversial on the savoury before sweet call…

  3. Tori, you are truly an inspiration to us all. I almost feel like printing, laminating and following this like it’s my new religion. Hang on, feel like, or must do?!

  4. Why on earth didn’t I read this before my long weekend?
    I think I faired pretty well, considering I didn’t have The Art of Buffet to hand.

    However I do find that I tend to hit the fruit and yoghurt (and maybe a small dollup of bircher muesli) first. And this is because of what I somewhat unfairly call ‘The American Tourist Factor’. Said loud and creased shorts people are usually cramming the hot food section or accosting the omelette fellow, and perhaps I’m not deft enough to use the swift elbow, but I usually find the fruit section is free for this Buffet Bambi!

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