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How To Dominate A Buffet

by Meg · 25 comments

How to dominate a buffet

Being a backpacker on a limited budget, “all you can eat” basically means “eat as much as humanly possible so you can save some money on meals later”… or maybe even skip a meal or two altogether.

After countless meals of stale crackers on long bus rides through South America, whenever heaps and heaps of delicious food are presented in front of me, I take FULL advantage.

Now don’t get me wrong, buffets are NOT a regular thing for us… We are not that gluttonous! So before you judge, just remember that when I speak of buffet feasting, I am speaking of only a few occasions on our RTW trip.

Okay, let’s proceed…

In the beginning of our RTW adventure, whenever I was at a buffet, I was able to relate to the guy from Into The Wild when he kills the giant Moose and then realizes that he bit off more than he could chew…  The only difference being that he died of actual starvation, while I just feared dying of temporary obesity.

But I have since learned how to master many a buffet.  In fact, with some simple tricks up my sleeve, I now look at buffets as a challenge and can conquer them effortlessly.

While recently staying at the Sydney Harbour Marriott Hotel, Tony and I were invited for dinner to the hotel’s restaurant, Icons Brasserie.  To my delight, this restaurant featured an enormous and delicious seafood buffet for me to practice my new skills at.

Icons Brasserie Sydney Harbour Marriott Hotel

As such, I will take you through some tips on how to utterly destroy any buffet.

Get A Good Workout In Prior To Your Buffet Massacre

I always like to get in a good sweat session before eating at a buffet so I have more room in my stomach…That’s normal, right?

In order to fully prepare your mind and body for a buffet pig-out, a hard workout beforehand is your best ally.  Not only does working out rev up your appetite for a post-workout feast, but you may just feel that less guilty chowing down on your 3rd piece of cake.

Luckily, the Marriott had a perfectly equipped gym for my pre-buffet workout. I got such a good workout in that my heart rate was still up during our dinner and I felt like I was burning off my huge meal as I consumed it… its science.

Wear Stretchy Clothing

Do not go to a buffet with a new boyfriend/girlfriend and do not go to a buffet on a first date…. Why? Because there is nothing sexy about a buffet… Well, except the food of course.  Do not dress to impress.  Dress to eat.  Wear loose fitting comfortable clothes and go with someone who isn’t going to judge you for wearing your pajamas to dinner… or even better, go with someone who will join you on the dress code.

Do An Initial Walk Through

Buffets have a lot of food… That’s obvious.  But a really good buffet has a lot of VARIETY.  If you’re at a really good buffet, you can get overwhelmed by all our options.

For example, the buffet at Icons Brasserie not only had a cold and hot station, but they also had a raw bar of seafood, a made-to-order stir-fry station, an ENTIRE table dedicated to cheese, and about 20 different desserts… Now, this is what I call a buffet!

Icons Brasserie Sydney Harbour Marriott Hotel

An all you can drink wine bar?  Deadly…

To help your cause, do an initial walk through to eyeball all the food placed out in front of you.  In fact, don’t even bring a plate up with you during your walk through… You simply are window shopping.

Do Not Fill Up On Table Bread And Salads

People, this is not the time to eat healthy.  You are at a buffet for crying out loud!  So unless a salad at the buffet looks absolutely divine, steer clear and save some room in your stomach for those guilty pleasure foods.

I would also put cheese and crackers in this category as well, but on a case-by-case situation.  If the cheese looks gourmet and dynamite, go for it.  I personally gorged on some yummy gourmet cheese at Icons Brasserie, and I do not regret one sliver of it!

Do Some Hardcore Grazing On Your First Trip To The Buffet

I have a deep rooted fear at buffets that I will become full, only to discover that there was a deliciously tasty treat that I completely MISSED when I was eating heaps and heaps of some so-so food.  I try and mitigate this fear by sampling as much as I can (in very little quantities) during my first trip to the buffet.

Icons Brasserie Sydney Harbour Marriott Hotel

This allows me to discover my favorite treats early on in the buffet dominating process, so I can go back for more (while still having plenty of room in my stomach) later on.

Go Back For Your Favorites

Once you have done some initial grazing, it’s time to go back up to the buffet for round #2 and fill your plate as much as you want with all your favorites from round #1.

Icons Brasserie Sydney Harbour Marriott Hotel

The stir fry station at Icons Brasserie was definitely my favorite!

Save Room For Dessert

For me, the dessert course is the grand finale of my show.  I have a ginormous sweet tooth… And that’s a ginormous understatement.  Knowing this little fact about myself, I always make sure to not overdo it on the savory dishes… Because, when it comes to unlimited desserts, all is fair in love and war.

Since this is also the final course of the evening, you can throw all your chips on the table and go all in until your body physically will not let you go any further.

This is also where the window shopping comes into play.  If you do a thorough walk around the buffet prior to eating, you can get a feel for how much room you want to save in your belly for dessert.  How many delicious cakes and pies are on the table?  Do they have an ice cream bar?

Icons Brasserie Sydney Harbour Marriott Hotel

These are all questions you should have answered within the first 5 minutes of entering the restaurant… And certainly before you start eating.

At Icons, I actually went fairly light on the dinner course, because the dessert buffet was INCREDIBLE.  Warm bread puddings, fruit parfaits, Crème brûlée, pecan bars, chocolate tortes… They did not mess around.  I ate so much that I started getting weird looks from our waitress when I went back for a 3rd helping of dessert… What do you expect lady, you work at a buffet.

Icons Brasserie Sydney Harbour Marriott Hotel

This was just ONE of my dessert plates

If you have properly dominated a buffet, you will leave the restaurant full to the max, but ultimately satisfied. You will feel no regret for not having tried this or eating too much of that… And you certainly should not feel guilty about all the calories you just consumed (unless buffets are a regular thing for you).

After all, Buffets are all about TREATING YO’SELF!

Your Turn: Do you like buffets?  What are your tips for buffet domination?  Please share below in our Comments section!

Our experience at this buffet was sponsored by Marriot, but all opinions are our own.

About Meg
Exhausted from traveling every week as a Business Management Consultant early in my career, I took a year off in 2012 to travel at my own pace. I am a high-energy girl that loves being active, eating food, drinking wine, and exploring the world with my partner-in-crime (and husband), Tony! I now reside in Portland, Oregon and continue to write about travel, food, wine, and the awesome adventures we have in the Pacific NW!

photo by: jason.lengstorf
Josh | Traveling 9 to 5 November 30, 2012 at 1:21 pm



After daily buffets in the Galapagos and in the Amazon, I was so sick of eating! I know what you mean about taking advantage of it, and unfortunately that’s what I do every time, but two weeks straight of it and I may have finally been able to break the buffet curse. Well, at least until the next time I approach a buffet.

You tell that waitress what’s up too! IT’S A BUFFET!

Meg November 30, 2012 at 5:43 pm

Not sure if there are any buffets in Kauai, but if there are, I expect your game face Josh! haha I know what you mean though. On our honeymoon, we had one at the resort we stayed at and it was soooo good… But by day #3, I was just visiting the fruit and cereal bar. It was too much! hahah BTW we ALWAYS use that quote from Parks and Rec! I wasn’t sure anyone else would get the reference… Bravo!

Megan November 30, 2012 at 1:53 pm

i just seriously have no words.

but tony you look really good in that first photo! 😉

Meg November 30, 2012 at 5:43 pm


Stephanie - The Travel Chica November 30, 2012 at 5:29 pm

When I was traveling full-time, I totally went crazy when I splurged on a hotel and there was a breakfast buffet. I would go early in the morning, then go for a run, and then go back before the breakfast ended. Glad I’m not the only fatty.

Meg November 30, 2012 at 5:45 pm

haha I feel like you and I would be bestest of friends 😉

Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) November 30, 2012 at 9:00 pm

Interestingly, following a vigorous workout, I generally find my appetite is suppressed so I don’t think that first tip would work for me.

However, I have definitely learned here in Asia with the night markets that the best thing to do is do an initial walkthrough so that I make sure I know exactly what is on offer so I don’t fill up on lackluster options early on when I am ravenous. And really, when you think of it, aren’t these night markets really just one big open-air buffet?!? 😉

Meg December 1, 2012 at 12:13 am

I wish I didn’t have an appetite after a workout, but mine has always been wild afterwards! Oh my gosh we are in Australia right now where food is so expensive (and not nearly as good) and I miss the Asian street markets sooo much – with food that delicious and cheap, it is always an all-you-can-eat occasion! And yes, a walk through is key!

Michael November 30, 2012 at 9:25 pm

Awesome first picture lol.
I tend to go for all of the things that I usually don’t eat a lot of. Like sushi and lobster. I definitely try to avoid bread but I guess the rice in sushi doesn’t help either.

Meg December 1, 2012 at 12:08 am

haha that first picture was Tony’s idea. Ohhh I love a good all you can eat sushi bar. We went to a couple on this trip where there’s a conveyor belt that goes around the restaurant with plates of sushi and you can just pick up as many plates as you want when they come by your table…deadly!

JR December 1, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Meg, loved this article. I am very cautious around buffet. But the way you described this one and your approach is one for the ages. I have just dove in and regretted it later. I like the methodical process. Next time for me I will be very prepared.

Meg December 1, 2012 at 5:19 pm

haha when Tony and I are back in Boston, we will have to apply our new tricks at some local buffet… oOoO perhaps Fire & Ice after a show at Club Passim?!

JR December 2, 2012 at 1:01 pm

I will look forward to it. Speaking about Club Passim, we are there on Dec 21st and will miss you two this year for the Covers concert. My last memory at C.Passim with you and Tonz is trying to get that smelling guy to change seats with me so I could sit at your table…..

Emily in Chile December 1, 2012 at 2:52 pm

You had me at table dedicated to cheese.

Meg December 1, 2012 at 5:18 pm

I couldn’t resist it! We love our cheese – The stinkier the better! haha

Caitlyn December 1, 2012 at 3:47 pm

Oh, I love it! Another one to add to the list of those to avoid as they easily fill you up – soups. There’s so many Japanese buffet restaurants in Holland and I always knock myself out on the miso soup!

Meg December 1, 2012 at 5:17 pm

I love a good Japanese Buffet but I agree about the miso soup – It’s delicious to order with a sushi dinner, but at a buffet I would rather save my stomach space for some other treats! Soups are just so filling in general too!

Dave December 2, 2012 at 9:50 am

We have our first buffet coming up in a week when we get into Hanoi (splurging for a hotel to celebrate the new country), will keep these tips in mind!

Meg December 2, 2012 at 4:14 pm

OoOo I bet it is a good one! Enjoy!!!

Callie December 3, 2012 at 4:44 am

I haven’t met you guys, but I love you both! Great buffet-domination guide. The initial walkthrough is definitely key…

Meg December 3, 2012 at 4:59 pm

Thanks Callie! Hopefully we can all meetup someday and have a giant feast :-)

Russ March 18, 2014 at 2:45 pm

This is nothing to be proud of. “Sampling” is a health hazard and extremely rude. “Back packing” or deprivation is no excuse for this planned gluttonous behavior. I’m not a troll or the ettiquette police usually and i know it’s in poor taste to post negative comments but “sampling” can get a buffet shut down and is rude to others.

Tony June 25, 2014 at 1:39 am

Hey Russ! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’d love to learn more about why “sampling” is a health hazard. All we are doing is getting more food… not touching food items with used utensils.

Solanke damilare July 30, 2016 at 3:28 am

Thanks so much, all I need to know, time to work on my dress code and exercise, expectations I’ll be going with a potential life partner, and that made me tear up with a smile d mention of your crime partner (husband). Lol. I’ll do the same

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