Back in December, my wife and I had a rare Saturday night out together to do some shopping. We headed to Mansfield and finished up our Christmas shopping. We were happy to have the time alone and were looking forward to dinner. We seldom go out to eat without our 6-year old, Harlie, in tow.
By the time we finished our shopping which always takes longer than I prefer it was way past time to EAT. In hindsight, we should have eaten earlier and should have decided where to eat ahead of time. There are many choices in Mansfield – far more than in Holmes County. We were both REALLY hungry by this time. We knew that at 7:00pm on a Saturday night, we’d face a lengthy wait to eat almost anywhere went. Our hunger apparently clouded our judgement and we threw caution to the wind and chose to eat at a large chain ‘buffet and grill’ restaurant. Why? Because it was close to where we were and there would be no wait. We usually don’t care to eat at buffets but, listen… We were hungry! Don’t judge us.
Had we forgotten WHY we don’t typically eat at buffets? Yes, yes we did.
However, within moments of walking in, I think we both began to regret our spur-of-the-moment decision. Our preconceptions about buffets began flooding back into our minds. What’s not to love about the smell of greasy, fried food or the sight of hordes of hungry people picking through trays of heat-lamp warmed food? Nothing unappetizing about the thought of ALL of the hands that have been who-knows-where touching who-knows-what using the same serving utensils that you’re about to, right?
But maybe this time would be different. Maybe we’d change our minds about buffet dining.
Our first stop was the short line to get our drinks and pay for this delightful experience. I may have already been slightly hypersensitive to everything but as we got in line I immediately started getting strong hints of someone’s unapologetic body odor.
This is not starting out well.
We were up! It was our turn to order drinks and pay. I watched as the speedy cashier lady filled our drink order in a rush with speed and sloppiness and then slammed them onto the counter spilling the sugary liquid down the side of each glass. Then I pay the $30 some dollars for the two of us.
What? When did this get so expensive?
We found our seats. Then it was time to go get plates, utensils, napkins and get ready to line up at the trough.
Freshly prepared foods like the fish, chicken and shrimp are is hard to get when it’s brought out and dumped into the heated trays. A bit of a mad dash happens when these hot commodities are presented. It’s like bees swarming a garbage can full of empty pop cans or lemonade cups on a hot August day.
I patiently waited as the fresh food is mercilessly moved around and picked through with the tongs by every individual ahead of me. I can’t help wondering about the personal hygiene of each person who touched those tongs before me. I’m not a germaphobe – I’m really not – but it’s pretty gross to think about the probable lack of cleanliness of others.
Then there are the pans of crusty, nearly unidentifiable entrees that have most likely been there under the heat lamps for hours. I wonder what fun strains of bacteria linger there. I don’t even want to know!
In my two trips to the buffet, I wanted to get those most out of my portion of the 30-some bucks I just paid so I opted for the fried chicken, shrimp and fish. I added a couple of dinner rolls but no side dishes because none looked even a little appealing to me. My wife initially tried to find healthier foods but the puny, messy salad bar offered nothing that wasn’t picked over, dried up or wilted. She managed to snag a grilled chicken breast, some green beans, some corn, a grease-soaked hush puppy and some potato side dish (at least that’s what it looked like.)
Thankfully, we didn’t have a need for empty plate removal. I’m not even sure if our waitress introduced herself. She never asked if we needed anything or refilled our drinks. Fortunately, though, she stayed in our section the entire time and stayed busy – busy chatting it up with a guy and his buddies. From what we could hear, the guy was really working hard at becoming her boyfriend. I guess there was once that she came and took our empty plates. But when she did, she just placed them with the other stacks of dirty dishes on the table behind ours that had never been cleared from before we even arrived. She didn’t have time to clear that table and take the dishes to the kitchen; she had to get back to the table with the guy and sit down and flirt some more.
It was time for dessert! That’s always a good thing, right? I grabbed an empty plate and headed to the dessert buffet. I slowly walked all the way around the dessert area twice and it looked as if the pans had been thoroughly ravaged by the customers that were ahead of me. Disappointed, I walked back to our table with my empty plate and sat down. My wife asked, “What’s wrong?” I said, “I’m done.” I was defeated.
We sat there across from each other and I asked, “Why did we do this?” Looking side to side and again scanning the buffet and the other customers in the restaurant, my wife replied, “I have NO idea!” At that moment we made a pact – even shook on it – we agreed to never eat at a buffet again. Deal? Deal!
So will we ever eat at a buffet again? I don’t know for sure. You never know what situations will arise in life but I can say that we’ll probably exhaust all other options before we do!