The Most Disgusting Things About an All-You-Can-Eat Buffet

Golden Corral. Old Country Buffet. Sizzler. Olive Garden’s Endless Pasta Bowls. Despite being the butt of many jokes, it seems like all-you-can-eat (AYCE) buffets are more popular as ever. People looking for a good bargain appreciate that they can pay one price and stuff themselves to their heart’s content, creating bizarre combinations of every conceivable food and then going back for seconds (and thirds and fourths). Originally started in Sweden, buffets came to the United States by way of Vegas, where they’re still in high demand.

But just below the surface lurks a few flat-out gross practices, including some foods you should never choose at the buffet (at least if you don’t want to get food poisoning). These disgusting facts about AYCE buffets may make you think twice about dining there ever again.

1. They leave dirty dishes sitting out on purpose.

It’s a trick to increase their profits. | Paul Michael Hughes/ iStock / Getty Images Plus

Researchers found that people were less likely to keep making trips to the buffet if there were dirty dishes sitting out on the table. Because of this, some money-savvy restaurant managers encourage the busboys to leave plates sitting out to dissuade restaurant patrons from eating up all the food — and the profits.

Next: Other people don’t practice proper hygiene.

2. People don’t wash their hands.

Think of all the dirty hands reaching for those appetizers. |

It’s gross, but true: people, including other diners at the buffet and employees, just don’t wash their hands. And those are the same individuals who are putting their hands all over the serving utensils, touching the stack of plates, and sticking their hands into the bread basket. It’s easy to spread germs anywhere. At a buffet, the problem is multiplied tenfold.

Next: The serving utensils are also to blame.

3. There are no regulations for the serving utensils.

Cuisine Culinary Buffet Dinner Catering Dining Food Celebration
Who knows where those utensils have been. | Jure/Getty Images

The good news: Regulations state that if a serving utensil from a buffet falls on the ground, it must be replaced with a clean one.

The bad news: That’s where the regulations end.

Even though utensils used during food prep need to be switched out every four hours, no such rule exists for serving utensils in the buffet line. So the same spoon can be used for an entire day, passing through countless numbers of (probably unwashed) hands. Yuck.

Next: They want you to fill up on rice.

4. They’ll trick you into eating the cheap stuff.

Oven baked potatoes pieces
They fill diners up with starches first. |

You may wonder how AYCE buffets manage to break even, much less turn a profit, when they’re serving up unlimited amounts of food for one set price. The answer is a bit of psychology.

The next time you visit a buffet, pay close attention to how it’s arranged. Restaurants will always set up cheap and filling carb-heavy dishes (think rice and potatoes) in the beginning so you fill up your plate — and your stomach — before you reach the expensive meats. One study found that 75% of diners picked the first item offered in a buffet line, regardless of what it was.

Next: You’ll probably eat too much.

5. They encourage gluttony.

woman eating fruit cake
When the portions are unlimited, you probably end up eating too much. |

Americans get a bad rep for overconsuming just about everything, from energy to food, and AYCE buffets certainly don’t help to dispel this stereotype. Constant overindulgence leads to issues such as obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and tons of other avoidable health problems.

Next: Even good people go savage at buffets.

6. A buffet can bring out the worst in people.

large buffet
Some diners will get greedy at buffets. | Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Reddit users shared their most disgusting AYCE buffet stories, and Habs16 had this frightening tale:

“We went to an all you can eat pizza place. For dessert they had these really tasty sticky buns that were in big demand. So me and my dad are in line to get one and once they put them out some big guy at the front of the line literally just picked up the whole tray and walked back to his table, it was like 30 cinnamon buns. Nobody else at his table.”

Next: There wasn’t always a sneeze guard.

7. The sneeze guard is fairly recent.

An IKEA employee serves the new IKEA vegetarian meatballs
Think of how many germs would be on your food without the sneeze guards. | Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Sneeze guards are thankfully a legal requirement for any buffet, but they only just came about in the early ’60s — a full two decades after buffets became popular. They were invented by Johnny Garneau, a buffet restaurant operator who was horrified at the idea of people sneezing and breathing germs into the food. And they do work pretty well, even if they don’t protect you from individuals who duck underneath to get a good look at the food.

Next: A lot of food ends up in the dumpster.

8. They can be wasteful.

Take away of natural organic food
Leftovers go in the trash. |

Buffet owners pay close attention to what gets thrown away at the end of the night — that’s a huge factor in how they manage costs and save money. But even the most careful calculations are still just a guess. Any food that’s leftover when the restaurant closes must be tossed in the trash.

Next: You might even puke.

9. It may literally make you sick.

white bowl filled with spaghetti with lemon and basil
You can definitely have too much of a good thing. | Passion for Pasta

Overeating leads to an uncomfortable feeling of fullness … or worse. Redditor gensix shared this cautionary tale:

“When I worked at Olive Garden someone had SIXTEEN (16) bowls of the never ending pasta. They threw up in the lobby”

Next: The food might make you ill.

10. You can easily get food poisoning.

Man in a tank top
Is it worth the risk of food poisoning? |

Certain foods, especially egg-based or seafood dishes, need to be kept at the proper temperatures so you don’t get sick from eating it. You should definitely avoid eating sushi at the buffet. To minimize your risk of consuming spoiled food, only eat at buffets where food thermometers are present — and make sure they’re being monitored by the staff.

Next: The food warmers may be to blame.

11. Food may not be kept at the proper temperature.

Costco wedding hot dogs
Letting food sit out isn’t a good idea, but it happens. | Channel 9

Per FDA regulations, hot food should be kept at 140 degrees or warmer. Meanwhile, buffet warmers are only designed to keep your food at temperatures between 110-120 degrees.

Next: You never know how old the food is.

12. The food can sit out for hours.

Samples at a food festival
Who knows how long the food has been sitting there. | Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images.

If you must dine at a buffet, plan on arriving right when they open to guarantee your food is fresh. If you show up at the tail end of a mealtime or close to closing, all the good food may be gone, and whatever is left will have been sitting out for three or more hours.

Next: Have you seen behind the kitchen doors?

13. There’s probably a big mess in the back.

kitchen in modern building
Don’t expect the buffet kitchen to look like this. |

One Reddit user who used to work at a Golden Corral shared a photo of just how messy the kitchen can get. The constant stream of customers paired with a full day of food prep makes for a serious mountain of filthy dishes. It’s unsanitary at best, and dangerous at worst.

Next: This spot hosts the most bacteria.

14. The lemon wedges are full of bacteria.

Fresh slice lemon
Avoid the lemon wedges at all costs. |

A study by ABC found that one of the germiest places in any restaurant — buffet style included — is on the lemon and lime wedges. These drink enhancers are covered in E.coli and fecal matter. Yeah … that’s literally poop.

Next: Don’t eat the chicken.

15. The chicken is worse than fast food quality.

Breaded Chicken Tenders
There’s a reason it’s so cheap.|

Most buffets don’t serve top quality food for obvious reasons — because it would cost way too much money. Since chicken is one of the most popular options in the buffet line, AYCE buffet restaurants reduce costs by opting for sub par chicken. That’s worse than what you’d get in the drive-thru lane.

Read more: These Are the Most Disgusting Things That Happen on Cooking Shows