25 things you need to watch out if you don’t want to be a buffet boor!

This is scheduled to appear on Valentines Day and eating out is a favoured way of celebrating this day. Maybe, despite the current nasal plague, you will find yourself at a Valentine’s Day Buffet and be very glad that you read this today, by way of a timely reminder. If you are reading this on some other day, be sure that this will change your life, or maybe even your wife, therefore study it diligently through to the end.

Kid with buffet hit at a christening party

Buffets are a modern and popular way of doing “HoReCa”, which is a sigle for the Hotel, Restaurant and Catering industry. They enable larger numbers of people to obtain food from a larger selection for a single per head fee. You will often see these at business mixers, conferences, training events, even weddings, bar-mitzvahs and funerals.

Done well, they can be a very elegant, efficient and even economic way of sharing food, however, as with any social event involving human beings, you’ll always find a minority spoiling things for the majority. And, here’s the thing, they don’t always know they are doing it! They wonder why people are not speaking to them, or not inviting them back for other events, or even calling the police to have them removed.

I have therefore compiled a handy list of twenty does and don’ts, I have to say mainly don’ts, which will help you attend a buffet without getting “buffeted for your faults”, as the Apostle Peter puts it.


Do’s and don’ts


  1. If there’s a queue, don’t jump it. There is a place for jumping, but queues are not that place. “Queue” means “line”, if you are American.  Americans also don’t do line jumping but they do do line dancing, so be prepared for that.
  2. Once you have charged your plate with a reasonable amount of food, do move away from the area in order not to cause congestion.  This is common in venues which are really too small for the event they are hosting, but it also happens at spacious venues if the people concerned are unawared that they are supposed to be sharing planet Earth with their peers. Some people’s mothers did not tell them this, but we can be a mother to them and tell them that it’s a good idea to budge along a bit.

  3. If there are platters for vegans, or food allergy people, do only take from them if you are in that group, unless it is close to the end and you’re sure they won’t need them. It’s a dirty trick by greedy pigs to analyse what some other people can’t eat in the company and come to that last, but go first to the only stuff those people can eat. Don’t be like that. Do as I say, not as I do.

  4. Don’t hog all the best things because you were lucky enough to be near the front of the queue.

  5. Don’t pile your plate high, even if you can eat it, it’s not a competition to see who can demonstrate the largest appetite.

  6. Don’t take more than you can eat – the best known and, if you like, cardinal buffet sins. We call this the cardinal buffet sin because I hear they do it quite a bit.

  7. Do take the cutlery at the right point in the queueing process (see point 1. above) and handle it appropriately. If you are not sure you can handle the food in mod air without dropping it on the floor, take it to one of those tables (in mixer situations). Then ask the people who are already round that table if you can join them. Then use the cutlery with the proper hands and don’t wave the cutlery in the air. Do be aware of the special rules regarding hashi or chopsticks and in particular don’t stab the food, or your fellow diners, with the sticks.

  8. Don’t handle the food with your fingers. The expression “finger food buffet” doesn’t refer to fingering everyone else’s food, for your information. So if you have already taken something, don’t put it back.

  9. Don’t maul the collective food even with the tongs.

  10. If you have to cut cheese, do know how to cut it in a civilised way, with a “nez” and not straight on like some kind of Philistine. And even if it is Gorgonzola, it’s no excuse for behaving like Medusa.

  11. Don’t “cut the cheese” in the informal sense of that expression either. It rarely enhances the ambiance around the buffet. If it does enhance it, you’re at the wrong buffet and should probably leave the zoo while you can still do so under your own agency.

  12. If you are no good at cutting bread, don’t do it. If you do want to cut bread, handle the loaf through the cloth provided. That’s what it is there for, in case you were wondering.

  13. Likewise don’t sneeze, cough, spit, share your Covid-19 droplets, or leave your dirty plates and cups around the food. Don’t share cutlery with someone you don’t know: they may have paradontosis.

  14. Do leave the dirty plates, glasses and cutlery in the place provided or give them to the waiter. Especially don’t leave glasses in places where someone could accidentally break them and cut themselves. Even if it is a Jewish wedding, which does break them on purpose, the glasses which are to be broken are all under control. If you are unsure whether you are at a Jewish wedding, ask “is there a tent and a big piece of parchment with decorative writing on it?” if not, then it’s probably not a Jewish wedding, but even if it is, then the advice in this point still applies.

  15. If the idea of the buffet is a social event, then bear that in mind and do use it as a means to the end of getting to know people and don’t live for food like some modern Epicurian.

  16. If you have a buffet arrangement as part of a job interview then do bear in mind you are still on parade during this time and someone is likely watching your savoir-vivre and true character which tends to come out when the trough opens before certain people’s snouts.

  17. Do use the cloakroom (by which I mean the place you leave you coat and bags, not a posh word for toilet) especially if it is a standing buffet. Don’t have people tripping over your briefcase, and don’t knock someone’s plate or glass out of their hand with your stupid backpack. And yes, they are very stupid in the context of buffets.

  18. If you are the host, or an employee of the hosting company, do stand back and give the best of it to the guests. This procedure is known as FHB, or “family hold back”.

  19. Don’t juggle with too many containers or items of cutlery, and don’t take risks with other people’s carpets.

  20. If it’s a restaurant, don’t take the food out unless it was all paid for by the event organisers and would just go to waste, in which case you should indeed take some to go but always check with the restaurant’s manager. If it’s an in-house do, do make sure any decent left-overs are saved for those colleagues who couldn’t attend the event.

  21. Don’t gatecrash if you are not supposed to be there or try to weedle other unexpected guests in at the last minute. Likewise if you are expected but know you cannot attend, try to give the organisers some notice, the more the better.

  22. Do be polite to the wait staff and the cloakroom attendant, including being aware of and adhering to the tip culture of the place you are, remembering that thou also wast a cupbearer in the years of thy study.

  23. Don’t hog one person if it is a networking buffet, cramping their style, but rather circulate.  Do “work the room”, and develop some elegant ways of rounding off conversations. If you tell someone you have to go home and they see you chatting away to someone else ten minutes later, you can well imagine what conclusion they will come to and what they will think. Better is to say “I promised such and such to catch up with him/her this evening, please excuse me”.

  24. Don’t forget your business cards for social buffets and don’t forget the follow-up in mail or phone afterwards. Don’t worry if you don’t meet everyone. I usually leave when I have ten cards even if I could get more. Good follow up on ten cards is better than thirty cards with poor follow up.

  25. Do have some regard for your health. If you are on a diet, the abundance of quality free food is not reason enough to abandon it. I like to walk home afterwards, weather and safety permitting.  Should you have abandoned your planned eating regime for social reasons, that is understandable, but do get back with the programme as soon as you walk out of the door.

Bonus point – That was all 25 points but there is one special one. Remember the maxim, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” so if your conference happens to actually be held in Rome, don’t forget to eat lying on one side but despite what you might think, don’t make regular trips to the vomitoriumThis article will show you why not.

Question as answered: What are some buffet “etiquette tips” you wish more people would use?

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My Credential for this answer: “I have eaten a lot of food”.