Saturday, January 17, 2009


Increasingly restaurants world over are switching over to the buffet format of service which, from the management angle, has many advantages. It requires less space, less servers, less time, entails less wastage and probably is more profitable. Traditionally Indians are used to being served whether it is in the restaurants or in their own dining rooms. In most festivals, ceremonies and celebrations serving individually by a battery of servers is the standard norm. It is only now that the buffet format is receiving attention because of cost factors, logistics and shortage of serving personnel, especially in urban centers. Is buffet system better than the formal serving system where clients are seated?. Does this shift from formal dinners to buffet dinners have any repercussions on the health of those who partake in such events frequently?. Obviously there seems to be some implications worth considering.

Formal serving can be on a frugal level or a royal scale depending on the occasion and the sponsor. The number of courses can vary from a working meal of 3-5 items or a lavish meal with 25-35 courses served by a bevy of serving personnel. While in the South, plantain leaves are commonly used for serving the meals, plastic, Chinaware and steel plates or stitched dry leaves are used by others. Serving is either squatting on the floor or on more formal occasions on tables. Buffet service involves arranging the items on one or more tables without any provision to keep the food hot when the number is small or using specially designed cheffing dishes, heated below for keeping the food hot during the entire period of serving. It is true that buffet arrangement is lot easier to manage and entails less wastage. There are caterers who can organize buffet service for large gatherings as big as 25000 at a single venue. From the consumer angle buffet provides a panoramic view of items available and choose only those liked by each individual. Even if a few items are exhausted, major items of foods will still be available keeping every one happy. Infrastructure requirement for buffet is significantly less and in urban societies buffet format is increasingly being adopted these days.

Social scientists believe that buffet meals can be a reason for over eating by many unintended participants and this factor needs to be kept in mind while discussing about the current obesity epidemic seen in many countries. Buffet format draws people with tendencies of over eating who do not exercise any caution while selecting food items 'paraded' before them and try to binge on every thing offered. Others first survey the entire range of items before them before deciding on only those which they like using their discretion. Another observation is that many diners unconsciously sit close to the buffet tables making them reach for more foods without realizing the harm such eating frenzy can cause. Good caterers position their own expert servers who do not give opportunity for the diners to transfer foods from the cheffing dishes thus trying to moderate the serving sizes unintentionally. How ever many obsessive eaters serve themselves unlimited portions as it is their right under the buffet system. Is it possible to redesign the buffet system to discourage people from eating more than what they really need? How about keeping the distance between the buffet tables and the eating place such that there is distinct disincentive in the form of walking some distance before accessing the food? Or reducing the size of the serving laddles/spoons which will prevent massive transfer from the cheffing dish to the plate more cumbersome? Or why not deliver the food in preformed trays with limited quantities of the items and diners will have to come to the food table if more is needed? The catering pundits, food scientists, social scientists and nutritionists will have sit together to tackle this global problem


No comments: