Who came up with the ‘all you can eat’ concept? It’s a very dangerous one, that’s for sure, for two (obvious) reasons. First, there’s the financial aspect. The price is fixed so that just one portion of rolled salmon doesn’t seem to make any sense – especially since the buffet is all pizza. But even with all-you-can-eat-pizza, eating just one slice is madness, when the unit price of one slice is a fraction of the buffet.
So, the more you eat, the cheaper it gets.
(Or, as with my old company which arranged a ‘bonus lunch’, the more I ate, the bigger my bonus).
That’s where the all-you-can-eat side speaks to your rational side. When you (and let’s be honest here, the ‘you’ of the story is really ‘I’) sit there, kind of full, your brain sends you the signals that make you count the beans, and your money. And you go for it, one last time.
But there’s also an emotional hook that the all-you-can-eat concept uses.
All. You. Can.
It’s a challenge, that’s what it is. All I can eat? You really want me to show you how many slices of pizza I can eat? That Mongolian buffet of yours ain’t big enough for me to show much I can eat. What is the record anyway? Then there are the people you’re at the restaurant with. It becomes a race where the one who finishes first, loses.
There is also a group of people who don’t think about the money, and who don’t do it for the pride, but who simply enjoy eating. The true food lovers are the artists of the buffet world, the ones who become heroes, legends, and popular patrons of the restaurants.
A few miles from the home of Jean Sibelius, the Finnish composer who died in 1957, there is a fine restaurant, with a name that J finds amusing every time we drive past it: Krapi. The restaurant is right in the middle of Finnish cultural history with the homes of Aleksis Kivi, Finland’s national author, Juhani Aho, another author, and Eero Järnefelt and Pekka Halonen, both painters, nearby.
Back in 1978, Krapi [Kruh-pi] had the finest of buffets in the Helsinki area. JT, an old friend of my father’s – “old” as in “a childhood friend” – had just suffered a heart attack, shocking everybody because he was just in his thirties. Sure, overweight, and sure, smoking, but still.
The first weekend after he had got out of the hospital, we all went to eat at Krapi’s. While driving there, our family in our car, and JT in his own behind us, we saw him lighting up a cigarette – and enjoying it. He even joked about it afterwards when my father asked him if he really should smoke.
And Krapi surely didn’t know how much one man can eat when they made their offer. It was an upscale restaurant, so the price was pretty steep to begin with – speaking loudly to the rational side of the brain. And the food was good, and JT was a pro, an culinary adventurer – unlike another friend of my Dad’s who took his own sausages to a beach vacation in Spain.
But JT ate. And then he ate some more. And then some. A little bit of this, and a little bit of that, and some of those potatoes, and a little more of that roe, and another slice of that black bread. And so on.
Until he excused himself, and left the table.
A minute later, he came back and continued to eat with at least the same vigor as before.
“I just had to make some more room,” he said, shaking a bottle of pills, his secret weapon against the all-you-can-eat places.
No, it was no eating disorder. It was simply a man, enjoying life, happy to eat even more than he could.