Eating Some Jobs Along With Your Eggs and Bacon

Due to a pulled muscle and some cuts from a mishap, my right hand has been a bandaged, painful and clumsy paw this week. My injury did however give me some perspective on the downsides of hotel breakfast buffets. This was my early morning colloquy with a harried hostess at a hotel restaurant:

“We have a buffet”, she announced, in a bright tone that suggested that I had just won something.

“I know, but I would like to order something instead”, I responded.

“You don’t want the buffet?”

“No, thanks. Could you just bring me a vegetarian omelette and brown toast?”

“There are eggs and toast on the buffet” she said, almost pleading.

I then explained that I wasn’t trying to be difficult, but that I couldn’t use my right hand very well and was afraid that I would drop a plate full of hot food. She was very nice about it and put in my order.

The wait was a long one, and I don’t yet have the dexterity to easily read a newspaper, so I just watched people eat. It was quite a sight, as sleepy travelers piled their plates high, some doing so multiple times. This is not surprising: When given a wide range of choices, such as a well-stocked buffet, people tend to overeat. This is even more common when people are sleep-deprived or jet lagged, which can disrupt the functioning of the hormones that signal when to start and stop eating.

The other thing everyone was eating was jobs. Two staff members rocketed this way and that, pouring coffee and getting the checks for all the customers in the restaurant ($15 a crack for the buffet). No wonder they pushed the buffet: They don’t really have time to wait on anyone for more than a few moments.

If fewer frequent travelers meekly accepted the hotel buffet, hotels would have to hire more wait staff, which would lower unemployment. Overeating by travelers would be less common, which would benefit their health. That’s enough for me to resist the buffet from here on out and encourage others to do likewise, even if I don’t take the time to envision how much cooked but uneaten food is dumped into the trash in the nation’s hotels at the end of every breakfast shift. If you are willing to join the movement, please tip generously. Even though table orders typically cost slightly more than the buffet (mine was an extra two bucks), a buffet opt-out strategy will make things harder on wait staff by raising their workload in the short term until management wises up and hires more employees.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

9 thoughts on “Eating Some Jobs Along With Your Eggs and Bacon”

  1. In my admittedly limited experience with hotels that offer a breakfast buffet, ordering a cooked-to-order breakfast isn’t usually an option.

    1. I agree. I don’t like buffets. I’d rather sit and sip coffee and read the paper than stand in line or elbow other patrons while putting heat-lamp-dried scrambled eggs on my plate. But often there is no choice. Once I insisted on ordering from the menu, and the waitress simply went over to the buffet, loaded a plate with what I’d ordered, and brought it to me.

  2. Having gotten ptomaine twice from breakfast buffets, I wouldn’t eat anything that was not fresh cooked, preferably where I can see the cooking.

  3. Hotels put out a buffet because it is a cheap way to offer free food that satisfies most of their guests. What will you accomplish by demanding custom-cooked vegetarian omelets? Budget hotels are suddenly going to hire more help and run a free breakfast restaurant in the morning? I don’t usually eat the crappy eggs or dessicated sausages either — most buffets have fruit and cereal available — but when I make a hotel reservation that includes “free buffet”, I don’t think “Oh, goody, I can get a custom-made omelet served to me at my table.” Your indulgence is merely changing the terms of the reservation you made, and if enough people demand it the price will go up or the service will be stopped.

    There’s quite a sense of entitlement here. If you want a full, cooked-to-order breakfast, pay for a hotel that offers it. Don’t endanger the freebies for others who want to go cheap and still get fed.

  4. EMRVentures: Wow, did you miss the point, which is to create jobs in the service industry for people who are unemployed….whom I assume cannot afford even to stay in a budget hotel. Believe it or not, this isn’t about me (or you).

    And note also that the buffet in question in my post wasn’t free, you had to pay extra for it, as you do in most of the big chain middle grade hotels in the U.S. I thought the fact that the wait staff was bringing checks to the tables would have made it clear that the buffet wasn’t free, but nonetheless I have changed my post title and added the price explicitly to avoid any further confusion.

      1. No worries, and I apologize very sincerely if what I wrote the first time wasn’t clear. Peace Keith

  5. I must say that I like a good buffet breakfast. The core is the quite healthy North German/Scandinavian mixture: cold meats, cheese, bread, muesli, yoghurt, fruit, coffee. Unadulterated British tradition (high-cholesterol fryup) or Spanish (sticky buns) is in contrast severely limiting. The ideal is the buffet plus a short-order counter for a fresh fryup. In Brazil you can get tapioca pancakes there, recommended.
    In Dundee I once came across a buffet breakfast with Scottish fryup, porridge – and whisky, which Japanese golfers are apparently convinced is traditional.

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