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Buffet Guidelines

Written by Ken Frankel

For some travel destinations, particularly Las Vegas and cruise lines, the all you can eat buffet is one of the highlights of the trip. While on a cruise line, you do not have a choice of buffets, while in Las Vegas virtually every hotel has its own buffet and they are at various price points and quality. One of the most common questions for Vegas visitors is where is the best buffet? Later we will give more “Top Picks” for Vegas buffets, but for now, we wanted to also give readers some guidelines for evaluating buffets.

What is best for one is the not best for everyone. The primary differing factors are: (1) price points; (2) availability of seafood; (3) children’s pricing; and (4) child-friendly food options. All these factors are related. The more seafood a buffet has and the whether it is fried is one of the best indicators of buffet pricing. If you don’t like seafood, there is no reason to pay for the more expensive buffets. Children are often not seafood fans and the breadth of choice of pizzas, pastas, and the availability of things like mac and cheese, as well as the dessert selection, are important issues if trying to satisfy kids.

The primary costs factors in a buffet are seafood, meat, and the quality of those meats and labor. Labor costs are why the more expensive buffets have someone carving meats, cooking omelets, showcasing pasta stations, offering other cook-to-order options such as an Asian stir fry, or having someone make your salad fresh with your choice of ingredients.

If you want to know how much a hotel has invested in its buffet, the primary thing to look for is shrimp. Most buffets have shrimp, it is the type of shrimp that matters. The larger the shrimp the more expensive. Already peeled shrimp is more expensive than not. Raw shrimp is more expensive than breaded fried shrimp because people will eat more raw shrimp since there is no fried breading on top to make them feel full. Adding fried breading also makes the shrimp look larger than they actually are. The best buffets have large shrimp already peeled.

Similarly, the best buffets will have crab legs and many buffets do not have crab legs. Crab legs are like shrimp, the bigger the more expensive and the better buffets will have cracked the crab legs for you. The ones with better service levels will also steam the crab legs for you upon request.

Buffets with baked or steamed fish options such as sea bass, salmon, halibut, etc. are more expensive than buffets whose only fish option is fish and chips (fried cod) and maybe fried shrimp; the more exotic the fish and meat choices, the more expensive the buffet. The better buffets will tend to have fish options you might not have heard of and exotic meats such as wild boar, venison, or labor-intensive preparations like chicken wellington.

There are few buffets that serve lobster, but those that do tend to be the more expensive ones, and again, this is a reason that buffets like this might be the best for two single adults and not the best for families with children.

Look at the carved meat stations. First of all, do they have a carved meat station? The better ones do. Then, how many meats are they serving carved and what is the quality? The things to look for here are do they have prime rib and what is the quality of that prime rib? With turkey you need to try it, but turkey is hard to do well and keep moist. If your buffet serves up a moist turkey, you are in a good buffet. The really top buffets will have things like carved London broil and carved salmon.

As much as I love sushi, I would never eat sushi at a buffet, but again the better, more expensive ones tend to have sushi options and if you are going to eat sushi at a buffet, only eat at the more expensive ones. Sushi requires exacting labor-intensive preparations to be done properly and safely. It is more likely the higher-priced buffets have invested in this.

Desserts are cheap, and even lower quality buffets might have good tasting desserts because sugar makes all things taste better. The cheaper buffets will have soft serve ice cream machines. The better buffets will have multiple choices of flavors with someone scooping it for you and the really top ones will have gelatos with flavors like stracciatella.

Here’s another sign of a high end buffet: someone making either bananas foster or cherries jubilee right in front of your eyes. One level down will be buffets that have those items as self-serve and below that the buffets that lack them at all. The biggest thing to look for in dessert selection is how they present their cakes. If cakes are pre-sliced or they have someone serving you slices, this is a better buffet than ones that allow people to slice and then butcher the cakes themselves. One sure sign of a cheap buffet is looking at the cakes and pies and seeing that people have hacked them to pieces.

Let us know your Vegas buffet experiences or if you want us to review a particular place!

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