Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
A buffet is a meal-serving system where patrons serve themselves. It is a popular method of feeding large numbers of people with minimal staff.
One form is to have a line of food serving stalls and foods and customers take food they require as they walk along and pay at the end. This form is most commonly seen in cafeterias. Another form known as the "all you can eat" buffet has a set fee and customers can help themselves to as much food as they wish to eat. This form is found often in restaurants, especially in hotels. Another form is the Swedish Smorgasbord. In North America, buffets specializing in Chinese cuisine are common, as are ones for other ethnic and non-ethnic foods.
Buffets are effective for serving large numbers of people. They are also popular in that they give customers a great deal of choice and the ability to closely inspect food before eating it. Since a buffet involves people serving themselves, it is generally viewed as a less elegant form of dining.
While serving oneself at a meal has a long history, the modern buffet was developed in France in the 18th century, soon spreading throughout Europe. The term originally referred to the sideboard where the food was served, but eventually became applied to the form. The buffet became popular in the English-speaking world in the second half of the nineteenth century.
When the possession of gold and silver has been a measure of solvency of a regime, the display of it, in the form of plates and vessels, is more a political act than a gesture of conspicuous consumption. The 16th-century French term buffet applied both to the display itself and to the furniture on which it was mounted, often draped with rich textiles, but more often as the century advanced an elaborately carved cupboard surmounted by tiers of shelves. In England such a buffet was called a court cupboard. Prodigal displays of plate were probably first revived at the fashionable court of Burgundy and adopted in France. The Baroque displays of silver and gold that were affected by Louis XIV of France were immortalized in paintings by Alexandre-François Desportes and others, before Louis' plate and his silver furniture had to be sent to the mint to pay for the wars at the end of his reign.
During the 18th century more subtle demonstrations of solvency were preferred. A buffet was revived in England and France at the end of the century, when new ideals of privacy made a modicum of self-service at breakfast-time appealing, even among those who could have had a footman behind each chair. In The Cabinet Dictionary of 1803 Thomas Sheraton gave a neoclassical design and observed that "a buffet may, with some propriety, be restored to modern use, and prove ornamental to a modern breakfast-room, answering as the repository of a tea equipage "
In a 1922 housekeeping book entitled How to Prepare and Serve a Meal, Lillian B. Lansdown wrote:
- The informal luncheon or lunch—originally the light meal eaten between breakfast and dinner, but now often taking the place of dinner, the fashionable hour being one (or half after if cards are to follow)—is of two kinds. The "buffet" luncheon, at which the guests eat standing; and the luncheon served at small tables, at which the guests are seated....
- The knife is tabooed at the “buffet” lunch, hence all the food must be such as can be eaten with fork or spoon. As a rule, friends of the hostess serve... The following dishes cover the essentials of a “buffet” luncheon. Beverages: punch, coffee, chocolate (poured from urn, or filled cups brought from pantry on tray); hot entrées of various sorts (served from chafing dish or platter) preceded by hot bouillon; cold entrées, salads, lobster, potatoes, chicken, shrimp, with heavy dressings; hot rolls, wafer-cut sandwiches (lettuce, tomato, deviled ham, etc.); small cakes, frozen creams and ices.
- The informal luncheon at small tables calls for service by a number of maids, hence the “buffet” plan is preferable.
The introduction of the modern "all you can eat" buffet concept has been ascribed to Herb McDonald , a Las Vegas casino publicist who introduced the idea in 1946 at the El Rancho Vegas. In his 1965 novel The Muses of Ruin, William Pearson wrote, of the Las Vegas buffet:
- At midnight every self-respecting casino premières its $1.50 buffet—the eighth wonder of the world, the one true art form this androgynous harlot of cities has delivered herself of.... We marvel at the Great Pyramids, but they were built over decades; the midnight buffet is built daily. Crushed-ice castles and grottoes chill the shrimp and lobster. Sculptured aspic is scrolled with Paisley arabesques. The are, laid out with reverent artistry: hors d'oeuvres, relish, salads, and sauces; crab, herring oyster, sturgeon, octopus, and salmon; turkey, ham, roast beef, casseroles, fondues, and curries; cheeses, fruits and pastries. How many times you go through the line is a private matter between you and your capacity, and then between your capacity and the chef's evil eye.
- Pearson, William (1965). The Muses of Ruin. McGraw-Hill.
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