During lunch today, I was talking to my mother about what would be the ideal method of serving food during functions. She has always been a major proponent for sit-down lunches with food served in courses, while I was arguing in favour of buffets.
My mother’s argument is that people won’t feel free serving themselves at a buffet. She argues that we are culturally used to being served, to being pampered by hosts, and hence we would eat better if food was brought to our table rather than if we were to go to get the food. She says that in a buffet, a number of people feel hesitant to ask for a refill and the size of the plate (after all, it needs to fit on one hand) combined with this means that most people won’t eat well.
She mentioned in passing that holding out your plate asking someone to put food on it (enjil/jhoota fundaes mean that in most buffets in India there is someone next to the food who serves you) is seen by many people as being akin to begging, and that their “honour code” means that they don’t want to be seen asking for more.
I have several other arguments in favour of buffets, but what I talked about today was that at a sit down lunch, you need to eat in a hurry. Food is served in batches, and hence it is important that everyone finishes eating in good time; good enough time so that those that couldnt get a seat in this batch aren’t kept waiting for so long. The cooks who are serving the food take responsibility of ensuring that a “batch” finishes eating in good time. Rather, they decide when the batch is supposed to end and the cleaners then come in forcing people to wind up.
My argument is that in sit down lunches, the amount you eat is directly proportional to the speed at which you eat, given that the time for each batch is fixed. This implies that if you actually want to have a good meal, you need to eat in quick time, and hence won’t be able to savour it as well as you could. And if you want to savour every morsel and eat slowly, well, you can be rest assured that you won’t have your fill.
Then there is the trade-off between dishes. In a sit down meal, items are brought in courses, and a particular item is served only when it is “in course”. The way the cooks are organized means that it’s extremely tough for them to break course and bring something that only you wanted. Or go back and forth between different courses. More importantly, when you are eating something, you don’t know what is going to follow. Actually, given certain “conventions” you sometimes have a good idea as to what might follow, but no clue regarding the quality of the thing. This point is elaborated by Ravikiran in this blog post.
So my take on sit down meals is that you sit down and mechanically wolf down whatever the cooks serve you. The only choice you have is to waste some food. You need to predict the quality of an item as it is being brought, and then get yourself served the appropriate quantity. And you also need to keep in mind the several items that haven’t been brought yet, and also predict the quality of those.
In a buffet, there are no such problems. You go once and fill your plate with a bit of everything. Then you know what you like. And go again to get more of that. You can eat at your own pace, for there is no one waiting to grab your seat. You can savour every morsel as you ingest it. You even get to choose the order in which you can have the stuff. The only flip side is that each time you want something you might have to stand in a line. However, if the hosts have estimated the numbers and planned well, this too gets eliminated.
So what is your preference? What do you think makes more sense for a largish gathering? Please leave your comments here.