OPINION: Delight when 'all you can eat' restaurants get their comeuppance
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As we rapidly approach the season when we are positively encouraged to eat until we explode, spare a thought today for a man called Mr Kang from China, who has been banned from his local ‘all you can eat’ restaurant – for eating all he could.
Apparently the hungry diner was shown the door after he took the barbecue seafood buffet restaurant in Changsha City at its word – and accepted the challenge of scoffing until he could take no more.
During various visits he downed huge amounts of food each time, including nearly 4kg of prawns and 1.5kg of pig’s trotters, washed down with up to 30 bottles of soy milk. The shocked restaurateur told his local paper that he was losing cash hand-over-fist every time Mr Kang darkened his door.
It’s hard to feel too sorry for the proprietor, though; if you encourage your customers to eat as much as they can, you can hardly complain when they take you at your word.
These kind of restaurants are more common in the Far East, but they do exist here. And while they might seem good value at first sight, there are good reasons for giving them a wide berth.
To understand why, you have to grasp the basic economics of running a restaurant.
In general, the food on your plate costs approximately a third of what you pay.
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Another third is accounted for by staff costs, and the final third is rent, rates, insurance, crockery, furniture, advertising, cleaning and the many other fixed costs restaurants have to pay before they even open their doors.
There is a place in this part of the world which offers such a deal for £17.99 – it’s website actually uses the words ‘all you can eat’. So on the basic ‘rule of thirds’, the ingredients for your extensive feast can cost no more than £6.
Given that you are actively encouraged to pile your plate high and go back for more, how good quality do you think the food you are gorging on can be?
With such a small budget to play with, do you reckon the chicken in your curry is going to be reared to the highest welfare standards, or produced in a tiny cage in the cheapest way possible?
Will your fish be caught in a sustainable way, or bottom-trawled in enormous catch-all nets? Is your pudding going to lovingly made by hand, or produced industrially in a factory where cost-cutting is the mantra?
But even though basic economics determines that if you eat in one of these places your food is going to be poor quality, that is not my major gripe with them.
We live in a world where too many people rely on food bank handouts to feed their families. It just seems obscene that at the same time we are accepting of a restaurant concept which positively encourages its customers to eat to excess, far beyond what their body either needs for nutrition, or wants for pleasure.
It is also commonplace for diners at these places to pile their plates high and then not finish the food they have taken, leading to unnecessary food waste.
Inevitably, social media has jumped to the defence of the greedy Mr Kang, suggesting that he was quite within his rights to keep scoffing as much as he wanted to – that, after all, is what he paid for.
I’m not sure I have any sympathy either for him or for the restaurant owner; someone who is prepared to shovel away an obscene amount of food and someone who has encouraged him to do so probably deserve each other.
But in a world of inequality, where people go hungry, and where the race to prioritise quantity over quality means exploitation both of food producers and the animals they rear, it’s probably time for the ‘all you can eat’ concept to shut up shop.
And if it takes some Olympic-scale gluttony to force them into closure, then maybe that’s a price worth paying.