Unspoken Buffet Etiquette Rules a Southerner Never Breaks

Your table manners are perfect, but what about the buffet?

People Queue For Food
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Most of the time, we take things nice and slow down in the South. A walk around the neighborhood is a lazy saunter, and the express lane at Publix isn't guaranteed to move quickly—because sometimes you have to catch up with the cashier. Our leisurely pace is a point of regional pride for many of us. It's a declaration of that highest ideal of savoring time rather than rushing it. But there's one place where our celebration of slow-moving ways takes a back seat to efficiency and speed: The buffet line.

When it comes to the buffet, we are people who move it along. Whether we're enjoying a church potluck, dinner at a friend's house, or the neighborhood meat-and-three, we've got the art of the buffet down to a science—and keeping things moving is our top priority. Here's the proper etiquette to avoid backing up the buffet line (and the dodging stares of the hungry folks behind you).

Buffet Dining Etiquette

Scout the scene.

First, get a lay of the land before you step in line. Without breathing down the necks of those already waiting (this is very important), assess the scene and look at the dishes offered. It'll help you cut down on deliberation time as you serve yourself, as you'll already know if you want to skip the sweet potato soufflé and load up on mac 'n' cheese instead.

Stay focused.

Keep your attention on the task at hand. We're not saying that you should ignore sweet Mrs. Gertie's game of twenty questions. We're merely suggesting that your attention to her should not leave you standing over the butterbeans for a more extended time than necessary. Speak while you scoop.

Fix your children's plates for them.

Rather than allowing them to build their meal, let them pick and choose what they want to eat back at the table. We're all for giving kids agency and teaching them to voice their opinions, but the buffet line is not the place to practice democracy.

Be mindful of servings.

If you are the first in line at a family reunion, you want to make sure there is enough of every dish left over for the very last family member sitting down for their meal. You might love your Grandma's cooking, but so does everyone looking to get a taste of her signature dish.

Respect the utensils.

Mingling the potatoes and almond-covered green beans on your dinner plate might not be a big deal. You might love it, but the person with nut allergies will not. Be careful and return the serving utensils to their proper place to avoid allergy contaminations and also because it's respectful to those strolling the buffet line after you.

But once you've settled into your seat to enjoy your selections, take it slow. There's no need to rush—this is the South.

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