Fall Into Line: The Case for the ‘Buffet Rule’

Total chaos. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Like many Americans, I follow political news for the sole purpose of not being embarrassed during telephone civics surveys. I scan the headlines grudgingly and am easily distracted by things like college football and food. This practice has caused me confusion regarding the so-called Buffett Rule. In reality, the rule has something to do with taxes. But "Buffett Rule" is easily misread as "Buffet Rule," i.e., a reference to the method of distributing food that combines eating old scrambled eggs with the convenience of having to get them yourself. (The buffet proprietor's motto: "We're barely trying.") But during one misreading, it hit me: The buffet industry, currently regulated only by informal etiquette, could use some more substantive oversight of its own.

A real Buffet Rule would need to appeal to the moderate center not just liberals who demand more government monitoring of steam-table temperatures; or conservatives, who demand less; or Ted Nugent, who demands the right to kill his own raccoon meat before serving it to himself.

First, let's do away with nanny-state practices like putting up sneeze guards and requiring a new clean plate for every trip. Sneeze guards force buffet patrons to stoop awkwardly, turning the otherwise elegant act of serving oneself a pile of 30 crab legs into something crass and undignified. These guards are useless manifestations of germaphobic hysteria, not unlike the plate rule, a farce premised on the notion that a plate that has been "cleaned" with industrial chemicals in a clogged back-kitchen sink by a 17-year-old in a Slayer T-shirt is more hygienic than one that had a pancake on it for five minutes.

Next, let's improve line management. Buffet operators should not be allowed to leave stacks of plates at either end of the buffet table such that two lines of patrons end up colliding in the middle. For customers, it should not be legal to walk to the middle of the buffet and butt in line. Though it should be legal to skip ahead in line if you are not interested in what the person in front of you is serving (eggplant).

There's also the matter of food layout. Buffets are often set up so that lines of eaters move along either side of a table. It's my belief that entrees should be symmetrically arranged, providing equal access to all dishes. It's emotionally devastating to get back to your table and see that someone else has buffalo wings, which were on the other side of the table, and you've got to stand in line all over again, thinking to yourself, Man, I wish I had seen those buffalo wings the first time.

On a similar note, entres should be grouped together. What happens when you have your plate perfectly balanced between main courses, sides, and fruit only to find a big tray of meatballs or whatever at the end of the table? What happens is, you cram them on your plate and end up getting tomato sauce all over your blueberries. Tomato-sauced blueberries taste like poor governance.

To be sure, Congress faces a range of other problems at the moment, such as the challenge of incorporating mandatory transvaginal ultrasounds into the Pledge of Allegiance. But we should still be able to get this done: The Buffet Rules I'm proposing are common-sense reforms that would vastly improve the general welfare while negatively impacting almost no one except line-butting food hogs who demand taking bigger pieces of pie than everyone else, even if they don't need them. And people like that can't make up more than one percent of the population. There's simply no chance such a statistically insignificant group would ever prevent an obviously beneficial plan from being implemented. Who could be that selfish?