Hilton Helsinki Strand
Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

Is Taking Food From an All-You-Can-Eat Buffet Okay?

If you travel frequently, you have most likely seen an all-you-can-eat buffet in various forms and at different places — such as restaurants, lounges and hotel and resort properties — but is taking food from them okay?

Is Taking Food From an All-You-Can-Eat Buffet Okay?

Delta Air Lines Sky Club Concourse B Atlanta airport
Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

A warning was purportedly served to members of the flight crews of Air India earlier this year from the assistant general manager of its in-flight service department that serious disciplinary action would be taken against those employees who regularly arrive at the breakfast buffet offered every morning at a hotel in London with empty boxes into which they fill various items of food items from the buffet — presumably to be eaten later.

Justifying three factors to how and why this practice apparently started — despite it being abhorred — one member of a flight crew was quoted in this article from The Times of India that “We land in London either at 7.30am or 6.30pm. We are dead tired by then as it’s 14-15 hours from the time we have left home. So we just want to crash. Unlike earlier when the layover was 2 days, it’s now only 26 hours and so we have to catch up on sleep before the next flight. Even so, only a couple of us would be bringing boxes to fill and eat later. Most don’t do that.”

Meager compensation, additional charges — such as for room service — and a limited selection of food were also cited as reasons for the practice, as management at Air India has “no desire to allow the reputation of Air India to be tarnished by a handful of such individuals”.

Do The Rules Change Depending on Circumstances?

Holiday Inn Vilnius
Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

The very nature of a buffet is to eat whatever is being offered that you want — as much or as little as you like — in one sitting.

Stefan Krasowski of Rapid Travel Chai and I used to patronize a particular sushi restaurant for lunch which was known for its buffet — items could be ordered off of the menu if diners did not want the buffet option — from which we could eat whatever we wanted, as much as we wanted. We would discuss “blogging” and other topics; and when we were finished, we paid and left, as neither of us attempted to take any food out of the restaurant.

Many restaurants usually have a policy which states that food cannot be taken out when dining on food from the buffet — and understandably so, because they could potentially lose money if patrons were permitted to take food home. Some waitpeople may allow for any leftovers on the table to be taken home because they would be thrown out and wasted anyway; but that could potentially encourage some customers to purposely overload their plates so that they could take the food home at no additional cost…


Hilton Nairobi
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

…but what about lounges at airports and hotel and resort properties which offer food in the style of a buffet? Does payment of membership or elite level status — two factors which determine admission of people into a lounge in the first place — change the rules pertaining to taking food and beverages off of the premises?

The answer depends on where the lounge is located. For example, the executive lounges at some hotel or resort properties expressly forbid patrons from removing any food or beverage at any time while management at others have no qualms about guests taking food and beverages so they may enjoy their repasts in the privacy of their rooms or while they are working — especially when the lounge is crowded.

I of course respect that rule when it is clearly in effect; but when allowed, I have sometimes taken food from executive lounges back to my room with no problem — of course, not so much where I appear to be performing a precarious act of juggling while fumbling for a key to open the door to the room — and I have even taken the extra step to return any dishes, glasses and cutlery back to the executive lounge when I am finished.

Complimentary Continental Breakfast Buffets

Hampton Inn Chester
Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

Many low-range and mid-range hotel properties offer complimentary continental breakfast in buffet form included as part of the room rate, which is especially popular with families as a way to save money on one of the meals of the day. Located adjacent to the lobby of the hotel property, it is also a convenient option…

…but these breakfast buffets consist primarily of cold items, with a hot item or two on offer; and the cold items include cereal and pastries which are individually packaged — as well as “portable” fresh fruit which includes oranges, bananas and apples. All of these items are easy to place in a bag and keep for at least a day.

Combined with the convenience and no extra cost, the fact that many items are not immediately perishable results in some guests taking advantage of the offerings and outright stuffing their bags with food for later…

…and what is to stop poachers from simply entering the hotel property to avail himself or herself of a free breakfast without registering as a bonafide guest?

At the other end of the spectrum are people who find the offerings of free continental breakfast buffets at hotels disgusting — and I offer some tips on how to better enjoy that dining experience.

I have been known to take an item or two from a complimentary continental breakfast buffet — perhaps a small box of dry cereal, a packaged snack bar or a fresh orange — to tide me over until my next meal when I know that I have a long day ahead of me with no time out for something more substantial…


Holiday Inn Vilnius
Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

…but I do not believe in being a pig about taking food. I do not load up a bag with food items; and I certainly do not provide myself with an empty box to load up on fare from a hot breakfast buffet.

I have not done this myself; but I have heard of people showing up to a buffet restaurant at a late enough hour to be able to take home any leftover food from the buffet after they finished with their meals which would otherwise be thrown out into the garbage anyway — and for no extra cost.

Does the amount of food taken — as well as from where it was taken and what is the type of food — depend on whether or not taking food from an all-you-can-eat buffet is okay? Does it matter whether you are a paid guest or an airline or hotel employee — as well as in what capacity you are in when you arrive at the buffet? Should taking food at all from a buffet be okay depending on the circumstance; or should it never be allowed at any time?

All photographs ©2015, ©2016 and ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

  1. The last time I was in the Aspire Lounge at MAN, they had a heavy handed sign on the buffet stating that removal of food from the lounge is a criminal offence under the Theft Act

  2. I might slip a bagel or an apple in my bag.

    But some people show up with multiple food containers, stand at the bar and fill ‘er up! Not cool.

  3. I presume anyone who does a lot of traveling, like most of your readers, has plenty of stories on this topic. I remember years ago being at brunch in Los
    Angeles and having a friend get stopped at the door because his paper cup still had about 3 oz of apple juice in it, which they made him finish before he could leave. Ridiculous.

    OTOH, my mother tells a story of going to a buffet and watching a woman put an entire untouched baked potato in her purse. That is wrong! She already got her buffet meal. Have we really moved past the point where common sense can prevail?

    As for inns with the free (limited) breakfast, I’m at a Hampton Inn now. Due to limited seating, these places encourage guests taking breakfast back to their room. That is what I did this morning. It is inevitable that some guests will have “eyes bigger than their stomachs” and end up taking more than they can eat for breakfast.

    1. Just a baked potato? I hardly think this rises to the level of criminal activity. I somehow doubt the woman had stuffed herself the way some people do anyway. Just a baked potato. It wouldn’t even be food reheated.

  4. I see nothing wrong with stuff you had eaten off of and paid for taking it home! Regardless if it is a buffet or not! You paid for that food. And they would just throw it away in the trash anyway. I was accused of stealing food from a Golden Corral. In Brookpark, Ohio, All I did was stick some fat off of a steak that I was eating in my purse to take home to my dog for a treat. I paid for it! Like they don’t give cotton candy out to kids there to take home to eat later! Ice Cream Cones are being ate as people are going out the door.

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