All-you-can-eat buffets: “The ideal of opulence has become democratized and massified”

All-you-can-eat buffets: “The ideal of opulence has become democratized and massified”

Can we date the appearance of buffets in France?

During the Ancien Régime, the practice of the buffet, where people served themselves standing up, was introduced into the private sphere, during balls for example. Then, at the beginning of the 19th century, a commercial logic emerged. Buffets appeared at public balls or in gaming halls, still reserved for the elite.

How did this method of restoration become widespread?

It was the stations which imposed the buffet in the middle of the 19th century. This then had nothing to do with all-you-can-eat formulas, but offered “paste” products, like pastries. Then, during the second half of the 19th century, buffet restaurants appeared in Paris. From the interwar period, other catering facilities were set up, such as the cafeteria.

The Trente Glorieuses were then a period of change with the advent of the consumer society and the development of the middle classes who, without belonging to the economic elites, had access for the first time to unlimited food. With the expansion of mass tourism, all-you-can-eat buffets have exploded, particularly in Club Med. The ideal of opulence has become democratized and massified.

Are buffets a French specificity?

No, this practice and its evolution are observed in all industrialized countries. But when a historian speaks of “French service”, he refers to the way of catering which prevailed among the aristocracy during the Ancien Régime. It was a form of buffet, as all the dishes were placed on the table at the same time and each guest chose from them. In the 19th century, we moved to “Russian service” where dishes were served one after the other. Each time, in extreme profusion which was the prerogative of the wealthiest fringes. They thereby demonstrated their power. The abundance of the contemporary all-you-can-eat buffet seems above all a trait of our consumer society.

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