A memory of a family celebration in the eighties. Uncles and aunts, nieces and nephews elbow to reach the most desirable dishes of the buffet. Fresh eel, salmon salad, fish soup, baguette, various sauces, it is endless. Especially not to brag too frugally. Raised in a large family, the uncles and aunts, and their hereditary children, know that modesty is punished when food is distributed.

Just when everyone is belching a bit, the announcement comes: soon the buffet will be open for it headcourt opened. They didn’t see it coming. The family recovers and bravely beats its way through satay, meatballs and Duchesse Potatoes. It stands for it, doesn’t it? And it’s not every day a party.

Everyone has their own buffet memories, which seem all the more alive now that the buffet is further away than ever because of corona. Tables full of cakes at Club Med, the sticky Christmas buffet at primary school, Live Cooking at Van der Valk, the hotel breakfast, all you can eat in the world restaurant, the wedding buffet, the decorated barbecue of the staff party.

They are the places where you get to know the other. Places where you should actually go with your new love, or permanently station a research group. Why do you go somewhere safe to drink a glass of wine on a first date, while in a buffet restaurant you immediately see the whole man? Is he flexible or fussy? Is he open to new experiences? Is he docile or is he leading the troops? Does he listen or explain? (“Cheese should come before the sweet dessert according to French etiquette. Apparently this is an Anglo-Saxon buffet.”)

‘So I am someone without discipline’

Why have there been experiments with toddlers and marshmallows, but not with buffets, so that you can immediately see whether children are greedy or cautious, sociable or self-centered, controlled or impulsive?

The buffet is also a place for self-reflection. “So I’m someone who eats oysters and drumsticks together”, you think, while you keep an eye on the supply of shrimp croquettes. “Someone who brags three times, who can’t leave anything standing — so I’m someone without discipline, without inner civilization.”

Buffets may have a raunchy image for that reason. Wrongly, if you are the standard work Buffets & Receptions from 1974. Even the Greeks and Romans, Wina Born writes in the preface, had festive banquets. Buffets from the Élysée and the royal box of Ascot are described in detail. Dishes like langoest and bellevue, candied pheasant and hare a la royale come by. “But also the housewife and the man who likes to cook as a hobby” can add cachet to any domestic party with a buffet, with simple dishes such as stuffed eggs and mini quiches. Fruit bowl! Rumtopf!

If you still have memories of the buffet, cherish them. Because, since a Japanese broadcaster showed with ultraviolet light in May how a virus like Covid-19 spreads in a buffet restaurant, it will never be the same again. Back again for the second round and stick your dirty fork in the raw tuna, secretly with your finger under the chocolate fountain, put back potato croquettes because it turns out there are still fries. It is over. And it may never come back.