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Dining dramas

June 2020

An ode to the breakfast buffet.

Due to COVID-19, it looks like the humble breakfast buffet could be on its way out.

A rite of passage for holidaying families the world over, it has enjoyed a mixed reception in our household.

The kids love it. A holiday isn’t a holiday without a ‘breakfast buffay’ - hooray!

And of course the theory is fantastic. Lots of food laid out in an enticing and easy-to-help-yourself way as you stumble down to brekkie clutching beach bags, water wings and small children who have been up since sunrise.

“Marvellous,” you think, sinking into a chair on the verandah and waving at the wait staff to bring you a skinny latte. “The joy of the breakfast buffet!” It’s all ready and waiting for the kids to dive in without you having to move a muscle.

And of course there are no rules with the breakfast buffet. Steamed dim sum and toast? Not a problem. Fried rice and pain au chocolat? Just dig in.

Which, where small children are concerned, is also its downfall.

“Go! Help yourselves!” I order the children, digging a crumpled copy of the FT Weekend out of my bag and readying myself for a relaxing half-hour in the shade of a jacaranda tree.

“Hooray!” they all cry, grabbing colourful plastic plates and heading to the ‘Kidz Korner’.

You see, as all parents know, if you’re staying in a family-friendly hotel, there is always a ‘child-friendly’ buffet section. And it ain’t offering sliced avocado and green juice.

Oh no. For some reason, most resorts around the world seem hell bent on filling children with more sugar than a Dunkin’ Donuts factory.

And so it’s a calorie-laden dawn raid, with pancakes, waffles, donuts, all manner or sticky syrups, processed cereals and milkshakes piled onto plates and into cups. We’ve even eaten at buffets that serve fries. Who eats fries for breakfast? My kids, that’s who. Often with Nutella.

“What about some fruit?” I grumble wearily as they pull chairs up to the table. But one of them - usually the Sporty Child - is always ahead of the game, and drags out a reluctant couple of grapes and a slice of watermelon from underneath her pancake stack. Needless to say, they’re soaked in several gallons of maple syrup.

Approximately 30 seconds later, just as I’m about to move languidly over to the egg station myself, one of them annonces that they’ve finished. And it’s usually the Boy Child who isn’t quite old enough to be wandering around the hotel on his own.

Which means instead of perusing the length of the buffet in a relaxed manner, displaying my new Zimmermann beach cover-up to its best advantage, adding a petit morceau of this and a petit peu of that to my plate, I’m forced to knock back the rest of my coffee in one and stuff down a quick croissant while the children whine about being too hot and needing the toilet and that they’ve finished breakfast and why can’t they go swimming.

And of course by this stage their father has usually disappeared back upstairs with the room key and the paper.

So in a nutshell, no, I am not unhappy to see the back of the family-friendly resort breakfast buffet. I am hoping it is replaced with a nice healthy a la carte menu, forcing everyone to sit down, with lots of green juice and possibly a completely separate dining area for small children.

What I am not so happy about is waving goodbye to the Hong Kong buffet brunch.

Back on home turf, I can usually farm the children out on playdates, making this particular buffet an entirely adult affair. And it’s usually accompanied of course by vast quantities of bubbly champagne.

Oh, the happy Hong Kong memories of piling plates high with lobster and prawns and sushi and sashimi and roast duck and dim sum and those chocolate mousse-y things in tiny glasses with little silver sugar balls on top.

Sadly however, and quite apart from the obvious virus-spreading issues, this is the reason we need to let the buffet go.

Because no matter whether we’re piling our plates with fresh seafood or Froot Loops, dim sum or donuts, the food waste is considerable. The buffet is no good for our waistlines and it’s no good for the environment.

And it’s no good for stressed-out mothers on holiday hoping for nothing more than to sit down and finish their coffee.

So RIP humble buffet, here’s to the memories.

Expat Travelling Mum lives in Asia with four travel-loving children and a weary husband. In the interests of healthy family relations, she prefers to remain anonymous.

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