Pound for pound, if you play ’em right, buffets give you the most dining bang for your buck. But what if you could keep bangin’ on that particular drum all day? I went to Souplantation, an all-you-can-eat soup and salad chain, and decided to see how long I could continuously nosh before being forcibly removed. My gripping, inspiring, chronological tale of triumph is documented below.
NOTE: This piece is dedicated to recently deceased comedian John “I’m Starvin'” Pinette, may he rest in peace. You’re overindulging with the angels now, John!
Under normal circumstances, I am not awake at this hour. Frankly, I don’t even know if I’m hungry. It doesn’t matter, though. This isn’t about what my body wants or needs. This is about value. The $7.99 lunch coupon I fished out of my apartment building’s recycling bin ensures it. Using said coupon to obtain breakfast, lunch and dinner amplifies it.
In order to maximize my potential eating time, I decide to show up before the buffet actually opens.
As the sixth paying customer of the day, I am overwhelmed by the cleanliness of my surroundings. The smell is, in a word, fantastic. Piles of garbanzo beans, untainted by the public about to ravage them, sit in the middle of a spotless salad bar next to a full container of ranch dressing. I try to recall the last time I’ve seen a full trough of ranch at a buffet. I realize I never have.
They have no free Wi-Fi. I was told there’d be free Wi-Fi. Oh, God. How am I gonna occupy myself for the next 8 hours? I stare at my phone, begging it to entertain me. Emotionlessly scrolling through Facebook, I am cognizant of the finite amount of battery life that exists on said phone. I am becoming irrationally nervous.
The adult contemporary music blaring overhead is already getting to me. It’s going to be a long day.
I haven’t eaten anything for going on fifteen minutes. I’d better eat something, I think. I fill a small plate with flavorless pasta. Mmm, flavorless pasta.
My friend Amber, who works nearby, agrees to briefly join me in my corner booth. “Thank you for visiting me at work,” I tell her when she arrives. After my customary rant about the restaurant’s lack of Wi-Fi, she explains, “That would make it like Starbucks, though. But with real food. All you can eat, real, food.” I now understand and respect why Souplantation made their choice, even though it inconveniences me greatly.
I feel full, yet at the same time don’t feel as though I’ve eaten enough. That being said, I’ve lost track of how much I’ve eaten. This could go real south, real fast.
Amber leaves. As she makes her exit, she crumples her face up in concern. “I’m worried about you,” she says. “What are you gonna do?”
“Don’t worry about me,” I say, as if I’m shipping off to war. “I’ll be fine.”
Amber’s been gone for five minutes and I’m already bored. Again. A middle-aged man to the right of me is reading a Dean Koontz novel as he eats a muffin. I envy his “literature.”
The theme from “That Thing You Do!” plays overhead. I love this song! I sing along, alone, mouth filled with buttered bread. I’ve lost my mind.
PRO TIP: It turns out you can get away with anything, as long as you stare at your phone while doing so. While I’ve occupied this booth for almost three hours, I may as well not even be in it. Not one member of the staff has batted an eyelash at my continued presence. But what will happen when my phone dies? Good God, what then?
SCINTILLATING UPDATE: They finally put out the tuna salad I like! And they’re finally playing Natalie Merchant! I can’t believe I’ve been here for three hours and haven’t yet heard a Natalie Merchant song. I mean, I’ve already heard OMC’s “How Bizarre,” for cripes sake. That happened within the first hour.
Returning with my plate of tuna salad, I notice the busser is eyeing my area to see if I’ll be “ripe back.” (A double-sided card on each table, printed with the messages “I’ll be ripe back!” and “See you next thyme!”) notifies staff as to your plans whenever you abandon your post. You’re damn ripe I’m comin’ ripe back, toots, I think. Get your plastic bin and disinfectant-soaked rag outta my comfort jeans zone.
Whenever I see a fellow patron read a trashy romance or crime novel as they eat, I become impossibly envious. Why didn’t I think of that? Alone and Wi-Fi-less, my only company is my thoughts, plates, and dwindling phone battery.
One of Smash Mouth’s lesser singles plays overhead. I nod my head along to the beat. Might be time for a little more froyo, I think to myself. My transformation from human to beast is nearly complete.
In terms of patrons, the restaurant ebbs and flows. We are currently experiencing an ebb moment. The busser is beginning to feel, if not uncomfortable by my presence, at the very least intrigued by it. But, as my friend Amber outlined earlier, I don’t “look homeless,” and I have this here computer, and I’m not really eating that much (comparatively, I mean), so my presence is not reported to management.
I’ve been sitting here long enough, I’ve become hungry again. I didn’t even know that was possible, which I assume means I am the first person ever to have done so. I am a groundbreaker. I am an innovator. I am insane. This damned plantation has driven me insane. Anyway, time for more froyo!
An infant is screaming somewhere in the distance. Frankly, I’m impressed it took five hours for that to happen.
A man who has either appropriated the Johnny Depp faux-homeless pirate look or is genuinely homeless sits down at the table next to me. He isn’t eating anything. Not one plate litters his table—a series of handwritten notes, however, do. He’s wearing sunglasses. I desperately want to know what his deal is, but would rather die than talk to him. My new goal is to outlast him.
Johnny Depp moves to a booth on the other side of the restaurant. What’s the deal, Johnny? Does my raw, ravenous energy…intimidate you? Does the ever-increasing pile of plates and refuse that surrounds me because the busser ceased coming to my table hours ago…disgust you?
I’m on my third (Third? Yeah, sure, third) plate of flavorless pasta for the day. But it’s a small plate. And small plates are good! Rich people eat food off of small plates! And it’s better for your metabolism to eat small amounts of food all day, right? RIGHT?!?”
I’m writing this entry solely to inform whoever is reading this that I am still alive. Assuming, of course, you can call this living. Reader, may I ask you a question? If you eat too many carbs, does it make your head hurt? Because my head hurts. And I know I ate too many carbs. Gotta ride it out ’till dinner, though. I said I’d ride it out ’till dinner. And without one’s word, dear reader, what does one have?
I have decided to take my leave of the plantation at 6PM, as that is widely acknowledged as “supper time.” Every fiber of my being, however, wants to leave now. My head is pounding. The Cranberries is playing overhead at what feels like an uncomfortable but I know is reasonable volume.
Success! I have eaten three meals (well, really, one endless meal) over the course of one day, and all for a mere $7.99. That’s $2.66 per meal, folks. ALL YOU CAN EAT. And yes, I feel as though I have consumed all I could possibly eat. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be taking a nap. At 6PM. Pray to whatever you believe in, sweet reader, that I don’t fall asleep on the car ride home.
Megan Koester is a writer and comedian living in—wait for it—Los Angeles. You can follow her on Twitter @bornferal.