Friday, May 05, 2006

Wasting Food at a Buffet

An Iowa woman has been refused entry to a Chinese buffet because her family wastes too much food. The Des Moines Register reports:

[Wendy] Dershem said she joined her boyfriend, Jason Trotter, and her children, Madison, 7, and Carter, 5, at the Dragon House Saturday for the $5.95 all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet. It was their favorite spot and the Des Moines woman and her children had dined there frequently since the children were babies. She said her group was one plate into the experience when a restaurant employee approached the group.

“They told us we are not welcome there anymore. We waste too much food,” said Dershem, 28. “But the buffet is all you can eat. And you know kids. They won’t always eat everything and they want something else.”

Manager Kent Cao confirmed that Dershem was told not to come back if she continued to waste food. A waitress and cashier had been watching the group on past occasions and were concerned.

“They just take one bite and throw it away,” said cashier Lin Huyen. “They take four egg rolls and crab ragoon, take one bite of egg roll and throw the whole plate. That is wasting food.”


Dershem said she was shocked by the scolding and complained to management when she paid her check.

“It was embarrassing. There are no signs that say anything like eat what you take or kids aren’t welcome. If it’s a one-stop buffet, post it,” she said.

But Dragon House manager Kent Cao said Dershem’s situation had gone beyond simply not cleaning plates. The group members took food, didn’t finish it and then piled on the same food again, he said.

“She’s done that too many times,” Cao said. “We would welcome her back if she has respect and knows what she wants.”

Bob Brammer, spokesman for Iowa attorney general’s office, says that consumer protection officials couldn’t recall any complaints from customers about all-you-can-eat buffets.

“Businesses are obligated to live up their offers,” he said. “But implementation needs to be reasonable. People can’t fill up a plate and hand it to someone who hasn’t paid.”

Bob Oberbillig, an adjunct professor at the Drake Legal Clinic, says the patron would have no legal case against exclusion from a business unless there are other factors such as racial discrimination or mental health issues.

“An establishment can exclude people if they smoke or waste food,” he said. “It’s still a private business.”

Dershem said she paid her money for unlimited food, whether eaten or not. Cao said it is folly to waste while hungry women and children don’t have enough to eat.

Our mother never had to tell us to clean our plate, but we've heard the line about starving children in China.

Oh, and they serve REAL Cashew Chicken in Iowa. Not the silly breaded Springfield concoction.