'We want to eat everything': Behind the enduring popularity of the Christmas buffet

Josh Dye
Sixty kilograms of crabs, 40kg of prawns and 180 dozen oysters will be devoured at the Sofitel Wentworth buffet on ...
Sixty kilograms of crabs, 40kg of prawns and 180 dozen oysters will be devoured at the Sofitel Wentworth buffet on Christmas day.  Photo: Edwina Pickles

While all-you-can-eat restaurants such as Sizzler and Pizza Hut might be consigned to the history books, come Christmas Day the beloved buffet is back in business. 

There are dozens of buffets at hotels, restaurants and RSLs around Sydney this Christmas. Prices range from $39 at Merrylands RSL in western Sydney to $355 at the Sheraton hotel. 

Each year Sydney's Sofitel Wentworth hotel hosts a buffet on Christmas day. Chef Boris Cuzon says the event has become more and more popular during his eight years at the hotel. 

Chef Boris Cuzon is preparing for a bumper Christmas Day feast at Sydney's Sofitel Wentworth with 359 guests booked for ...
Chef Boris Cuzon is preparing for a bumper Christmas Day feast at Sydney's Sofitel Wentworth with 359 guests booked for a buffet bonanza.  Photo: Edwina Pickles

"It started in the garden court restaurant ... [which] seats about 170 people," Mr Cuzon says. 

But in recent years demand for seats has outstripped supply - despite the $199-a-head price tag. 

"It's grown and grown and grown. For the last two years we've been doing it in the ballroom so we have more space to accommodate guests. This year we're fully booked for 359 people."

Some of the festive desserts guests can feast on at the Sofitel Wentworth buffet.
Some of the festive desserts guests can feast on at the Sofitel Wentworth buffet.  Photo: Edwina Pickles

The Sofitel buffet will include 180 dozen oysters, 60 kilograms of king crabs, 40 kilograms of prawns, 20 legs of ham and 40 turkey breasts.

Mr Cuzon says as more restaurants have become a la carte, the all-you-can-eat restaurant has become a novelty. 

"There's not too many places [left] doing buffets," he says.  

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"We don't do too many buffets so for us it's special when we create it." 

His guests this year range from families "who come every year" as well as hotel guests who need somewhere to celebrate the festive season. 

"It's a bit different to the party at home," Mr Cuzon says. 

"Last year we had more small groups of two or four [people]. This year it looks like bigger groups of 10-plus." 

The Sydney Morning Herald's chief restaurant critic Terry Durack believes buffets have fallen out of popularity as our exposure to quality food has increased and our tastes have matured. 

"When I was a child, all that stuff seemed exciting but once you're aware there's higher quality eating around ... I think we became a bit more interested in flavour and eating," Durack says. 

But in the festive season, it's a different story. 

"It's Christmas time and all bets are off. We want to eat everything - that's what we do at Christmas time." 

Durack says buffets remain popular at this time of year for two reasons. 

"The big hotels have a captive audience in that tourists, country folk and others have little option to celebrate Christmas while away from home." 

And secondly, cooking up a storm isn't everyone's idea of a fun time. 

"Catering for a crowd at Christmas can be quite problematic when there are different cultural backgrounds and traditions, vegans, coeliacs, people who hate turkey and love ham, and others who will only eat the dark meat not the white meat,"  Durack says. "So a buffet of great diversity allows for all to come to the table without it being an issue. That's a huge load off the mind of the designated Christmas caterer."