What is it about buffets that makes so many of us ditch the politeness and revert to an I-need-it-now mentality? I'm not going to lie: I've been there, stuck in line behind the guy staring vacantly at three choices and taking forever to make a decision, and I can't be bothered waiting, so I swoop around him and take what I want. Would it have killed me to wait an extra minute? Would I have starved? Missed all of trivia? The answer, simply, is no.
Sadly, I'm not alone (though happily for me I'm not the worst offender by far). Something about a buffet line just makes the rules of decent behavior disappear as quickly as a tray of cocktail shrimp.
Not that it should. "Whether you're being served at a table or serving yourself, the rules of decent behavior apply," says Lisa Mirza Grotts, an etiquette expert and consultant. "It's no different on a cruise ship."
Cruise Critic reached out to Mirza Grotts, author of "A Traveler's Passport to Etiquette" and a former director of protocol for the city of San Francisco, to get an expert's take on the etiquette do's and don't's of cruise ship buffets.
Her first words of wisdom for cruise passengers: "There is enough food for a small country on every ship; getting food should not be a problem." In other words, be patient.
So with Mirza Grotts' help, we bring to you (drum roll, please)...
I. Thou Shalt Not Cut the Line: You wouldn't do it at the grocery store, so don't do it on a cruise ship. Even when someone is lollygagging, you should wait patiently -- though that person should remember there's an entire line of people waiting. If she or he really is taking a long time, it's O.K. to ask if you may pass, but don't just walk around them. Also, if you've already been in line but forgotten one item, like dressing or a tomato, again it's O.K. to ask if you can grab the one item. Asking permission is just courteous behavior.
II. Thou Shalt Not Switch Direction: Buffets go in one direction only. Don't start making your way through the line from the opposite direction. That's the equivalent of cutting the line.
III. Thou Shalt Watch Thy Children: Always escort your young children, say 10 or younger, to the buffet. They need you to remind them to not cut the line and not use their fingers. Food items such as nuts, crudites and bread are tempting for kids to grab with their bare hands. Smaller kids might also be prone to running around and risk bumping into people carrying trays or drinks. Keeping them close to you can prevent unnecessary accidents.
IV. Thou Shalt Keep Thy Fingers to Thyself: Kids aren't the only offenders here. Adults are just as likely to grab the top cucumber or the front slice of bread with their hands. Don't do it. There are tongs for a reason.
V. Thou Shalt Not Move Tongs: Speaking of tongs, never, ever move the tongs from one platter or hot food station to another. What if the person behind you has allergies to shrimp and you've just moved the tongs from a shrimp dish to a chicken dish? What if that person is kosher or vegetarian? Be courteous, even if it means you have to wait for someone to bring you another serving utensil. Remember, the food isn't going anywhere.
VI. Thou Shalt Not Eat in Line: The food on your plate isn't going anywhere either, so there's no need to start nibbling while you're in line. Unless you're diabetic or hypoglycemic, you're not going to die from waiting a few more minutes to eat.
VII. Thou Shalt Not Take More Than Thou Can Eat: Buffet dining, by its very nature, is gluttonous, but that doesn't mean you have to be a glutton. Don't load up your plate; take a few items on your first pass through the line, then go back for seconds if you still want more. Similarly, don't take the last piece of something; it's rude to leave the people behind you with nothing. Instead, alert a server that the item needs to be replenished, and wait for the refill before serving yourself. It's the polite thing to do.
VIII. Thou Shalt Use a New Plate Each Time: If you go back for seconds, leave your dirty plate at the table and get a fresh one each time. Your fork has touched the dirty plate, so you don't want the serving spoon or tongs to touch it.
IX. Thou Shalt Wash Thy Hands: Sticking with the hygiene theme, always wash your hands before getting in the buffet line. You might not be touching the food directly, but you will be handling the serving utensils. You wouldn't want the person in front of you touching everything with dirty hands; don't be that guy to the person behind you.
X. Thou Shalt Not Make a Doggie Bag: There are no doggie bags at buffets, no exceptions. On a cruise ship, you can make a phone call to room service 24/7 and get food, so there's never a need to bag anything.