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Food Buffets at Law School (and Other) Events:

A simple tip -- if you're going to have food laid out on a buffet table, especially before a talk, don't put the table flush against the wall unless you absolutely have to.

Rather, move it out from the wall, so that there can be two lines (one on either side of the table) instead of one. This will speed things up dramatically, and let the non-food part of the event start more quickly. A very simple suggestion, but I've noticed that many organizations neglect to do things this way.

A second tip, if you implement the first tip, though this requires a little more foresight: Make sure that you have two serving utensils for each platter or bowl that requires serving utensils. The two-line solution will still work even without the double utensils, but it will work better with the double utensils.

Steve2:
I've always assumed people did the wall-thing to "get the table out of the way", whether because they envision a crowd milling around in the open area at the middle of the room, or to keep from blocking a path, or whatever.

And this is sad, but immediately after I finished reading your second tip, my thought was "It's like parallel runways!".
3.2.2009 6:30pm
Volokh Groupie:
Eugene Volokh, Event Planner Extraordinaire.
3.2.2009 6:37pm
Javert:
Having a "Martha moment?" :)
3.2.2009 6:38pm
cd:
i think a corollary of murphy's law is that, when in line to get food at a law school event, you will always be right behind the last person to get food before it runs out. or at least that's how it seems to me.
3.2.2009 6:45pm
David Malmstrom (mail):
And please have bar/high top tables!
3.2.2009 6:48pm
R Gould-Saltman (mail):
See? Thinking like an administrator!(In the positive sense.) You SURE you don't want to be a Dean, Doc?
3.2.2009 6:54pm
Tracy Johnson (www):
My wife's former Community College, simply forbade food brought in by student groups in the College meeting halls.
3.2.2009 6:54pm
David Warner:
Why can't the posters here stick to what they know best instead of these endless insipid event planning posts? Sheesh, I come here to read about the law, not buffet flow optimization! If this doesn't stop, I'll, I'll quit reading every post and then you'll be sorry...
3.2.2009 6:58pm
Helen:
Another bottleneck-prevention suggestion: Locate the cream and sugar on a separate table from the coffee. That way those who are adding cream and sugar will not block those who drink it black, and the line will move faster.
3.2.2009 6:59pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
And please have bar/high top tables!

Even better, have a bar with free booze.
3.2.2009 7:05pm
Dave N (mail):
I second Dilan Esper.

In addition to the Helen and David Malmstrom's great suggestions, have salads and deserts separate from the main food line and have plates, napkins, and utensils at all tables.
3.2.2009 7:15pm
Mike99:
GREATEST. BLOG. POST. EVER.
3.2.2009 7:20pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Dammit, David Warner, that's just what I was going to say. Only mine wouldn't have been as witty. Curses!
3.2.2009 7:31pm
Randy R. (mail):
And of course, you are always behind the one person who is picky about what he/she takes. they use the fork to go through the entire salad looking for the biggest pieces, or they look for the choicest pieces of meat.

They hold up the line for everyone.
3.2.2009 7:36pm
Crunchy Frog:
Assuming there is enough food (yeah, I know, a big if), I always make a point to wait until the line is gone (so everyone's had their shot), and then combine my firsts and seconds into one humongous, gravity defying pile on my plate. I can then enjoy my meal without having to get up for more, thus possibly sacrificing my seat.

Yeah, I'm fat - why do you ask?
3.2.2009 7:49pm
George Weiss (mail) (www):
hilarious
3.2.2009 7:50pm
Borealis (mail):
One more tip: Place the silverware and napkins at the END of the table, not at the BEGINNING. That will leave hands free to work the serving on the buffet.
3.2.2009 8:22pm
Splunge:
What is it about academics and free food? I swear, if I was a fetching coed wanting to argue Professor Foo into changing my grade from a D to a B, I'd expect better luck with a plateful of Krispy Kremes than with a low-cut sweater.
3.2.2009 8:27pm
Laura(southernxyl) (mail) (www):
And one more tip: Make sure there is one and only one place for people to start at, i.e., don't put the plates and so on on a different table. Otherwise they will group around the table and not move, and no one else will get anything.

I have seen this. More than once. Didn't appreciate it.
3.2.2009 8:27pm
Laura(southernxyl) (mail) (www):
Splunge, it ain't just academics. I frequently bribe people to attend boring meetings with cookies, or with salsa and chips. The meetings can't help being boring due to their subject matter and without food I don't get willing participation.
3.2.2009 8:29pm
ChrisIowa (mail):
One rule at Lutheran smorgasboards is: one line for every 50 people you anticipate.

But that's outside of EV's realm of experience. No fault on his part. :)
3.2.2009 8:36pm
Splunge:
L, are you really an XYL? Never heard that term off the air. For that matter, it's usually the OM who uses it, not the XYL herself.

As for the putative point: tongue, cheek, et cetera. There are as many theories of The Correct Way To Run a Party as there are theories of...hmm, let us say how to pry a sour economy out of the doldrums, just to pick a random example. And they all probably live in the same universality class as far as their empirical justification goes, ha ha.
3.2.2009 8:42pm
David Warner:
Laura,

"I frequently bribe people to attend boring meetings with cookies, or with salsa and chips."

Catholics use bread and wine.
3.2.2009 8:43pm
ChrisTS (mail):
Catholics use bread and wine.

I like bread and wine.

Sure, cheese and fruit bits are nice, but if you are really being serious about the talk/meeting, isn't B&W enough?
3.2.2009 8:53pm
ChrisTS (mail):
Sorry: I was not being precise: I like good bread and good wine.
Makes all the difference.
3.2.2009 8:54pm
Laura(southernxyl) (mail) (www):
Splunge, "southern lady" was just too sugary for me. And possibly wouldn't apply anymore, since working at chemical plants has encouraged me to develop some unladylike speech habits. Sadly.

Bread and wine probably would do the trick. It ain't easy to beguile people who want to be crawling around duct work wearing their hard hats and steel-toed boots, or wrestling with trucking and railcar people, to sit quietly in a chair and talk about stultifying things like document control. Heck, I have to bribe myself, and I'm the quality officer.
3.2.2009 8:59pm
Conceited Jerk:
I am a Georgetown Law student, and I've never been satisfied with the variety of food available for academic events. It is almost always Dominos Pizza, Corner Bakery, or California Tortilla. Bleh!

Now, I admit that Washington, D.C., is known for its pathetic selection of food. To make matters worse, only certain cuisines work well in the catering context. But I feel that event organizers don't even make an effort to provide decent food. There are several Indian restaurants near campus, and I've always had good experiences with Indian catering to medium-size events (Vicki Jackson always had excellent Indian catered to her events). Marty Lederman once had excellent Moroccan delivered for his Con. Law I class (sadly, that restaurant has since closed due to increased rent). I've had excellent takeout from local Ethiopian restaurants, and I don't see why it wouldn't be possible to cater a slightly larger event. There's a decent bagel place nearby, and everybody likes bagels. I'm sure that there's gotta be a decent Italian restaurant with some kind of catering abilities. And Chinese—who doesn't like Chinese?

In short, there's no excuse for lousy food at catered events. I hereby lodge a formal protest.
3.2.2009 9:06pm
ChrisIowa (mail):

Sorry: I was not being precise: I like good bread and good wine.
Makes all the difference.

The amount of bread and wine raises it to more than ceremonial significance.
3.2.2009 9:20pm
Desiderius:
ChrisIowa,

"The amount of bread and wine raises it to more than ceremonial significance."

Most Catholics would disagree there as well. Either way, the guy who started it all brought enough for everybody, so the question is moot.
3.2.2009 10:03pm
LSULAW STUDENT:
At LSU, we are not stingy with the groceries.
3.2.2009 10:38pm
ChrisIowa (mail):

At LSU, we are not stingy with the groceries.

A rare event when LSU gets it right.
3.2.2009 10:52pm
ChrisIowa (mail):

Most Catholics would disagree there as well. Either way, the guy who started it all brought enough for everybody, so the question is moot.

Most Roman Catholics would settle for a little Indulgence.
3.2.2009 11:00pm
ChrisIowa (mail):

The two-line solution will still work even without the double utensils, but it will work better with the double utensils.

Just occurred to me. You don't need double utensils. You need half the utensils each way.

Good night.
Love Y'all.
3.2.2009 11:49pm
Splunge:
It ain't easy to beguile people who want to be crawling around duct work wearing their hard hats and steel-toed boots, or wrestling with trucking and railcar people, to sit quietly in a chair and talk about stultifying things like document control.

Christ, I'm with them. I'm senior enough that only credible threats of personal violence get me to sit through meetings with more than 3 people, or 2 if one of them is from marketing.

I'm sure if invited to a meeting on document control I'd volunteer to go bleed the excess pressure off the anhydrous ammonia tank instead.
3.3.2009 3:43am
rastajenk (mail):
What is it about academics and free food? I swear, if I was a fetching coed wanting to argue Professor Foo into changing my grade from a D to a B, I'd expect better luck with a plateful of Krispy Kremes than with a low-cut sweater.

Splunge, now you're just being silly.
3.3.2009 9:34am
Andrew P:
I came here from Instanpundit where the byline was "IMPORTANT BUFFET ADVICE from Eugene Volokh". Was expecting to hear something from Warren Buffet on what to do about my 401K. Oh well...
3.3.2009 9:41am
Lord Ben (mail):
Some states have front side buffet service only where you're not allowed to go from the back of the table.
3.3.2009 9:46am
Skyler (mail) (www):
Acutally, us manufacturing engineers design processes like this for a living. Just bigger ones. I can make a computer simulation of a buffet line, complete with salad and coffee areas. In fact, one of my early homework assignments in my Industrial engineering class at Stanford was to design the flow of a restaurant, with a self serve salad bar.
3.3.2009 9:51am
Whadonna More:

Conceited Jerk:
I am a Georgetown Law student, and I've never been satisfied with the variety of food available for academic events. It is almost always Dominos Pizza, Corner Bakery, or California Tortilla. Bleh

Study hard CJ, it doesn't get much better than Corner Bakery in corporate America until you rise to the executive suite. You'll need BigLaw credentials and at least a few years until you have someone peeling the plastic wrap off of the lunch.

On a related note, doesn't Roger Adelman provide Zabar bagels for Evidence on Saturday mornings anymore?
3.3.2009 9:55am
Ignorance is Bliss:

I'd expect better luck with a plateful of Krispy Kremes than with a low-cut sweater.

Splunge- how about 'all of the above'?
3.3.2009 10:07am
Houston Lawyer:
And if you have to squeeze a lemon, add three packets of sweetner and stir your iced tea, please do that at your table and not at the end of the line.

And why is it that the guy cutting the roast beef at the end of the table only gives you one little slice? You think we stood in line for the chicken and pasta?
3.3.2009 10:12am
JohnMc (mail) (www):
To expand on Helen's drink suggestion --

Not only place coffee but all drinks on a separate table.

Make sure that the drink table is at the END of the food service. If you place it at the front (seen often) then people are fumbling usually with saucer/soda can &food plate. Slows things down dramatically.

If possible based on seating have enough space per table that each attendee can place their used plates towards the table center. That way they can take notes if they desire and not have to get up to remove plates or have staff do it. Nothing worse that hearing dishes rattle in the middle of a presentation.

Snails may sound like an exotic dish to serve. But it like others are just not appropriate. Others to avoid are heavily sauced dishes (lasanga over spagetti w/meat sauce), uncracked lobster (serve light alfredo or grilled), or highly spiced dishes. Rubber chicken is the entre of choice for more reasons than its cheap.
3.3.2009 10:23am
rc:
A few buffet consumer tips:
*Utensils and napkin go into the pocket. You need both paws to gather food.
*Skip the salad. Salad is first for a reason- to trick the suckers. Don't be a sucker.
*Bread or dinner roll goes on TOP of the entree. Why waste valuable plate real estate on the most durable and portable item on the table? Think vertical.
*"And why is it that the guy cutting the roast beef at the end of the table only gives you one little slice?" Because people are too polite to ask for more. Ask for more.
3.3.2009 10:38am
cenzo (mail):
And you, a law professor!
3.3.2009 11:34am
ern (mail):
When I worked in DC there were weeks when hardly a week went by without a free lunch at some think tank or another, and as a low-paid researcher at one of those tanks I could hardly afford to pass them up.

The buffets were almost always up against the wall. Only the swanky hotel-gigs had efficient buffet spreads. So, lesson learned: if you want efficiency, go to businesses, not academics. (Even the pro-market academics got this wrong!)
3.3.2009 11:49am
e. mirasol (mail):
And I thought I'd be reading something about Warren Buffet(sp?)!!!
3.3.2009 11:51am
Paul A'Barge (mail):
I prefer to drink my lunch, thanks!
3.3.2009 12:10pm
Laura(southernxyl) (mail) (www):

*"And why is it that the guy cutting the roast beef at the end of the table only gives you one little slice?" Because people are too polite to ask for more. Ask for more.


You don't even have to ask. Just stand there, continue to hold out your plate, and smile. Always works for me.
3.3.2009 12:11pm
comatus (mail):
I'm pleased to see this aspect of the Conspiracy come to light at last. There is no aspect of life so trivial that it cannot benefit by having a great mind turned to it. Or, turned loose on it.

When the Professor brings teh funnee, He.Brings.It.

To think that some still read Playboy--for the articles! By next week, there should be a clamor for The Volokh Conspiracy Book of Great Conference Recipes.
3.3.2009 12:33pm
JimGl (mail):
Good advice for the food lines that are in our future!
3.3.2009 1:07pm
Cassius Clay (mail) (www):
What did we do with out time before the internet gave us stuff like this to read all day?
3.3.2009 3:39pm
Happyshooter:
One rule at Lutheran smorgasboards is: one line for every 50 people you anticipate.

The three worst group/buffet foods ever are based in faith. Goat cheese pizza, sauerkraut, and jello salad.
3.3.2009 4:14pm
dearieme:
I remember a buffet in Prague in 1990. No advice would have worked - a stampede of half-starved Russian academics scoffed almost everything and stuffed the rest in its pockets. How long will it be until we find ourselves in that position?
3.3.2009 5:02pm
Brendanav:
"To think that some still read Playboy--for the articles!"

Really?

I never read Playboy for the articles, and I read blogs (in part) for the same reason, revealed boobs. Both are highly entertaining. The only time I ever read an article in Playboy (O.K., I was drunk) was a two-page story called "the Park is Mine".

As for Buffet advice, buy gold. For buffet advice, on the other hand, saying "please sir, may I have some more?" at the meat service will no longer get you the victorian beating you deserve. It will get you more meat. As a Roman Catholic I have spent a good deal of time at the rail (the crackers were o.k.) and likewise at medical conference drugco buffets. Let me assure you that God still helps them who help themselves. As always. I am certain Jesus would approve.
3.3.2009 5:33pm
Toby:
Perhaps the problem is lawyers who have advised on liability of the serving lanes have gotten too narrow for wheelchairs, or created a liability in case the meeting hall is struck by lightning and folks need to exits past the middle of the hall tables.

The rudeness of the end of table lemon squeezer, though, is all his own.
3.3.2009 6:12pm
Michael Lonie (mail):
Laura writes:
"I frequently bribe people to attend boring meetings with cookies, or with salsa and chips."

At the start of World War II the British set up a committee, called the Twenty Committee, to oversee their program of turning German spies back against the Nazis and controlling what they sent back to Germany as intel. It was very successful. At the first meeting it was resolved that at every meeting a bun would be served. The Committee never had absences from its meetings thorughout the war, especially after rationing began to bite hard. Thus we see the wisdom of Laura's comment.

The Committee was named as it was, by the way, because the number Twenty in Roman numerals shows a double cross.
3.3.2009 9:15pm

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