In a cafeteria you take a tray and put on it what you want to eat, then queue to pay for it, or you queue and as you pass the serving counter you take what you want at each 'station' and pay at the end of the counter. At a buffet you queue to pay first, then take what you want, and seconds as well if you've got an appetite (usually in hotels, but here there are chain restaurants such as 'Harvester' that have the same routine).
I do not see this system of taking first what you want and then paying for it. It is only for ice creams and yogurt stalls or eatouts that you take first and get it weighed and then pay for it. Not for other things.
Never heard of 'self-service'? It's what cafeterias are based on in many supermarkets or workplaces, and has taken on massively across most of Europe and the English-speaking world in the catering trade.
I know self service. But it is only on paying cash and taking the token relevant to the item. That is what I experienced.
alancaster149 is correct, with one variation: some cafeterias are not self-serve. There may be servers behind the counter, and you tell them what you would like, and they put it on the plate for you, and hand you the plate.
A commercial buffet is, yes, more of a pay-first then eat-all-you-want kind of scenario. These are very common in Las Vegas Hotels.
But buffet service is also popular for home parties with a lot of people where sitting down all at once around a single table is impractical.
Didn't think of the family version. I was under the impression the question was about two types of commercial venture.
Whether it is commercial or for family parties it takes same procedure of paying first and then eating whatever you want with no limits. The thing is the party organiser pays the money at party buffets.
At a cafeteria, you take the token first by paying the amount and then present the token to the person serving you from behind a counter. When you purchase the token, the tokens are predetermined for each dish and you can present the token at the respective counter to take the serve.
But, a buffet is entirely different. You will pay for a full meal and then line up to chose the dishes and serve on your own into your plates. The whole food is arranged in bowls or containers on tables in a row and you can take as much as you can eat.
When I think of a cafeteria, the image that comes to mind is from elementary school where the sectioned trays were filled with various food items of the school's choice. There are also commercial cafeterias like Luby's and Furr's here in Texas where you choose from various types of entrees, vegetables and desserts. In either case you travel down a line and usually pay at the end where a cashier tabulates the total based on your choices.
Buffets generally charge a specified price for all you care to eat. Places like Golden Corral and other commercial vendors charge up front and the customer makes choices in food which are dished up by servers. People are allowed to return and get more items of their choice as they desire. Buffets are also popular at family and church gatherings where a variety of dishes are prepared and people either serve themselves or in some cases, helpers portion out the food.
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