Ever since holding our wedding breakfast at the Golden Corral Buffet several years ago, my wife and I have endured criticism and outright mockery. And perhaps rightfully so. I can fairly be accused of having poor taste, of being a cheapskate, and even of being gluttonous. But I cannot be accused of lacking buffet expertise. I may have poor taste, but I know buffets. It’s under the authority of that expertise that I established the First Rule of Buffets.

The First Rule of Buffets: An all-you-can-eat buffet that costs less than $20 is not a good buffet. This is an absolute rule. Some have suggested that a $15 or even an $18 buffet might be good. If you are inclined to make such an argument, I refer you back to the Rule: a buffet less than $20 is not a good buffet. I understand that some people may have eaten at buffets that were good that cost less than $20, but these are outliers in the dataset. The Rule will not trifle with such rarities.

To understand the Rule, you must understand what makes a buffet good. This, in turn, requires understanding what makes a buffet bad. Although there are several factors that may contribute to a bad buffet, the three most important are 1) too many people; 2) children; and 3) poor-quality food.

First, there is almost nothing more annoying than crowding around a buffet like so many cattle around a trough. At $20, a buffet’s price reaches a critical juncture on the demand curve such that it comfortably suppresses the number of customers.

Second, children cause a bad buffet experience. Kids are messy. They slop food in-between food trays, they break plates, and they are below the sneeze-guard. Many parents are reluctant to drop $20 for a child’s dinner, so they’ll take the kids elsewhere.

Finally, a restaurant simply cannot profitably provide the quantity, variety, and quality of food that a good buffet requires for less than $20.

The Rule applies globally. Even if you are in parts of the world where the cost of living might be lower, you will not find a good buffet for less than $20.

Some argue that less-than-$20 Las Vegas casino buffets, subsidized by casino money, are good buffets. Casino subsidies may enable the food to be higher quality, but it does nothing to address the other two factors. In fact, because the food is good and cheap, it exacerbates the other two factors.

You ignore the Rule to your buffet dining peril.