Restaurant shells out for oyster surfeit

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The Independent Online
SHORT of an impromptu visit from an incarnation of Billy Bunter, American restaurateurs have always felt fairly confident that an 'all-you-can-eat' menu is a good way of luring punters away from the nation's thriving junkyard of hamburger joints, milk bars and hot dog stands. Alan Wald has made them think again.

When Mr Wald paid dollars 15.95 (pounds 10.85) for an 'all-you-can-eat' buffet at the Moonraker restaurant in Pacifica, a seaside town near San Francisco, he was left with the clear impression that he could eat as much as liked. So he downed one plateload of oysters, then another, and another, and another . . . .

It was only after the management reckoned he had polished off more than six dozen (he put the number at 40) that they called a halt. 'The man had piled up the oysters like a pyramid,' said Ken Albrecht, the manager. 'He had taken all the oysters, and another customer was complaining.'

Mr Wald was not pleased. Arguing that 'all-you-can-eat' should mean exactly that, he sued the restaurant for 'pain and humiliation' suffered by his guzzling being questioned. 'I was discriminated against, and my rights were violated,' Mr Wald told a judge at San Mateo County small claims court.

The Moonraker's owner, John Schneider, was not pleased either. 'In this day and age, people will sue you for anything. If you ate 100 oysters and got sick, you'd probably sue us.' He countered by boning up on etiquette books, which were presented to the judge, highlighting extracts that said good manners require patrons, even of buffets in America, to show some restraint, and not 'eat like a pig'.

The judge failed to swallow the argument. Mr Wald left the court with a dollars 125 (pounds 85) award, happy to find there are sometimes exceptions to Ambrose Bierce's observation that 'a lawsuit is a machine which you go into as a pig and come out of as a sausage'.