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The meaning and origin of the expression: All you can eat

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All you can eat

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'All you can eat'?

A restaurant advertising slogan (usually followed by a price).

What's the origin of the phrase 'All you can eat'?

It will probably come as no surprise that this is an American phrase. Resyaurants began offering 'All you can eat' at the end of the 19th century and spread throughout the USA during the depression years of the 1930s, when diners' hunger was often bigger than their budget.

The deal with such restaurants is an unlimited amount of food, usually arranged as a self-service buffet and usually of pretty low quality, for a fixed price - also low. 'All you can eat for $1' was a typical slogan in the 30s. The earliest example that I've found in print is in the Olklahoma newspaper The Weekly News, September 1895:

One restaurant in the territory is brave enough to make the bold offering "all you can eat for fifteen cents."

All you can eatA visual impression of such a restaurant from the 1930s comes in one of Harrison Cady's Peter Rabbit cartoons, published in the Oakland Tribune in April 1933.

'All you can eat' is still a popular form of dining and has now spread to all continents. In more recent years the restaurants have moved up-market somewhat. Minimum price is no longer the only factor and you aren't now likely to eat all you can for 50 cents or $1.

In the late 20th century the phrase began to be used in an allusory manner, that is, not limited to references to food. An example is from a 1994 edition of Internet World:

"Costs of typically $1-2 per hour or $10-$30 per month for 'all you can eat' use of reachable free-for-access Internet service."

See also - surf and turf.