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

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All you can eat

Meaning

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

Origin

All you can eatIt will probably come as no surprise that this is an American phrase. 'All you can eat' restaurants 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 early slogan. The earliest example that I've found in print is an advert in which Penn State University appeared to be aiming to help out its students' budgets by publicising a cheap local eatery - in the Penn State Collegian, November, 1922.

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.