A Closer Look At 3 Lancaster County Mass Eateries

If you’ve ever been to one of the all-you-can-eat buffets that dot the Lancaster County tourist landscape, you know it’s hard to leave hungry. “Smorgasbord” feels like the perfect word here.

A recent article at eater.com takes us inside three Lancaster smorgasbords: Bird-In-Hand Family Restaurant, Miller’s, and the big daddy of them all, Shady Maple, which seats up to 1,200 people and boasts over 100,000 square feet of eating space.

Mennonite Restaurant Jamesport Mo
Image: Don Burke

I thought this was a good description of the kind of chow you get in these places:

“In Lancaster County we have this lingo where we talk about the seven sweets and seven sours,” Smucker says. “We love butter and we love sugar — white sugar, brown sugar, it doesn’t matter.” This penchant for butter and sugar comes from the region’s rich dairy roots and its residents’ love for baking and preserving. The menu here is fiercely sweet, sour when it needs to be, and meaty. Potato and macaroni salads are sweetened to the verge of dessert territory, while pickled red beets and chow-chow, a green tomato and cabbage relish, balance out plates of “broasted” (breaded and pressure-fried) chicken and dairy-rich creamed corn with a welcome hit of acidity.

Amid the more standard PA Dutch fare like hot bacon dressing and chicken pot pie, I came across one I hadn’t had before: Amish caviar. This is described as “a rarely seen regional specialty of cream cheese topped with more-sweet-than-spicy red pepper preserves.”

Usually, if I’m visiting Lancaster County, I stay with Amish friends, so eat whatever they put on the table (and they’ve never put Amish caviar on the table, or if they did, didn’t call it that).

It is often the type of hearty farm fare you’d think of as traditionally Amish or PA Dutch (scrapple, casserole, chipped beef gravy, etc.), but could also be pizza or Mexican-influenced dishes, which are also popular among Amish.

But I’ve been to two of these places, once for breakfast, and another time for dinner. I wasn’t blown away, but it’s hard to really mess up an all-you-can-eat buffet, since the point is really variety–and quantity.

The blessing and curse of all-you-can-eat 

I have a love-hate relationship with these buffets, and really any all-you-can-eat place.

I’m a variety eater, and never happier than when I have a dozen different items to sample.

But inevitably in my enthusiasm I take a few bites too many–before my brain has caught up to put on the brakes so to speak–and my waistline feels it the rest of the afternoon.

The abundance of choice is just too enticing. You don’t want to leave anything untried. In this scenario, even just a little bit of everything adds up to a lot.

I also think the “getting your money’s worth” mentality can be harmful in this situation. In the article one of the establishment’s chefs is described as asking customers if they had gotten enough to eat ($23.95 is the price tag at this place).

If I was paying that much for a meal, I’d be motivated to pack away a lot of food. It changes the approach to eating from one of savoring dishes to one of quantity consumption.

Shady Maple Desserts And Pies
dessert buffet – buddhakiwi/flickr

I do not know if all-you-can-eat is a strictly American phenomenon, but I haven’t seen much of this in Europe or in other countries I’ve visited. We tend to do everything bigger. And all-you-can-eat is a symbol of the abundance we enjoy.

One person who is not a fan is William Woys Weaver, a food historian and author (see here for our interview with Weaver on PA Dutch cuisine). As Weaver tells eater.com, “People coming to Lancaster with their binoculars looking for Amish have to eat [something].”

But these eateries are a firmly-ensconced part of the landscape in Lancaster County, where millions of tourists come each year to visit Amish Country. In fact the trend dates to the 1960s, when tourism was already well-established.

There are alternatives for Amish Country visitors looking for a culinary experience, sometimes including the possibility of a meal in an Amish home, though that takes a little more legwork to arrange.

What do you think about all-you-can-eat places? Ever been to one in Amish Country? Any favorites?

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    1. AGB

      Too much!

      I can’t eat enough at one sitting for it to be worth the cost and the personal dilemma of wanting to try a little of everything can become a dangerous situation ;0)

      We recently took our oldest grandson for the weekend. We saw Sampson at Sight & Sound, stayed at a wonderful B&B, mini-golf, train museum and we did do one “all you can eat”. The grandson enjoyed the buffet, it was an experience he thoroughly enjoyed.

      1. I know that situation well AGB 🙂 Glad to hear you enjoyed the visit. There are a lot of family-oriented things to do.

    2. Al in Ky

      I’ve been to several of these (Yoder’s in Arthur, Ill., Mrs. Yoder’s in Mt. Hope, Ohio, Stoll’s in Daviess Co. Indiana, etc.).

      My favorite is Stoll’s for two reasons — the setting is beautiful with the restaurant being on W. Boggs Lake, and with the buffet you get all the pie you care to eat. The waitress brings a large tray of pie around near the end of your meal, and invites you to take all you think you will eat.

      I hope that tourists realize that Amish people do not eat like this every day in their homes. Also, if a tourist wants a more “authentic” Amish meal, I think they should try to find an Amish home that welcomes groups for meals. These seem to be mostly in the larger Amish settlements.

      1. Well said Al, I see Mark concurs below 😀 When I was in Daviess County for three weeks I did the breakfast buffet at the Black Buggy restaurant, not sure if it is still there though.

    3. Bob the Quaker

      Been there lots....

      I’ve been to all three many times, & the food is very good at all three. There is another “gem” in the area. Dienners (just down the road from Millers, near the windmill). Amish run, so closed on Sundays, and they close early at 6PM. You will see many Amish there & the price about half of what the other charge, and the food is every bit as good, just less choices.

      1. Someone else recommended Dienner’s on this post’s Facebook thread. It’s rare that I do, but if I need to hit one of these on another visit, I’m going to try that one. Or might make a good treat one evening, though I don’t know if I can afford to take everyone in my friends’ family, we’d be talking like 8 or 10 people 🙂

        1. Lillian Miller

          I have been to all three of the restaurants plus several others that aren’t listed and although the food was always good but cost to much my favorite restaurant is Deinners. the food is always great and the prices are reasonable for a family to pay. I go there at least once while I am there for a weekend and sometimes more. the other restaurants just cost to much to take a family to. Still I like to try the others to.

        2. Dolores Menzella

          Dienner's Restaurant, Soudersburg, PA

          Erik: Should you get to the Lancaster area (specificially Rt. 30), please do not miss the opportunity to visit Dienner’s Restaurant. Ada & Jake Dienner own the restaurant and they offer the best food at the best price. The dessert bar is absolutely delicious. Maryanne is just one of the hostesses and Irma makes the most delicious breakfast biscuits. You can count on fresh food, something for every and any taste.

          You will not regret this suggestion. My husband and I have been going there for many many years and travel from NJ to visit this very special area and usually eat every meal at Dienner’s!!!!

          1. Dolores, I am fortunate enough to usually have homemade meals when in Lancaster County, but I think this one is now at the top of my list for the next time I end up eating out with someone there. Sounds great.

    4. Mark -- Holmes Co.

      I hope that tourists realize that Amish people do not eat like this every day in their homes. Also, if a tourist wants a more “authentic” Amish meal, I think they should try to find an Amish home that welcomes groups for meals. These seem to be mostly in the larger Amish settlements.

      Good point, Al! I laughed at the part that points out we don’t eat like that every day. 🙂 We certainly don’t! Tourists would have been disappointed to see what I had for supper last evening — a grilled cheese sandwich, two pieces of leftover pizza from the evening before, some salad, and some store bought vanilla ice-cream with fresh strawberries for dessert. I think the fresh strawberries are the only thing that would “sound Amish.” 🙂

      1. Thanks for reminding me about grilled cheese Mark. It’s been too long since I had one. One of my first “Amish meals” was actually a cheese and tomato sandwich, in Illinois…a random invite when I was selling books in that area, say 12 years ago. I still remember the guy talking about how his family eats “simple food”, and he invited me to join, almost sheepishly. No problem with simple food here 🙂

      2. Margaret


        Oh Mark I’m sorry I just had to chortle when I read what you had for dinner! I’m more atheist these days but we have very similar dinner meals! Whatever’s handy and in the fridge!

        1. Mark -- Holmes County

          “Whatever’s handy and in the fridge” sounds good to me. 🙂

          We did have a great meal last evening. A few families got together at a friend’s cabin way back in the woods and we enjoyed a great campfire stew, potato salad, various fixings and a selection of pies, fresh-strawberries, ice-cream, all washed down with cold mint tea followed by coffee brewed on the fire.

          Now I have the day off today and am the library and running other errands and I’ll be picking up Subway sandwiches as a treat.

    5. Joanne Crowley

      Good Portion= Good Health

      Yes food can be delightful but we all need to keep in mind that food is our bodies fuel. Garbage in = gabage out. Our bodies were not created to handle “all you can eat” meals and buttery/sugary goodness. Too many people suffer health related issues because of such access.
      Good portions/good choices=good health/good fuel…
      …sincerely and respectfully,

      1. Joanne, good reminder. I’m not too embarrassed to admit that even at age 37, I have a weakness for gummy bears. Not an addiction, I don’t think, but a weakness. Seems I should have outgrown that by now, but what can you do 😀 Hey, at least I try to eat salads and fresh veggies regularly…I tell myself it all balances out 🙂

    6. LEe Ann


      We’ve been to Bird in Hand twice. I really liked it the first time. The second time was okay.

    7. Doug Douglass


      Are any of these restaurants owned by Amish or Mennonites?

      1. I believe Shady Maple is Mennonite-owned, and Bob above says that Dienner’s is Amish-run, though not sure if that refers to ownership as well.

        1. Kristen


          Thanks for mentioning Dienners. I have been to Bird-In-Hand and Intercourse a few times but never made it to Ronks. I will next time for sure as I googled the restaurant and it looks FABULOUS!!!!

    8. Nina

      We have been to all three and Dienners, too.
      Our very favorite is Bird in Hand. The food is always
      fresh and the buffet is kept stocked and very
      clean. The price at lunch is $14.99 and that
      includes your beverage.
      Shady Maple is a place you should try once
      just to see the huge amount of food. It can
      be overwhelming!

    9. Bob the Quaker

      Bird-in-Hand restaurant is also nice & I have seen all of their plays too. Another authentic Lancaster, PA Amish restaurant is Katie’s Kitchen run by Amish. It is not a Smogaborg …. you order off a menu. They are located on Rt 896/Strasburg Rd just south of Rt 30.

      My offers is still good Erik for me to buy you lunch or supper when we are both in Lancaster (excluding your 10 relatives ). I’ll be there all month next October.

      1. I’ll keep that in mind Bob, thanks…and on the 10 family members, I actually meant the family of Amish friends I stay with 🙂

    10. B. Ro


      I grew up in the fifties near the Amish, without paying them much attention. In the eighties, driving through Pennsylvania in May, I stopped at a big Amish restaurant for lunch. Through the window I saw a six-horse team coming over the hill, harrowing the field. I thought that it was part of the decor, there to entertain the visitors.

      When I came out, I saw that there were teams on every hill, and my eyes were opened. I’ve been chasing the Amish ever since. Sometimes I think I might get bored, but at each settlement I see something new. But my strongest impression is my first, in Lancaster. There were big buses for tourists nosing around the small roads, and by every creek was a nodding black pump, moving the water. Both of these had disappeared by the next time I came through, but everything still green.


      Lancaster County eateries

      Just once I would like to go to Shady Maples! I just love buffet or smorgasbord but simply can’t afford to try everything I would like to. I have heard the stories and have actually stood outside looking in while someone did a bit of shopping in the store next door. I believe the entire mall where Shady Maples is located is Mennonite owned. I like to buy their Weaverland Collection shirts for dress shirts.

      When we were in Pa for the Amish conference at Elizabethtown College, we visited at the homes of a number of Mennonite friends, enjoying Pa. style meals at every home. The meals varied greatly, from simple to everything you have heard of Amish/Mennonite style meals. One of the best meals was at a close friends where the third time we ate there, we were served soup and leftovers. That is when you know that you are either at a good friend’s home or that you have outstayed your welcome!

      1. I like your analysis of the leftovers meal Osiah 🙂 I am going to keep that in mind…I think if the soup is served unheated, that could be a sign of Ben Franklin’s adage about fish and houseguests 🙂

    12. clenaldo augusto

      Olá Sr. Bach: meu nome é Clenaldo, e moro no Brazil. Gostaria de saber se existem planos para estabelecerem uma comunidade Amish no Brazil? Um grande abraço e a Paz de Jesus Cristo.

    13. Alice Mary

      Diabetes dilemma

      I’ve only been to a couple of places (none of those mentioned in the original post), Yoder’s in Arthur, IL and Das Essenhaus in Middlebury, IN near Shipshewana. I avoided the buffet, mainly because I’m a picky eater (never see PLAIN beets anywhere, only pickled) and many of the items just don’t appeal to me…except the desserts! 🙂 Being diabetic throws a wrench in the whole experience.

      Erik, how do the Amish (with so many good cooks using yummy but not so healthy ingredients…as mentioned here) who have diabetes cope? It seems no matter where you go in Amish country, there’s not much (other than some sugar free Amish-made jams & jellies) for people with dietary restrictions to enjoy. As mentioned here, even sampling tiny portions can be a big no-no, making the (often substantial) cost of those meals seem extravagant.

      Sigh! 🙁

      1. Sorry to hear you have to miss out on some of these treats, Alice Mary. I’ve never really looked into what Amish with diabetes do but I’d assume they adapt their diets similarly to how non-Amish do, at least when cooking at home. Yes, it seems in the Amish/PA Dutch culinary tradition you’d have to look at a lot of good things but not eat all you’d like to…or find a way to create diabetic-friendly versions :/

      2. Amish Girl - Rebecca

        My grandparents both have diabetes and I’m pre-diabetes, plus gluten-free, so you learn to adapt and cook sugar-free or wheat-free or whatever you need to. Restaurant eating is tough , no question on that, so I choose to mostly cook at home. When invited to a friend’s I usually offer to bring something so I know there will be at least one dish I can safely eat. Hopefully they’re also serving veggies and fruit. And never go really hungry, I always eat enough to tide me over before I go , or pack something. I’ve also humbled myself enough already to ask before -hand what will be served, so I’m prepared. Most people are understanding if you explain. But, believe me the Amish way of eating is tough for gluten-free. And as before mentioned we don’t eat like that everyday.

    14. Bob the Quaker

      One of my Amish friends has meals for tourists. I have the advantage of knowing all the places she uses to purchase food items. Some come out of her garden. I know the places because I often drive her around. If you become friends with some Amish, they are your friends forever, but they will also call you for taxi service. I really don’t mind, but you never know when you are going to get a call….

      1. You’re probably making them pretty happy with the taxi help Bob, especially considering the prices for paid Amish taxis. Hopefully they are returning the favors with some Amish food service 😉

      2. Ann Dolan

        My husband and I would like to dine with an Amish family next week Sept 4-9 2023 if possible. Could you call or text me please? We are practicing Orthodox Christians and conservative and respectful/ Thank you.

        Michael and Ann Dolan

    15. Rita

      Amish cavier

      Erik, one of my coworkers used to bring this to us to enjoy – she called it “pepper jelly” – delicious spread on crackers over cream cheese. Speaking of food, I’ve recently been buying “turkey scrapple” from an Amish stand at Eastern Market in York, PA. Still not sure how healthy it is, but figured it might have less fat than regular scrapple make with pork.

      1. Pepper jelly sounds delicious. I’d sign up for turkey scrapple as well, don’t think I’ve had that one. I think the less you think about what’s in scrapple, the better.

    16. My wife’s family was brought up on Scrapple and they all love it, but you just have to enjoy & not think about what is in it….as Erik hinted to..

      The Pepper Jam is at Kitchen Kettle Village in Intercourse, PA and they also provide the recipe to add the cream cheese.

      Nice place to visit. In the summertime there is usually music and 30+ shops to go through.

    17. Judith


      Well, I have 23 godchildren! Can you believe that? It seems all my friends who have children always pick me as the fairy godmother – which I LOVE since I have no children of my own. But I must say if I’m taking any of my godsons out to eat – it’s much cheaper for me to take them to a buffet – they are teenagers now and I can’t believe how much they eat! Seriously, if I ate that much I’d be big as a house, and yet they seem perfectly healthy and definitely not fat. They are athletic and need a lot of calories (but it always floors me when they go back for seconds and thirds at buffets, they eat so much!). It would cost me a fortune to take them to a sit down restaurant and they wouldn’t be full. So, or me, and my wallet, these buffets are a God send for my teenaged godsons!

      Also – I think that if I was a farmer and worked in the fields all day – I might eat like that too. I think, generally speaking, the Amish tend to expend more calories than us. No cars, sometimes no bikes, tending to farm animals, crops – I’m sure the Amish can pack away quite a bit at the dinner table and still not gain too much weight. But there’s also genetics, some of us eat like birds and still gain weight. If I just think about ice cream, my waist band feels tighter. 😉

      1. Wow that’s a ton of godchildren, I think that says something good about you Judith 🙂

        Yes I think buffet places prefer say little kids and little old ladies to growing teenage males, but it probably all evens out in the end 🙂

    18. C J

      Bird In Hand Family Restaurant

      My parents & I visited this restaurant many times from 1990 through 2002.

      It was our favorite place to eat. We always ordered from their menu & every item tried was truly enjoyed. Especially chowchow, chicken & dumplings, ham loaf & puddings; very tasty. Never did buffet.

      Bird in Hand Bakery pies & cakes along with Kitchen Kettle jams, relishes were brought home to enjoy.

      There are some wonderful cooks, fantastic crafters in Lancaster County. Each time I was in Lancaster County found enjoyment of food, fresh farm items, crafts and a more peaceful life.

      I wish I were able to visit again:

    19. Karen

      Prefer Shady Maple

      We enjoy Shady Maple when we are in Lancaster. I remember it years ago as just a simple small buffet that expanded. It is better than the others mentioned, including Dienners, but pricier. For us, we come so infrequently that it is worth the extra money for the better quality of food and the convenience of always having the buffet well stocked. There are many people who work there and I have yet to see them run out of something while I was waiting for it. Plus, there are identical buffet tables on the other end of the room so if they were to run out of something and you do not want to wait, you can always walk to the other side of the buffet to get it. I think there is a small discount for seniors but if there are a few people it adds up. It does get a lot of people, especially when the buses come in. So if you like quiet intimacy, it is not the place for you. But the good news is that the tables are spread far enough throughout the banquet hall that you never feel crowded or rushed.

    20. Bob the Quaker

      Shady Maple is free on your birthday, so try to plan for that, or tell a friend you will buy them lunch @ Shady Maple on their birthday 🙂

    21. Theresa


      In answer to Alice Mary’s question about dealing with diabetes: We have friends who are Old Order Amish. One friend was diagnosed with diabetes a couple years ago in her early 40s. The family has tried to eat more fresh veggies at most meals and limit sugar intake just as anyone else would do. I am guessing they have a few more temptations than we do but many are probably stronger willed at doing their best to follow doctors’ orders. 🙂

    22. Walter Boomsma

      The one thing I'm sure of...

      We’ve been regular visitors to Lancaster County for about 30 years and currently visit once a year in the summer. In fact, we’re here now. I don’t know who coined it, but the observation that “If it has Amish in the name it probably isn’t…” feels on the mark. The one restaurant I’m sure is Amish owned and operated is Fisher’s located on Harvest Drive in Gordonville. (Even though it does, in fact, have “Amish” in the name.) Their buffet is not the extravaganza offered by many of the well-known locations, but the food is “genuine,” the service is friendly, and it’s not uncommon to share the restaurant with local Amish Folks. When we were there this week, the diners were about 50/50–Amish/English. It’s relatively new (2-3 years) and hasn’t been discovered by the tourists yet.

      I believe Katie’s Kitchen in Ronks is also actually Amish owned and operated. For the past two years they’ve suffered a bit from road construction. Both Katie’s and Fisher’s are also open for breakfast.

      Turning to the “tourist” places, Yoders is probably at the top of our list followed by Dienner’s (the problem at Dienner’s is the typical wait). We enjoy simple and affordable… and the variety typically available. Our meal expense during a trip to Lancaster County is often half what it is in other areas. (We also visit farm markets and munch on pastries, cheese and meats washed down with homemade root beer. Tonight we were at a carriage auction and had root beer floats made with homemade ice cream and root beer.)

      We haven’t tried to find a local family offering in-home meals–a few years ago there was a crackdown on “unlicensed” establishments that pretty much put an end to arranging meals in private homes. I suspect there’s an underground method in place but haven’t found it.

      While we’re explorers, I also use TripAdvisor a lot… there are over 1,000 places to eat in Lancaster County. It’s a buffet of buffets!

    23. Thomas Hoehner


      i would love to spend a weekebd with an amish family

    24. Amish Caviar

      I grew up with this dip, which may go back to my family’s Cincinnati German roots. Obviously homemade sweet pepper jelly is the best, but I’ve found that my local grocery store one works fine ( I’m in South Florida, so it’s usually Publix), unless I can afford a treat & get the version that Williams Sonoma makes. We generally surround it w/ Club or Ritz crackers.

    25. Ann Dolan

      Eating with the Amish

      My husband and I would like to dine with an Amish family next week Sept 4-9 2023 if possible. Could you call or text me please? We are practicing Orthodox Christians and conservative and respectful/ Thank you.

      Michael and Ann Dolan