Now, open-concept cooking stations allow diners to see that the food - even for items that are not prepared a la minute - is cooked and replenished in small batches so that it is always fresh.
Last December saw the concept materialise in the Grand Hyatt's Straits Kitchen, which offers hawker fare in a designer setting.
But even before that, others such as King's Hotel introduced a semi-open kitchen three years ago where diners can watch the chefs fry their char kway teow to order through a glass panel.
This month, it is Shangri-la Hotel's turn to unveil its new baby.
After a six-month renovation, the old Coffee Garden has been transformed unrecognisably into The Line, a hip eatery designed by US-based Adam Tihany.
He is the man behind the look of famous American restaurants like Spago in Las Vegas and Le Cirque 2000 in New York.
His vision for The Line is a predominantly white restaurant set against orange light boxes on the ceiling and bright blue accent walls. It has such a happy effect that anyone suffering from seasonal affective disorder is likely to find an instant cure here.
If that fails, there is also the display of food in this mother of all buffets, including salmon sashimi, chilled lobster, salad, pasta, pizza, dimsum, satay, prata, tandoori meats and dessert.
The colourful palette they create is an artist's handiwork, especially the desserts which are laid out in rows of shot glasses.
The 16 food stations are scattered in clusters throughout the sprawling 1,350sq m restaurant. This allows diners to spread out so that even when the place is packed - as it was the night I was there, when, interestingly, quite a few folks from rival hotels were seen too - there is nary a queue to be seen anywhere.
With the restaurant seating 410 people, 113 of them outdoors, that is quite a feat.
The staff also does a great job amidst all the hustle and bustle. Water glasses are never left empty and your napkin is folded and placed neatly on the table each time you return with your plate of food. And when you dig into the chilled prawns and crabs with your hands, a finger bowl quietly makes its way to your table.
Prices are high though, with the dinner buffet at a whopping $65 per person. Drinks are separate, with an orange juice at $13. But given the variety and, more importantly, the quality of the food, it is a price that many will be happy to pay.
Lunch, at $41, is relatively cheaper. But in the place of oysters and Alaskan crab legs are poorer cousins like mussels and small crabs. Nonetheless, the range is enough to satiate the most voracious appetite.
There is no way you can taste everything, so the trick is to focus.
Set yourself a theme, for example, Asian or Western. And then switch during your next visit.
Or you can prioritise.
The main courses, as is the case with most buffets, are the weakest link in the line-up. They are not bad but, with more wondrous food available, not must-trys either.
An exception can be made at the tandoori counter, where the king prawns are so luscious that you would find it hard to resist them anyway. Give in, for they are not only huge but also fresh and succulent.
The noodle station is worth visiting too. That is where I discovered some wonderful wontons - crunchy with prawns and sweet with the flavour of minced pork.
Desserts here will ensure you leave with a smile on your lips. The teppanyaki ice cream, a new invention where the chef 'fries' ice cream flavours of your choice on a cold plate with various nuts and crisps, is so good it is destined to be the next big thing.
And look out for the apple jelly. Filled with bits of chopped apples, it is topped with a mini toffee apple that is utter bliss.
But I did try something awful as well: a Thai red ruby-inspired concoction that suffered from too much flour in the coconut milk.
With such abundance, is there room for the small eater at The Line?
One good thing about this 24-hour eatery is that though the focus is on buffets at meal-times, it also offers an a la carte menu around the clock. Items include local fare such as chicken rice as well as some international Western dishes.
Though most people would not be able to resist the buffet, especially since a bowl of wonton mee costs $20, at least one is given a choice.
THE LINEShangri-la Hotel, Orange Grove Road, Tel: 6213-4275Opening hours: 6 to 10.30am (breakfast, till 11am on weekends), noon to 2.30pm (lunch), 6.30 to 10.30pm (dinner), 10.30pm to 6am (supper)
Food: *** 1/2
Price: Breakfast is S$37 for adults and S$19 for children. Lunch is S$41 and S$21 and dinner is S$65 and S$34 respectively.
Source: The Straits Times Singapore By Wong Ah Yoke