Old Mill Crab House, Bethany Beach, DE

Check your diet at the door. The Old Mill Crab House in Bethany Beach, Delaware is not for those interested in keeping a trim waistline.

This place is about serious, all-you-can eat debauchery.

Some rather large people queue outside the doors of this out-of-the way restaurant half an hour before the doors open. And if the robust clientele isn't intimidating enough, wait until you enter the dining room and see the large, 22-gallon trash barrels at the end of each table and the brown wrapping paper used for tablecloths.

The wrapping paper and trash barrels will make sense in a moment - trust us.

The prices are a bit high - roughly $25 for an all-you-can eat special of either crabs (snow or blue), shrimp, fried chicken or a combination of crabs and shrimp. And when your food arrives, it dawns on you why the wrapping paper is there. The waiters simply dump a large quantity of food directly onto the table for your eating orgy to begin.

The crab special, for example, starts with a dozen boiled crabs piled in front of the diner. He is then expected to attack this pile of food with only his bare hands and a wooden mallet. Broken crab shells are tossed into another large pile or deposited directly into the aforementioned trashcans.

Then it's time to eat....

And eat, and eat and eat...

The restaurant also has a full bar, but beer choices are limited to a few brands on draft. Though drinking a lot of beer will take up valuable space in the stomach that should be reserved for the vast quantities of food patrons are going to consume.

We have found that there is a particular type of illogic which afflicts otherwise perfectly normal people when confronted with an all-you-can eat situation like this - an unholy desire to 'get their money's worth'. What this means is that instead of eating a comfortable amount of food, patrons eat heroic portions in a vain attempt to bankrupt the restaurant's owners by devouring a quantity of food greater than the value paid for the meal.

This almost never works. But it does result in a lot of people loosening their belts and surreptitiously belching into clenched fists as they exit the restaurant.

But a dining experience at the Old Mill Crab House is more than just eating an ocean of seafood. There is also a rather entertaining floor show provided for observant patrons. 

This would be the frantic ballet the staff performs as they clear the remains of one meal from the table to make ready for the next group of eaters. Each member of the staff has a clearly defined role:

  • One person clears the silverware and glasses from the table.
  • Another rolls the wrapping paper, crab carcasses and leftover food into a ball and dumps it in the waste can at the foot of the table.
  • A third gives the table a quick wipe with a wet rag, and then replaces the wrapping paper and utensils.
By one Researcher's watch, the staff averaged a little better than 2 minutes to completely clear and reset a table. This is fast enough so that the group which has just left the table actually passes the group heading to take their place, resulting in there being with virtually no time when a table in the restaurant is unoccupied.

The fact that there always seem to be somebody waiting to get in and eat is surprising given that the restaurant is off the beaten path along Cedar Neck Road. This is far enough from the beach and the usual places pandering to tourists that only a true gastrointestinal warrior or successful tourists will seek it out.

Don't get us wrong. There are plenty of other options on the menu including large but not ridiculous portions of fried seafood, baked flounder stuffed with crabmeat, crab cakes, and much more. And all the dishes we've sampled are well prepared.

But anyone visiting the Old Mill Crab House should at least give the all-you-can eat platters a try once. Diet or no diet.

<-- Return to Delaware, 2002