Whendown in March 2020, none of us could envision a post-pandemic era, and we didn’t quite know if pre-pandemic features like self-serve buffets would become obsolete. More than a year later, the world is slowly reopening; variants are damned (unfortunately, Nevada is now seeing the highest cases in the United States). Restaurants allow total capacity. People have shed their masks. Cruises are sailing, albeit with restrictions. And as Patton Oswalt predicted to Conan O’Brien, self-serve buffets have returned to their glory — though they look slightly different.
Grand all-you-can-stuff-on-your-plate buffets have always been equated with Las Vegas, and last March, as many as 60 Vegas buffets temporarily closed. A handful reopened the previous summer only to shutter again temporarily. (Station Casinos said it’s permanently closing its buffets.) In June 2020, The Buffet at Wynn became the first, but it closed again in September. But on July 1, 2021, it joined seven other casino buffets — Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace, Garden Buffet at South Casino and Spa, Wicked Spoon at Cosmopolitan, Circus Buffet at Circus Circus, MGM Grand Buffet, The Buffet at Bellagio, and The Buffet at Excalibur — is reemerging after a long slumber.
“I’m excited to open,” Jason Duarte, The Buffet at Wynn’s executive chef, told HuffPost. He explained the buffet now has a 60-40 self-service ratio (60% self-serve and 40% individual plates). “During the pandemic, weto do everything on individual plates. We had the servers bring the food offerings to the guests … I think [individual plates] look nicer. It gives our guests more options,” he said. Now, guests can serve themselves everything from Jonah crab claws to five types of sushi to wedge salads to a made-fresh-to-order taco station and an add-on of “endless pours” of alcohol.
About 10 miles away from Wynn resides South Point’s Garden Buffet. Of all the casino buffets in Vegas, it’s the only one that has stayed open manager of South Point, told HuffPost. “We are already back to pre-pandemic levels regarding covers, and I do not think that will change soon.”2020. In June 2021, it returned to and self-serve. Forging a traditional buffet setup, Garden is already . “At this point, short of a little extra Plexiglas, the Garden Buffet looks the same as it did before the pandemic,” Ryan Growney, general
, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines halted self-serve, but customers are gleeful it’s back. “The point of a buffet is you get to decide what you want and how much of it you want,” Growney said. “You lose some of that when it is a staff-served buffet. A few people would have liked the servers in place, but most of our customers are delighted it is back to normal.” Frisch’s, a burger chain with 103 locations (down from 110) in Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio, last summer with attendants dishing out staples like biscuits, gravy, and eggs. Those this winter, and Frisch’s all-you-can-eat bar — infused with new items — rebounded.
“We saw a pretty significant jump inup to be self-serve, and then as Ohio opened up next [in February] and then Kentucky, we saw a very similar trend,” Alison O’Keefe, Frisch’s vice president of marketing, told HuffPost. “It’s interesting that even if the option is there for people to get whatever you want, it does lose some of that appeal when people can’t do it themselves. There’s probably a difference between taking 50 pieces of bacon and asking someone to put 50 on your plate, which I get.” One thing that hasn’t yet returned is Frisch’s soup and salad bar, though customers can order a customizable salad.
Safety theater is here to stay.
While we now know the primary way COVID-19 is transmitted is through respiratory droplets, earlier in the pandemic, buffets closed that the virus can also be transmitted through fomites (objects that carry infection). The virus can feasibly lurk on serving spoons or items that customers touch at a buffet and infect someone whose hand touches their mouth. As such,, the CDC stated: “Avoid offering any self-serve food or drink options, such as buffets, salad bars, and drink stations.
This limits shared serving utensils, handles, buttons or touchscreens and help customers stay seated and at least six feet apart from people who do not live in their household.” The Food and Drug Administration echoed the CDC’s recommendation to discontinue self-service buffets. However, it also wrote: “There is no currentassociated with food or food packaging.” A Sweet Tomatoes restaurant temporarily closed due to the is seen when Garden Fresh Restaurants announced it would not reopen its 97 Sweet Tomatoes and Souplantation locations across the United States.
To combat this, cleanliness has ramped up at most buffets. Wynn employees, for example, now wipe down the buffet area every half-hour, and employees change serving-line utensils every 10-15 minutes. “If there so happens to be a guest who happened to use one spoon for this dish, but they used it for a different dish, we actually change out the two dishes and replace them completely,” Duarte said. “I think health and sanitation are paramount, and these practices should stay in place so we can always serve our guests the hottest, freshest, and safest food possible.
If we continue with these sanitation practices, it will only make us stronger. We had strict health and sanitation practices before the pandemic, so it’s just an extra half an hour that we have to do our sanitation, but I’m OK with that.” Frisch’s customers sanitizer and gloves. “Regardless whether or not safe with a level of hospital clean that we have in our restaurants,” O’Keefe said. In the Before Times, sanitary conditions at buffets were a cause for concern. But buffets may be the most sparkling clean they’ve ever been.
Buffets ‘will never die.’
Though buffets in Vegas and inside some restaurants seem to be flourishing, one COVID-19 buffet casualty is the stand-alone buffet restaurant. In the past year, Old Town Buffet and HomeTown Buffet closed permanently, Golden Corral terminated locations, Sweet Tomatoes/Souplantation permanently closed all its sites, and Sizzler filed for bankruptcy. Unlike Golden Corral and the ilk, Frisch’s is a restaurant first, which has helped it survive. “We have a full menu outside of [the breakfast bar],” O’Keefe said. “We already have drive-thrus and curbside carryout. It’s a different. Ours was sort of ‘and.’ We have our current menu AND breakfast bar. That’s a big difference.”
Duarte predicts buffets will progress into more good dining-like atmospheres. “I truly believe that having a buffet is synonymous with Las Vegas, and I honestly do not believe they’re going to go away,” he said. “They’re a great way for guests to come in with a large group of people. I do not believe the buffets will ever disappear, especially if we keep to our high standards. We will not only survive. I think we’re going to thrive and continue. We are fully come back, but our customers love our buffet, and until that changes, our buffet will never die,” Growney said.open and continuing to reinvent how we cook the food and portray the food for our guests.” “Nothing will ever go back to being the same,” O’Keefe said, “but I do think that over the upcoming months, as , that people will go back to [breakfast] bars.” So far, various iterations of the American buffet have weathered the most uncertain memory. This news should be as joyful for buffet lovers as a plate piled high with bacon. “There will be a lot of buffets that never