Buffets are On the Comeback
One foodservice casualty during the pandemic was the all-you-can-eat buffet. Reduced capacities and concerns about possible contamination motivated many to eliminate these offerings. However, with restaurants, hotels, and other foodservice businesses slowly returning to normal, it seems the buffet may be back on the menu.
Restaurants and hotels across the country that shut down their buffets during the pandemic have begun re-launching them in recent months. In Las Vegas, the Wynn and Circus Circus brought buffets back in time for the holidays. Restaurants such as Library II in New Jersey and Brazilian steakhouse chain Chima, are bringing back their famous salad bars and buffets after months of limiting those options.
But why have they returned from the dead and not gone extinct? One answer is simple: people like them. Surveys show that buffets are one of the most popular perks that travelers expect when staying at hotels.
Another reason for the comeback is COVID fatigue. Even as the Omicron variant causes cases to skyrocket in the United States, many Americans are reportedly tired of pandemic restrictions and have a strong desire to return to normal, such as returning to indoor dining.
Americans are also more aware that the risks associated with buffets are not as drastic as originally thought. At the beginning of the pandemic, people were concerned about sharing serving utensils, touching plates that others had contacted, and more. But medical experts now say those risks are minimal, and buffets that implement social distancing policies should be safe for customers.
It also doesn't hurt that buffets require less labor than traditional dining. At a time when restaurants and hotels are struggling to hire employees, buffets allow operators to still offer a vast menu to their customers without needing as much waitstaff to ensure proper service.
While buffets may be returning, that doesn't mean they work the same as before. Many businesses are introducing new procedures and practices to help ensure social distancing and reduce risks for both customers and workers.
Some pandemic-related adaptations to buffets include one-way service, meaning customers only move in one direction to increase distance. This is similar to how many grocery and other retail stores implemented one-way aisles at the start of the pandemic. Restaurants and hotels are also providing hand sanitizer stations and increasing their own cleaning frequencies to reduce health risks as much as possible. Other businesses are making their buffets grab and go, meaning customers choose their items for takeout and don't eat in their dining room. If customers don't eat in-person, they also won't need to remove their masks while at the buffet, which helps prevent COVID transmission.
Many restaurants and hotels are looking for ways to modernize their buffet offerings as well. Whether it's adding plant-based foods, limiting portion sizes, or providing more fruits and vegetables, healthier buffet options are becoming the norm. Buffets are also a target for sustainability efforts, including eliminating trays or using smaller plates so customers don't serve themselves too much food that they won't eat.
The pandemic may have put buffets on hold, but it didn't dull customers' love for those all-you-can-eat offerings. With improved health, safety, and sustainability procedures, businesses can once again provide this beloved dining option to their customers.
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