The Big Changes Coming To Buffets Post-Pandemic

We said goodbye to more than a few restaurant chains as a result of the pandemic, and while a number of them had gone into the shelter-in-place period under a financial cloud, others, like Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes closed because it was impossible to run a buffet-style restaurant in the middle of a pandemic.

Now that a vaccination rollout is underway, it could be time to think about bringing back the buffet, but under more sustainable circumstances, and there are hoteliers and restauranteurs that think that this can be done. "While some buffets are probably not coming back, I don't think they are gone for good," Benjamin Chapman, a food safety specialist at North Carolina State University, says. "I think the sector of the restaurant industry that relies heavily on buffets will adjust how they manage them for public health and perceptions reasons" (via Today). 

Chapman points out that the biggest concern was, and continues to be social distancing; the CDC's stance is that the risk of contracting COVID-19 is greatest when diners are not socially distanced.  

Hoteliers say buffets can be laid out safely

In a blog post for eHotelier, veteran hospitality executive Chuck Kelley suggests one way this can be done is by setting up individual buffet stations that serve up soups and appetizers, salads, and mains, and to make sure there are masked and gloved servers on hand that can portion food. Doing this, he says, can get rid of customer touch points. He also suggests that guests observe social distancing while lining up for food, and after they are seated. Kelley's insights appear to address Benjamin Chapman's concern that social distancing would be tricky to manage. Chapman had told Today that "managing social distancing and line-ups is really the hardest part. Or in situations where staff will serve patrons from a buffet, the staff and patron interaction is the riskiest part."

If there is one good thing that has come out of the pandemic, it is that we are all more aware of how important it is to keep our hands clean. "I don't think we will see the end of cleaning and disinfection of those common utensils now that we are in the habit of it," Chapman says. Thanks to this insight, a newer, better buffet model could be just around the next corner for restaurants who built a lucrative business around the all-you-can-eat style of serving food.