It brings me great pain to say this, but there is a chance that the concept of all-you-can-eat buffets have gone the way of the dodo. It could be time to say so long to smorgasboards and sayonara to salad bars, and time to kiss the complimentary continental hotel breakfast goodbye. Our children and grandchildren might only know about the wonders of the Caesar’s Palace buffet and the terrors of the Golden Corral through the folktales we pass down from generation to generation.
Other types of restaurants might stand a chance during the phased reopening of the economy by employing new service strategies, but as current federal recommendations state that all restaurants should discontinue self-service options “such as salad bars, buffets, and beverage service stations that require customers to use common utensils or dispensers,” the very premise that makes buffets even remotely appealing is gone. The reason anyone goes to a buffet is not for the taste of the food—it’s for the taste of freedom. You can choose a little bit of everything and then choose to eat it again three or four times. A table piled high with finished plates makes one feel as if they were Henry VIII, enjoying the same sort of feast that would no doubt be served at epic Tudor banquets had the king’s chefs been blessed with the recipe for tater tots or ranch dressing. Trade publication Restaurant Business notes that even before the COVID-19 pandemic began, the number of limited-service buffet concepts was in decline, with about 10% of units closing in 2019 and overall sales down 9.1%. Buffet chains Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes already have one bankruptcy filing behind them, and the parent company of Old Country Buffet and HomeTown Buffet has been through multiple bankruptcy filings. All four chains shut their doors in March as pandemic restrictions began, as did competitor Golden Corral.
Meanwhile, Sizzler is trying to ride out the storm by pivoting from a buffet to a takeout/delivery model, which is surprising news, as I was positive that Sizzler went out of business twenty years ago.