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Are buffets dead?

Illustration for article titled Are buffets dead?
Photo: Yagi-Studio (Getty Images)

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.

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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.

Allison Robicelli is The Takeout staff writer, a former professional chef, author of three books, and The People's Hot Pocket Princess. Questions about recipes/need cooking advice? Tweet @Robicellis.

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DISCUSSION

buffets will have to evolve, you get in line, and just simply move through the line as your plate gets handed from server to server who will add whatever food you want from their “zone” from behind plexiglass with slots at the bottom to slide the plate out when you are satisfied with your pile. each server will have an available stack of plates so that if you don’t want anything from servers A or B, you can just get stuff from servers C and D without having to wait to pass through that portion of the line. or they could take the line out of the equation, simply have a tablet for each seat that has a plate on it and you just drag and drop food onto it until you’re satisfied and a server preps the plate and brings it out to you. for this to work though you need to have enough servers to actually handle that scale of custom plating which I doubt golden corral is willing to do.