How Will Coronavirus Affect Dining at All-You-Can-Eat Buffets?

Lizzy Buczak
May 05, 2020 - 1:44 pm

The coronavirus pandemic shut down many businesses including dine-in restaurants and buffets for weeks.

As restaurants begin reopening, new restrictive policies will likely be implemented that may change the food industry dramatically.

One of the major changes is doing away with the buffet-style setup and eliminating “high touch” points such as shared tongs, utensils, and dispensers, per the Federal Drug Administration's COVID-19 best practice guideline.

But what does that mean for beloved all-you-can-eat buffets that have become a staple in American dining? Is the concept going away? Will they be safe to frequent?

Amanda J. Deering, a clinical assistant professor with the Department of Food Science at Purdue University told TODAY that she would continue eating at buffets if they're following guidelines and ensuring cleanliness by disinfecting frequently to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Similarly, Dr. Shira Doron, an infectious disease physician and hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center, said she won't discourage eating at buffets “provided cautionary measures are in place."

The new measures being adopted by restaurants include having waitstaff plate buffet meals rather than offering a self-serve option, markers placed in the guest line to promote proper social distancing, and the option of tableside delivery. Additionally, Doron suggests the separation of tables, sneeze guards at the buffet, and limited groups allowed to approach the buffet at all times.

Many of these measures are already being implemented at some of the most popular buffets in American. Golden Corral said its locations will implement a cafeteria-style service, meaning that wait staff will serve patrons at stations.

Employee temperatures will be taken at the beginning of their shift and hand-washing will be mandatory every 20 minutes. Patrons will notice changes including fewer dining tables, floor markers for social distancing, and sanitizing stations.

Similar measures are also being implemented at staple buffet properties in Las Vegas.

Other establishments are embracing this time to revolutionize the buffet industry. Food Management Partners, which owns Old Country Buffet, HomeTown Buffet and Ryan's Buffet, revealed in a statement to the publication that they are “completely changing the dynamic of how consumers will interact within an 'all you can eat' type of environment.

Even movie studios like Lionsgate have put out new operational guidelines prohibiting catering from setting up buffet stations and enforcing pre-packaged meals on film and TV sets.

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