2020-06-20

Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday June 20, 2020

The end of the buffet as we know it?

The COVID-19 pandemic may be the end of the restaurant buffet as we know it.

With concerns over the spread of the virus heightening concerns around food safety, the fill-your-plate dining concept is facing serious challenges.

Some Alberta restaurant operators believe that long after anxiety around the spread of the virus subsides, customers won’t have an appetite for self-serve eats.

Some buffets shuttered by the pandemic may be gone forever, said Oscar Lopez, the founder of Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse, a chain of five Alberta restaurants.

“That’s the $2-million question,” Lopez said. “This is part of a huge industry.

“We’ve been thinking about it a lot.”

After months of public health messaging about virus prevention, customers may have become permanently put off by sneeze guards and shared spoons, Lopez said.

He wonders how long the world-famous buffets of the Las Vegas strip will remain closed, or if now-docked cruise ships will ever serve their food in the same way again.

Even when Alberta health restrictions prohibiting buffets are lifted, his chain of restaurants may never operate them again.

“An emotional scar has been left on people,” he said. “I’m skeptical. I don’t know.

“When Alberta Health Services allows us to reopen our salad bar operation, I’m not quite sure that we will. I think that will have to do a lot with what the public’s reaction is, what their memory of this whole situation is.

“We may just keep doing what we’re doing.”

Pampa is known for its rodizio-style service. Customers sample from shared plates and meat skewers served by waiters circulating from table to table. The salad bar is also a huge draw, Lopez said.

Since reopening, the restaurant is now plating its food individually in the kitchen. Tables are carefully spaced two metres apart. The salad bar is closed indefinitely.

Lopez considered having an attendant for the buffets but said he was advised by health inspectors that it would be too difficult to keep customers a safe distance apart from each other.

“Almost overnight we had to reinvent ourselves and sort of reteach our team on our new style of service, so we’re kind of learning as we go.”

Most customers have been accommodating, he said, but some reservations have been cancelled.

“It looks empty. It looks sad. We have lost a lot of the ambience in the restaurant.” (CBC) https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/edmonton-alberta-buffets-1.5600034

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