The buffet got creamier during the pandemic. Even when diners return to restaurants covered with hand sanitizer, a model of dining based on shared serving spoons and food full of strangers’ breath Seemed like a goner.
But the all-you-can-eat buffet, which epitomizes America’s love of choice and penchant for excess, will not be denied. From piles of crab legs at the glitzy Las Vegas casinos to pans of fried chicken at small-town Southern restaurants, the buffet is back, baby.
“The media called Buffett’s zombie companies – we didn’t know we were dead,” said Lance Trenery, chief executive of . golden coral, Its 360 restaurants offer unlimited helpings of 150 different items for less than $20. “But we are the comeback kids. Year over year, we’re up about 20 percent.”
At a time when inflation has raised the cost of both groceries and restaurants MealThe renewed popularity of the buffet, an inexpensive chain-restaurant, can be explained as a value proposition. But at the grandest venue in Las Vegas, where dinner can cost as much as $79.99 before cocktails and tax, reservations are hard to come by and waits can stretch for more than two hours.
demand is so strong that Bellagio Its signature buffet re-opened for dinner last month with 120 options. bacchanal buffet Caesars Palace, the largest in Las Vegas, recently underwent a nearly $10 million redesign and added two additional days to its brunch schedule.
“Americans love big things. That’s all,” said Allison Corona, a data analyst in Pittsburgh, whose recent five-day trip to Las Vegas with her husband and friends included four buffets. “We just love more. I am not saying that it is good. I’m just saying that’s who we are.”
Buffett speaks of an American food culture that values consistency, value and choice. They can make people of modest means feel rich, even if only for an hour or two. They provide culinary road maps for recent immigrants and culinary tours for those who haven’t traveled much. A buffet can be as communal as a church picnic.
Buffets also cater to that secret niche within the American eatery that just wants to pile it on – despite efforts to rebrand “all you can eat” as the more civilized “all you can”. Care To eat.”
Lily Jan, Food and Beverage Management Lecturer at Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, This is called the cheesecake factory effect.
“Americans want continuity because they are afraid to take a risk with their dollars when it comes to food,” he said. “They want to go somewhere with the kids where everyone can get what they want and it won’t break the bank, but they want to make it an experience.”
Nevertheless, the buffet landscape has been reshaped by the upheavals of the last few years. For one thing, the underbrush has been cleared out.
The middle-of-the-pack buffet, which offered neither great value nor great culinary advantage, never returned. Fresh Acquisitions, the company that owned Hometown Buffet and three other chains, filed for bankruptcy in 2021, citing concerns that some restaurants may not reach the 75 percent capacity needed to turn a profit on all-you-can-eat food.
It is also the final chapter of the cheap Las Vegas buffet, which began in the 1940s as a way to keep gamblers from leaving the casino. Where there used to be 18 buffets on the Strip, only eight remain casino.org,
Before the pandemic, Sherry Orner used to manage the buffet for Station Casino, a cheap local favorite. “I was budgeted to lose money every month,” she said. company never open your buffet again after shutdown.
Ms. Orner begins service as General Manager evil spoon at the Cosmopolitan a year after it reopened in June 2020. On a busy day it serves food to 1,800 people, for $49 per person ($74 if you add unlimited wine).
On a recent Saturday, the wait to enter a world of bottomless mimosas, steamed crab legs and custom-made omelets was nearly two hours. But the young, diverse crowd wanted even more than Greatest Hits.
“The buffet is designed in such a way that TikTokers and Instagrammers can create their own beautiful photos of the food,” Ms Orner said.
Although many tables at Las Vegas buffets are filled with nothing but crab, there are many dishes that would never have been seen at Frank Sinatra’s buffet. Korean-spiced chicken wings were placed in individual fryer baskets. The horchata was purple with the ube. Birraria tacos arrived hot off the grill, and steaming bowls of black garlic ramen were made to order.
Of course, there are still showstoppers. The line was long for fresh crepes at Bellagio, and people queued for cold lobster claws and three kinds of crabs at Bacchanal, where it’s not unusual to put out 4,000 pounds of steamed snow crab a day and carve 600 pounds of prime rib.
Those who manage buffets, both lavish and simple, are paying more attention to balancing the cost and abundance of food, and working to reduce food waste, which is the ugly part of buffets. Is.
One helpful strategy is to plate foods in individual portions, such as single servings of roasted bone marrow or small pieces of tuna poke, said Nathan Frost, Bellagio’s executive chef. Increase in kitchen efficiency and New technology Help chefs track exactly what, when and how much customers eat.
At the end of each day, the Bellagio staff packs some of the items not placed on the buffet into aluminum pans and freezes them. three classesA food bank that works with 160 agencies in Southern Nevada.
“It’s beautiful food,” said Maurice Johnson, the food bank’s director of operations.
The pandemic break allowed the buffet to spruce up, whether it was a multimillion renovation at Bacchanal or new hand sanitizer stations at Golden Corral. This is a relief to diners who are newly conscious about food safety and their health.
“A year ago we wouldn’t have done this,” said Dajuana Jordan, who was eating a $16.99 dinner at the Golden Corral near Atlanta with her husband and two children. They were on their way home to Chattanooga, Tennessee, after picking up their teenage daughter at a Florida softball camp. No one could agree on what to eat, so they stopped at the buffet.
“It’s kind of a step forward for us post-Covid,” Ms. Jordan said.
Even Buffet Skeptics Love It Faith Fischer Einhorn, A real estate agent who splits her time between New York City and Boca Raton, Florida, has embraced the big spread.
“If you knew me, you would know that I am not a fan of buffets,” she said. Hot bars and salad bars roaming Manhattan? “I would rather die.”
But when in Boca Raton, she can’t wait to visit the elaborate buffet. St Andrews Country Club, One of many in the area that serve their surrounding residential communities.
“I think it is well maintained and the food will not spoil for 60 years,” he said. She sent a picture of the Christmas buffet, which she described as “a football field’s worth of food”.
Choo Choo Hu, 34, a professional pianist in Atlanta who immigrated from China as a child, centers her journey around food. But she fondly remembers and details her favorite dishes at the Old Country Buffet in St. Louis, where her parents used to take her and her sister when the family had something to celebrate, like That’s the day he got his green card.
He said, “It felt like we were being as American as we could be.”
Dr. Jan, a hospitality consultant, grew up in a Taiwanese American family that frequented Asian buffets extensively in Flushing, Queens. Before the family walked through the door, his father would give a warning like many parents who consider feeding a child at a buffet at home an important life lesson: “No noodles and no rice.”
“When it comes to cultures with food insecurities embedded in fiction and folklore,” he said, “gaming the system is of great importance. But it’s also about the experience.”
In the small cities and towns of the South, the buffet is as much about community as it is about endless trays of fried chicken and squash casserole.
Movie Star RestaurantThe $15.99 all-you-can-eat in Hattiesburg, Miss., is named after the lingerie factory that occupied the building of its original location. Last March was the strongest month of sales since the restaurant opened in 2000.
Lori Ford, whose parents founded the restaurant, said, “The pandemic didn’t kill the buffet, it made it stronger.” “I think people have come to appreciate it more because it hasn’t been around for so long.”
But then again, that might just be the power of the buffet.
“The people and their food,” she said. “They don’t like being told what they can and can’t do.”