Buffet-style eateries closed en masse, permanently, during the Covid-19 outbreak over safety concerns. For those that survived, what are their plans for the current calendar year?
This article is free of bias, and is based on corporate postings and accredited media reports. All linked information within this article is fully-attributed to the following outlets: Today.com, RestaurantBusinessOnline.com, BizJournals.com, Blog.Cheapism.com, and FastCompany.com.
In April of 2021, Today.com published Ronnie Koenig’s “Are Buffets a Thing of the Past? Reimagining 'All-You-Can-Eat' in a Post-COVID World,” which detailed the deleterious state of affairs for buffet-style restaurants. See here for Koenig’s article, which states: As restaurants have pivoted to stay open during the pandemic, buffets are one of those things that are difficult to imagining continuing in a post-COVID world. Shared spoons, salad bar sneeze guards and standing in line next to other hungry customers in order to pile your plate high seems in direct opposition to the safety measures we've all adopted surrounding food service. On Wednesday, Fresh Acquisitions, the parent company that owns Old Country Buffet, filed for bankruptcy, illustrating just how difficult it has been for restaurants whose concept centers around a communal dining experience.
Today, 17 Old Country Buffets remain in the U.S.
It should also be noted that Lance Trenary, President & CEO of the Golden Corral Corporation, told TODAY for the piece that their similar company’s buffet concept would continue, though with improved operating conditions and safety precautions in place.
Today, in 2022, Golden Corral is still operating. However, according to Restaurant Business Online in an April, 2021 article by Peter Romeo, entitled “Golden Corral Franchisee Files For Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection,” the following information was disclosed: Platinum Corral permanently closed 16 of its 28 units. It is the second large franchisee of the buffet chain to seek debt protection since the start of the pandemic.
Platinum Corral is Golden Corral’s second-largest franchisee.
Issues with these groups aside, what of the 2022 condition of national buffets in general? Are Old Country Buffet and Golden Corral representative of the modern-day buffet-style restaurant?
Let us explore further.
Buffet Plans for 2022
My wife’s favorite restaurant was Souplantation, which shuttered permanently in 2020. Not only did the buffet chain serve soups and salad, but also pasta, desserts, (non-alcoholic) fruit drinks and more. See here for BizJournals.com article on the matter, written by I-Chun Chen, entitled “Souplantation Closes Permanently, to Declare Bankruptcy.”
As excerpted from the article: The all-you-can-eat soup and salad restaurant chain Souplantation is permanently closing all its locations as it sees no way to continue amid the nationwide shutdown of dine-in restaurants due to the coronavirus pandemic. San Diego, California-based Garden Fresh, which also operates a similar chain outside of California called Sweet Tomatoes, said it plans to file for federal bankruptcy protection and could close all 97 of its locations across the country.
In terms of other formerly popular buffets, a December, 2021 article from Blog.Cheapism.com, titled “These Buffet Chains Have Closed Locations Permanently” by Saundra Latham, listed permanent location closures of the following: Cicis, Luby’s, Hometown Buffet, Country Cookin’, Furr’s, Ryan’s, Fire Mountain, many Sizzler locations, Pizza Inn, Ponderosa, Gatti’s, and numerous Pizza Hut locations.
However, despite the above news, all is not dire. Las Vegas buffets, as examples, have largely reopened. Various towns around the country have likewise reopened doors to international buffets such as Chinese and Indian. Frozen yogurt companies such as Menchie’s — where one serves their own yogurt and toppings — remain in business.
Finally, according Joe Berkowitz’s May, 2021 article for FastCompany.com, entitled “RIP, All-You-Can-Eat Buffets: A Eulogy For a Pre-Covid-19 Pastime I’ll Weirdly Miss a Lot,” the CDC says buffets will continue, with adjustments. From the article: To be clear, buffets are not going away. In response to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) clamping down on traditional buffet service, many hotels and cruises have turned their attention to the “traditional” part. The buffet as a concept remains—it’s merely adapting to our collective belated realization that routinely sharing tongs with strangers is perhaps not ideal, germ-wise. Hotels are now experimenting with full service options, bento boxes, conveyor belts, and more. Some of these initiatives sound promising, others less so. Either way, the sunsetting of buffets as we knew them before the pandemic means that an iconic part of travel may slide permanently off the brochure.
Apparently, time will tell the tale of the success of these renewed endeavors.
Numerous buffets have permanently closed since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, and yet according to the CDC they have not permanently disappeared.
I will follow this article with an update should anything change.
Thank you for reading.