Are buffet restaurants in trouble after coronavirus reopening?

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The days of grabbing a plate and piling on as much food as possible may be coming to an end.

While the restaurant industry is slowly adapting to a post-coronavirus world, not every style of eatery has seen the same levels of success. While fast food and other types of eateries have been able to pivot to takeout, delivery and drive-thru (to various degrees of success), buffets face their own unique set of problems.

The coronavirus pandemic may cause some serious issues for buffets when restaurants reopen.

The coronavirus pandemic may cause some serious issues for buffets when restaurants reopen. (iStock)

Buffets were already struggling pre-coronavirus, Business Insider reports. According to the news outlet, the number of buffet restaurants shrank by 26 percent between 1998 and 2017, while the overall number of restaurants grew.

Restaurant analyst John Gordon spoke with Business Insider about the situation, saying, “Many of those buffet operators have had a falling off in business activity. A lot of it had to do with people's tastes and preferences as a certain generation of adults grew older.”

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With restaurants already on precarious grounds, the coronavirus pandemic could continue to cause serious issues. When they reopen, buffets will face new regulations that may make their operation much more difficult. Some customers may no longer even feel comfortable with the environment that buffets create.

Joe Jackman, CEO of Jackman Reinvents, works with companies to reinvent their brands. He spoke with Fox News about the challenges that buffet restaurants face, but he doesn’t think the future is entirely bleak for this style of restaurant.

“The core benefit offered by buffets is still extremely relevant," Jackman said via email. "There will always be customers that want that sweet-spot combination of value (take as much as you want), variety (huge selection), personalization (each plate is unique), and sensory appeal (visually compelling format).”

For example, if customers are facing tough financial times post-coronavirus, they may seek out the value that buffets provide, Jackman said.

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When it comes to new regulations, however, these businesses will have their work cut out for them.

“It will be critical for buffets who do intend to hold ground with the format — through the tail and aftermath of the crisis — to develop workaround solutions (e.g. single-use serving utensils and safe condiment dispensers), and over-communicate safety, hygiene and distancing efforts. Consumer confidence is fundamental to returning to growth,” Jackman wrote.

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We might also see "the all-you-can-eat ‘digital buffet’ delivered right to your door," Jackman theorized.

“It may be a crazy thought at first, but it’s there to be done. Crisis aside, the status quo is not where any operator wants to be, at least not for long," Jackman said. "The twin competitive threats to buffet-style restaurants, visible before the crisis and now accelerated by it, are those that are challenging the entire dine-in industry right now: increased adoption of delivery models and a renewed interest in cooking at home.”