Will all-you-can-eat food buffets ever return in St. Louis, or have they already?
Will all-you-can-eat buffets ever return to St. Louis or do they already have them? – Laura R., St. Louis
As it becomes more and more convenient for guests to return to the dining rooms, questions about the buffet service have arisen, especially about the self-service all-you-can-eat buffet.
When the restaurants reopened last year, new guidelines were enacted (with fewer points of contact, no common spices, no open utensils, etc.) that ran counter to this particular service model. Like their fast-casual and full-service counterparts, buffet restaurants are either adapted to a pick-up and delivery-only model or have not reopened at all.
Elsewhere in the country, the buffet has been changed to accommodate increased security and removal protocols. In some cases, similar to cruise logs, masked and gloved servers or cooks are stationed behind a plexiglass barrier and portion the requested food while the customer drives along the buffet line. This allows the portion size to be better controlled, but also increases labor costs. (Minimal labor is one of the reasons restaurant owners adopt the buffet model.)
A restaurant in Florida solved the additional work dilemma in a creative way. A shielded, gloved employee was stationed at the pivot point of the two-sided buffet. Guests were instructed to raise their hands (as if scrubbing themselves for an operation). At this point, the employee slipped into loose-fitting gloves. The guest then received a plate, made a selection as before, and met the employee on the other side. The plate was then set down, the hands went up again and the employee took off the gloves and disposed of them.
There are currently no buffet restrictions in St. Charles County other than restaurant-specific mandates. Buffets are currently not permitted in the city of St. Louis. In St. Louis County, the current food service policy (updated March 8) states that “no buffet food service is allowed” unless all food is prepackaged.
This week, SLM surveyed a random selection of banquet restaurants in the county and found that most of them haven’t reopened their buffets yet. One restaurant owner said once restrictions are relaxed he plans to reopen with servers doing the portioning. Another says he will reintroduce his buffet “after COVID-19”. SLM also noted that several St. Louis restaurants are open for buffets as usual. With the exception of a few facilities that mandated face masks for staff and guests, they operated the same as they did before the pandemic.
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Mahe is the restaurant editor for St. Louis Magazine. Originally a fussy eater, he has owned or operated restaurants for most of his life. He started reviewing her for SLM in 1991.
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