COVID-19 leaves the future of buffet dining in doubt

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Buffet-style restaurants, like Golden Corral and Old Country Buffet, and others in casinos and hotels, are going to have to restructure themselves to survive the aftermath of the pandemic.

Buffets have taken a hit during the COVID-19 outbreak. However, according to Dr. Jeff Lolli, program coordinator and associate professor of Tourism and Hospitality Management at Widener University, restaurants like Golden Corral and Old Country Buffet were already declining in popularity. 

"People are trying to watch their weight, trying to be more healthy," he said, attributing the decline to fitness trends.

Now Lolli believes the current model is going to have to change because of COVID-19.

"One, there's a lot of inherent risk," he explained. "Two, most restaurants that are going to open inside service, when they do, they are going to limit capacity, and that can't happen in a buffet environment."

Lolli suggested restaurants could move to more serving stations.

"You go up to a buffet line, but someone's cooking something to you to order, or they may be serving it, so it's gonna require a lot more monitoring, a lot more staff," he posited.

Mike Traud, associate professor of Hospitality Management at Drexel, believes buffets may have to think outside the box.

"They are going to have to recreate themselves temporarily," he suggested. "They have to find, like many restaurants are going to have to find, an alternative revenue stream. Some restaurants have been forced to embrace curbside pickup."

Traud accepted the future is in technology, allowing customers to pre-order, prepay and have it delivered.

Dr. Lu Lu, of Temple's Tourism and Hospitality Management department, said because there is very little personal interaction with staff at a buffet, "you don't lose that personal touch when you choose delivery."