Many things have changed after the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. People stayed inside their homes, and schools and businesses shifted to a virtual setup. Even family members got physically separated from one another.
Now that communities are gradually opening up following the release of vaccines, there is still a certain level of reluctance felt across nations, especially related to things that involve joining crowds and eating out. These two things combined create a particular catering service that was a crowd favorite pre-pandemic: the buffet.
Although several things remain uncertain, buffet restaurants during (and after) the COVID-19 pandemic are expected to experience several changes.
As part of the food suppliers community in the Middle East, we have done some research on the health concerns related to the “all-you-can-eat” style of catering and what changes can be done to ensure the safety of your customers.
Whether or not you agree, the fact remains that COVID-19 has changed almost every facet of life, and that includes how people eat out. This begs the question: Is the buffet done for?
Our answer: not necessarily.
You see, while people’s concerns about food safety relative to the COVID-19 and its variants is not unfounded, certain updates can be done to improve people’s perception of and their safety in this style of catering.
But before that, every restaurateur and food service provider must first understand the two primary issues that the coronavirus brings to the table:
Studies also pointed out the lack of ventilation and higher humidity levels indoors that may increase viral spread.
To deal with the two concerns highlighted above, food servers may need to push buffet-style dining into an evolutionary stage that involves removing self-service from the equation.
Of course, there are other strategies that can be implemented in this situation, each of which will be discussed below.
Although some argue that it’s no longer safe to serve food in the popular “all-you-can-eat” buffet style, it can still offer a safe choice if designed and planned properly.
Here are five changes that can be done to keep the buffet catering service style going:
Since one major problem with traditional buffets concerns the number of people touching the utensils, the most straightforward solution is to limit their handling. To do so, you can provide personal serving tools for each guest, along with cutlery roll-ups.
Aside from supporting the possibility of retaining the self-service element of buffets, this solution also ensures that guests don’t share germs with each other.
To improve social distancing measures in a buffet, you can choose a deeper and wider table. The additional width helps prevent guests from standing too close to one another. If you’re removing the self-service element altogether, this also works as an additional buffer between people and the food.
People have been rethinking many things since COVID-19 hit, so who’s to say the kinds of food containers used in buffet catering would be an exception?
A few possible alternatives to the typical serving containers include bento boxes and anti-microbial plates that prevent cross-contamination of food.
As mentioned earlier, one potential evolutionary stage for buffets is the removal of self-service.
Instead of letting dozens or hundreds of patrons share utensils, servers wearing masks and gloves, trained in safety protocols, would be the only people handling food. This will significantly reduce the number of touchpoints in the buffet line.
Of course, you must reassure guests that there will still be no limit to the number of times they can return to the buffet queue, especially in an all-you-can-eat setup. The point is just to reduce touch contact for their own safety.
Although buffets are widely popular for their self-serve all-you-can-eat promotions, this might no longer be a profitable set up for business owners unless certain changes are made.
Originally, buffets required less staff because the customers are serving themselves. But since food safety has been highlighted during the pandemic, food handling must be limited to well-trained and health-certified food service staff.
That said, food and beverage companies in the UAE and Saudi Arabia believe that what you cannot save on manpower, you can recoup by limiting food portions for the buffet.
The truth about buffets is that it produces more food waste than other catering styles, primarily because customers often take more food than they consume. With smaller portions, you can reduce food waste and save a ton of money at the same time, making it the most cost-effective alternative solution to self-service.
Plus, portioning food served in buffets helps guests stay healthy not only by preventing the spread of COVID-19, but also by keeping their caloric intake in check.
The buffet is a popular food service style that is in danger of going extinct after COVID-19. Fortunately, innovation, creative thinking, and strict implementation of safety protocols can help prevent this and ensure a safer buffet table for everyone.
Need something for your food business? Talk to us at Bidfood. We offer food service advice as well as high-quality supplies for restaurants and other foodservice businesses.