The Buffet Is Back in the U.S., From Las Vegas to Small Southern Towns

The buffet has been a blast during the pandemic.This is a model of dining based on shared spoons and food, even if customers sneak back into the restaurant covered in hand sanitizer. Seasoned with a stranger’s breath seemed to have gone too far.

But there is no denying the all-you-can-eat buffet, a symbol of Americans’ love of choice and propensity for excess. From piles of crab legs in Las Vegas’ swanky casinos to fried chicken in small-town restaurants in the South, buffets are back.

“The media called zombie companies a buffet. We didn’t know we were dead,” said Lance Trennery, the company’s chief executive. golden enclosure, Its 360 restaurants offer an unlimited selection of 150 items for less than $20. “But we’re the comeback kids. We’re up about 20 percent year-to-date.”

Grocery and restaurant costs are skyrocketing due to inflation meal, the resurgence in popularity of cheap buffets at chain restaurants might be explained as a value proposition. But with dinner prices as high as $79.99 excluding cocktails and tax at some of Las Vegas’ most posh restaurants, reservations remain difficult and wait times can be two hours or more.

Demand is so strong that Bellagio Last month, we reopened our signature buffet dinner with 120 items to choose from.of Bacchanal buffet Caesars Palace, the largest in Las Vegas, recently underwent a nearly $10 million renovation and added two more days to its brunch schedule.

“Americans love big things, that’s all,” said Allison Corona, a data analyst from Pittsburgh. Her recent five-day trip to Las Vegas with her husband and her friends included four buffets. “We just love more. I’m not saying it’s better. I’m just saying it’s who we are.”

Buffets speak to an American dining culture that emphasizes consistency, value, and choice. Even an hour or two can make the poor feel rich. It provides a culinary roadmap for recent immigrants and culinary tourism information for those who haven’t traveled much. A buffet is as much fun for everyone as a church picnic.

The buffet also caters to the secret place of American diners who just want to pile on it, even though they’re trying to rebrand “all you can eat” to a more classy “all you can eat”. Care Eat. “

Lily Zhang, Food and Beverage Management Lecturer, Cornell University hotel management school, This is called the Cheesecake Factory effect.

“Americans want consistency because they are afraid to take risks when it comes to food,” she says. “They want to go with their kids to a place where everyone can have what they want and it’s cheap, but they want it to be an experience.”

Yet the buffet landscape has been reshaped by the turmoil of the last few years. First, the undergrowth was cleaned.

A half-hearted buffet with no great value or food rewards, we would never go back. Fresh Acquisitions, the company that owned Hometown Buffet and three other chains, filed for bankruptcy In 2021, he cited concerns that some restaurants would not reach the 75% capacity needed to be profitable with all-you-can-eat.

It’s also the final chapter in Las Vegas’ cheap buffets, which began in the 1940s as a way to keep gamblers away from casinos. According to him, there were once 18 buffet restaurants on the Strip, but now only eight of his are left.

Before the pandemic hit, Sherri Owner ran a buffet at Station Casino, a local favorite for cheap. “We were budgeted for losing money every month,” she never reopened the buffet After shutdown.

Ms. Owner started working as General Manager. wicked spoon Cosmopolitan, one year after reopening in June 2020. It serves 1,800 people on a busy day and costs $49 per person ($74 if you add unlimited alcohol).

On a recent Saturday, there was almost a two-hour wait before entering her world of bottomless mimosas, steamed crab legs and custom omelettes. But a young and diverse audience wanted more than blockbusters.

“The buffet is designed for TikTokers and Instagrammers to take beautiful pictures of the food,” said the owner.

Many Las Vegas buffet tables are covered almost exclusively with crab, but there are plenty of foods that would never have appeared at a Frank Sinatra buffet. Korean spiced chicken wings were served in a separate basket for the fryer. The horchata was ube and purple. Biria tacos are served hot from the grill, and piping hot black garlic ramen is made to order.

Of course, there are still highlights. Lines were long at Bellagio for freshly baked crepes, and at Bacchanal for chilled lobster claws and his three types of crab. There it is not uncommon for him to serve 4,000 pounds of steamed snow crab or carve 600 pounds of prime rib in a day.

Those who run both fancy and small buffets are taking a closer look at the balance between food cost and abundance and striving to minimize the ugly shadow of the buffet: food waste.

Bellagio executive chef Nathan Frost says one useful strategy is to serve dishes individually, such as roasted bone marrow or bites of tuna poke. Increased kitchen efficiency New technology Empower chefs to more accurately track what, when and how much their customers eat.

At the end of each day, the Bellagio staff will freeze any items not on the buffet in aluminum pans. three squarea food bank that works with 160 agencies in Southern Nevada.

“It’s such beautiful food,” said Maurice Johnson, the food bank’s director of operations.

The pandemic hiatus has allowed buffets to reopen, including multi-million dollar renovations at Bacchanal and new hand sanitizing stations at Golden Coral. It’s a relief for diners who are newly concerned about food safety and their own health.

“A year ago, I wouldn’t have done this,” said Juana Jordan, who had a $16.99 dinner with her husband and two children at the Golden Corral near Atlanta. They had picked up their teenage daughter from a softball camp in Florida and were on their way home to Chattanooga, Tennessee. No one could agree on what to eat, so they stopped at a buffet.

“This is kind of a step forward for us post-COVID-19,” Jordan said.

Even for buffet skeptics Faith Fisher Einhorn Real estate agents who travel between New York City and Boca Raton, Florida, are open to this large spread.

“If you know me, you know I don’t want to go to a buffet,” she said. Hotbars and salad bars dotting Manhattan? “I’d rather die”

But when in Boca Raton, she can’t wait to visit the elaborate buffet. St Andrews Country Club, It is one of several facilities in the area that serve the surrounding residential community.

“It feels well managed and it’s not like the food has been left unattended for 60 years,” she said. She texted a picture of the Christmas buffet, describing it as “a football field’s worth of food.”

For Gen X and older millennials who grew up in the golden age Chinese buffet national chains like Sizzler and pizza hut, Buffet is also nostalgic play.

Chu Chu Fu, 34, a professional pianist living in Atlanta, immigrated from China when he was a child and has been traveling around food. But she has fond memories of her favorite dishes at the Old Country Buffet in St. Louis, and she remembers them in detail. Her parents used to take her and her sister when there were family celebrations, such as the day she got her green card.

“We felt as American as possible,” she said.

Dr. Zhang, a hospitality consultant, grew up in a Taiwanese-American family who frequented the sumptuous Asian buffets in Flushing, Queens. Before her family walked through the front door, her father issued a warning that resonated with many parents who thought they were teaching their kids the important life lesson of breaking the house at a buffet. “Noodles and rice are useless.”

“When it comes to cultures where food insecurity is embedded in stories and folklore, there is a lot of value in gamifying this system,” she said. But it’s also about experience. “

In smaller Southern cities and towns, buffets are as much about community as endless trays of fried chicken and pumpkin casseroles.

of movie star restaurantThe $15.99 all-you-can-eat buffet in Hattiesburg, Michigan, is named after the lingerie factory located in the original location building. March of this year was the best month for sales since the restaurant opened in 2000.

“The pandemic hasn’t killed buffets. It’s only made them stronger,” said Lori Ford, whose parents founded the restaurant. “I think people have become more appreciative of not having it this long.”

However, after all, it may be the power of the buffet.

“People and their food,” she said. “They don’t like being told what they can and can’t do.”

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