It sure looks like casino buffets were a thing of the past a year ago. New England’s Casino buffets are still closed. But during the pandemic, variations were experimented with behind the plexiglass. And now we find some buffets are returning.
What is the State of the Casino Buffet?
COVID Closes Them Down
Across the country, casino gambling has expanded to over 1000 casinos. The buffet’s old “chuck wagon” presence was always vital to the culinary offerings.
But, COVID-19 restrictions cut deeply into the casino buffets tradition. Out of nine casinos in New England, four had buffets. All are closed to the public as properties decide what to do.
Will the Casino Buffet Survive?
Recently, I’ve noticed that casino buffets might be making a comeback. Casino buffets are opening up in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. But, in New England, the buffets at Mohegan Sun, Foxwoods, Encore Boston Harbor, and Hollywood Bangor are still not open to the public or gone.
- Encore Boston Harbor has re-purposed the buffet space for the future sportsbook. According to Encore officials, the Encore Buffet will not return.
- Mohegan Sun is setting up a large VIP lounge where Seasons Buffet used to be.
- Foxwoods has been using its Rainmaker Buffet for employee meals.
- Hollywood Bangor’s Epic Buffet continues to be closed.
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What’s the Purpose of the Casino Buffet?
Most buffets are in the service of keeping people in the hotel, gambling, and drinking. Although there are some high-end buffets, it’s probably fair to say that the primary target for many buffets is people who are low to middle-rollers in town for the total ambiance of the Las Vegas experience.
In the 1930s and ’40s, Las Vegas became a destination with legalized gambling and easy divorce laws. New casinos quickly sprouted up, and with them came the infamous “chuckwagon,” or buffet. The purpose was to lure all visitors, cowboys, divorces, and gamblers to enter their casino doors.
The fixed-price all-you-can-eat midnight feast proved to be a roaring success. Casino operators quickly adopted the model all over town – the famous Las Vegas Buffet was born.
Las Vegas Leads the Way
Darren Tristano, the CEO and founder of Food Service Results said this Covid crisis didn’t necessarily spell the buffet’s end as a concept. Still, he thought many would close for good.
“The competition for takeout and off-premise food is very high. Buffets just aren’t designed to be that convenient.”Darren Tristano, the CEO, and founder of Food Service Results
This old Vegas dining tradition that many thought might be sidelined forever has reemerged and slowly reappeared.
South Point Casino led the way, reopening its Garden Buffet on July 1, 2020, with reduced capacity and staff serving food. It returned to 100% capacity and self-serve on June 1, 2021.
In 2021, Cosmopolitan’s Wicked Spoon, which even primarily pre-pandemic focused on serving food prepared on small plates, reopened on March 25. Caesars Bacchanal Buffet opened May 20 with dim sum carts that roam the dining room. Circus Circus and the MGM Grand have reopened their respective buffets as well.
Two Issues May Slow The Opening of Other Casino Buffets
Casinos all over the country may be struggling with bringing their buffet back.
Challenges getting ingredients and some alcoholic beverages disrupted supply chains. As a result, reservations at restaurants are still a must these days. And with the bulk of items offered at buffets, you might see a slightly limited menu than expected if they open.
Then, there’s the issue of staffing. Some still have childcare issues related to the pandemic. Some have moved on to positions that offer more stability. Others don’t feel safe returning.
Some Las Vegas companies have closed their buffets for good, such as Stations Casinos.
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Would You Eat at a Buffet As Right Now?
It is not hard to understand why casinos all over the country are hesitant to go back to pre-pandemic buffet operations. From a pure health perspective, buffets are more of a liability than traditional dining options. In addition, the proximity of guests waiting in lines, the handling of serving utensils by numerous patrons, and the sheer volume of customers are all concerning factors.
“I think it’s going to be a long time before customers are willing to eat at buffets, where they’re grabbing food from pans that other people have been grabbing food from.”Caesars Entertainment’s CEO Thomas Reeg
While buffets in New England stay closed, we are still grateful for the memoriesBuffets have been an essential part of the American food landscape, from those memorable family get-togethers to the quick break of good food before the next gambling session.
Thanks for the memories.