Buffets within the Covid-19 period: How will Vegas and cruise ships adapt?

(CNN) – David Yeskel remembers the past few days with overcrowded shows, overcrowded casinos and especially all-you-can-eat buffets.

Yeskel, a Las Vegas travel writer named “The Vegas Guru,” recalls the endless supplies of caviar at the Bellagio. The Peking duck pancakes are made to order at the Wynn. The foie gras peanut butter jelly at the Bacchanal Buffet in Caesars. Endless stacks of crab legs and racks of spare ribs and pots of chocolate mousse.

The buffets could cost a pretty casino chip – $ 40 and $ 50, and even $ 100 a head – but it was Vegas, baby. They were temples of appetite; They amazed the tourists.

“In terms of quantity and quality, there is no other place comparable,” he says in a phone call. “The Vegas buffet had become iconic in its own way. They were over the top, like everything else in Vegas, with delicacies you would not find anywhere else.”

Those days weren’t that long ago.

But now, in the Covid-19 world, the high-end all-you-can-eat Vegas buffets have largely closed with a few exceptions. The buffet at the Wynn, which reopened in June, with diners ordering from servers delivering their food to the table – in other words, near normal restaurant operation – closed in early September “based on guest feedback” the hotel said in a statement.

The buffet at Wynn Las Vegas recently closed after reopening in June.

Barbara Kraft / Wynn Las Vegas

The same challenges tarnish other tourist magnets, where the “all-you-can-eat buffet” is synonymous with a luxurious – or at least generous – experience. In some cases, e.g. For example, in hotels with their breakfast spreads, this is simply adapted: instead of an open pans that are free for everyone, for example, some hotels use servers while others pack meals.

Cruise ships adjust the course

For others, the all-you-can-eat buffet is a symbol of a world that stands still. In particular, the cruise industry remains largely locked down while awaiting approved protocols for US business to reopen.Cruise lines are still working on how their popular buffets could work in a Covid-19 world. According to Norwegian Cruise Line, in accordance with the revised health and safety guidelines, the buffets will be served by full-service staff to serve the guests. Royal Caribbean executives have announced plans to change, but not abandon, the Windjammer buffet.

Both cruise lines and Vegas have taken hard hits.

Carnival, the world’s largest cruise company, lost $ 4.4 billion in a quarter earlier this year and another $ 2.9 billion more recently. Last month, MGM Resorts – the Las Vegas Strip’s top casino operator – announced it was laying off 18,000 employees nationwide, including a sizable number in the city.

With the many precautions of Covid-19, the all-you-can-eat buffet will almost certainly have to evolve, says Lu Lu, a professor at Temple University’s School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management. On the one hand, people like to see the food, an experience in itself. On the other hand, people also want reassurance that the experience is safe, she says.

“”[The management] have to try to compose a message that they prepare a variety of safety and health messages to welcome visitors, “says Lu.

The bacchanal buffet at Caesars Palace Las Vegas is temporarily closed, according to its website.

The bacchanal buffet at Caesars Palace Las Vegas is temporarily closed, according to its website.

Caesars Palace Las Vegas

The rise of the extreme buffet

Neither Las Vegas nor the cruise industry invented the all-you-can-eat buffet.

The idea originated in Sweden in the 16th century and started with a small spread called Brannvinsbord. This developed into the smorgasbord in the 18th century. Smorgasbords gained worldwide fame after the Olympic Games in Stockholm in 1912 and was presented in the Swedish pavilion at the New York World’s Fair in 1939.

But it was a Vegas casino manager, Herb McDonald, who took the idea to the American extreme. In 1945, McDonald’s El Rancho Casino opened a 24-hour buffet and charged visitors a single dollar to enter. Of course, the endless dining opportunity drew a crowd, and the idea became a staple around town, along with free drinks, neon signs, and Wayne Newton.

Since Vegas is Vegas, the next step was to power it up, first at the Bellagio, then at the other casino resorts.

The idea, says restaurateur Elizabeth Blau, who helped design the buffets in Bellagio, Wynn and Beau Rivage, was “to create something closer to a culinary experience”.

“When you go to great hotels of any caliber in Europe, there is always a continental breakfast buffet, and it’s very common in Asia too,” said Blau, now CEO of restaurant development company Blau + Associates. “But the Las Vegas Casino Buffet is uniquely American.”

In the Bellagio, for example, there were several action stations and a number of open kitchens where food was prepared right in front of the guest. In contrast to their predecessors, these buffets were profit centers in themselves, says Blau.

Royal Caribbean is expected to change its buffet on board cruise lines.

Royal Caribbean is expected to change its buffet on board cruise lines.

Michel Verdure / Royal Caribbean

On modern cruise lines – as they really got off the ground in the “Love Boat” era of the 1970s – the idea just made sense, says Stewart Chiron, a travel marketing expert called “The Cruise Guy”.

“It’s not a raffle. It was just always part of the experience when modern cruises came out. There’s no other way to feed that many people quickly,” he says.

Reinventing a dwindling dining tradition

In the complex, highly integrated ecosystem of modern travel, the survival of buffets is related to everything else: the reappearance of air travel, trust in hotel hygiene, spontaneous dining decisions and the ability to gather in large groups, observes Usha Haley, W. Frank Barton Distinguished Chair for International Business at Wichita State University.

“It’s all part of a larger network,” says Haley, who specializes in trade issues. She says that buffets in general have been on the downtrend for more than two decades – more than a fifth have closed since the 1990s – so the style has to reinvent itself in order to survive.

Blau, the restaurateur, agrees.

Elbow-to-elbow buffets are unlikely to reappear anytime soon.

Elbow-to-elbow buffets are unlikely to reappear anytime soon.


“The tiny silver lining in this absolute disaster is that we have to do things smarter and better,” she says. Vegas already has high standards of hygiene, she says – given the mix of foods and preparation protocols, it has to be. Now the hospitality community has to find a way to accommodate the biggest stranger: the guests.

The cruise business also needs to make adjustments.

Chiron counters the image of the ships as “floating petri dishes” by noting that they already have strict hygiene protocols that come into play in the event of disease outbreaks, such as B. increased cleaning, reduced interaction between guests and no self-service at the buffets.

Additionally, buffet serving styles have changed over the past 25 years, he points out. “Most of them are now done at separate stations. Earlier procedures would most likely become more permanent with gloved crew members serving passengers,” he says.

In Vegas, one of the few buffets that has successfully reopened is the Wicked Spoon at The Cosmopolitan, which has long stood out from its competitors by individually coating most of its dishes. According to an article in the Las Vegas Review-Tribune, the main change is serving: instead of the guest taking the plate, the servers hand them over one by one. (Another reopened buffet, South Point Casino’s Garden Buffet, is also served by staff.)

The buffet restaurant at Wynn Las Vegas is currently closed.

The buffet restaurant at Wynn Las Vegas is currently closed.

Barbara Kraft / Wynn Las Vegas

According to Temple’s Lu, American-style buffets can get a lesson from their counterparts in China, where high-end buffets are a place for sophisticated social outings – a venue you’d have a nice date, with good cuisine and great visual appeal (if smaller portions).

“Most places in China are back to normal,” says Lu, a native of the country who still has many contacts there. “I don’t think human nature will be that different depending on nationality, so we should look at the countries that are ahead of the curve.”

Similarly, Doug Parker, who runs cruiseradio.net, a website and podcast for cruise news, says he is watching Europe and Asia “with a close eye to see what works. Table capacity is limited and also distributed, with one Six feet between each table. ”

Cruise fans are an avid bunch, and Parker and Chiron say guests can’t wait to get back on board. According to Parker, up to 85% of his emails ask when the cruise will resume. “You can’t wait to come back,” he says.

And Yeskel is confident that Las Vegas – and its restaurants – will rise again, although there will be starts and stops at short notice. What better place to be creative than an unlikely city like an amusement park carved out of the desert?

“I like to think that Vegas has always been the world’s most innovative travel destination and will find a way back – probably ahead of other industries,” he says. “It will show the way.”

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