Coronavirus limitations have led to the end of hotel and resort buffets, at least for now. Beloved by many, social distancing rules means that we can no longer gather together around the buffet displays.
Communal food presentations are the perfect setting for spreading viruses. A team of Japanese scientists put one buffet under ultraviolet light. They wanted to illustrate how easily a virus can spread across tongs, drink pitchers, food tray lids, silverware, and glasses—basically, all of it.
Breakfast buffets, in particular, have been a lodging staple for decades due to menu variety and perceived all-you-can-eat value. Properties, where buffets are the bedrock of their food and beverage program, have either closed or modified them with attendants building plates of food for guests. Most hotels though have dropped buffets altogether.
“Our buffet restaurant has been dark since the onset of COVID-19,” said Sebastian Hansen, area general manager for Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront. “We currently offer a grab-and-go continental breakfast but rely primarily on our Starbucks venue to meet guest needs. We’re strategizing how we can safely reopen our breakfast restaurant, focusing on freshly prepared a la carte menus, instead of a buffet concept.”
According to John Nicholls, a pathology professor at the University of Hong Kong, the problem is less about the buffet itself. It is, as per usual, more about us, and our less-than-stellar handwashing, which can spread the virus across touch surfaces.
“Buffets are potentially where lots of people crowd together with the sharing of utensils, potential transmission of fomites,” Nicholls says. “Hotels have liked buffets for economic reasons, but I can see why you might want to propose that the buffet has had its day.”
But all is not lost. While buffets have many advantages, the move to a la carte menu is suitable for hotels and resorts.
Why we will miss a good buffet
It was a tremendous eye-catching display – A well-designed buffet wasn’t just about the variety and volume of food. Buffet design with flowers, special equipment and live cooking stations made it a lively and enjoyable experience and an attractive place to be.
You knew exactly what you were going to get. A well-displayed buffet with clearly defined labelling allows guests to see their choices. There are fewer surprises when compared with a menu where you place your order and hope for the best!
It could convince guests of hygiene and standards – Seeing is believing. A spotlessly clean buffet with attending staff, cooling units, protection glass and crushed ice, can definitely provide the impression the restaurant is a safe place to eat.
Convenience, especially at breakfast – Rather than selecting your order from a menu and waiting for it to arrive, a buffet allowed guests to order tea or coffee and head straight to the buffet to get just what they wanted.
Transparent pricing and value – Knowing the buffet cost $XXX per person, meant it was easy to calculate your budget. And, if there were discounts and offers, like half-price for children, buffets have a high perceived value.
Why a la carte is better for hotels and resorts
Quality will improve – Restaurants can offer freshly cooked (often to your specific needs) and personally served dishes. This is very different from choosing dishes which have been sitting around on the buffet, being stirred by other guests.
Food waste will be minimal – With buffets regularly being topped-up to maintain their attractiveness, a large amount of food ends up as waste. Indeed, even before coronavirus hit, breakfast buffets had been under scrutiny, primarily due to the amount of food waste they can generate. Offering an a la carte menu means chefs can minimize food waste by only cooking meals ordered, and not for display.
The return of old-fashioned table service – This might be a challenge for some hotels and resorts. Still, a la carte menus require trained and experienced service staff who:
- Knows the menu and can explain it;
- Knows how to serve right, fast, efficiently and with elegance;
- Can have a conversation with guests (yes, we are in contact with the guest again);
- Can clear the table at the right moment in the right way; and
- Can be wait staff again, instead of merely cleaning – clearing staff.
Improved presentation – Gone are the days of chefs and kitchen staff preparing chafing dishes of food. Chefs are now free to use their artistry to produce individual plates of food that are eye-catching, fresh and just for you.
The return of great staff – With the buffet gone, creative chefs and experienced service staff can create an excellent experience for hotel and resorts guests. Not only do they know how to serve correctly, but they can also upsell and create an atmosphere that generates loyalty.
Who else will be impacted?
COVID19 has not only had a massive impact on the hotel and resort industry. Cruising has been badly affected too. Many ocean cruise ships are set up for 6,000 guest buffets. Kitchen service and dishwashing layouts designed for only this fast food service will have a hard time adjusting.
Smaller cruise companies, with only 700 guests and a fleet of explorer ships with even fewer guests, will have a chance to embrace and celebrate service again.
What are your experiences? Have you changed your restaurants to a la carte menus or simply closed them? How is your resort or hotel managing the demands of hungry guests at breakfast? Please share your experiences with us here at IHS on email@example.com or complete the contact form.