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This Beloved Type of Restaurant Is Officially Disappearing

While most remain roped off, some buffets have been forced to transform completely.

Buffets are officially dead. Or at least that seems to be the writing on the wall. From true all-you-can-eat buffets with roots in 1940s Las Vegas, to modern cafeteria-style salad and hot food bars catering to commuters in urban areas, any restaurant where food is out in the open, self-served by multiple patrons using the same utensils, has been set up for failure during the pandemic.

When coronavirus started shutting down the economy in March, the FDA issued a recommendation for all self-serve food businesses to be closed until the pandemic subsides. But with restaurants struggling to stay afloat with limitations to dine-in services, buffets seem like the least likely option to attract the limited pool of reluctant customers already concerned about their safety in enclosed spaces.

While there's no evidence that the virus is transmitted through surfaces or inanimate objects, buffet's self-serve lines often lead to customers crowding around the food stations. Not to mention, the open-container presentation of the food seems particularly unappetizing knowing the virus is easily transmitted through respiratory droplets. Unfortunately, it seems like all the things that make a buffet what it is, are counter-productive to fighting a pandemic.

So what will happen to all the buffets we love?

Restaurants that weren't completely reliant on the buffet, like Pizza Hut and Bonanza Steakhouse, left their buffet sections roped off as they reopened locations during the pandemic. Similarly, grocery chains like Whole Foods and Wegmans, where hot-food bars were a big customer attraction, left those stations closed indefinitely.

Buffet-centric chains like Golden Corral, have tried pivoting away from the self-serve setup as they welcomed diners back to their locations in May. Instead, they now operate as a cafeteria-style restaurant, in which employees serve customers items that would have otherwise been in the buffet.

And what of the travel industry's favorite perk, the breakfast buffet? It largely seems to be a thing of the past. Hotel giants MGM, Hilton, Marriot, and Four Seasons eliminated their buffets entirely, and experts agree the change is likely permanent. Instead, you can now expect to receive a breakfast bag—a much less exciting meal, but a safer one.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has spelled the end for some. Most notably, the buffet-style chain, Souplantation aka Sweet Tomatoes, announced in early June they'll be shutting all 97 of their locations for good in.

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Mura Dominko
Mura is ETNT's Executive Editor, leading the coverage of America's favorite restaurant chains, grocery stores, and viral food moments. Read more about Mura