Could the COVID-19 pandemic mean the end of the traditional buffet?

Could the COVID-19 pandemic mean the end of the traditional buffet?

Some public health officers are warning people not to share food in social settings in this time of pandemic, but does that mean Sunday brunch buffets, Chinese self-serve and restaurant salad bars could become a thing of the past?

Jeff Farber, director of the Canadian Research Institute for Food Safety at the University of Guelph, believes restaurants offering buffets are going to be facing difficult times until there is a vaccine for COVID-19.

Highly touched surfaces at buffet tables are a big concern as they increase the chances of spreading the novel coronavirus, he says.

“In a busy buffet, you could have hundreds of people handling the same instrument to put food onto their plates,” he says. “You have people who are congregating … at the soda dispensers.”

A spokesman for an organization representing the food-services industry doesn’t believe buffets will be left off the menu for good.

But David Lefebvre, a vice-president at Restaurants Canada, does think the industry faces challenges and will have to innovate as restaurants gradually reopen.

“I have a hard time figuring that everything is permanent with the new situation,” he says.

For Sachit and Anish Mehra, brothers who manage East India Company restaurants in Ottawa and Winnipeg, are ready if they need to change their approach.

For them, a buffet means breaks between lunch and dinner, small-batch cooking and tightly controlled temperatures and cleaning.

“That’s what we do. That’s what we’re known for,” said Sachit Mehra, who added buffet makes up about 90 per cent of their gross average sales

They’ve offered takeout and delivery during the pandemic and say there have been many talks as a family about what the future of dine-in service will look like.

“India has played a big part in the communal meal. It’s never been about one person, one plate. It’s been about shared plates,” says Anish Mehra.

“The buffet was a natural sort of extension of that when we were growing the business and if we need to go back a step … we’re ready for that.”

Saskatchewan and Manitoba are not allowing buffets as the provinces gradually reopen businesses, and there’s no timeline for their return in Alberta, where restaurants and cafes were allowed to reopen last week at half capacity and with physical distancing.

In March, Alberta’s chief medical health officer reported that COVID-19 had spread among doctors who attended a curling bonspiel in Edmonton where serving spoons at a buffet had been widely handled.

For the Saskatchewan community of Weyburn, a buffet of fried chicken and gravy isn’t just an option for lunch; it’s something worth fighting for.

Home to one of the last all-you-can-eat KFC buffets in the world, the city saw residents, including former premier Brad Wall, rally to save it when it was threatened to close several years ago.

“We have every intention of reopening it when the time is right and all approved health and safety measures have been implemented,” reads a statement from Linn Free, chief operations officer with KFC Canada.

Farber says it’s possible some eateries could turn to a more cafeteria-style food service with employees dishing up dishes for customers. Or instead of one long smorgasbord table, smaller stations could be set up.

Another idea would be for governments to look at buffets on a case-by-case basis. Restaurants would have to present plans for physical distancing and sanitizing highly touched surfaces.

“It’s just too early to reopen buffets to the way we had them before,” he said.

The Mehra brothers remain optimistic there’s life left in the buffet.

“I think about the countless birthdays, celebrations, anniversaries, weddings, receptions, events that were always centred around a buffet,” said Sachit Mehra.

“The important thing here is the patience to get back to that point, and making sure that you have absolutely every condition to make sure people are confident.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 18, 2020

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Shaela Dansereau/ The Pipestone Flyer
City of Wetaskiwin cases rapidly climbing

City of Wetaskiwin reporting 11 active cases of COVID-19

Photo submitted/ Rita-anne Fuss
Distancing Diamond Project in Millet for mental health

Distancing Diamonds allow for social distancing community gathering.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, confirmed more than 1,000 cases over the weekend Monday afternoon. File photo
COVID-19: Central zone active cases up Monday

‘We’ve now crossed the tipping point,’ says Hinshaw

The death of 19-year-old Jacob Michael Chitze of Edmonton has now been ruled a homicide following an ongoing RCMP investigation.
UPDATE: RCMP arrest youth for second degree murder of 19-year-old Jacob Chitze

Arrest made for the murder of Jacob Michael Chitze, 19.

Wetaskiwin Hospital staff join AUPE walk outs across the province Monday Oct. 26, 2020. Shaela Dansereau/ The Pipestone Flyer.
City of Wetaskiwin health-care workers strike in protest of province-wide cuts

Wetaskiwin Hospital staff join other front line hospital workers across the province in walk-outs.

Cases in Ponoka (East Ponoka County) as of Oct. 27. (alberta.ca)
Diagnosed cases of COVID-19 at three Ponoka businesses

Town ‘strongly encouraging’ residents to wear non-medical masks in public

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID pandemic during a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau says pandemic ‘really sucks,’ and that Christmas gatherings are up in the air

The prime minister encouraged residents to continue to follow the advice of local health authorities

The Williams Lake Indian Band is stipulating no-go zones for mushroom picking in areas burned by last summer’s wildfires. 100 Mile Free Press photo
Who controls mushroom harvesting on Indigenous lands?

‘We don’t necessarily know where the mushrooms grow, how old the stands need to be, those types of things.’

Canadian and American flags fly near the Ambassador Bridge at the Canada/USA border crossing in Windsor, Ont. on Saturday, March 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rob Gurdebeke
U.S. election results one factor that could impact immigration to Canada next year

The survey polled 1,523 Canadians between Oct. 23 and Oct. 25

Alberta’s provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Monday July 6, 2020. The Alberta government is hoping to get more Albertans employed by moving to limit the number and type of temporary foreign workers it allows into the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Alberta to limit temporary foreign worker program to save jobs for Albertans

Temporary foreign workers already in the province won’t be affected

(Emily Jaycox/Bashaw Star)
Wreath laying ceremony held in Manfred, Alta.

Ceremony marks 64th anniversary of Hungarian revolution, honours settlers

Submitted
Montana First Nations councillor gives back to youth

By Chevi Rabbit For Ponoka News Reggie Rabbit is a newly elected… Continue reading

Royal Alexandra Hospital front-line workers walk a picket line after walking off the job in a wildcat strike in Edmonton, on Monday, October 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta labour board orders health-care staff who walked off the job to go back to work

Finance Minister Travis Toews said in a news release that he was pleased with the labour board’s decision

Most Read