- Earlier today, Circus Circus announced that their buffet will reopen at 7 AM Saturday, May 29 and continue with brunch and dinner service daily.
- Also today, the South Point announced that their Garden Buffet would return to a self service format on June 1.
- Given the ‘copycat’ nature of the Las Vegas casino market the return of more buffets is a near certainty.
It feels like it was only yesterday that we were heaping dirt on the venerable and iconic Las Vegas casino buffet. COVID-19 shut down every buffet in town and given the nature of the pandemic their future didn’t look bright at all. A couple of properties tried modified ‘assisted serve’ buffets with very limited success. The Wynn tried this route and it was a resounding failure. The revamped buffet closed after just a few months. The Cosmopolitan tried assisted serve with their Wicked Spoon buffet and had marginally more success than Wynn’s effort. Wicked Spoon reopened in June 2020 but ‘closed indefinitely’ in January 2021 at the nadir of the Las Vegas tourism slump. In March, they announced the reopening of Wicked Spoon with limited hours of Thursday through Sunday 8 AM to 3 PM Pacific. The only property in Southern Nevada to find any degree success with an assisted serve buffet was the South Point. Their Garden Buffet reopened in June 2020 and returned to a full 7 day a week schedule serving breakfast, lunch and dinner during the week and brunch and dinner on the weekend.
As recently as early May, the future of the buffet looked bleak. Virgin Hotels Las Vegas opened with no buffet and Resorts World Las Vegas indicated that they wouldn’t have one either when their property opens on June 24. What appeared to be a coup de grace for the casino buffet was delivered in the Red Rock Resorts (NASDAQ: RRR) Q1 earnings call on May 4. There’s not a gaming company in town more synonymous with their buffet than the Stations Casino chain. In that call, however, CEO Frank Fertita indicated that their forthcoming Durango Station project would not have a buffet.
What looked like the ‘final nail in the coffin’ of the Las Vegas casino buffet came later in the call. CFO Steven Cootey responded to a question from Bank of America’s Shaun Kelley about casino revenues in which he strongly suggested that the Vegas buffet was no more (emphasis added):
Yes, I would say, Shaun, I thought, from a tone of business, I think we feel really good about where we are, particularly again on the non-gaming side. I mean, Frank touched on it just a moment ago, but hotel is coming back and again, it’s up from an occupancy standpoint and an ADR standpoint, as we’re starting to be able to hold rates and food and beverage, particularly with the restriction is kind of easing.
You’re definitely seeing an increase in coverage. I’m going to say ex-buffet, because obviously it would be down year-over-year because of the buffet, which I think we can fairly say will never return. And, but we’re also up in terms of price point.
At this point, the casino buffet improbably cheated death like Jason Voorhees in the Friday the 13th movie series. Within weeks of the Red Rock Resorts earnings call two of the biggest and most influential properties on the Las Vegas Strip announced the reopening of their buffets. Caesars Palace reopened the massive Bacchanal Buffet on Thursday, May 20. That same day, MGM Resorts announced that The MGM Grand buffet would be reopening to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner starting on Wednesday, May 26. For now, both buffets will be ‘weekends only’ and for the first time are encouraging to make reservations through OpenTable.com.
On Monday, the essential Las Vegas Advisor newsletter gave this capsule comment on the massive crowd at the Caesars buffet as well as their ‘self serve’ format:
We checked out the Bacchanal Buffet for dinner and were amazed that it’s a full self-serve format — same as buffets were before the pandemic. Tongs and spoons are used with no cleaning or switching out between customers. This could be the start of the return of traditional buffet dining. Even at $64.99 per person, the room was jammed. The selection was spectacular. A full review will appear in the June issue of the Las Vegas Advisor.
Earlier today, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that Circus Circus would reopen their buffet at 7 AM Saturday, May 29 and continue with brunch and dinner service daily. Were that not enough good news for buffet fans the South Point announced that the Garden Buffet would transition from ‘assisted serve’ to ‘self serve’ on June 1.
You can make book on more buffet reopening announcements in the weeks to come. The history of Las Vegas hotel/casino amenities is one of trend after trend being copied from one property to another until they were ubiquitous. Sportsbooks, nightclubs, poolside ‘day clubs’, gourmet restaurants, high end steak houses, chef branded burger joints and countless other trends have started at a few properties only to soon be found all over Southern Nevada. You can be sure that every property in town has taken notice of the immediate success of Caesars Bacchanal buffet which was sold out two weeks in advance before the doors had even reopened.
It might be too early to proclaim that a full fledged buffet renaissance is underway but we’re right at the ‘tipping point’. Should a couple more buffets announce their return in the next month you can expect that by early 2022 they’ll be back as a de rigueur component of the majority of gaming properties in Southern Nevada.
At the time of publication, James Murphy has a long position in RRR.