- Nevada’s gaming industry was shut down for over two months at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Many properties have since reopened with heightened health, safety and social distancing protocols.
- Self service buffets have been eliminated during the reopening phase.
It took a few decades but Las Vegas casino buffets finally evolved beyond the original formula of cheap eats to lure patrons inside. They also evolved well beyond food that was bland at best and downright lousy at worst. The best Las Vegas buffets are serious culinary experiences. The Buffet at Bellagio is downright incredible. Other properties’ buffets rank among the best dining values in town. The Feast Buffet at the Palace Station has been one of my favorite places for breakfast for years. For a long time you could have breakfast for $5.99 with a Boarding Pass players card. The price has gone up a bit but is still a great value.
One of the unfortunate negative externalities of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the elimination–temporary or otherwise–of the Las Vegas buffet. When the coronavirus outbreak first started to get serious back in March most properties quickly and proactively shuttered their buffets. As Nevada’s gaming industry starts to emerge from an unprecedented 74 day shutdown there’s a good deal of speculation that the buffet as we once knew it will never return.
buffet (noun): a meal set out on a buffet at which guests help themselves.
buffet (noun): a meal where people serve themselves different types of food.
buffet (noun): A meal at which guests serve themselves from various dishes displayed on a table or sideboard.
The Free Dictionary
Most (but not all) dictionary definitions of the noun ‘buffet’ stipulate that it is a ‘self service’ affair. That’s going to be the standard we hold in our assessment of the future of the Las Vegas buffet. The distinction is necessary since a few properties–most notably the Wynn Las Vegas and The Cosmopolitan–have reopened their buffets. Both are very good and they’re welcome additions to the city’s dining scene. They’re in the part of the property designated as a ‘Buffet’ with an all you can eat concept. But since they’re no longer self serve we can’t consider them a legitimate Las Vegas buffet.
WHERE THE LAS VEGAS BUFFET STANDS NOW
Notwithstanding the exceptions mentioned above every property in Nevada has temporarily closed their buffet. Given the current focus on social distancing and stringent health and safety protocol to mitigate the COVID-19 epidemic this is understandable. What is unclear is what will happen in the future–if and when the traveling public will once again consider the buffet a safe dining option. Here’s what Henry H. Harteveldt, an airline, hotel and travel industry analyst, told the frequent flyer website The Points Guy:
“In a focus group about dining, several of the people mentioned they no longer feel comfortable going to buffets. They don’t feel comfortable in the current environment that the hygiene is as safe as it needs to be. So, it’s understandable why we are seeing buffet options being closed down. The question is: Once health conditions return to a more normal state, will people feel more comfortable going to buffets in the future, or will these concerns be longer lasting?”
That view fits right in with other research that suggests the public considers traveling at all ‘risky’ at this point. The Points Guy also tried to get some information on the future of the buffet from a number of hotel companies but all they would say is that currently their buffets have moved from “assisted-serve instead of self-serve buffets”. The excellent monthly newsletter Las Vegas Advisor reported in their May 2020 issue that buffets aren’t planned for Resorts World, Virgin Hotels Las Vegas or the Circa Resort & Casino. The Golden Nugget and Treasure Island aren’t expected to reopen their buffets. Caesars Palace is in the process of renovating the Bacchanal Buffet to the tune of $2.4 million, presumably to make it viable in the post COVID-19 world. At the other extreme, the company that owns buffet restaurants Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes has filed for bankruptcy protection seeing ‘no viable way to reopen’.
So is the buffet gone for good or just as the trade publication Restaurant Business put it ‘likely to go into a coma for a while’? The latter sounds like the more likely scenario and particularly as it relates to the Las Vegas casino buffet. The major resorts on The Strip can easily pivot into ‘assisted serve’ or get rid of their buffets altogether. For locals casinos such as those operated by Boyd Gaming or Stations Casinos the buffet is a much more important component of their marketing. Another possible scenario involves a change in public sentiment about the risk factor of buffets. Presumably there will be one (or more) COVID-19 vaccines available. Assessing their potential efficacy is way beyond the purview of this website but there’s always a chance that could change the game.
Las Vegas has a longstanding tendency to revisit concepts that worked in the past–in some cases well after their shelf life has expired. For that reason alone, it’s not possible for me to declare the Las Vegas casino buffet dead and buried. It might be awhile before it returns but if and when it does I won’t be surprised. In fact, I’ve envisioned a scenario for it to return: a locals property like the Palace Station could make a buffet breakfast work even with changes to improve health and safety post pandemic. At any rate, look for the self service buffet to resurface first in a smaller and more manageable setting such as this. Locals properties in particular have a vested interest in their return and the cost structure of ‘assisted service’ could be a non-starter. The self service casino buffet will likely remain dormant for awhile but should eventually emerge from hibernation when the public mood is favorable for it to do so.
LAS VEGAS CASINO SELF SERVICE BUFFET BETTING ODDS
SELF SERVICE BUFFET OFFERED BY A LAS VEGAS CASINO BY 12/31/20?
Yes +750 No -1500
SELF SERVICE BUFFET OFFERED BY A LAS VEGAS CASINO BY 12/31/21?
Yes +300 No -350
SELF SERVICE BUFFET OFFERED BY A LAS VEGAS CASINO BY 12/31/22?
Yes -150 No +130
FIRST LAS VEGAS GAMING COMPANY TO OFFER A SELF SERVICE BUFFET?
Station Casinos +300 Boyd Gaming +450 Caesars Entertainment/Eldorado +750 South Point +1000 Golden Casino Group +1000 Wynn Resorts +1500 Fifth Street Gaming +1500 Penn National +1500 Phil Ruffin +1500 Derek Stevens +1500 Cosmopolitan +2500 Las Vegas Sands +2500 Westgate +2500 Resorts World Las Vegas +2500 Virgin Hotel Las Vegas +2500 Any Other Gaming Company +5000
Boyd Gaming Properties are The Aliante, The Orleans, Gold Coast, Suncoast, Sam’s Town, Eastside Cannery, Cannery, California, Fremont and Main Street Station.
Golden Casino Group properties are The Strat, Arizona Charlie’s Decatur and Arizona Charlie’s Boulder.
Fifth Street Gaming properties are Downtown Grand, The Lucky Club and Silver Nugget.
Penn National properties are Tropicana Las Vegas and The M Resort.
Phil Ruffin properties are Treasure Island and Circus Circus.
Derek Stevens properties are The D Las Vegas, Golden Gate and Circa Resort Casino.
Las Vegas Sands Properties are The Venetian and The Palazzo.