- The self serve, all you can eat Las Vegas buffet was an early casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Casinos have tried ‘assisted serve’ concepts but customers didn’t respond.
- Within the past week, Caesars Palace and MGM Grand have announced the reopening of their buffets.
News of the death of the Las Vegas self serve, all you can eat buffet was premature. After having been written off as a casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic by a number of restaurant and gaming analysts–myself included–two of the biggest and most influential properties on the Las Vegas Strip have announced the reopening of their buffets. Caesars Palace reopened the massive Bacchanal Buffet on Thursday, May 20. Earlier today, 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.
It was just a few weeks ago when it appeared as if the buffet had received the final nail in the coffin. In the Q1 earnings call of Red Rock Resorts–parent company of the Stations Casino properties in Southern Nevada–Frank Fertitta revealed that the forthcoming Durango Station project will not have a buffet. Fertitta responsed to a question from Carlo Santarelli of Deutsche Bank about the size and scope of the project:
Look, we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.
We’re going through the process. I can tell you the project is significantly tighter than anything that we’ve done in the past.
We’re going to put the dollars into the place where we make money. It’s going to be a focus on slot machines and table games, our primary business. We’ll have several restaurant options.
We will not have a buffet. And I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves on it.
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 least from a locals standpoint, you can make a compelling case that no casino chain was as inextricably linked with its buffet than Stations. Their Feast Buffet was renowned for serving tasty food at a decent price. I probably have eaten breakfast at a Stations property well over 500 times in my life. Their complete dismissal of the buffet was extremely significant–if anyone would have championed the return of the buffet it would appear to be Stations. Earlier in the pandemic I did some odds on the first property to offer a self service buffet post COVID. Stations was a +300 favorite just ahead of another locals oriented company, Boyd Gaming. As it turns out, the winner would have been Caesars Palace, my third choice at +750.
The buffet is returning much more quickly than I had anticipated. Here are some additional buffet odds from the previously linked article. The winning plays would have been ‘No’ on the first prop and ‘Yes’ on the next two:
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
Hopefully, more casinos will follow suit and bring back their self serve buffets. And hopefully Stations will reconsider so I’ll have a place to eat breakfast in Las Vegas. In our next article, more about the return of the buffets at Caesars Palace and MGM Grand.