- Self service buffets were eliminated during the reopening phase of the Nevada gaming industry to heightened health, safety and social distancing protocols.
- A growing number of gaming companies have no plans to bring back casino buffets.
- The Wynn Las Vegas has closed their ‘assisted service’ buffet after customer feedback indicated a preference for the traditional self service concept.
It was less than a month ago when I wrote an article shoveling dirt on the traditional self service Las Vegas casino buffet.
One month before that I wrote an article questioning the viability of the Las Vegas casino buffet in the post COVID-19 world:
I wasn’t alone in performing a post mortum on the buffet. Restaurant Business stopped short of proclaiming the buffet dead but did suggest that it would ‘go into a coma’ for awhile. The essential website for hardcore travelers and frequent flyers The Points Guy surveyed the landscape and based on reports from a variety of corporate entities suggested that the future of the buffet would be ‘assisted serve not self serve.’
Or maybe not. In today’s Las Vegas Review-Journal, the dean of the city’s food critics Al Mancini reported that Wynn Las Vegas’ heavily promoted ‘reimagined’ assisted serve buffet is ‘closing indefinitely’:
Wynn Las Vegas’ experiment with a new style of buffet has proved short-lived. The Buffet at Wynn will close indefinitely at the end of service Monday.
The basic premise of the ‘assisted serve’ buffet is that guests enjoy an ‘all you can eat’ experience but order from a server instead of bellying up to the trough themselves. Based on Wynn’s comments about the closure of ‘buffet 2.0’ guests aren’t exactly enamored of the ‘assisted serve’ concept:
Wynn made headlines in June when it relaunched its buffet as a new all-you-can-eat concept in which guests ordered dishes from a server instead of helping themselves. That style apparently did not resonate with guests.
“Based upon guest feedback, we found that many guests prefer a more traditional buffet experience over the served all-you-can-eat format,” Wynn Resorts spokesman Michael Weaver said in a statement about the decision. “We will continue to assess the situation and will make a determination on reopening at the appropriate time.”
Mancini also points out that Caesars Palace will delay the reopening of the Bacchanal Buffet until “later this year.” The buffet was scheduled to reopen in August after $2.4 million worth of renovations, presumably to make it more viable in the COVID-19 era. The other high profile ‘assisted serve’ buffet–Wicked Spoon at Cosmopolitan Las Vegas–is still open but they’ve quietly moved to a truncated service schedule of Thursday-Monday from 8 AM to 3 PM.
Buffets look to be faring better off the Strip. Head south in the Las Vegas Valley and you’ll find that the Garden Buffet at the South Point Hotel Casino is open with ‘staff service’ and serving breakfast, lunch, dinner along with weekend brunch 7 days a week. Near the Nevada/Utah/Arizona border Sierra’s Buffet is open 7 days a week at the Virgin River Hotel Casino in Mesquite though it has been rebranded as ‘Sierra’s Cafeteria’, presumably to reflect the ‘staff service’ element.
SO WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
The quality of the food definitely isn’t an issue–the Wicked Spoon menu looks tasty enough and there’s plenty of classic buffet staples including my favorites–roast beef and crab legs:
That guests prefer ‘self serve’ to ‘assisted serve’ isn’t a huge surprise. Buffets in general are money losing propositions for casinos and the introduction of servers won’t change that. It might help with portion control but that will be negated by higher labor costs. In the case of Caesars, the delay in the reopening of their buffet could be due to the merger with Eldorado Resorts as much as anything else.
The Las Vegas tourism and gaming economy remains anemic–particularly during the week. For the month of July, the gaming revenue at the properties on the Las Vegas Strip were off 39.2% from a year ago. Visitor volume in Las Vegas was down 61% from July 2019. Gaming companies are trying to keep costs down while keeping the doors open and offering enough in the way of amenities to keep guests happy. If the demand for ‘assisted serve’ buffets isn’t there a gaming company doesn’t have a good reason for keeping it open in the current market environment.
There’s plenty of different scenarios of how this will play out. People could forget about buffets and casinos won’t be quick to remind them. On the other hand, I have to think at some point down the road the self service buffet will return. If one (or more) effective vaccines for COVID-19 become available the game changes completely. Here’s how I concluded one of the aforementioned articles and it applies perfectly here as well:
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.
In our original article about the Las Vegas casino buffet in the COVID-19 era I offered some odds on when a self serve traditional concept buffet would return. I’ve revised them somewhat:
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 -180 No +150
WHERE WILL A SELF SERVICE BUFFET BE OFFERED FIRST?
Las Vegas Valley +110 Elsewhere in Nevada -130
FIRST LAS VEGAS GAMING COMPANY TO OFFER A SELF SERVICE BUFFET?
South Point +300 Boyd Gaming +350 Station Casinos +500 Golden Casino Group +1000 Wynn Resorts +1500 Fifth Street Gaming +1500 Penn National +1500 Phil Ruffin +1500 Derek Stevens +1500 Cosmopolitan +2500 Westgate +2500 Resorts World Las Vegas +2500 Caesars Entertainment +2500 Las Vegas Sands +5000 Virgin Hotel Las Vegas +5000 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.