Can Casino Buffets Survive COVID-19? Hospitality Experts Have Varying Views

Posted on: May 27, 2020, 08:58h. 

Last updated on: May 27, 2020, 11:00h.

The casino buffet has been an integral part of the Las Vegas experience for decades. But COVID-19 is threatening to put a fork in the Strip amenity staple.

Las Vegas casino buffet coronavirus
Is the casino buffet going to be a victim of the COVID-19 pandemic? (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak (D) confirmed last night that Silver State casinos can begin reopening June 4 with reduced capacities and numerous health and safety measures in place. One condition is that buffets must remain closed.

Health officials believe buffets are the perfect breeding ground to spread the coronavirus. People congregate, share serving utensils, and often make multiple trips to the serving line.

Can buffets make a comeback? Robert Lang, executive director of UNLV’s Brookings Mountain West and Lincy Institute, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that buffets won’t be around anytime soon. “I’m guessing they’re not doing buffets for a while,” Lang opined. And he doesn’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing in Las Vegas.

“We were losing those [buffets] anyway,” he continued. “Those aren’t a staple anymore. Las Vegas went upmarket. It’s not 1995.”

That might be true. But nearly every casino on the Strip, from low- to high-end properties, still offered a buffet prior to the coronavirus pandemic. The Venetian and Palazzo were two exceptions.

Buffets Remain Popular

Buffets will remain closed on the Las Vegas Strip during the casinos’ initial reopenings.

Amanda Belarmino, an assistant professor at UNLV’s William F. Harrah College of Hospitality, says buffets will be back, but likely in new operational arrangements. “The industry has to make some smart decisions,” she told KSNV this week. “It may be that the buffet has to evolve into having a deeper service aspect.”

People come here and it’s one of the things people want to do,” Belarmino added. “Gambling, going to the buffet, it’s all a part of that experience.”

One solution, Belarmino suggests, is to have casino buffet servers who deliver food directly to customer tables. Another is cafeteria-style, where servers dish out the food to customer plates.

Away with Buffets?

Lang believes the Las Vegas Strip no longer needs buffets. He says gaming revenue covers the bottom line, and Sin City has gone upscale, “where restaurants are now nationally known eateries.”

But Belarmino believes, in due time, buffets will return. “When you look at the Strip buffets, there’s a high level of people willing to pay for the experience,” she concluded. “It’s not just the food itself, but the aura of being at one of the best buffets.”

Las Vegas Buffet Costs (Dinner)

  • Caesars Palace Bacchanal – $55-65
  • Wynn Buffet – $44-53
  • Buffet at Bellagio – $42-47
  • Buffet at Luxor – $26-30
  • Circus Circus Buffet – $22-25

*prices do not reflect taxes + gratuities