Once the lock is released, one of the treats many will have on their wish list is to head to their local eatery for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Many will look forward to going to a buffet when back in business – perhaps for a Chinese or Indian party, a roast or a restaurant to take advantage of the unlimited salad bar, all normal activities pre-locked.
But now that the coronavirus pandemic is changing the way we live our daily lives, will buffet restaurants even be able to open again?
Aside from the issue of social distance, a buffet will naturally be difficult to meet health and safety standards due to the large number of people eating food from the same batch.
Buffet-style restaurants will face challenges if they want to reopen after closing
Restaurants with large, buffet-style chains want to attract customers, and keeping costs down is critical to their business model.
Will they ever open again? This is Money spoke to some of the major restaurant chain buffet chains and food and safety experts to see if this would be possible.
What changes will restaurants make?
pizza Hut, although not just a buffet restaurant, is known for its unlimited lunch pizzas and salad bar where customers can help themselves.
One of the major changes the chain is considering is to use single-use menus, which means germs cannot be spread that way.
It also says the unlimited buffet is still available, but will be delivered to your table instead.
A Pizza Hut Restaurants spokesperson said, “The health and safety of our customers and our team remains our top priority and we are currently working on new initiatives to ensure that our restaurants open in accordance with all government guidelines, and when it is safe to do so.
‘We will encourage people to book ahead and we design our dining areas to ensure there is enough space between guests for social distance.
“ We’ve also redesigned every stage of the guest journey to minimize contact, switch to single-use menus, stay cashless, and we’re testing a new technology so guests can stay at the table and order from their phones . “
Pizza Hut added that it has introduced improved safety measures in its kitchens across the UK
Ordering from your mobile phone is a practice already used in other settings, such as Wetherspoons, and is a surefire way to avoid unnecessary contact.
Card payment is another initiative currently taken by most stores to avoid handling cash.
Pizza Hut added that it has introduced improved safety measures in its kitchens, including more hand washing and sanitizing, and will implement new cleaning measures in all of its restaurants.
Some buffet restaurants, such as Toby Carvery, will have to change their health and safety rules
The spokesperson added: ‘When we open our restaurants, we will take a phased approach so that our guests can dine from around 20 cabins before rolling out to the rest of the UK.
“For starters, we’re serving a simplified menu, but we’re also working on new offerings so guests can still enjoy their favorite unlimited pizza buffet and Ice Cream Factory experience, but delivered to the table.”
Meanwhile Mitchell and Butlers, who provide popular buffet chains Toby Carvery which offers roast dinners in which diners help themselves and Harvester, popular for its unlimited salad bar, can’t explain exactly how it’s going to make changes in the future.
A Mitchell and Butlers spokesperson said, “We will continue to assess and assess how our companies will operate once they are reopened.
“Safety is our top priority and we are developing a number of robust measures to protect both our customers and team members.”
The problem will be problematic for some of the larger buffet restaurants in the UK
The problem will be even more problematic for some of the larger buffet restaurants in the UK, some of which can seat thousands of diners in one evening.
Za Za Bazaar, in Bristol, can accommodate more than 1,000 customers at the same time, with two sessions per night. Meanwhile, the JRC Global Buffet in Watford can serve up to 3,000 people per day.
It would be very difficult for restaurants of this size to adapt to the table service – and will certainly benefit from the profit made by employing less wait staff.
Cosmo is another chain of 19 buffet restaurants across the UK that is likely to face a range of issues with customers expected to go up and take their own food off the plates in the middle.
This is Money has contacted the restaurants for comments regarding their reopening plans, but has not received a response to date.
Meanwhile, independent Chinese and Indian restaurants often have an unlimited Sunday buffet – but these are unlikely to be back in use for some time.
Kate Nicholls, CEO of UK Hospitality, said: ‘Safety is of course an important point of attention for customers and employees. It is difficult to know exactly what needs to change, because the safety procedures have to be drawn up per location. ‘
Is it safe to eat in a restaurant buffet?
Health and safety will be of the utmost concern to both restaurant owners and customers after the closure has ended.
Food hygiene ratings are probably more important than ever, and many guests will be sure to check that the restaurant they visit has a good history to keep clean.
Before heading out to eat or take away, you can check the restaurant’s rating here.
Jatinder Paul, an expert environmental attorney at Irwin Mitchell, has warned that it is “essential” that restaurants adhere to social distance measures.
He said, “Much uncertainty remains about the ability of restaurants and other eateries to reopen safely.
‘By design, many restaurants are currently not focused on meeting social distance measures.
Taking apart and spacing tables further apart, how wait staff look at customers, whether it’s safe for customers to queue for buffet meals, and if customers can safely use toilets without breaking social distance only some of the likely hurdles that companies have to overcome.
“The danger of diseases associated with poor hygiene should never be underestimated. We see hundreds of cases every year when people’s lives are turned upside down due to hygiene issues that could and should have been avoided.
“While restaurants are waiting for further government guidelines to create a safe Covid-19 environment, we would urge businesses to plan ahead now.”
What about the hotel’s buffet breakfast?
Another industry facing major problems is the hotel industry, most of which offer a breakfast buffet to their customers.
However, due to the recent changes, it is no longer possible to work with Travelodge as they say they have closed all restaurant activities in response to the corona virus.
Instead, customers can purchase a breakfast box from reception that they can bring to their room and eat.
Other hotels are considering similar measures when they reopen with the option of offering room service as well.
Amsterdam has installed greenhouse-style pods outside restaurants that can accommodate 4 customers
What are other countries doing?
Other countries coming out of the lockdown have tried different ways to open restaurants.
Outside restaurants, Amsterdam has installed a number of greenhouse-style pods that can accommodate up to four customers.
Waiters wear plastic shields to protect themselves while delivering the food to the customers, with minimal contact.
Meanwhile, restaurants in Austria must adhere to a set of rules, including a maximum of four adults per table and a minimum of one meter between groups.
Waiters should also wear masks while taking orders and serving dishes.
In Spain, some restaurants tried to place plastic screens between tables to separate guests while seated.
Waiters are also made to wear face masks and rubber gloves to protect themselves and customers.
Other countries are likely to have similar measures when they can reopen their restaurants.
Some of the links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on it, we may earn a small commission. That helps us to fund This Is Money and keep it free. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow a commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.