Golden Slumbers 🍽

Nearly a year after writing about the pandemic’s impact on the buffet, I consider the issue again—after noticing that a Golden Corral location near my house permanently closed.

(Danie X O’Neil/Flickr)

Last year, I wrote a piece about the all-you-can-eat buffet and its potential for weathering the storm of COVID-19. It had a lot of marks against it, including a record that was already pocked with health-code issues.

Then I kind of let the issue go for a while—only to notice somewhat recently that the one buffet near my home, a Golden Corral location, had in fact closed.

Golden Corral was the one chain in that entire sub-sector that was doing consistently well (it was even able to advertise on television, with Jeff Foxworthy its spokesman), but even it couldn’t weather the storm of bad press and required business model changes.

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The restaurant business has particularly struggled amid the pandemic, with 100,000 restaurants closed permanently or on a long-term basis, according to the National Restaurant Association. But buffets had way more going against them in part because of a broad concern about germs that wasn’t entirely warranted to the degree it went (not that we knew it at the time, but there wasn’t really a need to wipe down your grocery bags every time you came home from the store), but trying to crawl back from an in-the-wild pandemic means that guidance won’t always be perfect at the beginning.

But the situation nonetheless put a lot of attention on the things buffets were already doing imperfectly from a public health perspective, and that meant they were clear targets for closures. A once-major chain of buffets I wrote about in the piece, which included Old Country Buffet, Ryan’s, and HomeTown Buffet, ended up closing many of its locations temporarily, and many of those locations have shut down permanently as well.

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The ability to combine unrelated things into meals was a primary appeal of the buffet for eaters. (anokarina/Flickr)

A major franchisee of the Golden Corral chain just filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, too, and it wasn’t the first one.

I think the question asks itself—will the buffet return as an eating option after the pandemic? I was somewhat sad to see it go in my piece last year, if not optimistic about its chances. It wasn’t because of the food, honestly; it was because buffets were the perfect option for large groups of people—think entire extended families—to come together all at once. Culturally, once we settle into the new normal, there will still be a need for something like that among groups of people who care more about the quality of the camaraderie than the quality of the food.

But with the biggest chain seeing its biggest franchisees stumbling towards bankruptcy, optimism doesn’t feel like the way forward.

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Ernie Smith

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Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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