Evelyn Romans | 

Self-Serve & Buffet Restaurants May Be Closing for Good

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This article is outdated. Buffets are re-opening all across the country. But if you’re looking for more tips on saving money while eating out, check out these helpful links so you can get more bang for your buck!

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The days of selecting, self-serving, and eating small portions of food that don’t normally belong together in a casual restaurant setting might be over, folks. No more dispensing your own soft serve ice cream at the buffet. No more refilling your own fountain drinks. No more salad bars…

Buffet-style restaurants have been declining in popularity over the last decade or so, but the coronavirus pandemic may have caused them to shutter their doors for good.


New FDA best practices include discontinuing salad bars, buffets, and beverage service stations.

Pepsi soda fountain drink dispenser

In April, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration set up best practices for retail food stores, restaurants, and food pickup/delivery services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The recommendations clearly address buffet-style operations stating, “Help customers maintain good infection control and social distancing by discontinuing operations, such as salad bars, buffets, and beverage service stations that require customers to use common utensils or dispensers.”


Declining sales over the years also haven’t helped.

Buffet dishes with serving tongs

In the 1990s, buffets were some of the best food joints around. Sizzler, HomeTown Buffet, and Cicis were family favorites. But according to The NPD Group, a market research company, the number of buffet restaurants decreased by 26% between 1998 and 2017. The number of overall restaurants, on the other hand, grew by 22%.

In 2019, Cicis pizza buffet saw a 1.4% decrease in sales, while Golden Corral remained mostly flat with only a slight increase of .8% in profits.

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Souplantation just announced they’d be closing all 97 restaurants for good.

Souplantation branding on a glass door

On May 7, San Diego-based Garden Fresh restaurants which owns Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes, announced they’d be closing all 97 restaurants for good due to declining sales. The closing also means 4,400 lost jobs.

According to the Garden Fresh CEO, over the last eight weeks Souplantation has tried to make their business model work under the FDA’s new restaurant recommendations, but they haven’t been able to overcome the financial challenges.


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Golden Corral is fighting for survival by offering takeout, delivery, and cafeteria-style dining options.

Outside of a Golden Corral buffet restaurant

Golden Corral is fighting to stay relevant during the pandemic by offering online ordering. While all 35 company-owned restaurants have closed and furloughed their 2,290 employees, some of the buffet chain’s 454 franchised restaurants are staying open for takeout and delivery.

Golden Corral also has plans to reopen restaurants under a different model. They’ll begin temporarily offering cafeteria-style dining options where culinary staff at food stations will serve guests, versus having guests touch serving utensils themselves. They’re also temporarily introducing family-style dining where servers bring an endless buffet directly to your table.

Would you try it?


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