Health experts are warning people to stay away from buffet-style meals as they can contribute to the spread of COVID-19. (Pixabay)

Health experts are warning people to stay away from buffet-style meals as they can contribute to the spread of COVID-19. (Pixabay)

Could the COVID-19 pandemic mean the end of the traditional buffet?

Experts are asking events and restaurants to stay away from buffet-style meals

Some public health officers are warning people not to share food in social settings in this time of pandemic, but does that mean Sunday brunch buffets, Chinese self-serve and restaurant salad bars could become a thing of the past?

Jeff Farber, director of the Canadian Research Institute for Food Safety at the University of Guelph, believes restaurants offering buffets are going to be facing difficult times until there is a vaccine for COVID-19.

Highly touched surfaces at buffet tables are a big concern as they increase the chances of spreading the novel coronavirus, he says.

“In a busy buffet, you could have hundreds of people handling the same instrument to put food onto their plates,” he says. “You have people who are congregating … at the soda dispensers.”

A spokesman for an organization representing the food-services industry doesn’t believe buffets will be left off the menu for good.

But David Lefebvre, a vice-president at Restaurants Canada, does think the industry faces challenges and will have to innovate as restaurants gradually reopen.

“I have a hard time figuring that everything is permanent with the new situation,” he says.

READ MORE: Forget big weddings this summer, Dr. Bonnie Henry warns

For Sachit and Anish Mehra, brothers who manage East India Company restaurants in Ottawa and Winnipeg, are ready if they need to change their approach.

For them, a buffet means breaks between lunch and dinner, small-batch cooking and tightly controlled temperatures and cleaning.

“That’s what we do. That’s what we’re known for,” said Sachit Mehra, who added buffet makes up about 90 per cent of their gross average sales

They’ve offered takeout and delivery during the pandemic and say there have been many talks as a family about what the future of dine-in service will look like.

“India has played a big part in the communal meal. It’s never been about one person, one plate. It’s been about shared plates,” says Anish Mehra.

“The buffet was a natural sort of extension of that when we were growing the business and if we need to go back a step … we’re ready for that.”

Saskatchewan and Manitoba are not allowing buffets as the provinces gradually reopen businesses, and there’s no timeline for their return in Alberta, where restaurants and cafes were allowed to reopen last week at half capacity and with physical distancing.

In March, Alberta’s chief medical health officer reported that COVID-19 had spread among doctors who attended a curling bonspiel in Edmonton where serving spoons at a buffet had been widely handled.

For the Saskatchewan community of Weyburn, a buffet of fried chicken and gravy isn’t just an option for lunch; it’s something worth fighting for.

Home to one of the last all-you-can-eat KFC buffets in the world, the city saw residents, including former premier Brad Wall, rally to save it when it was threatened to close several years ago.

“We have every intention of reopening it when the time is right and all approved health and safety measures have been implemented,” reads a statement from Linn Free, chief operations officer with KFC Canada.

READ MORE: Canadians’ worries shift from healthcare to social isolation as time goes on

Farber says it’s possible some eateries could turn to a more cafeteria-style food service with employees dishing up dishes for customers. Or instead of one long smorgasbord table, smaller stations could be set up.

Another idea would be for governments to look at buffets on a case-by-case basis. Restaurants would have to present plans for physical distancing and sanitizing highly touched surfaces.

“It’s just too early to reopen buffets to the way we had them before,” he said.

The Mehra brothers remain optimistic there’s life left in the buffet.

“I think about the countless birthdays, celebrations, anniversaries, weddings, receptions, events that were always centred around a buffet,” said Sachit Mehra.

“The important thing here is the patience to get back to that point, and making sure that you have absolutely every condition to make sure people are confident.”

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusEventsFood

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Williams Lake Minor Hockey Association president Mike Rispin addresses city council at its regular meeting back in October of 2020 asking the city to rescind its no-spectator policy. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
WLMHA remains vigilant, steady, as practices carry on amid pandemic

WLMHA is looking at organizing several skills competitions for players to take part in

Williams Lake First Nation provides a community COVID-19 update Friday, Jan. 15. (Williams Lake First Nation Facebook image)
Williams Lake First Nation Chief highlights importance of mental health amid COVID-19 outbreak

A time to be forgiving, sincere and loving, says Willie Sellars

Interior Health confirmed Friday, Jan. 15, there are now six staff members who have tested positive for COVID-19 at Cariboo Memorial Hospital. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
UPDATE: Six Cariboo Memorial Hospital staff members test positive for COVID-19

Interior Health said Friday, Jan. 15 testing is ongoing

Interior Health update. File photo.
86 new COVID-19 cases, two more deaths in Interior Health

The new deaths are from Heritage Square, a long-term care facility in Vernon

The worker who tested positive was en route to the Mine Site near Wells. (BGM Map)
Wells mining company detects second positive COVID-19 case of 2021

The employee, who is asympomatic, had no known contact with Wells or Quesnel

Keith the curious kitten is seen on Nov. 4, 2020 at the Chilliwack SPCA. Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 is Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Jan. 17 to 23

Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day, Pie Day and International Sweatpants Day are all coming up this week

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Terry David Mulligan. (Submitted photo)
Podcast: Interview with longtime actor/broadcaster and B.C. resident Terry David Mulligan

Podcast: Talk includes TDM’s RCMP career, radio, TV, wine, Janis Joplin and much more

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, January 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID vaccine plan on track despite Pfizer cutting back deliveries

Canadian officials say country will still likely receive four million doses by the end of March

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Lilly and Poppy, two cats owned by Kalmar Cat Hotel ownder Donna Goodenough, both have cerebellAr hypoplasia, a genetic neurological condition that affects their ability to control their muscles and bones. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror
VIDEO: Wobbly Cats a riot of flailing legs and paws but bundles of love and joy to their owner

Woman urges others to not fear adopting cats with disabilities

A COVID-19 outbreak at Vernon's Heritage Square long-term care home has claimed seven people. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Two more COVID-19 deaths at Vernon care home

Heritage Square has now lost seven people due to the outbreak

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s top doctor says to avoid non-essential travel as B.C. explores legal options

Premier John Horgan says he is seeking legal advice on whether it can limit interprovincial travel

Most Read