The buffet is gone and a la carte is back – a positive Coronavirus effect

Buffets are banned because Coronavirus doesn’t allow us to breath, sneeze and cough all together at a buffet table. Fair enough, we have to live with that. What alternative do we have? A la carte – and that is good! Nevertheless, there were many advantages to a buffet… but we shouldn’t be too sad that it has disappeared (maybe only for a while).

The advantages a buffet had (if done right)

  • It was a great display and eye catcher – Food was the one, big, magnificent ingredient, but wonderful buffet design, flowers, expensive and unique equipment could made it a great attraction. When live cooking stations were included, it could be a lively place and an attractive display that people rightfully enjoyed.
  • A buffet showed you honestly what you will get – Compared with a menu where you hope for the best outcome of the dishes as described, a buffet let you look upfront and make a more accurate choice. 
  • It could convince you of hygiene and standards – Seeing the crisp, clean cook behind the carving station and a buffet that looked spotlessly clean, with staff attending to maintain it, told you that this is a safe, hygienic place to eat. Cooling units, carefully designed protection glasses, and crushed ice that maintained temperatures could add to the attraction.
  • You didn’t have to wake up for breakfast – Instead of telling the waiter in detail what you would like to order for breakfast (when he finally shows up), you could mumble the word “coffee” and go straight to the buffet and get what you wanted quickly for yourself.
  • You could feed the family with a clear price tag attached – Knowing that the buffet cost $XX per person, it was easy to calculate your budget. If children were half priced, you knew it wouldn’t be too bad. Yes, everyone might over eat, but what the heck – you probably saved on meal costs in the end. 

Why will a la carte be better?

  • Quality will improve – Instead of dishes sitting hours on a buffet, we can provide a meal cooked and served freshly without a lot of suspect people stirring and playing in it before.
  • Food waste will be minimum – A buffet has to be full to look attractive. Inevitably, a lot of cooked food winds up in the garbage bin. Chefs in the kitchen cooking a la carte can minimize food waste by cooking meals only in the quantity needed for consumption, not for display. Yes, left overs can be used for the staff, but this shows an unfortunate attitude in the industry. Your staff should get fresh food too, not items that were three hours on the buffet or two hours under a heating lamp.
  • Service will return – finally! Well that one might proove to be a challenge for HR. While for the buffet we could hire anyone with two arms for carrying as many dirty plates as possible (never mind how!), we now have to get service staff back that:
    1. Knows the menu and can explain it
    2. Knows how to serve right, fast, efficiently and with elegance
    3. Are able to have a conversation with guests ( yes, we are in contact with the guest again!)
    4. Can clear a table at the right moment in the right way
    5. Can be wait staff again, instead of merely cleaning – clearing staff.
  • Presentation will improve – Chefs are artists when it comes to setting up a plate attractively. Instead of preparing a chafing dish full of food, we will see them again painting a picture of ingredients on a plate. The eye catcher we lost with a buffet will be fast forgotten. It will be fresh, a la minute, great looking and just for you! 
  • Great staff will return – We will have chefs again who are challenged and working to provide the best. We will have service staff that knows how to serve, know how to have a conversation, up-sell, create an atmosphere and a bond with guest. This is creating loyalty – not a plastic card.

What will be missed?

The great display? Look at your plate and you will be fully compensated. We might miss the hunt for the last five shrimp on the buffet when the cook sees us approaching, but also realizes that the elderly lady from table five approaches with the same aim. You can see in her eyes that she is not willing to give in – or share. The cook silently disappears into the kitchen anticipating war! We will miss the guys who got the Beef Wellington, rice, potatoes and gravy, only to add the chocolate muffin with some strawberry sauce (which drips on the meat) – just to make sure nobody takes it before him!

Others will be lost

Many big ocean cruise ships areset up for 6,000 guest buffets. Kitchen service and dishwashing lay-outs designed for only this fast food service will have a hard time adjusting. Smaller cruise companies like Viking Ocean, with only 700 guests and a fleet of explorer ships with even fewer guests, will have a chance to embrace and celebrate service again.

We will miss a lot of gorgeous entertainment at the buffet – but it might be for the better!

About the author

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Stephan Busch, Academic Director at the State University for the Humanities Moscow RGGU, Faculty of Tourism & Hospitality and the Swiss International University earned his Master Certificate in Hospitality Management from Cornell University, USA. He has a diverse experience in launching operations, business development and service training- for hotel and cruise companies in Asia, Europe, Canada and Russia.  www.itsjusthotelsservice.com[email protected]

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