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

Chris Wilkinson
Chris Wilkinson column: Time to slow down to speed up

In a society where we learn (are forced?) to multitask like crazy

A COVID-19 exposure has been reported at Shawnigan Lake School. (Citizen file photo)
Island Health reports COVID-19 exposure at Shawnigan Lake School

Shawnigan Lake School has been added to the list of schools in… Continue reading

Peas are great to grow in the garden, but a trellis for them in an A frame shape will offer more portability and wind resistance. (Citizen file)
Mary Lowther column: Making a foldable pea trellis on winter agenda

My previous methods required starting anew every spring

Sarah Simpson
Sarah Simpson Column: Books open up a world of discovery

We try to eat dinner as a family every night. It happens… Continue reading

The Cowichan Tribes’ gymnasium at 5574 River Road is now operating as an extreme weather shelter. (Submitted photo)
New extreme weather shelter opens on River Road in Duncan

New facility should relieve some pressure on Warmland House

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders sits in on a COVID-19 briefing with Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, and Adrian Dix, B.C. minister of health. (Birinder Narang/Twitter)
PHOTOS: Bernie Sanders visits B.C. landmarks through the magic of photo editing

Residents jump on viral trend of photoshopping U.S. senator into images

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. (News Bulletin file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Nanaimo hospital

Two staff members and one patient have tested positive, all on the same floor

A long-term care worker receives the Pfizer vaccine at a clinic in Nanaimo earlier this month. (Island Health photo)
All Island seniors in long-term care will be vaccinated by the end of this weekend

Immunization of high-risk population will continue over the next two months

A 75-year-old aircraft has been languishing in a parking lot on the campus of the University of the Fraser Valley, but will soon be moved to the B.C. Aviation Museum. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Vintage military aircraft moving from Chilliwack to new home at B.C. Aviation Museum

The challenging move to Vancouver Island will be documented by Discovery Channel film crews

A video posted to social media by Chilliwack resident Rob Iezzi shows a teenager getting kicked in the face after being approached by three suspects on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (YouTube/Rob i)
VIDEO: Security cameras capture ‘just one more assault’ near B.C. high school

Third high-school related assault captured by Chilliwack resident’s cameras since beginning of 2021

FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2017, file photo, Oklahoma State Rep. Justin Humphrey prepares to speak at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City. A mythical, ape-like creature that has captured the imagination of adventurers for decades has now become the target of Rep. Justin Humphrey. Humphrey, a Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season, He says issuing a state hunting license and tag could help boost tourism. (Steve Gooch/The Oklahoman via AP, File)
Oklahoma lawmaker proposes ‘Bigfoot’ hunting season

A Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season

Economic Development and Official Languages Minister Melanie Joly responds to a question in the House of Commons Monday November 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Federal minister touts need for new B.C. economic development agency

Last December’s federal economic update promised a stimulus package of about $100 billion this year

FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2017, file photo, Larry King attends the 45th International Emmy Awards at the New York Hilton, in New York. Former CNN talk show host King has been hospitalized with COVID-19 for more than a week, the news channel reported Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021. CNN reported the 87-year-old King contracted the coronavirus and was undergoing treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)
Larry King, broadcasting giant for half-century, dies at 87

King conducted an estimated 50,000 on-air interviews

Comox Valley RCMP are looking for witnesses after the theft of a generator worth thousands of dollars. Photo supplied
RCMP asking Vancouver Island residents to watch for stolen generator

Vehicle may have been travelling on Highway 19

Most Read