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

Tagging Suicide Hill in Vernon in lieu of grad party?

City councillor pitches idea to revive old tradition amid COVID-19 pandemic

Motorcycle vs. vehicle on Vernon highway

Fire crews, ambulance and police on scene at 32nd Street and 43rd Avenue intersection

North Okanagan campers trashing rules

Campers still pitching tents, and leaving garbage, despite sites not being open until June 1

North Westside residents shocked at fire chief’s suspension

Communities association president said they don’t know why the suspension happened

Enderby’s drive-in reviewing season’s ‘feasibility’ on heels of 50-car limit

Starlight Drive-In opened with reduced capacity, COVID-19 safety measures in place

B.C. records no new COVID-19 deaths for the first time in weeks

Good news comes despite 11 new test-positive cases in B.C. in the past 24 hours

Ken Monkhouse, ‘Monkey’ on Highway Thru Hell TV show, passes away

Monkhouse died Sunday night of a heartattack, Jamie Davis towing confirmed

B.C. visitor centres get help with COVID-19 prevention measures

Destination B.C. gearing up for local, in-province tourism

36 soldiers test positive for COVID-19 after working in Ontario, Quebec care homes

Nearly 1,700 military members are working in long-term care homes overwhelmed by COVID-19

B.C. poison control sees spike in adults, children accidentally ingesting hand sanitizer

Hand sanitizer sales and usage have gone up sharply amid COVID-19 pandemic

Horoscopes for the week of May 26

Weekly horoscopes by Morgan Fava

Camper explodes near Princeton along Similkameen River

One man was sent to Princeton Hospital May 23 after a camper… Continue reading

Suspected social media accounts of accused Kelowna hamster torturer emerge

Leighton Allen Labute, 20, is facing six charges related to his alleged torture of a hamster

Most Read