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

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Some public health officials warn people not to share food in social circles during this pandemic, but does that mean Sunday brunch buffets, Chinese self-service restaurants and salad bars restaurant become a thing of the past?

Jeff Farber, Director of the Canadian Food Safety Research Institute at the University of Guelph, believes that buffet restaurants will face difficult times until there is a vaccine against COVID-19.

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

“In a lively buffet, you could have hundreds of people manipulating the same instrument to put food on their plates,” he says. “You have people coming together … to soda dispensers. “

A spokesperson for an organization representing the restaurant industry does not believe that buffets will be permanently excluded from the menu.

But David Lefebvre, vice-president of Restaurants Canada, believes the industry is facing challenges and will need to innovate as restaurants gradually reopen.

“I find it hard to understand that everything is permanent with the new situation,” he said.

For Sachit and Anish Mehra, the brothers who run the 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, cooking in small batches and temperatures and cleaning strictly controlled.

” This is what we do. This is what we are known for, “said Sachit Mehra, who added that the buffet represents about 90% of their average gross sales.

They have offered takeout and deliveries during the pandemic and say there have been many family discussions about what the future of food service will look like.

“India played a big part in the common meal. It’s never just one person, one plate. These are shared plates, “says Anish Mehra.

“The buffet was a kind of natural extension when we developed our business and if we have to go back … we are ready for that. “

Saskatchewan and Manitoba do not allow buffets as provinces gradually reopen businesses, and there is no timetable for their return to Alberta, where restaurants and cafes were half-reopened last week ability and with physical distance.

In March, the Chief Medical Officer of Health for Alberta reported that COVID-19 had spread among doctors who attended a curling tournament in Edmonton where the buffet spoons were widely manipulated.

For the Weyburn, Saskatchewan community, a buffet of fried chicken and sauce is not just a lunch option; it’s something worth fighting for.

Home to one of the last all-you-can-eat KFC buffets in the world, the city has seen residents, including former Prime Minister Brad Wall, rally to save it when it was threatened with closure several years ago.

“We firmly intend to reopen it when the time is right and all approved health and safety measures have been implemented,” said a statement from Linn Free, chief operating officer at KFC Canada.

Farber says it is possible that some restaurants may turn to cafeteria-style food service with employees preparing food for customers. Or instead of a long smorgasbord table, smaller stations could be installed.

Another idea would be for governments to review buffets on a case-by-case basis. Restaurants should present physical distance and sanitation plans for heavily affected areas.

“It is just too early to reopen the buffets as we had before,” he said.

The Mehra brothers remain optimistic about the life that remains in the buffet.

“I think of the countless birthdays, celebrations, anniversaries, weddings, receptions, events that have always been centered around a buffet,” said Sachit Mehra.

“The important thing here is the patience to come back to this point, and make sure that you have absolutely all the conditions to make sure people are confident. “

This Canadian Press report was first published on May 18, 2020

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