The pandemic will likely change the way the world as we know it functions for some time. It is possible some things might no longer exist in the future—middle seats on airplanes, for instance, or open office designs, or the salad bar, once a solid deli/grocery store standby, but now a virus petri dish.
CNN reports that even as restaurants slowly reopen thanks to loosening social distancing measures, self-serve buffets and salad bars are mostly off the table. Some spots, like the buffet chain Golden Corral, say they’ll reopen on a case-by-case basis, or briefly pivot to cafeteria-style serving. But other restaurants plan to shelve their self-serve stations for the time being, and some that relied on buffets closed altogether. The buffet chain Sweet Tomatoes saw plummeting sales and ultimately shuttered in April, when the FDA said retailers should “discontinue operations such as salad bars, self-service buffets or beverage service stations that require customers to use common utensils or dispensers.”
“The word ‘discontinue’ is not a good word for any business,” John Haywood, chief executive officer of parent company Garden Fresh Restaurants, told CNN in an email. “It became clear that our service model would not be allowed soon, if ever.”
Haywood said as a result of the pandemic, “sales collapsed for two weeks prior to our closure on March 15 despite our very passionate guest base and enhanced sanitation tactics.”
“Our average per-location daily guest counts went from 700 per day to less than 200,” he said. “This pre-closure guest behavior, and consumer research conducted during April, clearly indicated that the majority of guests will not be comfortable with any type of salad bar or buffet for some time.”
There are a lot of great things about salad bars and/or buffet style dining. You can eat what and how much you want, you can save some money by packing your carton light, and you can trick yourself into believing you are eating a salad by throwing a tiny bit of lettuce into a container full of cold pasta. On the other hand, self-serve stations were never super hygienic, or so says my mother, who once watched a news report showing people repeatedly sneezing into a salad bar and has never let me stop hearing about it.