Much like smoking, buffets were an understandable causality of the global pandemic for Atlantic City casinos.
However, unlike indoor smoking, Atlantic City casinos do not appear eager to bring back buffets.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy lifted the COVID-19 prohibition on buffets last month. Still, no AC gambling parlors have reopened the full all-you-can-eat dining option.
Uncertainty about consumer behaviors and high costs means most casino operators are going to be very strategic in bringing them back. If they do at all.
And it’s not just Atlantic City casino buffets on the carving block. There were nearly 60 buffets in Las Vegas casinos before the pandemic. As of Friday, just five are open.
Would you eat at a buffet right now?
It is not hard to understand why Atlantic City casinos are hesitant.
From a pure health perspective, buffets are more of a liability than traditional dining options. The proximity of guests waiting in lines, the handling of serving utensils by numerous patrons, and the sheer volume of customers are all concerning factors.
“I think it’s going to be a long time before customers are willing to eat at buffets, where they’re grabbing food from pans that other people have been grabbing food from,” Caesars Entertainment’s CEO Thomas Reeg said in 2020.
Buffets are ‘costly’ and ‘inefficient,’ casino exec says
But the biggest reason why casino operators may be reluctant to bring back buffets is the most obvious one: cost. The high cost of labor and the financial loss on wasted products means they are not moneymakers.
During the height of the pandemic last year multiple casino operators said, rather bluntly, that buffets would not be part of their long-term strategies.
“From our standpoint, we’ve been vocal in the past that buffets are an inefficient way to market to customers,” Reeg said last year. “They’re very costly; you lose a lot of money there.”
Caesars operates three casinos in Atlantic City: Caesars, Harrah’s Resort, and Tropicana.
Earlier this year, Reeg suggested casino buffets cost roughly $3 million per month for a single property. As the largest U.S. casino operator, Reeg reiterated the company’s position: “We’re going to be smarter about how we’re in the food and beverage business.”
Not entirely a lost cause in Atlantic City
A handful of Atlantic City casinos have found creative ways to either offer an experience that resembles a buffet or utilized the empty spaces to accommodate other needs.
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City reopened Fresh Harvest early on. However, Hard Rock adapted to COVID restrictions in NJ and served buffet-style food to seated guests. Tropicana is doing something similar.
Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa opted to reuse its buffet space to provide a sit-down dining experience for its Amphora Lounge guests. Just this weekend, Borgata announced that Amphora’s usual location will reopen Tuesday.
As far as the Borgata Buffet goes, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch service resumes starting Friday.