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Local eateries concerned it's the end of the line for buffets

'Nobody is thinking about us, no one thinks about going for Chinese food on the patio I guess,' says owner of Orillia's Golden Wok

Local restaurants featuring buffet services are struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic and many feel that will continue until they find a way to reinvent themselves.

Despite opening a patio and introducing a special menu, Golden Wok owner Katty Po says people have shown little interest in dining at her Front Street Chinese food restaurant while the buffet remains closed.  

“Nobody is thinking about us. No one thinks about going for Chinese food on the patio, I guess,” Po said.

Po says that even if the provincial government lifts restrictions on buffets, it would be difficult to offer that service again.

“The buffet won’t be easy to run. Everybody will have to pay more attention to detail. Maybe we can change it, but we will really need to think about it,” Po explained.

Po says the Golden Wok may have to draw inspiration from Japanese restaurants which offer a different style and a safer buffet-type service.

“They have customers order what they want and then the staff bring the food to them, different than how it usually works with people helping themselves,” she said.

Shan Wickremasinghe, cluster general manager of Sunray Group of Hotels in Orillia, is optimistic that Grape and Olive Wine & Martini Bistro will one day offer a buffet again for special events, weddings and banquets.

“Absolutely we still can. We will follow Simcoe Muskoka health guidelines. If they say we can open the buffet then we may,” he said.

Wickremasinghe doesn’t believe the buffet era is over, and sees buffet services returning soon.

“This is all temporary. We have always had a buffet and we will go back to our normal day routine or better in the near future,” he said.

“Hopefully, it will be sooner than later. The numbers have been around 200 new cases every single day (provincially). If it gets to 50 or less, the government may decide to ease some restrictions on buffets,” he said.

Wickremasinghe acknowledges there would be health risks with running a buffet and says the Grape and Olive would put protocols in place to keep staff and customers safe.

“Of course there will be new initiatives until there is vaccination and safety precautions would be made,” he said.

Currently, the Grape and Olive remains closed with the entire food and beverage staff laid off. Wickremasinghe says the restaurant could open back up by the second week of July.

Over at Thai Plate Restaurant, they are only open for take-out and delivery. As such, they were compelled to lay off four staff members. 

Before the pandemic, the Thai food restaurant offered a lunch buffet on Fridays. Cashier manager Pariga Wichayasunan isn’t sure that they will offer that ever again.  

“We don’t know when a pandemic could come back, so it’s tough to say. We will watch and see what other places do with buffets to make it safe,” she said.

Wichayasunan provided some insight into what a buffet may look like in the post-pandemic era.

 “It will probably need to be really organized. People will have to come in at different times rather than just line up, it may need to be sped up, food will need to be taken away faster … it’s very hard to think how that would look right now,” she said.

Even if the provincial government fully eased restrictions on buffets, Wichayasunan doesn’t believe Thai Plate would be able to offer the service safely.

“Under the current circumstance, we could not accommodate a buffet in a safe way yet. We would rather not operate one; it would take something major for that to change,” she said.