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After disappearing with the pandemic, buffets and dinner shows are making a comeback | Eat/Drink

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Sushi conveyor belt restaurants may not have been the easiest to adapt to pandemic measures but customers are regaining interest in them. ― Shutterstock pic
Sushi conveyor belt restaurants may not have been the easiest to adapt to pandemic measures but customers are regaining interest in them. ― Shutterstock pic

NEW YORK, Feb 2 ― It’s a bit like going back in time. In the US, restaurants that found themselves having to shutter operations because their concept made it hard for customers to practice social distancing and other hygiene measures are back with a vengeance. Dinner theatre, restaurants with food distributed by conveyor belt and buffets are once again options for outings.

Dishes distributed in self-service fashion. A conveyor belt that goes past the eyes (and breath) of numerous diners. Sharing plates. In the early days of the pandemic, many restaurants found that their concept was not compatible with the hygienic measures implemented in establishments open to the public. But fans of these types of eateries, which encouraged conviviality, and which symbolise to some extent life in the “before times,” did not lose their taste for them in spite of their absence.

In the United States, review aggregator for everyday businesses Yelp has released its annual report and it reveals consumers’ affection for these restaurant concepts that found themselves incompatible with the health crisis. In the last quarter of 2021, compared to the same period a year earlier, the interest for conveyor-belt sushi restaurants is growing, with an increase in searches of about 55 per cent. The same is true for hot pot restaurants. The restaurants that interest consumers the most are those that put on dinner theatre. Searches concerning them have increased by 97 per cent.

The return of buffets and food courts

The flagship symbol of this restaurant sector forced to change their approach or close up are buffets, which closed one after another at the start of the pandemic ― particularly in hotels around the world. But they haven’t lost favour among consumers. Searches for this category of restaurants is up by 31 per cent. Very popular in recent years thanks to their concept that allows customers to choose items from menus of various stands at the same lunch, “food courts” have also taken a hit from the pandemic. Yelp has noticed an 18 per cent increase in searches for them. Consumers also once again have the desire to dine out over dim sum (+23 per cent) or tapas (+22 per cent).

Not only do these restaurants have to work hard to lure back consumers, many are also contending with a labour shortage that affects all styles of establishment, from Paris to New York. In France, the famous Grands Buffets de Narbonne ― dubbed the largest restaurant in France ― has raised prices so that employees will see a 30 per cent increase in purchasing power. Restaurateurs must also find new ways to grow their business due to new remote working habits. Fewer employees are now eating lunch out. Thus the boost in delivery business makes sense and in some cases is the only opportunity to maintain contact with a business clientele. According to Yelp, demand for this type of service has grown by 107% compared to the pre-pandemic period for the US market. ― ETX Studio


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