101°F
weather icon Clear

Buffets in Las Vegas casinos might have had their day

Updated May 20, 2020 - 9:41 am

Casino companies have been characteristically cagey about when — and if, and in what form — they might reopen buffets in the wake of the coronavirus shutdown, but it appears most will hold off, at least for a while.

In a Tuesday earnings call, Frank Fertitta III, CEO of Red Rock Resorts, parent company of Station Casinos, said buffets won’t be among the amenities included in the early stages of the resorts’ reopenings.

“For one, you know, we will be opening none of our buffets,” Fertitta said. “Buffets generate traffic, but they were definitely loss leaders. Those will not be operating in Phase One, as well as some other specialty restaurants. So we’re going to narrow it down to basically the restaurants that were the most popular.”

‘You lose a lot of money’

Station isn’t alone. Representatives of Wynn Resorts, MGM Resorts International and Penn National Gaming have made similar statements.

A recent letter from Penn National Gaming CEO Jay Snowden to the company’s staff and guests stated that “buffets will remain closed at most of our properties during the opening phases.” Penn had no details, however, on how that policy would apply to the company’s local properties, the Tropicana Las Vegas and the M Resort in Henderson.

A spokeswoman for The Strat said that its buffet will not be included in the first phase of that resort’s reopening. And while Wynn Resorts’ 28-page report on its Health and Disinfection Program makes no specific mention of The Buffet at Wynn, it does call for eliminating buffet service in its meeting and convention space, at its baccarat tables and in its catering and banquet service.

In an earnings call this month, Tom Reeg, CEO of Eldorado Resorts, which is in the process of acquiring Caesars Entertainment Corp. (a deal that’s expected to close by the end of June), seemed to cast doubt on whether buffets would survive at all.

“If you think about the way places will open and the pieces of business that are likely to open very slowly if at all — and I’m thinking about buffets — 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,” Reeg said. “From our standpoint, we’ve been vocal in the past that buffets are an inefficient way to market to customers. They’re very costly; you lose a lot of money there. Simply not having buffets open in your properties is going to dramatically offset any increase in cleaning costs.” Reeg declined a request for further comment.

‘It’s not 1995’

Robert Lang, director of UNLV’s Brookings Mountain West research institute, indicated in an interview last week that Las Vegas may have outgrown its buffets.

“I’m guessing they’re not doing buffets for a while,” Lang said. “We were losing those anyway; those aren’t a staple anymore. Las Vegas went upmarket. It’s not 1995.”

But what can’t be overlooked is how popular buffets are with tourists, and how deeply ingrained they are in the city’s identity.

Amanda Belarmino, assistant professor for strategic management at UNLV, said she’s working with three students who are writing papers on different aspects of buffets. One is a Ph.D. student writing his dissertation on the motivations behind online reviews and ratings, using buffets as an example.

“I think what we see when we look at the online review data is that clearly buffets are a huge attraction,” Belarmino said Tuesday. “It’s still an iconic form of dining in Las Vegas. The modern buffet actually can be traced back to the Flamingo and Las Vegas; all modern buffets come from Las Vegas. It’s hard to take that away from the identity of the city.”

The problem is that buffets are microcosms of COVID-19 risks, with their shared food service and crowded dining rooms. That’s what reportedly led to the demise of Souplantation/Sweet Tomatoes and has prompted Golden Corral locations to shift to cafeteria- or family-style formats.

“I think the perception is that no matter what they would do, buffets would be unsafe,” Belarmino said. “It was one of the first things that closed on the Strip. They closed the buffets; they closed the nightclubs.”

‘There’s baby steps now’

In the interview last week, Lang said things had changed since the days when Las Vegas was a “value proposition.”

“Gaming itself was covering the bottom line, but Las Vegas has since diversified its core economy to include food, shopping, entertainment and sports,” he said. “What happened is some of that value proposition shifted. Vegas has become a kind of fancy place, where the restaurants are now nationally known upscale eateries.”

And now, it seems, there might be a slight shift back.

“There’s baby steps now,” Lang said Tuesday. “You are probably going to go back to a temporary older Vegas model, until you see what the demand is. You see they’re already doing free parking.”

“It’s not cost-effective to think about managing the buffets right now,” Belarmino said. “They’d have to reduce the capacity, so how are they going to be able to do that and have them be profitable?”

But she predicts that, naysayers notwithstanding, Las Vegas buffets are here to stay.

“When you look at the Strip buffets, there’s a high level of people willing to pay for the experience,” she said. “It’s not just the food itself, but the aura of being at one of the best buffets. That’s what we see when we look at things like Caesars Palace.”

She recounted an anecdote from a manager at Caesars’ Bacchanal Buffet, who said people sometimes waited two hours to get in.

“There’s a demand there,” Belarmino said. “They can price it as such and find ways to operate. If you’re willing to do that, you can find a way to make it profitable.”

Review-Journal Business Editor Nicole Raz contributed to this story.

Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@reviewjournal.com. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter. Contact Al Mancini at amancini@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlManciniVegas on Twitter and Instagram.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Entertainment Videos
Kats hangs at Mayfair Supper Club as Bellagio reopens
Las Vegas Review-Journal man-about-town columnist John Katsilometes visits The Mayfair Supper Club at the Bellagio on the Strip in Las Vegas on the first night after reopening Thursday, June 4, 2020. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Las Vegas performers adapt to pandemic restrictions - Video
The coronavirus pandemic has forced creative people in Las Vegas, a city that thrives on live performance, to adapt to new or changed ways to entertain. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas woman brings Blue Angel to life - Video
When Las Vegas shut down during the coronavirus pandemic, Victoria Hogan created the Blue Angel costume and performance, emulating the statue locals know and love in order to connect with others in a time when connection isn’t as possible. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
‘Hamilton’ postponed as Smith Center remains dark indefinitely - VIDEO
The hit musical 'Hamilton' was supposed to run from September through October at The Smith Center’s Reynolds Hall has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons rides a bicycle on the Strip with Kats
Las Vegas resident and ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons rides down the Strip with his wife Gilligan Stillwater GIbbons and Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist John Katsilometes Wednesday, May 20, 2020. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons rides a bicycle on the Las Vegas Strip with Kats - Video
Las Vegas resident and ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons rides down the Strip with his wife, Gilligan Stillwater Gibbons, and Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist John Katsilometes on Wednesday, May 20, 2020. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Ex-WWE star Shad Gaspard found dead on beach - Video
Shad Gaspard, 39, the former WWE wrestler, was found dead Wednesday morning on the shoreline of Venice Beach in California. Gaspard went missing over the weekend. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Buffets won’t reopen soon, but they may return eventually - VIDEO
In a Tuesday earnings call, Frank Fertitta III, CEO of Station Casinos parent company Red Rock Resorts, said buffets won’t be among the amenities included in the early stages of the resorts’ reopenings. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
'Hamilton' to debut on Disney+ in July - Video
The film version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s popular musical was originally set for theatrical release in October. The musical’s director, Tommy Kail, shot three live performances featuring the original Broadway cast. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Little Richard dead at 87 - VIDEO
Little Richard, the pioneer and rock 'n' roll originator, died on Saturday, May 9. His son, Danny Penniman, confirmed the news but the cause of death is unknown. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jerry Stiller, actor and comedian, dies at 92 - VIDEO
Jerry Stiller's son, actor and director Ben Stiller, announced his father's death via Twitter. Jerry Stiller became widely known with a recurring role on "Seinfeld" as Frank Costanza, George's hot-headed father. He also starred on "King of Queens." (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Wolfgang Puck's Players Locker opens in Downtown Summerlin along with others - VIDEO
Under the governor's orders a few restaurants were able to open their dining rooms in Downtown Summerlin Saturday, May 9. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nicolas Cage to portray Joe Exotic in ‘Tiger King’ TV adaption - VIDEO
Nicolas Cage is headed to television to take on the role of Joe Exotic, the iconic character from the Netflix docuseries "Tiger King." (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Quarantined! 'The Ghost Adventures' miniseries by Zak Bagans - VIDEO
The four-part miniseries “Ghost Adventures: Quarantine” by Zak Bagans will debut in June on the Travel Channel. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
10 facts about Cinco de Mayo - VIDEO
The holiday celebrates the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Mexico began the holiday in 1862, but does not recognize it nationally anymore. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Kristin Cavallari has already filed for divorce - VIDEO
Kristin Cavallari, the "Very Cavallari" star, announced she and her husband, former NFL quarterback Jay Cutler, have separated after seven years of marriage and 10 years together. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Brad Pitt portrays Dr. Anthony Fauci on ‘Saturday Night Live’ - VIDEO
"Saturday Night Live’ aired their second socially distanced episode of the COVID-19 pandemic on April 25. The episode’s cold open featured actor Brad Pitt portraying Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Brian Dennehy, 'Tommy Boy' and 'First Blood' star, dies at 81 - VIDEO
Actor Brian Dennehy died Wednesday in New Haven, Connecticut. Dennehy's acting career spanned more than four decades, working in television, film and theater. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bishop Gorman 'Guys and Dolls' virtual performance
Bishop Gorman's virtual opening of "Guys and Dolls." (Bishop Gorman High School)
John Prine, country-folk singer, dies at 73 - VIDEO
John Prine died due to complications caused by COVID-19 at Vanderbilt University Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee on April 7. The singer-songwriter is counted as one the favorite artists by the likes of Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Caesars furloughing about 90% of US workers
The furloughs come amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has prompted all U.S. commercial casinos to temporarily shut their doors.
Bill Withers, soul legend and 'Lean on Me' singer, dead at 81 - VIDEO
Bill Withers' family said he died of heart complications on Monday in Los Angeles. Withers was a three-time Grammy winner. His other major hits include “Ain’t No Sunshine" and “Lovely Day.” (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vegas KatsWalk: From the Mandalay Bay to Excalibur - VIDEO
Review-Journal columnist John Katsilometes walks and talks along the Las Vegas Strip, from Mandalay Bay to Excalibur. (John Katsilometes and Kevin Cannon / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Make Ivan Grant's Quarantini - VIDEO
Ivan Grant, a flair bartender at Long Bar at The D Las Vegas, makes his Quarantini. (Ivan Grant)
Fountains of Wayne's Adam Schlesinger dies from coronavirus - VIDEO
According to Variety, 52-year-old frontman and songwriter Adam Schlesinger has died, following a short battle with the respiratory illness, coronavirus. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
KATS WALK: A walking tour on south Las Vegas Strip – VIDEO
RJ columnist John Katsiometes takes a walking tour of the south end of the Las Vegas Strip. (John Katsiometes and Kevin Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tiger King character has Las Vegas connection - VIDEO
Entertainment reporter John Katsilometes talks about the popular "Tiger King" and Jeff Lowe, a central figure in the Netflix documentary phenomenon who wanted to do business with the last Las Vegas Strip entertainer to use wild tigers in his act. (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Coranavirus victim Howard Berman playing the harmonica in April 2014 - VIDEO
Howard Berman, 66, playing the harmonica at a jam session in April 2014. Berman, who was active in the Las Vegas music community, died on March 24, 2020, from COVID-19. (Diana Andriola)
Boarded-up businesses in the Arts District add some color - VIDEO
Businesses in the Arts District have commissioned local artists to paint murals on the boards covering their doors and windows. When the boards are removed, they will be auctioned off to raise money for those affected by the coronavirus shutdowns. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Sold-out Electric Daisy Carnival still scheduled for May - VIDEO
In a post on his social media platforms, festival founder Pasquale Rotella confirmed that EDC remains scheduled for May 15-17 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway despite coronavirus concerns that have sideline scads of other live music events. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
THE LATEST