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Gulf Coast casino buffets slow to come back after COVID-19

Casino buffets could be the latest casualty of COVID-19, not because of social distancing but economics. The once must-have amenity has struggled to make a com
Published: Oct. 29, 2021 at 7:24 PM CDT
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BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - Casino buffets could be the latest casualty of COVID-19, not because of social distancing but economics. The once must-have amenity has struggled to make a comeback.

There’s no doubt casino buffets are popular.

“I believe it’s one of the best attractions that it offers,” said Washington D.C. resident LaVon Dobie. “And to be able to sit and dine in the hotel that you’re staying in is really important as opposed to eating and going.”

Florida resident Warren Milligan likes the flexibility.

“You can eat any time, it’s always really good,” he said. “The fruit bar and all of that is really great.”

But post-pandemic, the return of buffets has been slow. This week, two casino executives defended their stand against them to business leaders.

“I don’t disagree with our CEO, and I have no intention of opening a buffet,” said Jonathan Jones, Harrah’s Gulf Coast general manager. “We’ve got a big space and we’re having fun trying to figure out what goes there.”

LuAnn Pappas, Scarlet Pearl Casino Resort CEO said the buffet was a “loss leader.”

“We lost a lot of money operating a buffet because for the most part, you gave the buffet away,” she said. “And we learned we didn’t need to do that in order to attract customers and retain them.”

They aren’t the only ones. In fact, it’s a split decision among the 12 casinos on the Coast.

Those with buffets: Palace, Beau Rivage, Treasure Bay, Island View, Silver Slipper and Hollywood.

Those without: Golden Nugget, Hard Rock, Scarlet Pearl, Harrah’s, IP and Boomtown.

And Beau Rivage is determined to make it work.

“One way or another, we are in the hospitality business,” said Murat Akan, Beau’s vice president of hospitality. “And if we are already accommodating guests here and if we are calling ourselves an integrated resort here on the Gulf Coast, we should be able to offer some breakfast options, and lunch and dinner options for the guests.”

And, to help defray higher food costs, the casino has cut buffet size, limited times operation and implemented a restaurant-style management system.

“We’re able to control how many people come through the restaurant through the reservation system,” said Beau executive chef Kristian Wade. “So, it makes it a lot better for the culinary staff, because we know what we’re going to get of certain periods of the service.”

For some, closing a casino buffet is a bad move.

“It’s a big mistake because people like buffets,” said Maryland resident Evelyn Bond. “People like a variety of food at a reasonable price. And, here, if you play a lot, you get free buffets.”

Higher prices have forced some casinos that continue to operate buffets to implement new pricing for different entrees, such as crab legs, while others have simply dropped items from the menu.

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