Buffets are reopening in Utah — but with new restrictions

Diners can no longer just get in line, grab a plate and dig in.
/ Source: TODAY
By Alyssa Newcomb

Self-serve buffets are making a comeback in Utah after being shut down for months, but before anyone gets in line, they'll have to take a few extra precautions.

Gov. Gary Herbert announced July 27 that buffets can start back up again — but also outlined requirements for restaurants and customers to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Before the pandemic, customers used to grab a plate and utensils before making their way down the buffet. Now, buffet and self-serve restaurants must "hand utensils, cups, plates and other service items directly to patrons," the guidelines say. "None of these items will be set out for patrons to self-serve."

Utah is allowing buffets to reopen but with new restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.Lynn Fagerlie / Getty Images

Restaurants are also required to have a staff member dish out the food for the customer or provide hand sanitizer for people to use before they serve themselves. Customers must wear masks at the buffet and can only remove them once they're seated.

Buffets aren't open in most states — and beloved buffet chains Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes have shut down for good — but Utah's model could potentially provide insight into how buffets can safely reopen in states where the coronavirus infection rate is under control.

In addition to the new buffet rules, Herbert also issued guidelines for 24-hour restaurants. While they are allowed to reopen, dining rooms will be required to close twice a day so employees can scrub the tables, chairs, bathrooms and other touch points customers interact with during a visit.

Diners can expect the experience of going out to eat to remain abnormal for a while. In New York, indoor dining rooms remain closed, but customers can be served in socially distanced outdoor seating areas.

Restaurants in other states, including Indiana, Mississippi and Tennessee, are operating at 50% capacity. Florida, which continues to report a record number of coronavirus deaths in the state, is allowing restaurants to operate at 25% capacity for indoor dining.

Social distancing and capacity requirements mean restaurants have fewer tables. Diners are also being asked to respect party size limits, with many states, including Utah, restricting the number of people at a table to no more than 10 people, preferably all from the same household.