Coronavirus forces Las Vegas hotels to close a popular attraction — the buffets

MGM Resorts International is closing down the buffet restaurants at seven properties.

Get the latest from TODAY

Sign up for our newsletter
SUBSCRIBE
/ Source: TODAY
By Aly Walansky

Las Vegas is known for its bright lights, great shows and over-the-top nightlife.

But as confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus continue to pop up in the United States and around the globe, one the most popular perks in Sin City will be a lot harder to find after this weekend.

On Tuesday night, MGM Resorts International announced it will be temporarily closing the buffets at all of its Las Vegas-based properties starting Sunday, March 15.

MGM Resorts International has temporarily closed the buffet restaurants at all of its Las Vegas properties. Other hotels are making different accommodations due to coronavirus concerns. Getty Images

The policy affects seven hotels, including restaurants at Aria, Bellagio, MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay, The Mirage, Luxor and Excalibur.

"These changes are temporary and will be evaluated on a weekly basis,” a representative for MGM Resorts told TODAY via email. At this time, the rep was not able to provide any information as to how long the eateries would be closed. Each property operates multiple restaurants, but all have just one buffet-style eatery.

According to the company representative, this decision will only impact the buffets at Las Vegas resorts, and other buffet restaurants at MGM resorts across the country will not be affected.

As for those who work at the Vegas-based buffets, the rep said “all employees will work directly with MGM’s Labor Relations department to assist with any employment changes, transitions or questions as part of the temporary buffet closure process."

Aside from gambling, the opulent, yet surprisingly affordable buffets are one of the Strip's biggest draws, so it's not too surprising that many on social media had some pretty strong reactions to the announcement.

Others think the measure is a necessary step to help prevent the spread of germs as the outbreak advances.

However, not all buffets in Las Vegas are closing down.

Caesars Entertainment, which operates almost a dozen properties including Harrah's, The Cromwell, the Flamingo and Planet Hollywood, will continue to offer buffet services at all resorts where currently available.

“Caesars buffets remain open and we are incorporating cleaning and hygiene protocols into the buffets as well as the rest of our operations across the company,” said a company rep.

Still, MGM Resorts' announcement has prompted many to wonder whether all buffets should be closed amid rising concerns over the coronavirus.

“Any food exposed to open air is at risk for exposure to germs including bacteria, pathogens and, yes, the coronavirus,” Dr. Brittany Brinley, a Los Angeles-based physician, told TODAY. “Food contained in buffet style servings is at higher risk of exposure through multiple hands touching the food directly, handling the serving utensils that then add germs to the food and, last but not least, coughing and sneezing over the food."

Ultimately, it’s just better to be safe than sorry, say others.

“I do think these resorts are making the right call in this case,” emergency planning expert Patrick Hardy, creator of Disaster Hawk, a disaster preparedness app, told TODAY.

While the government and many businesses are encouraging people to wash their hands frequently and behave hygienically, no one can be forced to comply with these mandates.

“Having worked in the restaurant industry myself, I’ve seen people cough and sneeze on buffets," Hardy said. "I’ve seen them dip their fingers into sauces to taste them. Additionally, even if no one ever touched the food directly, everyone using a buffet touches the same serving tongs. So viruses can be transmitted that way."

Eating in a traditional restaurant, however, is probably fine.

“When the food is prepared in a clean commercial kitchen and delivered on an individual plate by a healthy server, we minimize the amount of potential disease exposure,” said Hardy. “In general, I don’t think buffets are a great idea for people trying to avoid germs. Since people are acutely aware of coronavirus right now, one person’s reaction could quickly escalate into having an entire resort full of people in a sheer panic. There is already enough disruption in the travel industry, businesses don’t need to take unnecessary risks."

Wynn Resorts, which operates two properties on the Strip, has found a creative way of dealing with the food handling situation at its buffets.

"Effective March 11, The Buffet (at Wynn properties) will station culinary staff at each food station to serve our guests, eliminating the need for guests to touch serving utensils," a representative for Wynn Las Vegas told TODAY in an emailed statement. "In addition, we are routinely cleaning all hard surfaces and have placed hand sanitizing stations at the entrance for guests to utilize prior to entry."