Coronavirus has changed the way we serve food beyond recognition. The self-service buffet is out, take out is in. But what does this look like for traditional businesses that rely heavily on a canteen type, buffet style, dine in experiences? If the all-you-can-eat, finger-buffet-cum germ disaster is over for the time being, has coronavirus changed the way you serve food for good?
I’ll put my hand up and admit, if there’s one thing I’ll be all too glad to see the back of as a result of Covid, it’s the self-service buffet. For me, there’s still this residual memory of my folks dragging me to one too many church fetes, or potlucks as they used to call them. Cucumber sarnies and dubious-looking sausage rolls desperately wishing for someone to choose them and put them out of their misery.
It’s only been a few months since covid sent us all scurrying in various directions. But already, can anyone seriously imagine hand-picking their food from a collective tray of morsels at a wedding or corporate catering event now? That single cheese knife plunged into a round of Colston Bassett on the counter of my local pub each Christmas Eve, springs to mind. “Help yourself” the sign reads! While I always shuddered to imagine the hands that had been on the end of it.
It’s over, isn’t it? Self-service, double-dipping, communal bowls of free-tasters at your local food market. To be fair, even without the threat of a worldwide pandemic, some things should probably have been over a long time ago.
In March, the US FDA, which regulates food safety, recommended discontinuing self-service buffets and salad/deli bars until the coronavirus pandemic subsides.
This comes at a time when the communal dining experience has never been more popular. Supper clubs serving huge platters of communal grub. Wedding banquets, where it's traditionally far cheaper and easier to feed large numbers of people with sharing dishes, than individually packaged meals. At least in both these cases, there are designated spoons and utensils involved, can you begin to imagine the current hygiene faux pas of going out for Spanish tapas?
But we are where we are and adapting is possible and possibly the key to survival.
There is still no evidence that Covid-19 can be transmitted via food, though there does still remain a significant concern about shared utensils. Plus there’s the fact that buffets tend to draw crowds more interested in getting to the last vol-au-vent than in social distancing.
What’s the answer? Well, nothing feels quite as safe as your own plate or box of food and that seems to be where we’re headed. Many businesses are already quickly exploring new ways of portioning out take away food packs individually in ways that are both cost-effective and fast to make up.
Apparently chains like Pizza Hut will continue to offer their famous all-you-can-eat option, but instead, box it up and deliver it straight to your table. Certainly, for the immediate future, food 2 go packaging like disposable food trays, cake boxes, and individual deli box options will become the saviour for many a restaurant, deli or bakery.
And while businesses may spend the next few months chasing their tails and implementing government guidelines that seem to U-turn by the second, in the wider scheme of things, change is the least of our problems. Plus I no longer have to share!