Mississippi casinos along the Gulf Coast are legendary for their all-you-can-eat (AYCE) buffets, headlined by crab legs. COVID-19 temporarily suspended the feasts, and several casinos say they won’t return.
Despite state health officials allowing the self-serve spreads to resume, many resort properties are opting to forego bringing back their buffets.
Gulf Coast casino executives say the pandemic changed their operating thinking in a variety of ways. And the mandatory closures of their buffets led to casinos realizing that the long-assumed dining necessity might not be as critical as once thought.
We lost a lot of money operating a buffet, because for the most part, you gave the buffet away,” LuAnn Pappas, CEO of the Scarlet Pearl Casino Resort in D’Iberville, told WLOX. “We learned we didn’t need to do that in order to attract customers and retain them.”
Once considered as important as having the latest slot machines, buffets have quickly become a thing of the past at six Mississippi Gulf Coast casinos. Along with the Scarlet Pearl, buffets are no more at Golden Nugget, Hard Rock, Harrah’s, IP, and Boomtown.
Gulf Coast casino buffets began reopening in April after state health officials gave the go-ahead for the high-touch eating arrangements to resume. Most reopened, but they did so without crab legs, or made the crustacean specialties available for an additional cost.
Golden Nugget, for example, returned its dinner buffet with a price of $19.99. Diners had the option to pile on 1.5 pounds of snow crab legs for an additional $14.99.
Ongoing food cost increases, however, resulted in many of the casinos rethinking their AYCE buffets.
Caesars Entertainment, the nation’s largest casino operator in terms of total properties, has announced that all but one of its buffets will not return. The exception is the Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, where entry costs roughly $100.
In Mississippi, Caesars’ no-buffet decision impacts Harrah’s Gulf Coast in Biloxi and Horseshoe Tunica in Robinsonville. In neighboring Louisiana, Caesars operates Harrah’s New Orleans, Harrah’s Louisiana Downs in Bossier City, Horseshoe Bossier City, and Belle of Baton Rouge.
“I don’t disagree with our CEO,” said Harrah’s Gulf Coast GM Jonathan Jones. “I have no intention of opening a buffet.”
Some Buffets Remain
Though six Gulf Coast casinos have 86’d their buffets, those who fancy the AYCE smorgasbords still have options. Of Mississippi’s 12 coastal casinos, six continue to offer endless eating.
Palace Casino, Beau Rivage, Treasure Bay, Island View, Silver Slipper, and Hollywood continue to operate their casino buffets. Beau Rivage, an MGM Resorts property, is reassuring its guests and longtime loyalty members that its buffet is there to stay.
Beau Rivage executives say COVID-19 has reconfigured its buffet operations in an effort to limit overhead. Certain items have been removed, and the casino has initiated a reservation system to limit food waste.
We’re able to control how many people come through the restaurant through the reservation system,” revealed Beau Rivage Executive Chef Kristian Wade. “It makes it a lot better for the culinary staff, because we know what we’re going to get.”
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