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Best practices for reintroducing the breakfast buffet and other self-service amenities

Hotel breakfast
Photograph: Shutterstock

As consumers return to their pre-pandemic routines of traveling and dining in at restaurants—after many months of dining room closures and takeout/delivery orders only—operators too are readjusting to welcoming guests in person. Part of that return to normalcy includes a return of self-service amenities, such as breakfast buffets, coffee bars and more—services that are integral as operators work to streamline operations, trim labor where they can, keep costs low and minimize waste.

Here are some best practices for reintroducing the breakfast buffet with consumer priorities, safety and margins in mind.

1. Honing in on what diners want

Consumer behavior, of course, shifted dramatically at the onset of the pandemic. As restaurant dining rooms closed, most restaurants subsisted on takeout and delivery orders.

Now that things are somewhat back to normal, some diners are ready to resume pre-pandemic routines, while others aren’t ready just yet. In fact, Technomic’s 2020 Future of FSR: Family Style and Casual Dining Consumer Trend Report found that even after coronavirus has subsided, safety practices such as continued social distancing, health screenings for employees, contactless payment and readily available sanitizing options for customers will remain top of mind when consumers choose where to eat.

However, that doesn’t mean they’re reluctant to travel and dine out in general; assuming appropriate measures are in place, 46% of consumers say they’d be comfortable using self-service amenities, according to Technomic’s Future of FSR report. What’s more, 52% say the ability to customize their meal is important or extremely important. With these ideas in mind, it’s safe to say that many consumers would welcome self-service amenities at hotels and restaurants again. 

Given that consumers want to dine in-person again—and that many are comfortable with offerings such as breakfast buffets—the next step for operators is to craft a great menu.

2. Planning the breakfast buffet menu

Offering a breakfast buffet can be a great convenience to diners—kids can pick and choose what they want; busy consumers can pack a customized plate to go in minutes; and everyone at the table gets something they know they’ll enjoy for breakfast. Ensuring margins stay high and consumers remain happy with the breakfast buffet offerings is key to success. For many operators, sticking to tried-and-true offerings for breakfast buffet and family-style breakfast meals is a smart tactic.

By choosing to offer low-labor options that are sure-fire crowd pleasers, operators eliminate the guesswork of what to put on the buffet menu, all while ensuring the guests who choose the breakfast buffet will be sure to find something they like to eat.

3. Keeping labor demands in check

According to CSP’s 2021 Foodservice Handbook powered by Technomic, 77% of operators and retailers said that the labor pool was the most pressing challenge of 2021, and 70% said the same for labor costs. With labor challenges including rising minimum wages across the country and a smaller workforce, operators need to get creative in order to maintain their margins without skimping on food quality or customer service. In foodservice, labor challenges can be mitigated at least somewhat by incorporating low-labor, high-quality foods into the menu. For example, using fully cooked bacon products from Tyson Foodservice helps save time and labor, especially in applications like the breakfast buffet where large portions of the food are required for each service.

Other popular breakfast proteins, such as sausage links and sausage patties, are also available from Tyson Foodservice, giving operators the chance to use foods from a brand they trust—without adding a lot of labor to the back of house.


4. Ensuring safety

Even as diners head back to dining rooms, some may be hesitant to participate in communal or high-touch features such as the breakfast buffet. According to Technomic’s 2021 Value & Pricing Consumer Trend Report, 54% of consumers say that sanitation and cleanliness are more important to them now than they were a year ago.  

There are ways that operators can reinforce safety measures in order to ensure customer and staff health, as well as put forth a visible marker of said safety. For example, operators can implement hand sanitizing stations near high-touch areas, such as at the entryway door, at the beginning and end of the buffet table and near beverage dispensers. Operators should also highlight frequent cleaning of buffet tables—perhaps using a sign that workers update every time it is cleaned, or have workers simply be visible cleaning so that customers know it’s getting done. Other ways operators can boost sanitation and safety is through the use of disposable tableware and single-serving condiments in packets (rather than high-touch dispensers)—by eliminating high-touch and multiple-use equipment in the dining room, operators can not only eliminate the risk of cross-contamination and lessen the spreading of germs, but also cut down on the labor needed for things like washing flatware and portioning condiments.

Making the customer experience a great—and safe—one

As dining rooms return to normal, operators have the opportunity to bring back well-loved breakfast buffets. However, the current climate may require some adjustments not only to ensure satisfaction with the foods offered, but also to ensure labor isn’t stretched too thin and that safety measures are strong and reliable. One way to ensure satisfaction as well as reduce labor is to use prepared proteins from Tyson Foodservice; to learn more, visit www.tysonfoodservice.com/your-channel/lodging .

This post is sponsored by Tyson Foodservice-Lodging Team

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