Disease prevention specialists warn germs can easily spread through the common serving utensils in buffet lines. Tim Jue/Courtesy
Many things at self-service buffets are potential sources of contamination: ketchup bottles, syrup jugs, and salt and pepper shakers. Tim Jue/Courtesy
Hospitality industry leaders are rapidly rethinking the way food is served at hotels and lounges, including this dessert bar at the United Airlines Polaris Lounge at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. Tim Jue/Courtesy
Alaska Airlines' popular "pancake printer" pipes out fresh hotcakes at the press of a button at its lounge at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Tim Jue/Courtesy
A smorgasbord of cheese awaits hungry fliers at the Delta Air Lines SkyClub at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Tim Jue/Courtesy
Even the cookie jar may end up disappearing because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tim Jue/Courtesy
Big open spreads of snack foods at hotel and airline lounge buffets will likely be replaced with individually wrapped to-go items. Tim Jue/Courtesy
Travelers chose from a buffet spread at the American Airlines Admirals Club at Los Angeles International Airport. Tim Jue/Courtesy
Plates of cheeses, meats and bread greet fliers at an airline lounge in Barcelona. Tim Jue/Courtesy
Many airline lounges, including American Airlines' International First Class Lounges, are closed indefinitely because of the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on air travel. Tim Jue/Courtesy
The coronavirus pandemic will likely spell the end of one of travel’s greatest pleasures — the self-service buffet at hotels and airline lounges.
The days of piling plates high with heaping portions of breakfast sausage, scrambled eggs, and hash browns are over.
Buffets are delightful playgrounds of excess for travelers. They’re also germ-ridden venues where disease can spread easily through common serving utensils, public health experts have warned. A contaminated carafe of half-and-half or soup ladle can be vectors for disease.
“In a pre-vaccine world, touching something, anything, is considered to be not safe,” said Jan Freitag, senior vice president at STR, a Hendersonville, Tenn.-based hotel data firm. “The perception is touching is not clean.”
Hospitality and travel industry leaders are rapidly devising safer ways to serve amenities like breakfast.
Freitag said hotels could offer more grab-and-go breakfasts that guests can enjoy from their rooms, outside on the hotel terrace, or in a restaurant where tables meet social distancing requirements.
Or guests can choose from a touchless buffet. Food is still laid out before diners, but items will be served deli counter style, upon request by staff.
“What used to be a sneeze guard is now a full blown plexiglass wall,” he said. “You tell the person what you want, and they slide it to you under the plexiglass.”
Hotels that can’t shoulder the extra cost of providing breakfast with these safety precautions may get rid of meals altogether, Freitag said.
Or they may adopt a hybrid model, where a cold grab-and-go breakfast is offered for free, but a heartier hot meal will come with a charge.
Airlines will also need to rethink their lounge offerings. In the Bay Area, only one airport lounge is currently open: the United Club at San Francisco International Airport.
The pandemic will likely undo hundreds of millions of dollars airlines have spent into creating lavish lounge experiences in recent years.
American Airlines gave us a preview of a no-frills experience in March. The carrier removed soup stations, and dropped cheese and crudité platters at its Admirals Clubs. Plates of cookies also disappeared.
Instead, passengers received individually portioned snacks, like satchels of dry oatmeal, packaged cheese squares, and plastic wrapped pieces of fruit. At the SFO Admirals Club, meals had to be taken to-go, and the bar was closed to fall in line with public health orders.
American did keep the avocado toast bar in operation, a traveler favorite that — so far — has escaped the heartbreaking effects of the pandemic.