“Culture shock is the feeling of uncertainty, confusion or anxiety that people experience when visiting, doing business in or living in a society that is different from their own,” according to Troy Segal, writing about the business world in general. He goes on to say: “Social norms can vary significantly across countries and regions. Culture shock can arise from an individual’s unfamiliarity (italics and bold emphasis mine) with local customs, language and acceptable behavior.”
Granted, the above definition is meant to apply to the emotional effects of country-hopping rather than one’s own neighborhood, area or city. But believe me when I tell you that the restaurant world will be a culture shock of unfamiliarity in the days ahead. How many weeks or months (or years [oy vey!]?) into the future we will be dealing with this new reality is anybody’s guess. For instance, what if no vaccine is found for COVID-19? Efforts to find a vaccine could play out that way. Then what?
For now, let us hope a solution is near. That said, business models for some restaurants must change. Take buffets as an example. Some Dining Out eateries rely on the buffet as a central feature of their offering to patrons. Within our Dining Out circle, the buffet is a major feature of Amma’s Kitchen, Johnny Chan 2 and Tandoor Cuisine of India. In speaking to Frank Shi of Johnny Chan 2, he was uncertain what to do. “We not opening yet; it’s not safe yet. I don’t think any Chinese (Asian) restaurant opening now (yet); we offer carryout (for now),” he said.
Asked about the buffet that is the centerpiece of Johnny Chan 2’s lunch trade and special occasion dining dates, Shi was noncommittal. “We not sure. Not sure what to do. So, for now, we just do thinking about what to do,” he said.
What will happen to these highly popular buffet offerings? One immediate change will be no self-serve. Looking around for examples, the cruise-line industry may be the harbinger of protocols to come. Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, which suspended operations through June 11, 2020, is assessing options now. “I think in the beginning, there will not be a buffet…that’s how I see it,” said Michael Bayley, CEO of the company, speaking to Cruise Critic, an online information source for the industry. “We will utilize the space…but in all probability, it won’t be a classical buffet. It will be something more akin to a restaurant,” he stated.
One option for the classic Chinese- and Indian-eats buffet approach might be a cafeteria-style service, but with a twist. One could envision a line at the buffet table, spaced at 6-foot intervals, waiting to be served. You, as the diner, arrive at the on-deck circle, and are given a plate by a server. The server then assists you around the buffet table. You point, the server doles out the item you want. You want more, the server adds to the initial spoon, ladle or tong-picked serving.
Or the all-you-can-eat model might be employed, placing the buffet table in mothballs until such time as the virus no longer threatens us all. For this model, think Olive Garden’s endless salad and pasta options. The rub with that approach is an all-you-can-eat service that comes from the kitchen and not a buffet table generally is on a specific item or group of items. To replicate a buffet offering, the eatery would have to provide a list of items from which you, the diner, may choose. And as the diner, you could choose a little of this, a little of that, and maybe a little of the other each time the server appeared.
This approach would be slower, extending your time at table, and not as precise as the buffet approach. Also, this approach would lack the visual benefit a buffet provides. How many times have you walked a buffet and seen an item or items that looked especially appetizing? “I’m having that first!” Or “I’ve never had sizzling beef and broccoli, but it really looks good!” Not sure about you, but for me, the first move I make at a classic restaurant buffet is to look the selections over before filling my plate, strategic eating being a good arrow to have in your quiver on such occasions.
Whatever solutions to the buffet question restaurants work out, Frank Shi is certain of one thing: “We need everybody to be safe; to not be dangerous for people to eat inside (the restaurant). So, we need to work out how we keep everybody safe (at a buffet or while dining from the menu in his eatery),” he said.
See you dining out carefully!
7633 Reading Road
Cincinnati, OH 45237
Johnny Chan 2
11296 Montgomery Road
Cincinnati, OH 45249
Tandoor Cuisine of India
8702 Market Place Lane
Montgomery, OH 45242