These Buffet-Style Restaurants are Closing Permanently Due to the Coronavirus Pandemic

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Sweet Tomatoes exterior at sunset

The economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic is like nothing we’ve ever seen before, and it has affected certain businesses within the retail and restaurant industries particularly hard. 😥 In fact, some restaurants are now planning to close permanently as a result of COVID-19.

The Washington Post is reporting that Sweet Tomatoes (and Souplantation, as it’s known in southern California) will now be closing all 97 of their locations permanently. According to John Haywood, chief executive of Garden Fresh Restaurants, the pandemic is the “sole reason” for the chain’s demise.

restaurant buffet

The FDA has recommended the discontinuation of self-service in restaurants like salad bars, buffets, and self-serve beverage stations. Haywood said that he does not see any way to operate a restaurant built entirely around a buffet concept within those guidelines. He went on to say,

“We spent eight weeks modeling different options, and it just doesn’t work. Part of the magic is enjoying the ability to build your own experience there. So you can think about different ways to do it, but it takes away the essence of the concept. Financially it’s just not feasible. We’ve exhausted everything.”

With the next step for these restaurants likely to be bankruptcy, this could be a bad sign for buffet-style dining in general. Haywood said that he fears for the future of other buffet-style restaurants, due to the FDA recommendations against the buffet service model.

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About the writer:

Jenna has a Bachelor's Degree from Lycoming College and her Master's from Penn State, holding 4 years of writing experience between a variety of publications and Hip2Save.

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Comments 97

  1. Amy

    Unfortunately, this is just the start.

  2. hollyp1234

    How sad! I loved going to this place with my Mom. I just let her know.

  3. Lana

    We have a favorite Amish restaurant that is mostly buffet and I have wondered about them reopening. It just would not be the same to have only a menu available there. We do have an upscale family owned steakhouse here that did away with their famous salad bar over a year ago and people freaked out. Now you get a paper with all the ingredients listed to choose your salad ingredients and they make it for you which has worked out very well much to everyone’s surprise. As restaurants reopen I think many things will be different and it will be a learning curve for everyone

    • E

      Yes! This is a great idea and I haven’t seen it much in the US. A large fast food pasta chain in Brazil does this. The ingredients are behind glass and you tell them what you want and they mix it up right in front of you. Fast food pasta sounds weird, but it’s one of my favorite restaurants when we visit family there. People are going to have to get creative!

    • Amy

      it isn’t shady maple is it?

      • Julie

        I was wondering too if it was Shady…or Dienners?

        • Rosemarie sleeth

          Me too love that place

      • Sarat8910

        I will be so sad if Shady Maple closes.

        • julie

          I live abput 5 min from shady, and news would certainly have gotten put if they were closing. They will find a way to make it work.

      • suziebuettler

        Shady Maple is our “go to” family dinner place!

    • anom

      This is exactly what I was thinking to myself. I wondered why they didn’t try it at least before giving up. So sad.

  4. Lonni

    Unfortunately I’m in Georgia and Golden Corral is open….Seeing that this is a buffet style restaurant I’m wondering when, and/if law enforcement or the food service agency will step in and do something….this is one reason why Georgia is such a hotbed….practicing no restrictions whatsoever….sheesh

    • April Sherlock

      Not sure how they are doing it there, but here in Florida they are doing more of a “family buffet” style where they will being “endless” favorites to your table, or “cafeteria” style, where everything is behind glass and you will tell the server what you want.

      • Mike

        I work at golden corral in Florida and ain’t nothing changed except employee got wear mask other than than that and 25% capacity it still same as it was before

    • Rachel

      Golden Corral is not exclusively a buffet. You can order regular meals off the menu at entry, fast-casual style as well.

      • Patricia Goff

        Our Golden Corral is changing from buffet to where you have to stand in line and tell the people what you want on your plate like a Cafeteria. Same food but somebody with a mask and gloves on will put the food on your plate. I won’t be goign but I will miss my buffets. They are my favorite as I can try a spoonful of new food and if I don’t like it I can go back and get something else that I do like. I don’t like going to places where you have to order off a menu. What if I don’t like it or it is to spicy.

      • Rosemarie sleeth

        In what state is this because every Golden Corral i been too in many different states was only Buffet

    • Mebadeb

      I’m in Georgia too. I don’t see our state as a hot bed for the virus. Our hospitals are empty and loosing money because people are afraid to get elective surgeries. If they were at capacity with Cvirus patients that would be different. We have to learn to support our immune systems and get back to life. Hiding from a virus doesn’t work. Look at NY. All the new hospitalizations are people who stayed home. If we don’t get herd immunity we will be doing this all over again.

      • kathynicholsdebner

        Totally agree!!!

      • Shelley

        Huh??? Whatever

    • Dr CJ

      That’s perhaps because Ga being ahead of the curve being smart, saving their businesses because Covid-19 has been SO overblown. This IS’NT a permanent thing people. We went thru SARS, and S1N1 virus, and we’ll get thru this. It’s nothing more than a respiratory virus which, yes, does come with a mortality risk when it comes to at risk individuals, i.e. elderly,,sick, and few, very few infants, typically if they hav acute asthma or the such.
      Although at this time
      Covid spreading more vastly, a mortality rate of 3.4% rivals the typical flu. Relax people. Wash your hands-Universal Precautions is all we need. Social Distancing is a myth. Your not going to get Covid standing next to someone, hell or hugging someone. This too will pass, people, and we will once again be enjoying America’s great pastime, Famoly Style Buffett
      The only thing we need now is a much better severance/hazard payroll protection plan to get these restaurants & their employees thru this ridiculous epidemic.

    • John Burrell

      Yes, it all started when Demoncrats moved to Georgia.Everything went down hill.

  5. KF

    I wonder about hotel breakfasts, too?

    • Lexie

      My husband is a pilot so usually stays in hotels often. He said they’ve all just shut their buffets down. It’s hard for him to find meals on the road since he usually relied on hotels for breakfast and sometimes dinner too since he never has a car when he flies.

      • Rebecca

        Ooh I hadn’t thought of that, that’s hard. A lot of people who travel on business rely on those.

      • Casey

        That’s a bummer. I always choose hotels that have a free breakfast because it saves money on eating out while we travel.

        • Lori

          Same with us. That one meal a day is a huge savings for us.

        • Dr C

          Yes, and they SHOULD be still serving. All they need are plastic gloves for customers and the typical sneeze shield/partitions over the food. This is SO overblown. Way to go media.

    • queen62

      Hotel in Hope Arkansas still serving breakfast.

  6. Jen O.

    I am heartbroken over losing Souplantation. One of my absolute favorite places to go with my parents and my son. I understand that it probably wouldn’t be cost effective but I’m not sure why they couldn’t station workers on the other side of the bar to serve people. They probably would need too many to make the line move but it literally would be a matter of pointing at what you wanted and someone else with gloves and a face shield or mask putting it on a plate. Guess that may not sound appetizing watching people in all that garb getting your food ready but if it’s between that and losing the place entirely, I can absolutely deal with that. Anyone know of a good place for soup now in southern CA? : (

    • shayhufnagel

      My family is super bummed about it too. We’ve been going there since my 8 year old was a toddler. The reason how we found Souplantation was because they closed our go go,The La Palma Chicken Pot Pie shop in Anaheim. Super sad we have to find somewhere else to go.

    • oo

      I don’t see how that would not be appetizing. If anything, it’d make me feel better that workers were taking precautions.

  7. emily

    Why not just have buffet attendants be the only people to touch spoons, tongs, etc and then hand us our plates at the end of the line? Kind of like when you go to subway and they add your sandwich ingredients and then give you the end product.

    • Lori

      Great suggestion…. the old cafeteria style!

    • JulietteY

      That would make so much sense!

    • KF

      Sounds a lot like Salata.

    • Tia in FL

      There are a zillion salad places like that in Manhattan. Yes, maybe the lines would be a little longer but it’s just something we’d have to get used to like everything else. Golden Corral is big for Orlando, the character buffet at the Grand Floridian at Disney, Chef Mickeys, what about all the buffets in Vegas? Closing them all just doesn’t seem like the answer. Maybe Sweet Tomato just didn’t want to deal with making any changes.

      • dylanfan

        My aunt worked at a casino buffet in Vegas for 26 years. Last week the employees were told it was permanently closing and they all lost their job. After seeing what I did when I went to buffers there is no way to keep them clean and sanitized. The amount of people that cough, out their hands into the food trays to grab items rather than use tongs, pick up plates and touch them all over then put them back in the stack when they no longer wanted the plate but rather a bowl, people dropped plates on the floor, then put them up on the counter, and I could go on and on.

        • Tia in FL

          The number of jobs that are being lost is really unbelievable. I definitely agree that buffets are not the cleanest places, but I sure there are solutions instead of just closing.

          • Andy

            Cruise ships are all mostly buffet style too. Allot of carribean islands rely solely on tourism and many work on these ships. This will take years to fix. We all need to do our part and protect those vulnerable. Stop the spread. Wear a mask.

            • Kathy

              Cruise ships earlier in March had already done away with buffets and had a server make up your plate. There were plastic dividers set up to prevent you from servingyourself. Worked fine and probably saved me a ton of calories!!

        • Betty

          Which casiono did she work at in Vegas?

  8. Tammy

    I guess Golden Corall will be closing too?

    • Elena

      In Georgia Golden Corall’s are still open for Dine in!

    • Kristen

      Golden Corral in Huntington, WV has now been closed permanently with all staff fired.

      • Marker

        “Permanently” must have a new definition, as they are open currently. It seems the closure due to COVID-19 was just “temporary” in Huntington, WV.

        • Jeffrey Davis

          The Golden Corral in Morgantown, WV is permanently closed. The signs are gone off of the building.

  9. kayti

    This is super unfortunate. People were sick all the time spreading germs! This will cause even more of an economic hardship on business owners as well as employees. Such a sad situation!

  10. Rae

    So sad. So many vegan, and vegetarian options. My favorite restaurant.

  11. Mrs V.

    This is our family’s favorite spot to eat. We would often go a couple times a week. I also have a few gift cards and free meals left over that I never got the change to use. I’m praying they will somehow get bailed out. I hope so 🙁

  12. Steph

    This will impact probably every state in some way. Just thinking of trips we have made in the past I can think of several like Myrtle beach(seafood or breakfast buffets every time we went), Vegas(they are everywhere), Virginia beach(seafood and breakfast buffets again). The list can go on and on. I can understand why. Even grocery stores have closed down fresh meat/deli/meal cases because of this. We will just have to wait and see how bad the outcome will be.

  13. shop4mybabies

    I will not say the name of the restaurant as I am not sure if they are going out of business and do not want to tarnish their name, but buffets are absolutely disgusting and a hot bed for germs and I’m not surprised this is having to happen….it would have been this pandemic or something else. My brother was young and healthy….he got a job as a dishwasher at a buffet, which meant he scraped and cleaned all the dishes. Neither he nor the bus boys wore gloves. They were sick the entire time they worked there and could not get healthy. My brother ended up getting so sick 6 weeks in he had to quit and was ill for quite some time and lost 15 pounds. The health dept and doctors said it was definitely from contamination from washing peoples dishes. I have not eaten at a buffet in the 20 years since that happened

    • SavingsMama

      That was 20 years ago…all food service workers are provided gloves now, regardless if it’s a buffet or not. Dishwashers, cafeteria staff, busboys have the right to wear gloves as well. If a particular company was not following the guidelines, that should be an isolated occurrence this day and age.

      • M

        Most places make you get servsafe certifications now… It teaches you all about food safety. Also they are constantly cleaning and wearing gloves.

    • kaytlin

      And there are MANY professions that deal with sick people and they don’t wear gloves. It’s not just a buffet! I sure hope you literally touch nothing in public either!

    • C

      @shop4mybabies- unless that place was a health code nightmare or served a lot of sick people, I don’t understand how you would get sick from being a dishwasher at a buffet (which is the same as washing dishes anywhere else)- having worked at a summer camp as a teen as a counselor in training which included being a dishwasher – where there was a salad bar and all meals were family style, we never got sick…. so that seems really odd to me

      • JenB

        I agree. I worked at a Golden Corral and there was one young guy who got very sick after they cleaned out the floor drains or something before I started working there. I would guess if they were all sick it had to do with the building and not the food they were cleaning off of dishes.

  14. Donna

    I have no desire to ever eat from a buffet.

    • Helen skaher

      I am with you…although I never was a fan of the Buffet. The germyness first of all and second why entice people into eating sooooooo much . Not healthy.

      • Rae

        Well Sweet Tomatoes was healthy. Lots of fun making crazy salad, and lots of healthy options. I wish that they would have gone with salad bar attendants but I understand that this business model just isn’t going to work now. Also this place did have take out, as well as catering but obviously the appeal was to make your own.

    • oo

      Same here. I have always thought what I’ve seen happen in buffets is disturbing and gross. I rather have one worker that is required to wash their hands and wear gloves handle the utensils than hundreds of people who may not wash their hands, cough in their hands, or lick their fingers touch everything. These buffet businesses should offer take out menus and start changing their business models. If the food is good enough, then people will order take out. I just did from one of our local Indian restaurants that was mostly a buffet but is offering their full menu for curbside.

  15. eadybakegirl

    Haven’t they’ve been going out of business since 2006?

  16. Bree

    My cousin just read me this…I freaked out and thought of our beloved Golden Corral! What about cruise ships… you’re paying to have those unlimited dining options available. And all the hotels we frequent has a lot to do with hot, buffet breakfast:) I personally feel it is your own choice whether you want to dine at these establishments or not. I would like to see more emphasis on hand washing, of course. Cruise ships have the sinks right there before you even enter the food area and our attendants were pretty vocal about ” washy washy” ( whose been on Royal Caribbean…you know what ship we went on!)

  17. Amy

    I am not too sad about a restaurant with “plantation” in its name is closing… what a horrible name in the first place.

    • CCC_74

      Plantation is an actual thing. They still exist. Whatever emotional attachment you have with this word does not represent what the real definition is. It sucks you would want everyone who works at one of these places to be unemployed over a word.

  18. C

    I think they’re just using the pandemic as an excuse- they’ve probably been struggling for a while (and there’s probably some sort of “bonus” they get for filing for bankruptcy during the pandemic vs outside the pandemic- hospitals are getting a 20% “bonus” from the government for every death that they label as related to the pandemic so I wouldn’t be surprised if that spread beyond the healthcare industry- like getting some FEMA funds or something)… honestly the buffets could have take out with various options available and package it up as ordered- our local grocer usually has a buffet people can get food from (currently closed per law) but they’ve packaged up some things you can now buy from the refrigerated section and sometimes in bulk – like they had 10 lb bags of fresh potato wedges the other week- they also have to go ordering as they have a restaurant in the store as well so I assume the buffet items are available for order there too as they are continuing with the restaurant section …. and of course other restaurants have sold their excess ingredients and supplies to customers (so kind of like a grocer)…. I just don’t think the pandemic is the “sole reason”

  19. Joe

    The death of self-service restaurants is just one more sign of this country going down the drain and turning into a nanny state. First it was avoiding micro-aggressions and seeking refuge in safe spaces, and now this kind of stuff. Ironic that 75 years ago this country buckled down to win WWII, and now we have to shut it down indefinitely and become obsessive about germs and viruses, even after this pandemic goes away. Germs etc. are part of life, and obsessively avoiding them actually makes people more susceptible. We have gone too soft, but hopefully can wake up.

    • bmiles

      I agree. The reaction to COVID has been ridiculous. The damage to our economy, education system, and mental health is far worse than this virus.

      • MommySpendsLess


      • GoForTheGold

        This virus has affected a lot of people, however, we can close down everything to keep people from getting sick! People have to pay their bills or they will lose businesses, which will lead to home loss and possible homelessness, mental problems or physical illness. We have to keep our country and businesses going. It is people’s responsibility to keep themselves safe. Not the government’s. If you are at risk and scared of this overblown virus then stay home. If you aren’t at risk get back out there, live and support the economy!

        • GoFoTheGold

          That should read “can’t” close down…

    • Sacrifice?

      Yeah… Just like many politicians have now said… Money is more important that people’s lives. They should be willing to keep everything running in exchange for their lives. For shame on people protecting their compromised loved ones, we all die eventually anyway. Y’all are sick.

      • bmiles

        Thousands of people die everyday and no one thinks twice about it (including you), but all of a sudden a new virus hits and the world is supposed to stop? It just doesn’t add up. Millions have lost their jobs, businesses, homes, etc. You don’t think the suicide rate will go up? You don’t think domestic violence and child abuse incidents have risen? This isn’t just about money. This is about people’s lives that still have to go on despite all this chaos. I’m tired of that shallow argument that just because I am worried about other things means I must want people to die. That’s typical of narrow minded people that follow the media like sheep.

        • oo

          So suicide is more important to you than people dying from an illness they could not prevent? Is that what youre saying? Tired of the shallow argument that one death isn’t that important and the “show must go on” while downplaying The seriousness of this virus.

          • Joe

            Scientific (yes, we’re talking science here) studies show that most of the over 35,000 deaths per year in traffic fatalities could be prevented if we passed and strictly enforced a law to limit the national speed limit to 35 mph. Why not do that? Shouldn’t we value those precious lives that are needlessly lost each year?

      • Annie

        Comprised people shouldn’t be going out. So on that logic, you say no one needs money, so how do you support yourself with no income? Should the country be shut down every flu season? 30-60,000 people die from the flu each year. Don’t those lives matter? What about cigarettes? Why aren’t they banned? Don’t those lives matter? What about fast food and obesity deaths? Don’t those lives matter?
        How ridiculous your statement is- so the lives of 99% of the population don’t matter to you as long as you might be able to save 1%? Most of who may have been dying in a nursing home or hospital anyway? If you cannot see the absurdity of all this, then there is no hope for you.

        • Sacrifice?

          Oh cool, Maybe we shouldn’t have shut down at all! Pfft, I’d rather have money than family anyway! Maybe none of us should vaccinate. It’s just a percentage. They’re just people. Sure! People die from the flu, what’s a few more? Who isn’t down for some easy population thinning. Letting sickness/disease run rampant is nothing more than natural selection, after all. We’re all gonna die one day anyway! Right? RIGHT?

    • PNW

      This is a deal/shopping please leave politics out of it.

  20. MommySpendsLess

    I liked Sweet Tomatoes muffins and soups almost more than their salads. I would visit them if they switched to a fast casual concept. They could have the salad bar behind glass where servers assemble your custom salad based on your requests and you pay at the end by weight then add on cups of soups, muffins, etc. I’m surprised that the extra labor cost would be that detrimental.

  21. LisaK

    😂😂😂 when you read all the comments thinking the title read THREE buffets closing and I was curious which 3 because only one was mentioned! While reading the comments my reaction …🤦‍♀️why do people say some of these things? Thank you Hip2save for keeping us informed … clearly it’s too late at night and I need to read the title better! But I was entertained nevertheless.

    • riss

      I had to read the post twice, making sure I didn’t miss the other restaurants, because the title was “THESE buffet-style restaurants…” but only mentioned Sweet Tomatoes/Souplantation. Where are the rest?

  22. Tawana

    Some entire restaurant chains are based around buffet-style dining. But will people really want to patronize buffets after stay-at-home orders are lifted? Not only do they present food sitting in open air for hours, potentially exposed to airborne viruses, but the utensils used to serve food could be touched by hundreds of people, leaving behind germs that can spread rapidly.

  23. SS

    You can just have them serve you at the buffet, that would be a good way to do this for now.

    • Casey

      Possibly, but they would also have to limit the amount of people inside. They may waste more food as buffet items have time limits before they need tossed.

      • Casey

        And have to hire more staff to accommodate the serving. So it may not be fiscally possible unless they seriously increase their prices.

  24. Csandst1

    This means no more large scale potlucks.

    • Mae

      I don’t know. Some potlucks are already planned events for July. It is so different where I live. Everything is back open except schools and the only people wearing mask are employees and some elderly. Most people are keeping somewhat of a distance though and using hand sanitizer.

  25. Gina

    Back in 2016 ? Sweet Tomatoes closed off all their Illinois locations without warning. Even the employees came to work to find it all locked up. The place was always packed. Not sure what the heck happened! People who had gift cards were hosed unless they could travel to other states where this restaurant was still open. Was my favorite place ever..the muffins were to die for.. Was one place where you could eat healthy for the most part. Still miss it.

  26. daisy-0

    My families favorite place 😭😭

  27. dawn

    so ridiculous! We have survived many other dangerous viruses while still having these. This is just another step to change society to their vision and getting people used to new norms.

  28. Trish

    So many great opinions and suggestions. I am in VA and we have Sweet Frog (self serve ice cream shop). Has anyone mentioned their future? I saw that my local location was open for weeks after they were told to close.

  29. Lori

    Around here, Indiana..word on the street is that Ruby Tuesdays will not reopen.

  30. christina Goff

    I myself don’t really miss going out to eat. I enjoy staying home and working on my house. I am working from home so I have time to get things done. Painting the kitchen (almost done) and working in the back pasture is fun and I get so happy knowing it is done. I am cooking from scratch instead of making so much frozen food. I don’t miss going out. I go out once a week for groceries or my brothers go to Lowes but that is about it. I have always social distanced I guess. Mostly I talk to my friends on the phone or drive to MO, OK, LA, IA, KY or AR to visit them.

  31. Frances Adkins

    Did golden coral go out of business on Anderson’s rd in rock hill sc

  32. gary kleinberger

    Can someone please tell me if golden corral is reopening again in orlando florida? Does anyone know?

  33. Pat

    At Golden Corral in Tucson, AZ, we love the new system. No customers touch plates, until it is handed to you full of food of your choosing, by a server at the steam table area. It is so clean and sanitary this way. AND you can go back for more too. We as a member of the senior group feel very safe about going there. You walk up to the steam table area, the employee, masked and gloved, ask you what you would like, they start filling the plate with your choices as you walk down the area, when done they hand you your plate. We are happy that no one touches the serving spoons, plates etc. but the employees that are there serving the food behind the counters ( steam table ) for you. And you can go back for more. No mess no spills, very sanitary!! Love it!!! “Thank you” Golden Corral for figuring this out, so we can continue enjoying your homestyle food!!!

  34. Evelyn

    Loved Sweet Tomato. Sorry to see it go.

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