Restaurants of all sorts face an uncertain path to reestablishing a thriving business. But the prospects for buffet restaurants appear especially bleak during the pandemic. So none of the 97 Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes restaurants will reopen, the company announced this week. The FDA had recommended closing down self-serve stations, such as drink stations in fast-food places, the CEO of Garden Fresh said. "They specifically talked about salad bars and buffets," John Haywood said. "The regulations are understandable, but unfortunately, it makes it very difficult to reopen. And I'm not sure the health departments are ever going to allow it." The 42-year-old company has tried for eight weeks to find a way to weather the shutdown, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports, but Haywood said, "It doesn’t work if we are not allowed to continue our model."
Buffets will have to undergo major changes if they're to survive, Jonathan Maze writes in Restaurant Business—and they just might not survive. "Part of the magic is enjoying the ability to build your own experience," Haywood said, so taking that away won't work. Fans of the soup-and-salad restaurants—which have 4,400 employees—posted tributes on Twitter, per the Washington Post. "Blunt, no frills, the great equalizing buffet at its core," one wrote. "You didn't have to be anyone, you just had to want to eat." Sewell Chan wrote in the Los Angeles Times that he found a home at Souplantation after moving to California, listing his favorites as wonton chicken salad, Yankee clam chowder with bacon bits and minestrone and French onion soup. Another tweet expressed regret: "If I knew that the last time I was gonna slip blueberry muffins from Souplantation into my handbag was gonna be my last, I would’ve walked out with a tray." (Read more restaurant industry stories.)