Saskatoon buffet proprietor adapts to post-COVID-19 panorama

SASKATOON —
Phil Nelson has owned Smiley’s Buffet and Catering for 25 years and knows how much Saskatoon customers appreciate an all-you-can-eat buffet experience.

“It’s a meat and potatoes community so they can see what they want to eat and they can pick and choose what they want,” Nelson told CTV News.

He opened his buffet service on July 11 after more than a year of not offering self serve.

Nelson worried about the fate of his business at the start of the pandemic, but quickly adapted and decided to offer cafeteria style service in place of the self serve lines.

Staff were tasked with dishing up the food so customers weren’t touching utensils or food items.

Sales were down by half, but they were happy to be open at all, according to Nelson.

“Still at very low sales, so just not concerned about making any money, but keeping our staff employed and keeping the building up and running,” he said.

Now with the self serve option into full swing, Nelson instructs staff to clean the buffet lines often and replace utensils.

Customers are required to sanitize their hands before they dish up.

Nelson thinks some changes will be permanent even beyond the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the Best Asia Buffet, which also reopened earlier in July, isn’t back to pre-pandemic levels.

But customers are happy to have the buffet option, according to owner Minh Chau.

“It has been a very challenging past year to say the least with moments where we did not know if we could survive for much longer. But we are so appreciative of the regular host of customers who continued to support us through this whether it was for pick up or dining in,” Chau says.

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