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Will Casino Buffets Ever Return?

As competition for visitor dollars has heated up between local casinos in recent years, one of the most-popular ways the Indian-run gaming venues have built customer loyalty is their all-you-can-eat casino buffets. Roadside billboards from El Cajon to Rainbow regularly promoted endless portions of lobster tails, crab legs and prime rib at absurdly low prices.

But because buffets (including casino) have been linked worldwide to coronavirus transmissions, all self-service restaurants have been closed nationwide since pandemic shutdowns began in mid-March. Some will never return, like San Diego’s 42-year-old Souplantation restaurant chain, which announced the permanent closure of its 97 restaurants in May.

Most of the region’s tribal-run casinos have reopened for business in the past two weeks, but virtually all of their buffets remain closed. The exceptions, at least so far, are casinos in Jamul, Alpine and Valley Center, that are offering an all-you-can-eat menu in their reduced-capacity buffet dining rooms, but with seated table service.

The new sit-down buffet at Jamul Casino launched May 27, offering themed menus four days a week. And Valley View Casino in Valley Center opened its sit-down option on June 1 for service seven nights a week, but for now it’s only available to rewards card members. Viejas Casino reopened its buffet for Friday through Sunday evenings only in mid-May, but shut it down again on June 5.

So far, customers seem happy with the results.

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