Paradise Restaurant owner Salah Mohammed said it would be difficult to maintain a safe distance between diners in a buffet setting. Photo / Dean Purcell
One of Auckland’s most iconic all-you-can-eat restaurants, Paradise Buffet, has closed for good due to the Covid-19 pandemic – and it could be the start of a slow death of buffets in the city.
Restaurant Eight, the Cordis hotel’s flagship restaurant, will also reopen next Friday with table service only and not the buffet of eight cuisines for which it is famous.
The Restaurant Association says that with the continued spread of the virus in the community, it expects some buffet operators to focus on a la carte service instead.
Salah Mohammed, who owns four Paradise Indian Restaurant outlets on Sandringham Road – a restaurant, takeout outlet and fusion pizzeria – said he made the ‘painful decision’ to close his buffet restaurant in the wake of the pandemic .
âWe tried to hang on for as long as we could, but with the spread of Covid and daily cases still in the hundreds, we decided that it was not possible to keep the buffet going,â Mohammed said.
He said the very nature of a buffet meant that food would remain on display and it would be very difficult to maintain a safe distance for diners going for food.
âIt was a painful but necessary decision because if we only had one case of coronavirus spreading from the buffet, our entire brand and all of our other outlets would be damaged,â he said.
Mohammed said he would regroup his chefs and staff to focus on a la carte meals and take-out at the three remaining outlets across the street.
Marisa Bidois, Managing Director of the Restaurant Association, said that when the association spoke with the buffet operators around the same time last year, most of them resumed buffet meals when New Zealand has returned to Alert Level 1.
âHowever, this time we are resuming operations at a time when community spread of the virus continues, so we expect some operators to choose to focus on the card,â she said.
âBuffets are still a popular choice and for some establishments this is an integral part of their offering, so we would expect them to continue, but with stricter guidelines such as the use of masks and the distancing between customers maintained. “
Cordis Auckland food and beverage director Lucas Gougeon has said that when Eight reopens on Friday, December 3, it will operate table service.
âWhich means the self-service buffet option will not be available in accordance with New Zealand’s food safety guidelines,â he said.
Buffet service will not resume until Auckland switches to the orange light system.
âUnder the red light system, all guests will be seated for the duration of their meal and tables will be spaced one meter or more apart, to allow for social distancing requirements,â Gougeon said.
“Dining rooms will also be limited to less than 100 guests at any one time and only 10 people may be seated at a table, as per government guidelines.”
Face coverings are required for staff and guests, and sneeze guards have been installed throughout the restaurant.
âWe will also have a smaller amount of food on display, so it will be restocked more frequently,â Gougeon said.
“We want our restaurant and hotel customers to feel reassured when they dine with us, and we do everything possible to achieve that.”
The buffets could not function at alert level 3 and many remain closed.
Paradise Buffet had a cult following. For $ 20, they could eat as much curry, naans, and lollipop chicken as they could eat.
The point of sale served 400 to 500 diners every day.
Mohammed said he also faces staffing issues and struggled to recruit experienced chefs and waiters due to the border closures.
âWe found it impossible to bring in Indian chefs because the borders are closed and there are no international students to hire as waiters,â he said.
The premises of Paradise Buffet have been taken over by the Indo-Arab fast food chain ChicKing, which specializes in fried chicken.
However, Azeem Mohammed, owner of Indian restaurant Bawarchi, which also runs a 40-seat buffet just a few doors down from Paradise, said buffet service would resume next Friday “as usual”.
âUnlike Paradise, ours is a smaller operation and I have no doubts that we can handle it in a safe manner by maintaining a safe distance and ensuring that customers go up to get their food one by one,â he said. he declares.