Who wouldn’t stare at the 80-pound Wagyu steamship at the Caesars Palace Bacchanal Buffet American carving station? This giant slab of meat is a sea of deep browns and char glistening under golden lamps. It was in May of 2021 that the buffet finally reopened. Wicked Spoon and Garden Buffet opened much earlier as a staff-service operation, but Caesars Palace waited until the government allowed guests to serve themselves again. During re-opening night, the buffet had a little over 1,100 diners.
At 4 p.m. May 20, the buffet reopened for the first time since the pandemic shut it down in March 2020. (Clark County allowed traditional buffets to reopen on May 1.) While other local buffets, including the Cosmopolitan’s Wicked Spoon and the Garden Buffet at South Point, reopened as staff-service operations last year, Caesars Palace waited until guests could serve themselves again.
On re-opening evening they had over a thousand guests. Diners got the complete buffet experience and one would think the pandemic never happened. People lined up at the carving station to get some prime rib, brisket and Wagyu. Just a couple of meters away, stacks of crab legs, scallops, oysters, and shrimp where covered in mountains of crushed ice. On the same area, you could also see snow crabs and lobster claws. In another station there’s a whole suckling pig, while in a separate room there’s a lot of cheeses, salami, pizzas, prosciutto and cheese boards.
The Caesars Palace buffet has over 220 dishes, 36 desserts and 11 sorbet and gelato. The crab legs themselves weigh 800 pounds combined.
The buffet takes the pandemic-related fears and behaviors and turns them on their heads. A lot of the last 2 years revolved around survival and getting the bare minimum. People went grocery shopping once every 2 weeks. Many of us grew herbs in our homes and gardens. We learned to bake bread and became more sustainable.
The trip to the Bacchanal was a welcome change. You’ll see sanitizer dispensers everywhere. Some of the chefs wore masks. There’s a 90-minute time limit for every diner.
The American buffet is truly the essence of excess. Las Vegas, of course, has long had a love affair with buffets and the first one opened in the 1940s in El Rancho Casino Las Vegas.
With the early success of El Rancho’s buffet, the concept quickly spread all over Las Vegas with hotels and casinos establishing their own. Soon enough people started to associate the city with not just gambling but also all-you-can-eat restaurants.
When Covid-19 pandemic hit, buffets were at risk of becoming nothing but a distant memory. But there were casinos refusing to let the buffet die. Tourism accounted for $60 billion of the local economy and and 4 out of 10 jobs in southern Nevada. It was impossible for the city to shut down buffets and casinos and in fact, major casinos reopened after 78 days of being shuttered.
Wicked Spoon buffet reopened in the summer of 2020 as a staff-service operation. Diners would walk to the buffet line, choose what dishes they wanted and staff members would serve them.
After Las Vegas lifted restrictions on self-service operations, the Wicked Spoon went back to its usual self service buffet. The Garden Buffet which is located in South Point Hotel Casino and Spa, also opened right about the same time as Wicked Spoon.
If you’re going to a buffet for the first time since the pandemic you might panic a bit. This is especially true for huge buffets like the Bacchanal Buffet. You’re going to want to know how many people are in the room. You’re probably going to look around to see if anyone is sneezing or coughing. You may feel uneasy if someone is standing too close to you in the buffet line.
But you’ll eventually calm down. You will become increasingly interested in whether or not you should go to the carving station first or to pile up your plate with crab legs.