Buffets can reopen, with restrictions, under Utah’s new ‘yellow’ coronavirus level

Editor’s note: The Salt Lake Tribune is providing free access to critical stories about the coronavirus. Sign up for our Top Stories newsletter, sent to your inbox every weekday morning. To support journalism like this, please donate or become a subscriber.

Buffets and salad bars can reopen — with restrictions — beginning Saturday, when much of Utah shifts into the “yellow” or low-risk coronavirus safety phase.

But they may operate more like a school cafeteria than the self-serve options to which most diners are accustomed.

“Buffet-style restaurants will provide servers who will serve the meals from [the] buffet to limit exposure,” the Utah Leads Together 2.0 guidelines state. “Patrons will not be allowed within 6 feet of the food-serving area."

Employees also will provide “utensils, cups, plates and other service items only from the counter where food is ordered," the document says. “None of these items will be accessible to the public.”

From Chuck-a-Rama to Golden Corral, buffets are a favorite dining option for many large families and senior citizens in Utah.

They also are a popular lunch staple at many Indian restaurants. And, in recent years, many grocery stores, including Harmons and Whole Foods, have offered large self-serve hot- and cold-food bars for busy customers on the go.

Restaurants must still operate under many of the same restrictions called for in the “orange” or moderate phase, said Utah Health Department spokesman Tom Hudachko. “There is not much change at all to restaurants in the yellow phase.”

The guidelines call for:

• Six feet between tables. Restaurants must move tables or mark them off not to be used.

• Limiting tables to groups of 10, preferably members of the same household.

• A 6-foot distance in waiting areas, whether indoors or out.

• Hand sanitizer at the door.

• No contact credit card payments when possible.

• Hosts preferably open doors for customers and guide them to their seats to prevent traffic or congregating.

• Patrons who have — or who live with someone with — COVID-19 symptoms to order takeout.

• High-risk individuals to opt for takeout or delivery.

• Staffers to wear face coverings at all times and perform hand hygiene between interactions with each table.

• Contactless and nonsignature payment when possible.