The future of post-Covid-19 buffet restaurants

Suggestions for reopening protocols and inspirations for new buffet formats.

Heavily impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, restaurants across different segments had to close their doors. Allowed to work only with delivery or take out, many food service business owners are distressed and insecure about the future.

Upon reopening, when social distancing becomes more flexible, customer behavior will change. Consumers may be more likely to avoid buffet restaurants believing that an environment of crowds of people talking around exposed food, sharing the same utensils, sitting at common tables next to each other and continuing to talk while they eat pose a great risk of coronavirus contamination.

How to operate buffet restaurants that are a safe environment against coronavirus contagion communicate that well to customers?

Health authorities are likely to create a protocol to be used when the time comes to reopen buffet restaurants. However, in preparation for that moment and in order to address the anguish of business owners and workers of such an important foodservice sector , we decided to anticipate this challenge and contribute with our vision on the subject.

We brought together our team of architects and designers and talked to experts in search for solutions to this complex challenge. The result, presented below, is a set of recommendations and ideas that we propose to guide and inspire buffet restaurants operators.


Entering the restaurant

  • Control the inflow to avoid crowding. Company restaurants may rearrange staff’s luch time to limit the number of workers in the room at the same time;
  • Show the security procedures adopted by the restaurant, as well as recommendations to customers. Use posters and verbal information: “Come in, wash your hands, take your plate, help yourself and keep silent for everyone’s health.”
  • Menus (when used) must be produced in disposable materials;
  • Provide fixed washbasins (2 or 3 per service line). Alternatively, offer hand sanitizers dispensers. Totems with pedal-operated hand sanitizers dispensers can be a great alternative.

At the service buffet

  • All dishes and utensils must be washed and sanitized in dishwashers with rinsing at 84oC;
  • Provide sanitized and packaged cutlery;
  • If mechanical washing is not possible, provide disposable utensils;
  • Paint signs on the floor to guarantee the distance of 1.5 meters between customers;
  • Use mixed system at the buffet: self-service of portioned and packaged food and served dishes:
  • Salads can be pre-assembled in individual portions, protected with plastic wrap for self-service in refrigerated displays;
  • Proteins and garnishes must be served on heated counters by employees. Use acrylic protectors between service personnel and customers;
  • Offer packaged beverages (cans and other packaging). Post mix equipment must be operated by employees and not be touched by customers;
  • Dessert in packaged portions for self-service and displayed in open grab & go equipment;
  • Make alcohol gel available next to grab & go;
  • Spices should be offered in sachets;
  • Food at the buffet must be covered with efficient salivary protectors with side, top and front closures (Anvisa and NSF / ANSI 2). What was once considered a pretty solution is now the safest;
  • Central counters (service on both sides) should not be used anymore or be used only on one side. Use the other side to display served dishes;
  • Staff at the buffet and restaurant must wear gloves and masks;
  • Small restaurants or those that have the buffet leaning against walls, which makes it impossible to adopt served dishes, may offer assembled dishes with two or three options.

In the dining room

  • Check the possibility of reducing 1/3 of the tables to ensure a distance of 2 meters between tables and 1 meter between chairs;
  • An alternative to keep the number of tables would be using only one of their sides;
  • Funcionários deve desinfectar mesas e cadeiras após cada uso e troca de clientes;
  • Have hand sanitizer available on the tables;
  • Provide a place for masks’ disposal;
  • Use natural ventilation if possible. In the case of air conditioning, observe the cleaning of the filters and preventive maintenance of the system;
  • Put up posters recommending that everyone eat in silence

At the cashier for payment

  • Use disposable consumers’ cards (used for keeping track of meals and beverages consumed);
  • Paint markings on the floor to guarantee the distance of 1.5 meters between customers;
  • Cashier operators must wear masks and cannot handle food;
  • Install acrylic protectors for the scales;
  • Install acrylic protectors in the checkout counter;
  • Disinfect the card machines before each use;
  • Encourage payment without physical contact, with cell phones and smart watches;
  • Deploy system for payment by debit;
  • The technology for automated teller machines is now available and can be used by restaurants with greater investment power.

Self-service systems, when designed according to the legislation already in place before the Covid-19 pandemic, have the infrastructure ready to operate safely. These restaurants will be able to adopt the indicated procedures without major problems.

Other restaurants will need to make some adjustments to provide the necessary safety measures for their customers and employees.

New buffet formats

Think of a “delivery” system from your restaurant’s kitchen to its dining room. Instead of the traditional buffet, a “wall” formed by vertical refrigerated and heated “grab & go” displays. On them: complete meals, food in portions and snacks, prepared and packaged in your kitchen (or coming from a central one). The menu: local food, salads, soups, sandwiches, pizzas, vegan options …

All foods are beautifully displayed, bright and easy to pick up. Customers can consume on site or take meals and snacks to offices, home … Quick ovens (microwave) are available for customers to warm up their meals and snacks when cold. Hot foods are also available and ready for consumption.


  • Quick adaptation / easier to change the menu throughout the day: breakfast, lunch and snacks / “Snackfication” (1);
  • Sales throughout the day;
  • Food for consumption on site or for take-away (2);
  • Products ready for delivery (3);
  • Faster service, greater customer turnout;
  • Less waste of ready-made food (this is a problem with today’s buffets);
  • Higher productivity, continuous production in the kitchen throughout the day;
  • Possibility to scale the business;
  • It allows for centralized production (in “ghost kitchens” (3) for example) and distribution to several locations;


  • The breaking of paradigms in customer behavior when eating out;
  • The need to move forward with the development of 100% biodegradable packaging, with zero impact on the environment;
  • The need for investments in renovations and to acquire equipment such as quick coolers / freezers, grab & go displays, professional microwave ovens and others;
  • Transforming everyday operations into more digital ones will also be necessary to obtain better results.

This new format will be easier to adopt for the commercial restaurant segment and for decentralized kitchens in the corporate foodservice sector.

Some companies are some references in using this system. I list as examples British foodservice chains Pret a Manger and Wasabi, with great success in the USA and other countries.

  1. Snackfication is a term recently created to designate the trend of behavior, observed mainly in the new generations, of increasing the consumption of snacks throughout the day instead of complete meals consumed at traditional times – breakfast, lunch and dinner;
  2. Here we use both “take away” or “to go” meaning food bough to be eaten at home, offices or other places;
  3. Ghost kitchens are specific for delivery and do not have areas for public service.

Final message

As in other crises, this one will pass as well.

We will work now and be ready for the successful reopening of restaurants.

Trust your creativity


We are very grateful to colleagues and experts who contributed to this article with ideas, suggestions and comments. We’d like to thank: 

Diris Petribu – FCSI. foodservice specialist architect 

Dra Aline Pamela Vieira de Oliveira – Infectologist, Member of the Brazilian Society of Infectious Diseases

Liliane Bittar – Nutritionist and Food Safety Specialist

Myriam Scholz – Nutritionist and Food Safety Specialist

José Aurélio Lopes, FCSI – Nutritionist 

Marco Amatti, FCSI – Foodservice Management Consultant

João Carlos Faias – Architect and Designer, member of FCSI and foodservice specialist, and all the colleagues at StudioIno.


  • Brazilian National Health Surveillance Agency Anvisa resolution RDC-216/2004 
  • Ordinance CVS-5 of the Health Surveillance Center, São Paulo State Department of Health
  • TECHNICAL NOTE Nº 18/2020 / SEI / GIALI / GGFIS / DIRE4 / ANVISA Covid-19 and Good Practices in Food Manufacturing and Handling, Brazilian National Health Surveillance Agency Anvisa



Summary of recommendations for operating buffet restaurants that are safe against coronavirus spread.


  • Control inflow to avoid agglomerations;
  • Provide washbasins and hand sanitizer dispensers. Totems with hand sanitizer are good alternatives;
  • Paint markings on the floor, in the buffet area and checkout lines at the cashiers, to limit the proximity between people to 1.5m;
  • Mechanically wash dishes and utensils with a rinse at 84oC;
  • If mechanical washing is not possible, provide disposable utensils;
  • Implement mixed service at the buffet with self-service of portioned and packaged food and served dishes;
  • Use efficient salivary protectors;
  • Do not use central counters with service on both sides;
  • Consider reducing tables to 1/3 to ensure a distance of 2 meters between tables and 1 meter between chairs;
  • An alternative to keep the number of tables would be using only one of their sides;
  • Provide disposal sites for masks;
  • Install acrylic protectors on checkout and scales (when used);
  • Encourage digital payment, without physical contact;
  • Train employees and standardize the use of masks;
  • Put up posters informing customers of the restaurant’s procedures and of hygiene good practices.

Keep in mind that the purpose of these recommendations, in addition to creating a safer environment, is to promote customers’ perception of safety.




Restaurants that operate in the self-service / buffet system account for 27% of lunches served outside the home in Brazil, a Sebrae research says. Sebrae is a Brazilian autonomous social institution whose aim is to foster the development of micro and small enterprises, stimulating entrepreneurship in the country. We estimate that approximately 150 thousand buffet restaurants are running commercially in Brazil.

In the corporate segment, self-service is a popular format for company restaurants, schools, military units, hospitals, among others.




According to information from the health authorities and experts we talked to, the transmission of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 can be summarized as follows:

  1. Through the airways, through the droplets of saliva that are thrown into the air when the person coughs, sneezes or speaks at least one meter away;
  2. Through airways, through the droplets of saliva that are thrown into the air when people cough, sneeze or talks at a distance of at least one meter away;
  3. Through hands contact with contaminated surfaces and touching the eyes, nose and mouth;

Other information about SARS-Cov-19, the novel coronavirus:

  • The virus survives for a few hours suspended in the air or even days on certain surfaces;
  • It resists for up to three hours in aerosol form;
  • The virus stays up to three days on plastic or stainless steel structures or objects;

In other words, the virus is transmitted by:

Droplets of saliva, sneeze, cough and hand contact with contaminated surfaces

ATTENTION! Most infected people have no symptoms or show only milder ones.


Social isolation and hand hygiene.

The use of simple cleaning products such as soap and water, disinfectant and bleach is effective in eliminating the virus from surfaces.




This article focuses on kitchens and public service areas of buffet restaurants, however we want to emphasize that restaurants must strictly follow the current health legislation. We draw your attention to the following points:

  • Establish a protocol to monitor employee’s health, asking those who show symptoms such as fever, diarrhea, vomiting, skin infections to stay at home. Reinforce the importance of informing the responsible manager immediately about any health issue;
  • Educate all employees on the disease and how to prevent it, how to properly wash hands and other preventive measures;
  • Intensify the practice of hand hygiene that should be performed at regular and supervised intervals;
  • Employees who prepare and serve food must wear disposable masks and gloves, in addition to the other PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) necessary for their activities;
  • Educate all employees on the correct use of disposable masks and gloves, with strict hand hygiene and disposal in an appropriate place (trash bin with pedal exclusively for this purpose);
  • Clean the preparation and service areas much more frequently. The same goes to the cleaning of equipment, furniture and utensils. Specific sanitizing products must be used: chlorinated detergents and disinfectants, and 70% liquid alcohol.
  • Clean toilets (employees and customers) much more frequently. Pay extra attention to the cleaning of sinks, toilets, flush valve, taps, locks and handles, switches, trash cans, liquid soap and hand sanitizer dispensers, toilet paper and paper towels support, floor, walls, doors.
  • During the food handling process, the distance between employees must also be maintained, at least 1.5m.


Emmanuel Melo – FCSI

Design director / StudioIno


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