Shrinking appetite for Las Vegas buffets? New operators won’t bring back Rio’s famous buffet

Is there less appetite for a Las Vegas buffet? The Rio’s new operators say so, won’t bring...
Is there less appetite for a Las Vegas buffet? The Rio’s new operators say so, won’t bring buffet back
Published: Aug. 2, 2023 at 8:15 AM MST
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LAS VEGAS, Nev. (FOX5) - The new operators of the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas have announced that the property’s iconic buffet will not make a comeback, citing a shrinking public appetite for Las Vegas buffets.

The Rio comes under new management by Dreamscape this fall, and the company informed the Nevada Gaming Control Board about its various operations and renovation plans.

Buffets have been a massive draw for tourists for decades, but after COVID-19 shutdowns and subsequent reopenings, many properties have opted not to bring the “all you can eat” option back.

Dreamscape acquired the Rio several years ago from Caesars Entertainment, and operations will fully transfer to it by October. Dreamscape described the hundreds of millions of dollars in renovations to the Nevada Gaming Control Board, but officials still had a burning question: Will the buffet come back?

“Everybody keeps asking about the buffet,” said Eric Birnbaum of Dreamscape.

“I would wait in line for hours at the buffet,” said one official with the Board.

“Almost industry-wide, peoples’ behaviors post-COVID have just changed. We really just need to adjust to the times,” Birnbaum said, citing some consumer preferences to avoid shared utensils and foot sitting under heat lamps.

Dreamscape sent this statement:

“Our goal is to elevate the overall dining experience at the Rio Las Vegas and give new and past guests an additional reason to visit the resort. Our renovation plans do not include a buffet, but we will be opening a world-class food hall that we think will deliver an exceptional alternative to the former Carnival World Buffet.”

Several tourists at the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign seemed to disagree, including a woman from Germany who reminisced over the Rio’s buffet.

“This is what Vegas is famous for. You will never find buffets like in Las Vegas,” she said, adding that she has been searching across town for properties that still offer the option.

Mark Steele with the Restaurant Hospitality Institute said there is still a demand for the “value” buffets offer, but from the number of staff needed, rising wages, food costs, and inflation, the days of the truly cheap Las Vegas buffet are practically gone. RHI helps train hospitality workers in restaurant management and operations, and Steele also consults restaurateurs and properties on concepts.

“Buffets used to be the king of the world,” Steele said, noting how casinos used to offer tourists deep discounts on buffets, and perks like free parking or free valets to get people into casinos to gamble; properties now have sports, concerts and events to draw crowds inside.

“It’s really expensive to run a buffet. That’s why it trickles down to us, and it’s no longer $9.99,” Steele said. “Some of the larger buffets in Las Vegas that are doing well are between $60 to $80 for dinner. They have their data down to a science on the back end. They know how many people are going to come in. Some of them take reservations. You are controlling the door,” he said.

Rio is not the only property turning to a food hall; the Aria notably launched one as well, after closing down their buffet for good. Resorts World launched their famous Street Eats food concept to mimic Asian markets. Fontainebleau plans to offer 36 different culinary concepts under one roof.

“A lot of these food halls don’t have servers. Most of them have kiosks. The costs of what they trim down makes a big difference,” Steele said, noting that the various food outlets can serve more people at once, as people dine in shorter increments.