How $1.99 All-You-Can-Eat Buffets Went Extinct

  • Share
  • Read Later
Getty Images

Traditionally, cheap buffets in Las Vegas have served as loss leaders: Their purpose wasn’t to be profitable but instead to draw in diners—who hopefully would stick around to gamble. Lately, the idea of a $1.99 all-you-can-eat meal makes less sense than ever, which is why Sin City’s cheap buffets have all but disappeared.

In late summer, the Riviera’s R Buffet closed down. “We don’t know the official answer as to why (although we can, as we’re sure you can as well, guess),” a Vegas Chatter post noted. The buffet was considered low quality — so low, in fact, that it struggled to attract crowds despite cheap prices under $15 a head.

At the time, the R was the cheapest buffet on the Strip. A recent Vegas Inc story portrays its closure as the end of an era. For several years now, the overwhelming trend is that “the price tag for food and quality of buffets on the Strip has skyrocketed,” the story explains.

In the mid-00s, according to one travel guide, top resorts like the Rio boasted buffets starting under $10. Today, the Rio’s buffet prices start at over $20. While there are still a few sub-$10 buffets in downtown Las Vegas, the pattern of higher prices and higher quality fare is one that’s largely repeated throughout Sin City. This is especially the case, in and around the Strip, where $20 to $25 is fairly standard for breakfast and dinner buffets featuring crab legs, prime rib, and such run $40 and up.

(MORE: New York’s Gambling Win Is Its Neighbors’ Loss)

Part of the reason why the old cheap buffet formula no longer works is that the foodie trend has gone mass market. Just as diners have increasingly been choosing fast casual (think: Chipotle) over fast food, the theory is that Vegas tourists want food that’s good, not merely cheap, and they’re willing to pay for better quality.

Perhaps more importantly from the business side of things, Las Vegas has been suffering what’s been dubbed the “low roller” invasion. Tourists just aren’t gambling as much as they used to, perhaps because there are now casinos within easy reach of the vast majority of Americans. And since casinos have been making less money from their usual bread and butter (gambling), they’ve had figure out other ways to juice profits.

A heightened focus on shopping is one trend. Heading upscale in the food department is, of course, another.

Some old-timers may grumble about the disappearance of their favorite cheap buffets. But the success of options like the Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace, which costs $26 for breakfast, up to $50 for weekend dinner, indicates the upscale foodie trend is likely here to stay. “More than 3,000 people visit the Bacchanal buffet every day,” the Vegas Inc story reports. “The line often snakes more than two hours long.”

(MORE: Too Many Casinos: Looks Like We’ve Reached Gambling Saturation Point)

In some ways, food and gambling are flip-flopping their roles in Las Vegas. Soon after the Riviera dropped its cheap buffet, it introduced $1 blackjack tables. The thinking seems to be: If low-priced food doesn’t bring in the crowds, perhaps low-stakes gambling options will.

2 comments
MikeLand
MikeLand

Sadly, this is right up my alley and I've witnessed it from the mid 90's to last month.  So, lets just say for argument sake The Luxor set the standard for a long time.  Long lines, nice wait as you stood among the mummies and jewelry.  A wonderful buffet at all hours of the day although I would often hit it at 10 AM so I could hit it for breakfast and then wait out the prime rib to come out.  Fantastic desserts and a grand salad bar.  Today, its about as good as Golden Coral.  No more fancy decorations, long lines, and good food.  The chefs were all sent packing and Jose and Manuel took their place.  Set way back machine for 1998 and the new Bellagio is up and running.  We watched them program the fountain shows as Frank Sinatra tunes started and stopped as divers adjusted nozzles.  Men in air conditioned tents changed sequencing software right on the scene until each Elvis or Italian tenor tune was perfectly choreographed to flowing water.  The Bellagio Buffet was often quoted as the best and it was good but pricey.  Fantastic sea food offering and those desserts that could serve royalty.  Today, I would call it slightly better than Circus Circus.  The biggest area when I visited this year was the sandwich bar.  The most puzzling aspect of all the Vegas buffets is that the fancy desserts have vastly been replaced by cupcakes.  Hells bells I can get that at home.  I prefer an authentic piece of NY cheesecake or Tiramisu.  Junk the cupcakes as they are nothing special.  Newcomers on the block have been PH, Aria, and Paris.  PH is a middle of the road buffet worth mention and its on the food court style.  For dessert lovers, Aria wins hands down as they have not gone all cupcake and you can still get a piece of wonderful pecan pie.  We have never really liked the MGM buffet.  We stayed there a week in 2001 for the first time and we saw a near mob hit happen.  Well, this was the prime time when casinos were hosting and catering to the Asian gambler.  The Bellagio converted its casino to an homage to the Chinese new year.  The MGM bought like four dozen black limos because that's a sign of good fortune in Asia. MGM was flying in Chinese and Japanese CEO's and their families.  So, we are in line at the MGM buffet and things get weird.  This Italian family of 12 had been hosted by the casino.  We had just paid and were waiting in the cash line to get our seat.  The Italian family was next to be seated and the wait staff were pushing three tables together to seat them.  But then this Japanese family walks up and they pass the Italian family and immediately take their seat.  The father (don) of the family puts his hand to his chin and flips them off.  Only a man at the Japanese tables sees it and he points a finger at the Italian don.  So the Italian grandfather gets his family together and tells them to leave while he talks tot he manager.  I see a suited guy arrive and begins to talk to the grandfather.  He raises his voice and says, "I'm taking my family to Smith and Wollensky and by the time I get back,have a check made out for my house credit, you will find its in the millions.  Then we are checking right into the Wynns.  The manager tried to calm him down and then I see him talking to the wait staff.  i know it had to result in someone being fired.

yellow2
yellow2

Vegas is more about opulence now than thrift. Its more about the finer things in life than the cheesier stuff it used to be about