Goodbye, cheap Strip buffet: Today’s diners are more concerned with quality than price

Courtesy of Riviera

The R Buffet at the Riviera used to be called the World’s Fare Buffet.

Wicked Spoon Buffet

A bowl of bacon at a breakfast area at the Wicked Spoon buffet in the Cosmopolitan Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012. Launch slideshow »

In Las Vegas' older days, a "good" buffet meant a cheap buffet.

The judging criteria was simple: the cheaper, the better.

When it comes to buffets today, what qualifies as “the best” has dramatically changed. Now, it’s about the highest quality.

"Twenty years ago, it was about kitschy-ness,” said Jeffrey Frederick, vice president of food and beverage for Caesars Entertainment.

Buffets once were dark, cafeteria-style eateries lined with trays of stacked discount grub baking under heat lamps. Patrons paid next to nothing to stuff themselves silly – a couple of bucks at most – and that’s if casinos didn’t fork over free buffet tickets with a complimentary room.

Throughout the '80s, '90s and early 2000s, buffets were among Las Vegas' biggest loss leaders. That’s when gambling revenue still reigned on the Strip.

Inside the low-value eateries, tourists and locals would pile as much food on their plates as they could, filling up with fried chicken, ribs and corn.

While low-priced buffets still exist – lunch at Circus Circus costs $14.99, and most downtown buffets remain less than $10 – the price tag for food and quality of buffets on the Strip has skyrocketed.

Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace

Tony Pettingill mans the carving station at Bacchanal Buffet in Caesars Palace on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012. Launch slideshow »

“The bar has been significantly raised,” Frederick said.

The trend was cemented when the Riviera quietly closed its R Buffet in September. It was the cheapest on the Strip, offering breakfast for $12.99 and dinner for $13.99.

Riviera bosses made no announcement about the change. Insiders say business at the buffet had struggled.

Now, the norm is much pricier fare. The Cosmopolitan’s Wicked Spoon, for example, costs $26 for weekday brunch and $41 for dinner. Dinner at the Wynn buffet will run you $40. Both include prime rib, crab legs and other high-end cuisine.

Then there’s the Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace, recognized as a game changer in the food and beverage industry. The $17 million restaurant-style buffet, which opened last year, staffs world-class chefs, offers 600 seats and includes a price tag that ranges from $26 for breakfast and $50 for weekend dinner.

Bacchanal looks like a ritzy restaurant and has a menu to back up the atmosphere. Glamorous food stations offer gourmet tacos, pasta and meats prepared in front of guests by a staff of seven sous chefs. Dishes are served on small plates or mini skillets, much like a meal at a fancy restaurant.

The buffet’s opening prompted renovations of the buffets at Aria and the Quad.

“It has become a lot more sophisticated,” said David Schwartz, director of UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research.

The approach seems to be working, too. More than 3,000 people visit the Bacchanal buffet every day. The line often snakes more than two hours long.

Today’s consumer is more educated than ever and can make smarter decisions about where to eat and spend their money, said Edmond Wong, the Bellagio’s executive chef. The Internet puts thousands of reviews at their fingertips.

As for the future?

Frederick anticipates changes along the Strip will be subtle. Quality will remain a constant. But more options will likely be presented.

•••

Hungry? Below is a list of area buffets compiled with help from Vegas.com. Unless otherwise specified, the cost represents the most an adult could expect to pay, including the specialized buffets and weekend prices that tend to be even higher:

Le Village Buffet at Paris

$33.99 or less

702-946-7000

Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace

Approximately $20-$40

(877) 346-4642

Bayside Buffet at Mandalay Bay

$29.99 or less

702-632-7402

Bistro Buffet at the Palms

$26.99 or less

702-942-7777

Buffet At Bellagio

$38.99

702-693-7223

Cannery Row Buffet in North Las Vegas

$14.99 or less

702-507-5700

Cannery Row Buffet at Eastside Cannery

$13.99 or less

702-856-5300

Carnival World Buffet at Rio

Average prices: $25 to $40

702-777-7777

Circus Buffet at Circus Circus

$16.99 or less

702-734-0410

Cravings at Mirage

$31.99

702-791-7223

Excalibur Buffet

$22 or less

702-597-7777

Feast Around the World Buffet at Green Valley Ranch Resort

$25 or less

702-617-7777

Feast Buffet at Red Rock Resort

$25 or less

702-797-7777

Feast Buffet at Santa Fe

$15 to $25

702-658-4900

Festival Buffet at Fiesta Rancho

$10 or less

702-631-7000

Festival Buffet at Fiesta Henderson

$10 or less

702-558-7000

Firelight Buffet at Sam's Town

$19.99 or less

702-456-7777

Flavors Buffet at Harrah's

Average price: $17.99 to $28.99

702-369-5000

Paradise Garden Buffet at Flamingo

$17.99-$28.99

702-733-3111

Ports O' Call Buffet at Gold Coast

$19.99 or less

702-367-7111

Rampart Buffet

$21.99 or less

702-507-5944

S7 Buffet at Silver Sevens Hotel

$9.99 or less

702-733-7000

Seasons Buffet at Silverton

$21.99 or less

702-263-7777

Spice Market Buffet at Planet Hollywood

$25-40

702-785-9005

St. Tropez Buffet at Suncoast

$15.99 or less

702-636-7111

Studio B at M Resort

$39.99 or less

866-551-1540

The Buffet at Wynn

$39.99 or less

702-770-3463

The Buffet at Monte Carlo

$26.99 or less

702-730-7777

The Buffet at Stratosphere

$21.61 or less

702-380-7777

The Buffet at Golden Nugget

$21.99 or less

702-385-7111

The Buffet at LVH

$21.99 or less

702-732-5111

The Buffet at TI

$26.95 or less

702-894-7111

The Feast Around the World Buffet at Texas Station

$9.99 or less

702-631-8243

The Feast at Sunset Station

$9.99

702-547-7777

The Feast Gourmet Buffet at Boulder Station

$9.99 or less

702-432-7777

The Feast Gourmet Buffet at Palace Station

$9.99 or less

702-367-2428

The Village Seafood Buffet at Rio

Around $40

702-777-7777

Todai Seafood & Sushi Buffet at Planet Hollywood

$35.95 or less

702-892-0021

Wicked Spoon Buffet at Cosmopolitan

$41 or less

702-698-7870

Wild West Buffet at Arizona Charlie's

$11.99 or less

702-951-5800

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