Toronto's buffet scene is shrinking but a few restaurants are still holding out
Of the many things diners have had to do without the past two, almost three, years is the all-you-can-eat, bottomless and bloat-inducing buffet experience.
Prior to 2020, Toronto had a bounty of places to pile up on buttery scrambled eggs or creamy curries. However, the unfortunate reality of our current environment means the concept of breathing over heated pans of food and touching the same spoon as others is limited at best.
But that does not mean the demand for them has dwindled. In fact, I would argue they have increased, possibly as the hankering for buffet memories linger in our minds.
It's not just that restaurants offering buffet meals have shuttered their service, in some cases, the entire establishment has folded. The latter sadly included Betty's on King with their $19.95 option, Muddy Duck on the border of Etobicoke or Glow Fresh Grill & Wine Bar at the Shops at Don Mills.
"We have seen an increased demand for our specialty brunches and will continue to provide these exceptional brunches for holidays throughout the year," a Ritz-Carlton, Toronto representative told blogTO.
"We have also found that our guests enjoy our weekend 'a la carte' brunch every Saturday and Sunday," they continued. "Where guests can order their favourite brunch specialty items and bottomless mimosa packages."
Church Street's iconic Hot House Cafe by St. Lawrence Market is still holding on and growing stronger with its buffet palooza every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Here, for $35 per adult, buffet aficionados go for the signature French toast but stay for the live jazz band.
"Yes, I can say more people come as there aren't as many brunch buffets around," a Hot House representative told blogTO.
Just take a look at their tagged photos on Instagram and you'll see plates stacked with fluffy omelettes, honey-glazed ham or waffles.
Another stalwart business, Free Times Cafe, also brought back their "Bella! Did Ya Eat?" home-style Jewish buffet that features everything from challah french toast, cheese blintzes and potato latkes. However, they share that they have yet to see pre-2022 customer levels.
"Everyone kept begging us to bring [the buffet] back and we did last October but a number [of guests] have not come back," they tell blogTO.
Right now Free Times say they are running anywhere from 30 to 60 buffet days compared to 2019 when it was much higher with 80 to 120 a year.
Free Times Cafe shares that they've noticed that large groups are more likely to come for the buffet but are often the ones who cancel due to sick dining party members or any hesitancy to return.
Then there's the elephant in the room: the increased price. It's how businesses like Free Times can continue to operate given the new realities of increased overheads due to inflation including rising food costs, plus rent increases. However, at $35.95 per person, those who do participate still enjoy the experience, with a complimentary mimosa
"The people who do come now love it and have a great time, especially because we also include live Klezmer music," the Free Times' representative says.
Another buffet option is at the Old Mill for $50 per person, while Ricarda's champagne brunch is a once-a-month slightly spendy all-you-can-eat feast that includes seafood, bbq, charcuterie and a dessert bar for $70 per person.
Lunch and dinner buffets can be found at the Mandarin's chain of restaurants in Etobicoke, North York and on Yonge Street ($25.99 to $27.99 per adult, depending on the day), Chinese at Dragon Pearl (starting at $25.99 per adult), Indian fare at Gautama ($21.99 and $24.99, respectively), and Jerusalem Restaurant's North York location (starting at $24.95).
Is the buffet done for good? It seems the answer is still undetermined, but if you're anything like me, you can never pass up a good omelette bar.
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