Are All-You-Can-Eat Restaurants Like Golden Corral Making a Comeback?

All-you-can-eat buffets are back in a huge way post-pandemic, making them a more affordable option than a regular restaurant.

The buffet is back, baby! If you thought the pandemic meant the death knell of all-you-can-eat restaurants, think again. Business is booming for buffet restaurants in America, bringing in more than $5.5 billion in sales for 2022. That’s a big increase from the dark days of COVID, when sales in 2020 dropped more than 14%, struggling at under $4 billion.

Golden Corral, for instance, saw its sales grow by 14% from 2020 to 2023 at its nearly 400 locations. “It was just overwhelming that people wanted the buffet back,” Golden Corral CEO Lance Trenary told Nation’s Restaurant News. “That gave us the courage and enthusiasm to start growing and make this the absolute best buffet the United States has to offer.”

Why are all-you-can-eat restaurants coming back?

People serve themselves at the buffet-style restaurant Golden Corral in Manchester, NHBoston Globe/Getty Images

The decline of all-you-can-eat buffets during the pandemic seems obvious. Understandably, people had fears over sanitary measures, with food laid out for crowds of people to grab. People avoided buffets in 2020 and 2021. But analysts say the return of all-you-can-eat dining has more to do with people’s wallets than concerns over hygiene.

Everyone knows that food prices keep rising. Restaurant prices have risen almost 9% over the past year. As inflation hits even fast-food restaurants, more households are cutting back on eating out. But all-you-can-eat buffets still seem to represent a good value to families. At Golden Corral, for instance, meal prices range between $10 and $16. Customers can fill their plates with a wide range of foods such as fried chicken, meatloaf, pot roast and salads.

Will buffet restaurants continue to grow?

There is no sign of things slowing up. Combined visits to the country’s three biggest buffet chains—Golden Corral, Cicis and Pizza Ranch—were up 125% this spring, according to industry observer Golden Corral is definitely banking on the trend of all-you-can-eat dining to continue, with plans to add 200-250 more locations across the United States


  • Nation’s Restaurant News: “Golden Corral is proving why the buffet isn’t dead in a post-pandemic world”
  • “Buffet Restaurants: Filling Up on Foot Traffic”
  • The Street: “As Food Prices Climb, Americans Are Flocking to This Restaurant”

Jason Wilson
Jason Wilson is a Senior Writer at Reader’s Digest. He has covered travel, culture, food, and drinks for more than two decades, and is the author of three books on wine and spirits, including Godforsaken Grapes and Boozehound. He’s written for the Washington Post, the New York Times, the New Yorker, Travel + Leisure, and many other publications. He’s had a pizza, a breakfast sandwich, and a dessert named after him in three different countries.