No more buffets, refills or self-serve when restaurants reopen

The restaurant features that WON’T be back tomorrow: Disgruntled diners vow not to eat at Toby Carvery as it ditches self-service while YO! Sushi removes its belt, Pizza Hut ends free refills and wagamama puts up screens

  • Restaurants are set to reopen tomorrow after more than 100 days of closure  
  • Many features will be different with no more self-service and free refills limited 
  • YO! have ditched their belt while wagamama will put up dividers between diners 

Restaurants across the country are preparing to reopen on Saturday after more than 100 days of closure.

But excited diners won’t have the same experience as the pre-Covid days, with slimmed-down menus, no more free refills and the end of all-you-can-eat buffets. 

Table service too may not be the same, with many restaurants opting for apps to order food instead of waiters.

So which of your favourite restaurants will restaurants be affected and how? FEMAIL reveals all…


Toby Carvery fans were left reeling after the chain recently announced it will no longer be able to serve its all-you-can eat roast dinner buffet.

Instead, diners will be served as much roast as they like by waiters, but this hasn’t gone down well with fans after the chain made the announcement on its Instagram page.

‘This means I can’t get a ridiculous amount of roasties,’ one said.

‘Nooo I won’t be able to serve myself,’ said another, followed by crying faces. 

Mitchell & Butlers, which owns the chain said: ‘Safety is our highest priority and we are developing a number of robust measures to protect both our customers and team members.’ 


Toby Carvery fans were left reeling after the chain recently announced it will no longer be able to serve its all-you-can eat roast dinner buffet 

Pizza Hut too is also dropping its buffet, in favour of a ‘bluffet’ where waiters bring unlimited pizza, free tortilla chips and a bowl of salad and garlic breadstick bites to the table.

A Pizza Hut Restaurants spokesperson said: ‘We will be encouraging people to book ahead and we are designing our dining areas to ensure there is the required space between guests for social distancing.

‘We have also been redesigning each stage of the guest journey to minimise contact, moving to single use menus, remaining cashless and we are a testing new technology so guests can stay at their table and order from their phone.’

For children, the chain also has a kids packs with single-use or take-home crayons and a new ‘Ice Cream Builder’ to replace the ice-cream factory.

Staff will bring a bowl piled high with soft scoop ice-cream and a bowl of sweets (varieties) for children to mix and play at the table, rather than letting them travel.

For children, Pizza Hut has a kids packs with single use or take home crayons and a new ‘Ice Cream Builder’ to replace the ice-cream factory


Stephen Tozer of Le Bab added the popularity of plant-based alternatives seems to have ‘grown even further’ during lockdown.

‘Thankfully, we’ve always had a big focus on plant based food and we’ve got some extra special stuff in the pipeline to track exactly this trend, but it’s going to be introduced as the menu grows,’ he explained.

He added that he hopes guests will feel little difference to their dining experience.

‘We’re obviously going to lose the densely packed buzz of restaurants, as tables will necessarily be spaced out from one another. 

‘There’ll be a lot more hand washing, QR code or disposable menus, removing cutlery and napkins from tables, reducing staff interactions and practicing social distancing among staff wherever possible, and no communal cutlery or napkin holders etc. There’ll also be more distance and less contact with servers. 

‘But by and large we want things to still feel like a restaurant, and I think people will still feel very much at home. Masks are obviously discretionary but people certainly won’t be wearing them while they eat!’  

Many restaurants that are solely based around takeaways, including Cosmo World Buffet, have no immediate plans to reopen.  

A spokesperson told FEMAIL: ‘COSMO will not be re-opening on 4th July 2020 due to the changes we are making in order to operate a safe restaurant for all our lovely customers and staff. The health and well being of everyone involved is paramount and we can assure you that we will be doing all that is asked and more to make sure you’re as safe as possibly can be when dining with us.

A date of re-opening is still to be confirmed but we will keep our website and social media channels updated with all details so please keep an eye out!

Japanese restaurant group YO! (formerly YO! Sushi) is ditching its famous belt where customers pick up their own dishes and pay at the end. 

The sites will feature a new ‘kaiten’ conveyor belt, providing guests with a contactless dining experience.

Guests will be able to take a picture of a QR code and order and pay for their food through the digital menu on their phone, through a platform powered by Vita Mojo. 

Their dishes, which are freshly prepared in each store’s kitchen, will then arrive straight to the guest on the kaiten belt.

An interactive traffic light system turns amber to tell customers when their food is on its way and then green when the food arrives in front of them.

Drinks will also arrive to guests on the belt, allowing guests to limit the number of times they physically interact with team members. 

YO! CEO Richard Hodgson told FEMAIL: ‘We have really missed our guests and can’t wait to welcome them back to YO!. We’ve been working hard to make sure we can offer our guests the fun eating out experience YO! is known for while transforming our restaurants into safe, socially distanced environments. We’re excited to open our doors again and provide a really exciting, totally different dining experience.’ 

Japanese restaurant group YO! (formerly YO! Sushi) is ditching it’s iconic belt where customers pick up their own dishes and pay at the end

Is it safe to eat at a restaurant buffet? 

Health and safety will be the top concern for both restaurant owners and customers after the lockdown ends.

Food hygiene ratings are likely to be more important than ever with many diners sure to check that the eatery they visit has a good history of keeping clean.

Before you are heading out to eat or get a takeaway, you can check the rating of the restaurant here.

Jatinder Paul, an expert environmental health lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, has warned that it is ‘vital’ that restaurants adhere to social distancing measures.

He said: ‘There remains much uncertainty around the capability of restaurants and other eateries to be able to reopen safely.

‘By design many restaurants are currently not geared towards meet social distancing measures.

‘Stripping out of tables and spacing tables further away, how waiting staff attend to customers, whether it’s safe for customers to queue for buffet-type meals and whether customers can safely use toilets without breaking social distancing are just some of the likely hurdles businesses are going to have to overcome.

‘The danger of illnesses connected to poor hygiene should never be underestimated. We see hundreds of cases every year when people’s lives have been turned upside down as a result of hygiene issues which could and should have been avoided.

‘While restaurants are awaiting further government guidance on creating a Covid-19 secure environment we would urge businesses to start planning ahead now.’

Another industry facing major problems is the hotel sector with most offering a breakfast buffet for their customers.

However, due to the recent changes, this is no longer possible to run with Travelodge saying they have closed all restaurant operations in response to the coronavirus.

Instead, customers can purchase a breakfast box from reception that they can take to their rooms and eat.

Other hotels are considering similar courses of action when they reopen with the potential for room service to also be provided.


Pizza Hut added to FEMAIL that its drinks will no longer be unlimited because customers won’t be able to serve themselves. Instead they will pay per glass, which is brought to them by a waiter. 


Pizza Hut too are introducing an app where customers order and pay on the phone, minimising interaction with staff.   

Ordering from your mobile phone is a practice already used in other settings, such as Wetherspoons, and is one surefire way to avoid unnecessary contact.

Paying by card is another initiative that most shops are currently pushing at the moment in order to avoid the handling of cash.   

Deliveroo has launched an in-restaurant feature for its partners too.

The new in-app function will be available from July 15 and enables customers to browse the menu, order and pay at a restaurant via the Deliveroo app, making it easier for customers to visit and eat in at restaurants while maintaining social distancing.


Soho-based gourmet Middle Eastern restaurants Maison Bab and Le Bab, known for its tasty kebabs, have slimmed down their menus due to only expecting to operate at 50 per cent capacity.

Co-owner Stephen Tozer told FEMAIL: ‘We’ve had to ‘lean up’ the menu a bit in terms of selection – we can’t put the full menu on because we’ll have fewer guests and can’t risk big wastage. But all of our suppliers have come through for us and we’re just listing our favourite dishes exactly as they should be.’

To manage social distancing rules, the restaurants are asking customers to use the toilets one at a time, and will only accept cashless payments.

‘Ordering will happen at a greater distance and we anticipate most people will view menus on their phone,’ Stephen said.

‘We’re not fully booked, and I think it’s because we’re in such central locations that are still quiet. We expect things to grow back slowly as people come back to shop and work in the middle of town. 

‘Our capacity is about 50 per cent of pre-lockdown and we’re applying the usual 1.5 hour time slot, which we think is important to have an enjoyable meal.

‘We will ask people not to queue, and will call them when their table is ready.’ 


Wagamama has announced plans to re-open its dine-in operation using sliding screens to keep diners safe whilst maintaining an enjoyable experience.

The screens, inspired by Japanese partition designs, cleverly take advantage of the long wagamama bench designs to ensure safe dining.

The team at wagamama used guest feedback to devise the sliding screens which sit on tiny rollers and can be moved up and down the full length of the benches discretely separating parties of guests from one another. 

Wagamama has announced plans for return to re-open their dine-in operation using sliding screens to keep diners safe whilst maintaining an enjoyable experience

CEO Emma Woods told FMEAIL: ‘The main question we have been working on as a team is how can our guests feel safe but still have a communal wagamama experience, sitting on our benches. 

‘The team have applied our philosophy of kaizen – good change – to this challenge, and I am delighted we have found a design solution which provides social distancing for our guests in a way which is true to the design ethos of the brand.

‘We are looking forward to getting our guests back in and obtaining their feedback in the first 18 sites. If these tests go well, we will reopen the remainder of our restaurants throughout August and September.’

Other restaurants, including Caribbean diner Turtle Bay will allow customers to choose to have a Perspex screen fitted to the table, which can be requested on booking.

‘Green’ cocktails set to be the most popular post-lockdown pub drink, expert claims

With pubs and bars reopening this weekend, Jacob Briars, global advocacy director and drinks guru at Bacardi, told FEMAIL to expect a surge in demand for exotic drinks with an element of sustainability.

‘Cocktails-to-go have exploded onto the bar scene as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, and they’re here to stay,’ he said.

‘It’s incredibly exciting to see an evolution in cocktail culture happen in front of our eyes as the takeaway cocktail takes off… it’s a huge new opportunity for bar owners.’

Jacob added that people should expect to see more sustainable ‘green’ cocktail options appearing on menus as bars reopen. 

‘As new data reveals lockdown saw the biggest carbon drop on record, it is fair to say that we have a renewed appreciation for the planet and our individual carbon footprints,’ he explained.

‘It’s a trend that we anticipate will remain beyond lockdown, with the British public placing a greater emphasis on small and simple switches they can make to live more sustainably – and that includes their choice of cocktail. 

‘We anticipate the zero waste and sustainable cocktail movement will continue to grow. Bars have been quick to respond to the trend with the likes of Cub and Scout leading the way with sustainable cocktail offerings – drinks made purely from a process called closed loop cocktailing where any leftover ingredients will be used for another means.’

While some bars are likely to use more technology to cope with social distancing regulations, such as QR code ordering systems and quirky apps such as the new Bacardi Snapchat lens which uses augmented reality to showcase the distance between your smartphone and someone else’s, others may be quite the opposite. 

Either way, the traditional menu is probably gone for a while, according to Jacob. 

‘You might be encouraged to preorder using a website or at your table using a QR code,’ he said. ‘But equally, you might order off a large blackboard menu or just tell your server what you’d like, which is similar to how we ordered three decades ago, rather than three months ago!’

Jacob highlighted how there’s also been a shift towards low or no alcohol choices during lockdown, with many people adopting a more mindful approach to drinking. According to Bacardi research, a quarter of Brits have enjoyed no or low alcohol cocktails during lockdown.

‘As bars reopen, consumers can expect to see a greater variety of no and low cocktail options on menus to cater for this growing demand,’ he said. 

‘Far from your usual fruity mocktail, brands are now innovating so that alcohol-free options taste just like the real deal, but minus the booze.’


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