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story.lead_photo.caption Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/ROSEMARY BOGGS - 01-14-2019 - restaurant review - La Poblanita in North Little Rock - A shot of the dining area and buffet. ( Rosemary Boggs)

After a six-month buffet fast, diners can now look to their favorite buffet restaurant to open their doors back up after a statewide mandate forced restaurants to shut down because of the rapid spread of covid-19.

On Wednesday, the Arkansas Department of Health modified its directive on resuming restaurant dine-in operations. The Phase 2 directive not only increased seating capacity to 66% but also allowed self-service operations such as buffets to resume operation.

According to the Health Department, customers will have to be 6 feet apart at all times. Masks will be required for everyone within the customer self-service area.

Hand sanitizer and single-use food-service gloves are to be located at all entrances to the customer self-service area along with signs stating: "Use of hand sanitizer and food service gloves is required for all patrons in this area -- Please use a new plate and a new glove for each trip to the buffet/salad bar."

Serving utensils shall be replaced every 60 minutes or every time a food item is replaced on the buffet.

Buffet restaurants such as Golden Corral implemented their safety measurements right away, with the North Little Rock location reopening Saturday.

Asking that no one enter if they are sick, have a cough, runny nose, sore throat, muscle aches, or fever, Golden Corral is offering several safety buffet services from "No Touch" to "We Serve You."

"We have developed a new service model to provide an enjoyable Golden Corral experience while eliminating the need for guests to touch serving utensils," said Golden Corral in a news release.

The new model will see servers delivering food from the buffet to the table.

Those who enjoy their local favorites, like Chef Lee Buffet located at 502 Mallard Loop St, will have to wait a while before loading up their plates.

A spokesperson for the restaurant stated they will need some time to determine how to safely reopen their buffet but, in the meantime, orders are available to-go.

"We need to figure out a plan first, and then we will let the public know when we are ready to reopen our dine-in buffet," the person said.

Some patrons said that, even with the reopening of buffet restaurants, they still aren't going to take the risk. Debra Johnson, who likes to eat at Chef Lee's, said there were still too many covid-19 cases.

Others said the guidelines and the restrictions to enjoy a dine-in experience were too much of a hassle and they would rather get their food to-go.

"I'm not going in under these conditions," said Kevin Coit, who lives in the area. "I'm tired of all the restrictions and people believing everything they are told. I'm more scared of the flu."

Others were excited like Lisa Herrera, another area resident, who said she will probably be the first in line when her favorite buffet restaurant opens back up.

Dondie's White River Princess in Des Arc opened up its dining room Saturday for all-you-can-eat self-serve seafood.

According to its website, everyone must wear a mask, sanitize their hands and put on disposable gloves. Sanitation stations will be located near the buffet and diners must adhere to the social distancing guidelines.

One woman said she was concerned that there will be too many people who won't follow the rules.

Health Department officials say the restrictions will be in place until the secretary of health determines it is safe to proceed to Phase 3.

Phase 3 will include returning to normal operations with full seating capacity.


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