Golden Corral, one of the most beloved all-you-can-eat buffets in the country, has closed down nearly half of its restaurants in the past year, with the number of permanent closures mounting as some of its biggest franchisees declare bankruptcy. The pandemic has been particularly difficult for the chain which has tried to pivot into alternative ways of operating outside of the on-premise self-serve model.
According to a brand representative, Golden Corral currently operates 305 restaurants, down from 490 it was operating prior to 2020. CEO Lance Trenary noted that 40 of those locations are now set up as cafeterias, where servers have replaced self-serve stations. (RELATED: 7 New Fast-Food Chicken Sandwiches Everyone's Talking About.)
While the brand told Eat This, Not That! that it is reopening more and more locations every week, it seems that many of the reported closures could be permanent for the nearly 50-year-old chain. Platinum Corral, Golden Corral's second-largest franchisee which operates stores in North Carolina and Virginia, has recently declared bankruptcy, revealing it has permanently shut down 16 of its 28 restaurants and is seeking protection from creditors. This is the second franchisee of such size to declare bankruptcy during the pandemic.
In October, the chain's largest operator which had 33 restaurants across Florida and Georgia, declared bankruptcy and reported a debt of $49.7 million after having to shut down all of their locations in March. At the time of the filing, only 6 of those restaurants had been reopened, but Golden Corral told us the number is now up to 21 and similar efforts are being made to refranchise and reopen some of the shuttered locations in North Carolina and Virginia.
Buffet-style chains have been especially vulnerable to the pandemic-wrought downfall, due to the fact that most states banned self-serve operations early on to try and stop the spread of coronavirus. For more, check out These 6 Classic American Restaurant Chains Are Close to Disappearing, and don't forget to sign up for our newsletter to get the latest restaurant news delivered straight to your inbox.
Editor's Note: This article has been updated with comments from Golden Corral.