A group of friends dining outside during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Las Vegas Dining During COVID-19: What To Expect

Dining in Las Vegas during COVID-19 may seem complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. Follow our detailed guide to stay safe and enjoy Las Vegas during these unprecedented times. 

You’ll learn about the current COVID-19 situation in Las Vegas, see how restaurants have adapted, and find some great spots to enjoy a delicious meal without stress.

The Current COVID-19 Situation In Las Vegas (March 2021)

Young waiter in a restaurant with arms crossed.

Indoor dining is at 50% in Las Vegas and masks are required.

On February 11, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak outlined his “Roadmap to Recovery” plan. Essentially it’s a  reopening timeline for Las Vegas businesses. As of now, the plan covers the time between February 15 and May 1. 

The most recent change went into effect on March 15 and permits certain types of businesses to increase their capacity from 35% to 50%. The following businesses are included:

  • Libraries, Museums, Art Galleries, Aquariums and Zoos
  • Places of worship 
  • Retail stores and indoor malls
  • Community/recreational centers
  • Gyms/fitness centers
  • Gaming floors 
  • Restaurants, Bars, Pubs, Wineries, Distilleries and Breweries (those that serve food and those that do not)

This most recent update also got rid of occupancy limits for outdoor dining, as long as social distancing and mask-wearing are in place.

These most recent changes come on the heels of a February 15 update. At that time, the mandatory reservation rule was eliminated and table capacity went from 4 patrons to 6. 

Diners at tables and booths must only be served via table service. Service is allowed at bar tops, but parties are limited to 2 people and must stay 6 feet apart from other groups. 

Further restrictions will be lifted as long as counties can demonstrate “a decrease in COVID trends, adequate hospital capacity within their region, and evidence that they can continue performing at an adequate level," according to Governor Sisolak.  

As of March 11, food service hospitality workers are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Restaurants Opening And Closing

Closed COVID-19 sign on glass door.

 While many restaurants have shuttered due to COVID-19, some new spots have popped up.

The economic impact of the pandemic can’t be overstated. Dozens of restaurants, including Las Vegas mainstays like Sage in Aria, Morels French Steakhouse & Bistro at the Palazzo, and Pamplemousse all closed their doors for good in 2020. For a complete list of Las Vegas restaurant closures, click here

But it’s not all bad news for the Las Vegas food scene. Several restaurants have popped up over the past year, albeit quietly. For Asian delights, check out 8 East, Robata En, or 

Yu-Or-Mi Sushi Bar. If Mexican is more your style, head to Milpa or El Luchador Mexican Kitchen + Cantina. To see more new restaurants, check out this list.

The Biggest Changes To Las Vegas Dining During COVID-19

While hospitality workers praise the capacity increases and the vaccine availability, they understand that “normal” Las Vegas dining is still a ways off. With that in mind, restaurants have gotten creative in order to weather the pandemic. 

Read on to see all of the unique ways COVID-19 has transformed the Las Vegas dining scene.

Buffets Are A Thing Of The Past (For Now)

A closeup of a buffet filled with food.

Buffets may be a COVID-19 casualty, especially in Las Vegas.

Before the pandemic, buffets were a Las Vegas staple. The first buffets appeared in the 1940s and  attracted hungry visitors with simple dishes, a $1 price tag, and 24/7 operating hours. 

As time went on, these spreads became more refined, offering shrimp cocktails, T-bone steaks, ribs, and crab legs. Still, prices were low and operating hours were abundant. In the 1990s, thanks to the arrival of celebrity chefs, buffets got a luxe upgrade. Up until March 2020, buffets served made-to-order specialties from a variety of cuisines.

Although many restaurants have reopened in the past year, most buffets remain shuttered, with a few exceptions. 

The Wicked Spoon at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas tried to make a go of it between June and December 2020. During that time, staff served dishes table-side and at a few select stations. Still, reduced capacity limits proved unsustainable and operations ceased in January 2021. 

The Buffet at Wynn reopened in June 2020 as a full-service, all-you-can-eat restaurant. Guests could order unlimited servings of almost 90 dishes, including lobster ravioli and ribeye, for two hours. The experiment was short-lived, with the buffet closing its doors in September 2020. Las Vegas diners simply preferred the buffet format according to a hotel spokesperson. 

As of March 2021, only one buffet, The Garden Buffet at South Point Casino, is open, albeit with modifications. Instead of guests reaching for utensils, employees serve diners from behind the buffet line.

The big question as more and more restrictions are lifted is will buffets come back? From a business perspective buffets are “loss leaders.” They’re the part of the casino that costs more than it brings in. Hotels and casinos keep them around because they bring people in and drive them to other parts of the resort. 

Even if they do attract visitors, they’re expensive to operate, a fact that caused many resorts to abandon them years ago. Given COVID’s huge blow to the industry, it’s unclear how many will reopen when it’s safe to do so. 

Outdoor Dining Is Plentiful

Outdoor seating in Las Vegas.

Many Las Vegas restaurants have expanded their outdoor dining options.

Outdoor dining has become an increasingly popular way for tourists and locals to enjoy Las Vegas’ world-class dining safely during the pandemic. 

That’s not to say that the transition has been seamless. For starters, most of the city’s fine dining restaurants don’t have space for outdoor seating. In terms of climate, Las Vegas’ 294 sunny days per year make outdoor dining more feasible than other places, but the 115-degree summer temperatures don’t exactly have people lining up to eat outside. 

Still, despite the challenges, many restaurants have created innovative outdoor dining experiences. For example, Esther's Kitchen in the Arts District added eight cabana-style structures to the seating plan. Each cabana is self-contained, complete with floor coverings, lighting, a sound system, and a heater. 

If you need some inspiration or want to check out which restaurants are doing outdoor dining right, click here.

More Takeout Options Than Ever

A woman buying takeout during the coronavirus pandemic.

Takeout options are plentiful in Las Vegas.

In addition to patio dining many restaurants have expanded their takeout options in order to survive in the new dining climate. While takeout itself isn’t new, it’s worth noting that some restaurants have reduced their menus to better streamline the takeout process. In addition, restaurants can now offer pre-packaged liquor with takeout orders. 

For example, Caesars launched Ivy To Go, a service that delivers Nobu, Hell’s Kitchen, Mesa Grill, Old Homestead Steakhouse, and Beijing Noodle No. 9 for takeout or room service. Caesars also has plans to open Ivy To Go at the Fulton Street Food Hall inside Harrah’s. 

Off the Strip, the focus has been on solidifying relationships with locals. Perennial favorite Honey Salt opened a marketplace to sell jam, tomato sauce, and organic wines. They also launched family-style takeout dinners and meal kits complete with live chef demos in real time.

Las Vegas Is Still A Great Foodie Destination

It goes without saying that the coronavirus pandemic has radically changed the Las Vegas dining scene—perhaps forever. It’s our hope that this article helps you navigate the new dining normal on your next trip to Las Vegas. 

If you want to know even more about the food scene in Las Vegas, check out our top picks for food tours and our best tips for saving money on food and alcohol.

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