For Immediate Release
June 6, 2023


VICTORIA - BC Ferries wants customers to help them decide the future of Pacific Buffet spaces following a difficult decision to move on from the all-you-can-eat food service on its Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay route.

The online survey will be open for three weeks. Based on travellers’ feedback a new, more sustainable, offering is expected to be introduced to customers this fall.

BC Ferries was initially forced to suspend the Pacific Buffet in March 2020 due to health safety regulations relating to the spread of COVID.

“The food industry has been significantly challenged by the pandemic; fewer food suppliers, supply chain unreliability, new attitudes about food safety and waste as well as record high food costs have forced all businesses to rethink their strategies,” said Nicolas Jimenez, BC Ferries CEO. “I know the hard decision to permanently close our buffets will be disappointing to those who used and loved them but the timing is right to re-think the space based on what our customers tell us."

In the meantime, the buffet dining room will be open to provide customers extra seating during the peak summer travel season. Food and beverage services will remain available in the Coastal Café, Seawest Lounge and Arbutus Coffee Bar through the peak summer season.

Pre-pandemic, the buffet required seven staff members per sailing, or more than 80 crew in total and lost approximately $1.2 million annually. Price modelling found the buffet would continue to lose money even with a price hike of up to 30 per cent due to the increased costs of food and labour. In the last year the Pacific Buffet operated, it attracted less than nine per cent of the Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay route’s 4.87 million passengers.

MEALS: Pacific Buffet meals sold per vessel on the Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay route from April 1, 2019 to Feb. 29, 2020:
Vessel Meals Sold Total Passengers Percentage
Spirit of Vancouver Island 170,838 1,863,132 9.2%
Spirit of British Columbia 161,817 1,810,941 8.9%
Coastal Celebration 99,652 1,197,344 8.3%
Total 432,307 4,871,417 8.9%

  • BC Ferries offered formal sit-down white tablecloth service dining for as little as $3 starting in the 1960s on the CP Rail ferries, modelling the service after the Princess Marguerite, which sailed between Victoria and Seattle.
  • By 1976, the dining rooms were losing $7 million annually and feeding just 10 per cent of passengers so formal table service ended that year. During refits in 1976/’77, “V” class vessels were upgraded with larger cafeterias.
  • The buffet was born during this “transition phase,” serving pastries and cold offerings. Full hot buffets opened in 1979.
  • It wasn’t uncommon to see high-profile British Columbians and celebrities enjoying the buffet including Premiers, Ministers and celebrities including Tom Cochrane, Sarah McLaughlin, rapper Ice T and boy band NSYNC.
  • The most frequent buffet item hoarded by customers came from the desert table; macarons and almond Florentines.
  • During the design of the Spirit vessels in the late 1980s, plans included two meal outlets to serve a large number of passengers and to improve the guest experience.

Previous ideas explored include:
  • Sports bar - brand alignment is inconsistent with a public transportation business
  • On-Board Casino - concept was explored but regulatory burden is intense
  • Wedding and private reception space - business modelling showed insufficient demand
  • Gym and Spa services - explored, but customer feedback not favourable enough

New model sought for buffet on northern route 

BC Ferries is continuing the suspension of the Vista Buffet on the Northern Expedition, which travels between Prince Rupert and Port Hardy, but hasn’t made a decision on its future. As the route is the longest in the BC Ferries fleet and provides a different travel experience for customers, the catering team is exploring various food service models.
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Media Contact:
BC Ferries, Media Relations
Victoria: (250) 978-1267

Customer Contact:
Victoria: (250) 410-1465
Toll-free: 1-888-BCFERRY (1-888-223-3779)

Note to newsrooms: For urgent media inquiries off-hours, call our off-hours line at (250) 516-7211.

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