OTTAWA -- Many restaurants have been hard hit by the pandemic, especially buffets, which can no longer offer self-serve.

At the Mandarin restaurant, a popular all you-can-eat eatery, their pivot could be a new success.

At the Mandarin on Hunt Club Road, safety comes first. There are floor markers, seating capacity has been reduced to one-third, masks are mandatory, there health checks for employees and patrons leave their information for contact tracing.  

Even though takeout continued during the pandemic, the restaurants were hit hard with an 80 percent reduction in revenue. 

Regional manager Aaron Ma says the Mandarin is famous for its buffet; the one thing it couldn’t dish out. So the restaurant came up with a new concept.

“It’s called small- eats it's a pay-per-dishes model."

When you sit down, you can remove your mask and you're given a one-time use menu and order form. There are 70 items to choose from and prices range between $1.99 and $4.99.

The tapas-style menu is cook-to-order and staff then bring your selection to the table. 

One advantage of this new model, Ma says,  is that unlike traditional buffets, you can bring home what you don’t eat. It also reduces food waste. 

Eva Plunkett and her sister Terry stopped in for lunch. They are returning customers and say the updated dining experience is safe. 

"The pricing is very reasonable it certainly wasn't any more for two people,” Eva said. “In fact, it was a bit less. They have basically covered all the bases of what I would consider probably the most popular dishes that would have been on the buffet."

Since Ottawa’s three locations reopened in August for dine-in, co-owner of the Nepean location Charles Feng says business has been picking up week after week. 

"It's getting better 100 percent."

Feng has been able to re-hire some staff and says that customer response to the new pay-as-you-go menu has been so positive, it might be here to stay. 

"Even if we can [one day] open the buffet, the Mandarin small-eats menu I think will be served to customers in the future."'