Ready Safe Go: Eating in Public? Cafeteria and Restaurant Safety

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants across Illinois have adapted to keep customers safe. Hospital cafeterias have had to make similar changes to ensure they’re able to continue serving hungry front-line workers and visitors without risking the spread of the virus.

“Very early on in the pandemic, it became clear that we couldn’t continue our usual operations,” said Emily Bailey, director, Food and Nutrition, at Memorial Medical Center. “Our Food and Nutrition team did a great job adapting to new infection prevention protocols and making sure people could dine safely.”

Across Memorial Health System, Bailey and her colleagues closed buffet lines and shifted to “grab and go” meals that allowed diners to select their food quickly and limit the number of surfaces they touched. One big difference between hospital cafeterias and traditional restaurants, though, was the ability to “dine in” throughout the pandemic. To ensure hospital colleagues and other diners followed social distancing protocols, tables were moved six feet apart.

At Decatur Memorial Hospital, the cafeteria temporarily closed for “dine-in” service, but has now reopened with social distancing measures in place.

“It’s difficult to eat with a mask on, which is why social distancing is so crucial in places where people are eating,” said Matt Oberheim, director of Food and Nutrition Services at DMH. “We’ve rearranged our dining areas to make it easier to practice social distancing and reduce the risk of transmission.”

Across Illinois, restaurants are beginning to reopen with outdoor seating. Bailey and Oberheim recommend that diners follow CDC guidelines for safety while eating out, including:

  • Takeout, drive-thru and delivery remain the safest way to enjoy restaurant food. If you are at high risk for COVID-19, consider using these options instead.
  • If you plan to eat at a restaurant, make sure the tables are at least six feet apart.
  • Practice good hand hygiene. Be sure to wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer that is at least 60 percent alcohol before you eat.
  • When you are not eating—including when you’re waiting for your food to arrive—continue wearing a mask.
  • The CDC recommends that all restaurant staff, including servers, wear masks. When choosing a restaurant, check to make sure staff are following these guidelines.