Safely Reintroducing Communal Dining to Residents

Jan 4, 2021

While reopening dining rooms in senior living communities may seem far off, it isn’t too early to have a plan in place. The primary goal is to ensure residents feel comfortable and safe when venues receive the greenlight to get their dining halls up and running.

Take a look at these recommendations to ease residents back into dining rooms when it’s time to do so:

  • Chat with chefs. Host sessions with residents in which staff talk through the new protocol. At Leisure Living Management, their “Chef Spotlight” sessions allow the kitchen team to meet with small groups of residents (with social distancing and masks required) to explain the implementation of safety measures while having the chance to interact with the folks they serve.
  • Open up the floor. Let resident dining committees have a voice. After all, these communities are their homes. Organize a brainstorming session where they can share their thoughts on reopening dining rooms. This is particularly useful as residents can play a helpful part in clarifying and enforcing guidelines with one another.
  • Modify layouts. Create rotating schedules, such as staggering mealtimes, and have assigned groups of residents dine during the same time slots to make it easier to practice social distancing. As for venue setup, arrange chairs and tables so they’re spaced six feet apart.
  • Post clear signage. Put up signs about protective measures in very visible places. Broadcast regular announcements on PA systems in addition to publishing them in emails, newsletters, on the community’s website and any social media channels.
  • Wash and mask up. The CDC urges operators torecommend and reinforce” the use of masks among residents, workers, volunteers and visitors. Information should be provided on proper use, removal and washing of masks. The federal agency also suggests washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially in between interactions with residents. Lastly, cleaning and disinfecting should be done with products that meet EPA disinfection criteria.

Whether it’s online or through distributing print materials, operators need to relay information in a way that meets the needs of their communities. Communications should encourage habits that reduce the spread and keep residents and employees healthy. Given the serious nature of the pandemic, it’s easy to forget about adding some much-needed fun, but it may be what seniors need more than ever. There are plenty of safe social activities that residents can enjoy in the meantime as operators continue to monitor the situation.

How are you preparing to reopen your dining hall? Share your recommendations on Facebook or LinkedIn. If you’re searching for more operational ideas, our Tips page is full of them.


5 Ways to Prepare Residents for Communal Dining, Senior Dining Association, October 2020.

Considerations for Retirement Communities and Independent Living Facilities, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, October 2020.