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Communal dining environments create a social dining atmosphere that can contribute to an increase in the amount of food being consumed.  With the elimination of communal dining, older adults living in congregate settings have been at an increased risk for malnutrition.  Inadequate nutrition can also be associated with depression, functional decline, wounds, falls, and even death.  Communal dining may once again be considered with the rollout of vaccines and COVID-19 regulations evolving.

When it is safe to do so, and regulations allow, consider the following guidelines when resuming communal dining:

Key principles of resuming communal dining

  • Proper Hand hygiene (use of alcohol-based hand rub is preferred) of both staff and residents enforced
  • Face covering or mask is utilized and worn appropriately (covering nose and mouth) until time of service
  • Cleaning and disinfecting of high frequently touched surfaces is performed often
  • Appropriate use of personal protective equipment (PPE) by staff
  • Dining Venue
    • Is a separate entrance and exit feasible?
    • Are Alcohol based hand sanitizer available on entry and exit?
    • Is 6 ft spacing marked on the floor?
    • Provide Red carpet treatment to enhance dining experience
  • Identify Eligible Residents
    • COVID-19 positive residents are not allowed to eat in the dining room
    • Residents may not be on transmission-based precautions
    • Identify residents needing assistance and make sure adequate staff is available to help feed
    • Those with memory impairment may have a harder time following social distancing guidelines and infection control practices
    • Same residents eat at the same location during meal-time
    • Same unit/hall eat at the same time
    • Roommates become table mates
  • Resident Centered Menu
    • Keep it simple and scaled back
    • Ensure the menu is posted
    • If using a restaurant style menu, try a disposable menu
  • Dining Set up & Service
    • Assigned seating to allow social distancing at least six feet between residents
    • Use bare tables or disposable tablecloths vs. cloth tablecloths to make sanitizing easier
    • Make sure residents are spaced 6 feet apart
    • Same staff serve and assist same residents
    • Provide single use condiments vs. sharing of condiments
    • Ensure silverware is wrapped
    • Resume communal dining in stages, perhaps with only serving 1 meal in the dining room to work out any challenges
    • Consider rotating who eats in the dining room if space does not allow for all residents to partake in communal dining
  • Dining Service
    • Use proper hand hygiene between serving and assisting residents
    • Aim to keep dining time at 1 hour to minimize exposure
    • Have 2 different staff members serve and bus tables
    • Clean and disinfect tables and chairs after all residents are done
    • If more than 1 seating, allow time for the dining room to ventilate in between seatings
  • Inform Residents
    • Residents have a choice to eat in their room or dining room
    • Non-COVID-19/not on transmission based precautions
    • Decide if visitors will be allowed at mealtimes
    • Discuss with residents the new process and inform them of situations when communal dining may cease
  • Staff Education
    • Make sure all staff are in-serviced on infection control as it pertains to communal dining
    • Educate food & dining service staff on cleaning and disinfecting communal dining areas
    • Ensure staff are aware of dining service and set-up, the seating process and which residents can participate

While adhering to the core principles of COVID-19 infection prevention, communal activities and dining may occur and residents may once again benefit from the social aspect of eating together.